Rapha Merino Wool Base Layer review

Post by Katy Beveridge

What’s amazing about these base layers is just how fast they dry. You can pelt it down
the path on the sweatiest of rides and be quite confident in the knowledge that you aren’t going to have to sit shivering in a soggy top for half an hour after your done.

Rapha’s website credits the base layer with the ability to keep you “cool in the summer and warm in the winter” and not surprisingly my Easter weekend in the West Coast of Scotland allowed me a taste of both, though admittedly much more of the latter than the former.

Setting off into the land of infamously unpredictable weather, I was quite grateful to have one of natures finest miracle materials so close to my skin. The base layer looks very thin but that’s the beauty of this wool; it has a very favourable warmth-to-weight ratio. The lightweight fibers in merino wool are hollow and help regulate body temperature by drawing sweat away from the surface of the skin. This means that it is both absorbent and breathable, but most importantly, in my case at least, it keeps you warm even if it’s wet. And being Rapha it’s not just merino wool but it’s scientifically proven the worlds very best, softest, finest and the most absorbent merino wool, obviously.

Rapha Merino Base Layer

Having only one base layer to trail on a two-day ride I was given ample opportunity to test their claim to be “extremely odour resistant”. Merino wool is standard for most highend sports wear; its light and thermo-regulating, and being a natural fabric performs over and above any synthetic cheaper alternative.

It also has natural antibacterial properties, which is what make’s it so resistant to that sweaty sportswear smell, a testimony that I, and my rather unwilling fellow smeller, can whole-heartedly testify to be true. Saying they’re “extremely odour resistant” turned out to be somewhat of an understatement: withstanding not only the ride but also the train journey back crammed under my socks and shoes this extraordinary fabric retained not even a hint of a whiff. For that alone I give it big points.

On a practical note this is something that makes the base layer particularly handy for commuters as it can be worn under clothes or as a change and won’t make you smell too anti-social if your rushing to get into the office.


One thing I was made very aware of during the course of my journey is that the label is at the front of the shirt, now this is a feature most cyclist wouldn’t pass comment on as it’s pretty standard for a base layer, however the same does not apply for non-cyclists. Almost every shop I stopped in seemed to feature some friendly Scottish shop owner who took it upon themselves to kindly inform me my shirt was on back-to-front. #grinandbearit

Really I’d say the only drawback with the merino base layer is the look of it. Unlike the Rapha Softshell Ladies jacket, which I previously reviewed, the base layer does not cut such a flattering figure. It’s practical, it’s comfortable and it’s durable, and it can be rolled up into a ball the size of your fist, which is all great for traveling, but it’s just not particularly flattering. I know it’s not the most important part for a practical garment, but it’s Rapha, and one thing they’re meant to do better than anyone else is make practical things look good. Potentially, I believe the black version may be more appealing and therefore people should consider that instead.

In terms of durability it holds up well on a regular wash, you can pop it in the machine at 40°C without risk of shrinking. The material holds it’s shape well and having run it through the machine a good few times now it look no worse for ware. Featuring some pretty heavy duty reinforced stitching along all seams and a nicely lined collar I feel confident that it’ll have a lifespan long enough to justify it’s rather handsome £50 asking price.

Rapha Merino Layer

By way of cycling essentials this base layer has quietly secured it’s place very near the top of my ever-expanding list. It’s often easy to skimp on the smaller things in favour of bigger buys but it really is the kind of top you’d use every ride. Just make sure you have something else to put over it and your good to go.

Katy Beveridge is currently at Central Saint Martins, a young designer and an avid cyclist. She is also the creator of The Bicycle Animation.

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6 Responses to Rapha Merino Wool Base Layer review

  1. Andy 23/04/2012 at 6:44 pm #

    Hi Katy. Thanks for the review.

    I bought one of these in black at the start of winter. I’d never tried a wool base-layer before, merino or otherwise as (said in a hushed tone) I have sensitive skin…it turned out to be a great purchase and well worth the money. Not even a hint of an itch either

    Very warm to wear under a long sleeve cycling jersey even on a particularly cold day a few weeks back – I know it was cold because I fell off on black ice – but it did have a little help on my body from a gilet I was also wearing (help with the cold, not the fall)

    I thought the black did look good and very stylish, well, to me at least. I don’t think I’d feel the same way if it was white! Not sure I’d ever wear it without an additional layer though.

    I had the opposite label “issue” to you: my first outing with the base layer, I wore it with the label on the inside and, worse still, back-to-front – that’s the way my mum taught me. Fortunately I noticed before anybody else on the ride did so a quick change in the loo saved face.

  2. Dan 24/04/2012 at 10:08 am #

    Good review, been curious about merino wool for a while. The price and the word “wool” has always put me a off a little. My main problem though isn’t staying warm, it’s staying cool! Did you find that this top helped when your body temperature was high?

  3. Barton 24/04/2012 at 2:44 pm #

    I wear a merino wool base layer as well. Mine is not cycling specific, but it was also bought at 90% off, so definitely the best purchase of the year. My fav thing about merino wool is that it is completely washable, so no need to keep going to the dry cleaner.

    The white you are modeling may cut quite the figure/be as flattering as previuos Rapha items, but it does look completely see-through and I must say it is a good thing you chose a good looking bra the day the pictures were taken.

  4. marygoround 24/04/2012 at 9:39 pm #

    I have been wearing a merino base layer (icebreaker 150) for my daily 40 min commute for over a year now and have to say it is the best thing ever – wicks sweat, keeps you warm and keeps you cool and not too smelly to leave in the office during the day – the nature shop often sell them at a discount.

  5. Frank 25/04/2012 at 6:42 pm #

    Bought one of those and my boyfriend told me I was looking fat in it so I never wear it again, next time if you have a bit of fat (I AM WORKING ON IT OK) you probably want to take the black as well…

  6. Nick D 27/04/2012 at 11:33 am #

    Yeah it IS washable – but you rarely need to wash merino, it’s anti-microbial – you can do a week’s snowboarding in one without washing it and it will barely smell at the end (and nor will you).

    Keeps you warm when it’s cold & relatively cool when it’s warm.

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