Patagonia Capilene Air Crew Review
Cons: Super expensive, extremely poor durability
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Our Analysis and Test Results
The Patagonia Capilene Air is setting a high bar for the potential of base layers in the future. Combining extreme warmth with superior breathability, this top performs at high levels allowing it to keep you warm in high output and start/stop activities in the most brutal conditions. Its comfort makes it a layer that we used any excuse we could to throw it on and were hard pressed ever to take it off. A versatile base layer that will keep you warm and dry layered in frigid temps or cool and dry when you're running the engines at high RPMs during winter activities. The tough-to-stomach price and extremely low durability are the black marks on the beauty of this base layer.
When it comes to warmth, this is one of the highest performing tops we tested. Patagonia has created a brilliant base layer with a fabric that is warm enough to layer through the deepest reaches of winter's cold but breathable enough to wear it as a single layer in the mild temps of spring and fall.
The high loft sweater-like material is thick and plush and traps heat extremely well. When it is layered underneath insulating or hard shell layers, it cranks up the heat, keeping you warm in bitterly cold conditions like skiing or winter hunting. Even though it will keep you toasty in the frigid, the nearly see-through material is breathable enough though that you won't overheat, sweat, and then freeze when working hard backcountry skiing, ice climbing, or shoveling your driveway in the heart of winter. Due to its impressive breathability, we wore it comfortably as a single layer hiking through canyons in Utah up into the high 60-degree range.
The Capilene Air was only bested by our Editor's Choice here because of how permeable the fabric is; it allows air to pass through it extremely well which makes it breathable but also means that cold air cuts through it like a freshly sharpened blade through warm butter. So the warmth of this top in icy conditions relies on having adequate, mid, insulating, and outer shell layers.
This layer shines in the breathability category. We were blown away with this layer's ability to breathe. Calm and consistent like a meditating monk, this fabric allowed air to pass through it like a ghost through a wall. When held up to the light, the thick, stretchy, and airy material is nearly transparent. What makes the superior breathability of this piece so incredible is its warmth.
Lighter-weight options may also let air pass through them like a guard snoring at their post, but are comparatively thin and do not provide adequate warmth in the serious cold. Enter the Capilene Air, much like Bo Jackson, this layer is a top-level athlete in more than one discipline. Hitting home runs for warmth and scoring touchdowns for breathability, it is unrivaled in its superiority across the two.
The fabric does a great job of wicking sweat away from the body, not wanting to hold onto moisture, and drying fast complimenting its breathability. For the thickness of the fabric, it dried fast, up to 10 minutes faster than competitors at a similar thickness but much heavier weight. Although, compared to the other super breathable layers it took nearly twice as long to dry. We're not sure there could be such a thing as too breathable but because of how efficient it is, it offers little to no wind resistance which means without a layer to put over top, cold winds cut through this and chill your core. Ideal for high intensity and start/stop missions in super cold conditions when layered properly.
Comfort and Fit
Another category that this top knocked out of the park. When this slides on, it's like someone took a cashmere sweater, stuck a bike pump in it and fluffed it up so it floated like a cloud gently resting itself against your skin. It honestly is one of the most comfortable layers we've tested.
Patagonia has taken a blended material of 51% Merino wool and 49% recycled polyester and put it through an innovative process during the spinning of the yarn that they call 'air blasting'. What this does, in essence, is 'fluff' up the yarn fibers which allows them to have a higher loft but reduces the weight and bulk. What you end up with is a top that is a thick, cush warm layer that is lightweight, not bulky, and nearly see-through making it a heavy hitter in cold conditions while simultaneously being a champion of breathability.
Other features that make this one of the comfiest base layers money can buy is the completely seamless design. Patagonia's 3-D knit structure has allowed them to create a base layer that has NO stitched seams anywhere on the garment. The entire garment wears as a single piece of fabric enabling it to seamlessly, pun intended, metamorphose into a part of your skin. It is by far the stretchiest material of any base layer we tested. The stretch allows it to move with you and stay in place through any and every activity. Riding up, bunching, or exposing bare skin was never an issue. It does an incredible job at hugging your body and moving with you as if it is an extension of your skin.
This piece fits well, a bit loose in the sleeves that one could argue are a tad too long. There's no pull, tightness, or discomfort anywhere. The softness and stretchiness of the unique material move with your body as if they're one. Stretch hem tends to ride up a bit but sits comfortably at all times and never exposed skin.
The size Medium we tested fits with a little room, if you are in between sizes, sizing down would ensure a very snug next to skin fit, whereas traditional size will still fit snug but with a little more wiggle room. Being tall and thin, at 6' and 150 lbs., our lead tester fit comfortably in a medium but could wear a small if a layer that hugged a little tighter was desired. It has an obnoxiously itchy tag that is made to be removed without harming the fabric but be careful because this fragile top will crumble in your hands if scissors cut it too close.
