base layer vs compression

Base layer vs compression layer; what’s the difference?

Amon Fearon - January 09, 2023

Regular gym-goers and athletes are no strangers to compression and base layers. Whether you train or not, you may be wondering what they are, why they are worn, and key differences between them. We’ve compiled everything you need to know about compression and base layers so you know which one to choose for your wardrobe.


What is a base layer?

Base layers are thinner layers of clothing worn to keep warm. They are perfect for cold weather activities and exercising as you can remove one layer at a time to better regulate your body temperature. Base layers are made with technical fabrics that are breathable and lightweight which helps to keep you comfortable while active.


What is a compression layer?

Compression layers are specially designed clothing to help reduce lactic acid building up in the muscles both during and after a workout. They can also aid in preventing muscles aches. Compression layers come in the form of leggings, shorts, socks, and tops.


What does a base layer do?

Base layers work by trapping a thin layer of heat between the clothing and your body. By using your body heat, you can keep warm even in the chilly winter months. Most base layers are made from highly technical fabric, which means they are moisture-wicking and breathable allowing you to unlock your full potential. They can be used for winter running or skiing trips.


How do compression clothes work?

Compression layers apply pressure to your muscles while working out but what does that really mean?

During exercise:

  • The compression of the layers increases blood flow and oxygen to your muscles and tissues which means you can work out more efficiently and for longer.
  • The slight pressure has also been found to increase proprioception (your awareness of your body) which can improve posture, balance and general movement.


Post exercise:

  • The compression works like a low-level massage with the slight pressure on your muscles and reduce delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS).
  • The tightness of the material means your skin and muscles are slightly warmer than normal, which also aids recovery minimising muscle aches. This can allow you to work out more often which will enable you to reach your goals quicker.


What is compression clothing made of?

Compression clothing should be made from quality fabrics specifically designed with performance in mind. Most compression clothing uses a blend of polyester and elastane fabric for the perfect combination of compression and flexibility for a full range of movement. Plus, most good quality compression clothing will include flatlock elastane stitching for increased stretch, durability and reduces chafing.


What to wear over a base layer?

Base layers are ideal for layering up, whether that’s in summer or winter. Your base layers act as moisture control which can help to regulate your body temperature, wick away any moisture as you begin to sweat and are fast drying.


On top of your base layer, you want to focus on insulation. In colder weather, pair your base layers with a fleece or gilet for added warmth. This isn’t always necessary and is only really needed in particularly cold temperatures. Otherwise head straight to your outer jackets. This includes waterproof and windproof jackets that will protect you against the elements but can also be removed and put back on as your body temperature changes.


How tight should a base layer be?

Your base layers should neither be too tight or too loose. Unlike compression layers, which are very tight fitting, your base layers should have a good fit so they are close to the skin without restricting your movement or mobility. As we’ve already mentioned, base layers work by trapping a layer of heat between the clothing and your body. That means, in order for your base layers to do their job, you need at least a little bit of wiggle room.


When it comes down to it, base layers and compression layers serve very different purposes. Base layers are perfect for regulating your body temperature whereas compression layers can help with a speedier muscle recovery. While neither are essential pieces of kit, they remain a staple for athletes in the gym or in high intensity sports. The pursuit of gains, big or small, make the elite performer. If you are considering base and compression layers, they come highly recommended.