Hands-on Gear Review
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Street Price: $95 | Compare prices at 5 resellers
Pros: Warm, burly.
Cons: Sleeves short, expensive.
Best Uses: Climbing, slot canyons, burlfests.
This is the wool workhorse of our baselayer collection. The Smartwool web site calls it the NTS Mid 250 Crew but most retailers call it the Midweight Crew. It's our favorite for climbing and slot canyons. It's thick and fuzzy, perfect for protecting our elbows and shoulders on offwidths and chimneys. And it costs less than most other wool baselayers, which makes it perfect for all our dirty work.
While the Smartwool Midweight has a few perfect applications, try our Editors' Choice, the Icebreaker GT, for a more versatile alternative. Or, if you want something less expensive, the Patagonia Capilene 3 is great for climbing and hiking in warmer weather.
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OutdoorGearLab Editors' Hands-on Review
Every society needs a method to deal with its trash, and the Smartwool Midweight is ours. It is comfortable but burly and thick enough to deal with some of the unromantic realities of outdoor life. It is what we use to thrash through brambles, grovel in chimneys and hack through undergrowth. If the weather is cold, and something needs chopping, digging, or hauling, the Midweight is perfectly suited. It's durable enough to handle the mangling and cheap enough to justify it. It wins our Top Pick for durability – Here's why:
It is soft and pleasant to wear. It fits snugly, without being too tight in any one area. The fit is looser than the Icebreaker GT, but tighter than the Ibex Zepher. It doesn't have a "drop tail" in the torso, meaning that it's not long enough to tuck securely into pants, and will often ride up. The arms are too short for some testers, but this actually was useful for us - it meant that we could sink hand jams without the sleeves getting in the way.
It is a very effective insulator, and due to its thickness it doesn't breathe very well in warmer temperatures. It's warm enough to wear as a standalone layer or underneath a t-shirt in cold weather, which makes it great for winter cragging. It's an ideal thickness for day hikes, when you don't want to bring multiple layers. It's relatively windproof.
Because it's a bit thicker than form-fitting baselayers like the GT, it functions better as a midweight layer, rather than the absolute base. We found it was most comfortable as activewear in the 20-40 degree range.
The Smartwool NTS wasn't terribly impressive at wicking. In its defense, it's more of a midweight layer than base. A good layering system should draw moisture from one's core out to the insulating layers or breathable exterior layer, but the Midweight leaves something to be desired in this capacity. That said, while it held on to sweat and moisture, it still felt remarkably comfortable while doing it. We preferred it as a standalone layer for this reason, a job it performed well.
Until you try dragging it through mud or over granite, it's hard to appreciate the true value of the Midweight Crew. While middle-of-the road in most metrics, when it comes to durability the NTS is truly exceptional. This shirt can handle abuse. Real abuse. Scraping and clawing up off-widths, catching on Himalayan Blackberry, marmot-gnawing kind of abuse. It's what we wear when building trails in Moab, Utah, or felling trees in Ontario. The weave is thick and the fabric is dense (and apparently two-layered). If your intentions are burly and perhaps a bit mad, then buy this base layer immediately. You will not regret it.
If you ever succeeded in damaging the NTS to the point of being unwearable, then you would deserve some kind of medal. As our top pick for durability, the NTS is a worthy investment. It's cheaper than most other wool shirts, and sale prices rival those of synthetic baselayers. After four years of heavy use, we still wear our intact Smartwool shirts regularly. Even without proper care, the Midweight Crew should last a good long time.
Smartwool Midweight Crew - Women's, $95.
The Smartwool Microweight Crew, $85, is a lightweight, casual-fitting baselayer.
If you're looking for something a little heavier, check out the SmartWool SmartLoft Divide Full Zip, $230.
The Smartwool Midweight Zip T - Men's or Smartwool Midweight Zip T - Women's costs $10 more and comes with a 1/4 zip.
— Atherton Phleger
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Most recent review: August 22, 2014
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