It looks enough like a sweater that you could wear it over a shirt in public and people wouldn't be the wiser, which adds to its versatility. Overall, a tough layer to beat when it comes to comfort but could use some fine-tuning in the fit department.
Another benefit to the innovate 'air blasting' technique used to create this one-of-a-kind base layer is that you get a thick, cushy, super warm fabric but without the downsides of a heavier weight garment; like holding an incredible amount of water in the fibers or taking forever to dry.
Although it is a Merino/poly blend, it resisted saturation much like the other Merino wool layers. We had to agitate and compress it under water for the fibers to soak thru. Compared to competitors at a similar thickness and warmth rating, the Capilene Air was not as heavy when saturated and dried faster. Compared to the other base layers we tested, this top came in the top half for the fastest drying times which is significant, as it is one of the warmest. Overall this top, given its warmth range and thickness of fabric, dries impressively fast. Another win for the Patagonia Capilene Air.
Ok, here is where this top dog tucks his tail in between his legs. This thing is simply not durable. It's like owning a Lamborghini, it is beautifully crafted, crazy expensive, and performs at the highest levels, but you're scared to drive it through the mud or scratch the paint. The fabric, as innovative and technologically advanced as it is, is just super fragile. It's thin and wears holes easily if you give it a good beating. If you wanted to feel like Hulk Hogan and rip your shirt off like Superman, this is a top that would probably work for you.
We burnt a small hole right through the stretchy and airy fabric during our abrasion test in the lab. It seemed to fair okay through washing and drying cycles, but we were nervous every time we opened the dryer door that we were going to pull out a pile of unraveled yarn. It did not shrink or lose shape at all, which was promising and appreciated. It showed signs of surface pilling at first, but they buffed out. Although if this is in any abrasion situation, the fabric will pill on the surface if you don't wear a hole all the way through it. One tester accidentally put it in the dryer with a large piece of velcro (don't ask, we're not sure how that happens either) and upon taking out a glued ball of fabric, had to gingerly tear away the velcro from the fabric in fear of ripping it into a million pieces. As always, we suggest gentle wash cycle and air dry for all technical base layer, especially Merino wool.
If you can afford it and need a top that will perform at the highest level in the harshest conditions, then we give you two enthusiastic thumbs up. We just highly recommend that you don't wear it as an outer layer when doing anything that involves scraping, groveling, crawling, shoving, dragging, or pulling yourself up or along any texture rougher than a pane of glass. If this thing is intentionally taken care of and lives under layers during activity, it has the potential to bring you unprecedented performance for a long time. If you're the type of person that had a grass-stained hole on the knees of your new back-to-school jeans on the first day of 3rd grade, we highly recommend any other layer.
This top did really well with layering ability. Even though it has a thick, plush feel, it isn't bulky at all, so it layers well underneath mid layers and insulating layers alike. The slightly looser fit allows it to effectively and comfortably layer over a t-shirt or another tighter fitting base layer. It looks like a sweater so can be worn as an over-layer in social settings and thrive which isn't a quality all base layers share. We found ourselves equally splitting time with it next-to-skin as well as throwing it over a t-shirt in situations where we needed extra warmth. It is comfortable and doesn't bulk up or bunch when incorporated in a full layering system.
You will definitely need to hold onto the cuffs of the sleeves when layering underneath a sticky fleece mid layer like a Patagonia R1 if you don't want your sleeves to end up bunched at your elbows. Overall, we were impressed with how low profile it felt when layered compared to its thick fabric and the range of warmth it offers.
This one is another blow to the glowing abilities of this layer. No getting around it, this top is the most expensive base layer that we tested. The price combined with the inherent lack of durability makes this a tough sell for a lot of folks. Other quality base layers work well and cost less. We have yet to find a base layer that rivals the warmth to breathability ratio of this particular top, and if you can afford it and pinky-promise to take good care of it, we think that you'll enjoy the delightful comfort, the wonderful warmth, and the unbeatable breathability this base layer offers. But we don't blame you if you pass it by for a lower price and higher durability.
To wrap it up, the Patagonia Capilene Air is in a league of its own when it comes to its ability to seamlessly blend high warmth with extreme breathability in a package that is oh-so comfortable and cozy. You'll enjoy the high performance it brings to high pursuit activities in cold conditions as well as the versatility of it looking great apres ski. The looming dark cloud over this shining star is the hard-to-stomach price and the all too sad durability.
— Roland Mott