Hands-on Gear Review
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Pros: Moderately priced, very durable, well rounded performance
Cons: Lower performance than merino wool, can get stinky
Best Uses: Rugged manly activities like mountaineering, or gentler manly stuff like yoga class
The Patagonia Capilene 3 Crew is a quality piece of long underwear without a lot of flair. Its decent performance across a range of metrics combined with its reasonable price tag is the reason why it took home our Best Buy award. This top's standout characteristic is durability, and it can be expected to outlive other tops that cost more than twice as much. While merino wool layers may provide marginal benefits in warmth or breathability, their high cost is a catching point for many shoppers. With this layer you can expect good performance along with quick drying speed and comfort, but at a fraction of the price.
For those that need the best, regardless of cost, check out the Editors' Choice Smartwool NTS Mid 250 Crew, or you can compare that along with six other base layers at The Best Long Underwear and Base Layer Review
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OutdoorGearLab Editors' Hands-on Review
This basic crew top is a blend of solid performance in all areas at a reasonable price that results in a possibly bland, but useful shirt. The simplicity is both a blessing and a curse. A blessing because it lacks any unusual styling or features to criticize, but a curse because it lacks any styling or features to praise. It just does what is asked of a base layer; nothing more and nothing less.
This shirt takes the middle road on warmth when compared to the other long underwear tops reviewed. It provides a similar amount of insulation as other high scoring tops, like the Smartwool 250 Crew and the Icebreaker Oasis, while weighing slightly less, at 8.1 oz for a large. We think this 'mid' weight insulation maximizes the potential uses of a base layer. It is thin enough to wear as the sole layer in mild temperatures; while also thick enough to keep you warm as the first layer of a multi-layer system during cold or low intensity activities.
The disguised thumb loops—included on all Patagonia base layers tested—add an extra bit of insulation by overlapping the gap between shirt and gloves to prevent heat loss from the surface vasculature of the wrist. This may sound like an insignificant feature, but it can actually make a big difference at critical times.
Despite the reported inferiority of synthetics to wool in breathability, the Cap 3, scored well. It is not as breathable as any of the merino wool base layers tested, but the difference is small and the price substantially less. We considered this top to be the second most breathable synthetic reviewed; behind the significantly thinner and lighter Under Armor Base 2.0.
The double knit fabric of this shirt capably wicked moisture. As a simple crew neck, it lacks the zipper or buttons of other shirts that help to vent air. However, it also lacks the weight or bulk that those features add. Like any long sleeve, you can roll up the sleeves when you start to overheat. The stretchable cuff does this nicely; keeping the shirt in place without constricting.
Patagonia Merino 2 Lightweight Henley, yet still well ahead of the worst performing base layers. If you can stand feeling wet, that's ok because it will continue to insulate when wet.
Understand that the results of our air dry test largely coincide with the thickness of the fabric. This shirt had an average thickness and, predictably, an average drying speed. Take this into consideration when shopping; for activities where you know you will be sweating it may be better to select a thinner top.
Like all the long underwear reviewed, this top works well as a primary next-to-skin layer. The smooth outer material slides well beneath other layers. Additionally, the relaxed fit gives you enough room to wear it over a separate thin shirt or tank. This use is somewhat limited by the crew neck—we prefer the ventilation possibilities of an open collar—but it can function as a second layer if needed.
Durability is one area where synthetics usually do well, and the Cap 3 exemplifies this trend. It was the second most robust shirt tested, beaten out by only the thicker and 25% heavier, The North Face Expedition Long Sleeve Zip Neck. Performance in this area is, along with price, one of the primary reasons shoppers select synthetics over wool. This top is ideal for extended heavy use or activities with a likelihood of scratches and abrasion, like rock climbing or off-trail hiking.
The counterpoint to the physical longevity is that synthetics, unlike wool, will absorb moisture and develop odors. This can lead to unhappy tent mates and a shortened lifespan due to more cycles through the washer. Patagonia touts the Polygiene® permanent odor control it contains, but we were still able to get it pretty stinky. Polyester fabric is reported to have problems absorbing oily stains in particular, which can require special care to remove. We didn't have any issues but it might be worth considering if you handle bike grease or cam lube regularly
Comfort and Fit
The well-balanced characteristics of the Cap 3 mean that it can be used in almost any situation. Its durability suggests that ideal situations include the extended use of thru-hikes or expeditions, or rough activities that require a resistance to abrasion that merino wool lacks. We know from our tests that it can hold up to the demands of hunting, rock climbing, or spelunking. The simple design also means that when you get back from adventures it can still work as a casual top at home or out on the town.
As mentioned above, this was softest synthetic reviewed, and the best option for someone with a budget and a wool allergy.
The value of this base layer is its greatest attribute and the reason it took home our Best Buy Award. At $55, it is less than half the price of the most expensive shirt tested, the Patagonia Capilene 4 Expedition Weight 1/4 Zip Hoody, and significantly less than the merino wool options. Additionally, with its advantage in durability, it is likely to last far longer than any of those pricier shirts. The price tag, however, is still considerable. Cheaper options, like the Duofold Midweight Crew do exist for indoor use or outdoor activities close to home.
Patagonia has produced a quality base layer in the Cap 3 Crew. It is not the top finisher in any one category, but its strong showing in all areas results in a well-rounded piece with desirable qualities for almost any activity. While many of the merino wool products did score higher overall, their performance comes at a high price and with durability concerns. Thrifty shoppers looking for comparable quality should consider the Cap 3 for their next base layer.
Other Versions and Accessories
Patagonia also makes matching bottoms in the same weight and style, Capilene 3 Midweight Bottoms. There is a little different styling and function to the Cap 3 Zip-Neck. At a lower weight, the Cap 2 Crew is available, and we reviewed the thicker Patagonia Capilene 4 Expedition Weight 1/4 Zip Hoody as part of these long underwear tests.
— Jack Cramer
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Most recent review: March 30, 2015
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