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Patagonia Capilene Lightweight Crew Review

An ultra-lightweight base layer top that is built for movement and high heart rate activities in anything from cool to hot conditions, a perfect all-around layer for the milder seasons at a great price.
Best Buy Award
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Price:  $50 List | $49.00 at REI
Compare prices at 3 resellers
Pros:  Ultra-lightweight, extremely breathable, quick to dry, soft, doubles as sun shirt, affordable
Cons:  Not very warm, not super durable
Manufacturer:   Patagonia
By Roland Mott ⋅ Review Editor  ⋅  Nov 13, 2018
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70
OVERALL
SCORE


RANKED
#4 of 9
  • Warmth - 20% 3
  • Breathability - 20% 9
  • Comfort and Fit - 20% 7
  • Drying Speed - 15% 9
  • Durability - 15% 7
  • Layering Ability - 10% 8

Our Verdict

The Patagonia Capilene Lightweight Crew is our Best Buy Winner. For under $50, it offers the quality of construction and sustainability that Patagonia is known for. With a smooth 100% recycled polyester fabric that is soft and cool on your skin, this base layer is built for moving and working hard in a range of temperatures and conditions. The ultra-lightweight material boasts impressive breathability and lightning fast dry times, making this top ideal for people who love to get their sweat on! It is at the extreme end of lightweight base layers, meaning that its purpose is not to keep you warm in cold conditions. This is by no means a base layer for winter activities.

If you could benefit from a base layer that will work as hard as you do through spring, summer, and fall, this is a great option. We found it to be our favorite base layer for summer backpacking. If you require the intensive breathability but would like a little more warmth to extend into the shoulder seasons, the Rab Merino+ 120 Crew is worth a hard look.


Compare to Similar Products

Our Analysis and Test Results

The perfect layer for high-intensity, hot and sweaty activities in cool to hot weather, this lightweight base layer is soft and cool offering stellar breathability and a loose, comfortable fit.

Performance Comparison


The Capilene Lightweight crew fits loose throughout the entire garment but has a nice length on the torso and arms.
The Capilene Lightweight crew fits loose throughout the entire garment but has a nice length on the torso and arms.

Warmth


Warm is not the descriptive adjective that we assign to this base layer and is simply not what this top was built to do. This is Patagonia's lightest base layer and exists to follow you through the three seasons that don't include white flakes falling from the sky. The super lightweight material offers a cool touch against the skin and excels at keeping you cool and dry in warm to hot conditions.


Although this base layer does add some insulation when paired under warmer layers, it's just not meant for the winter. It is the perfect layer next to skin or over a t-shirt on cool summer nights. If you need warmth look elsewhere - but if you can use a base layer that can be worn all day and all night thru the summer months, this is for you.

Breathability


Alongside the Rab Merino+ 120, this top is the most breathable in our testing. The thin and super lightweight 100% recycled polyester fits loose, allowing air to flow between your skin and the top freely. The breathability factor of most base layers is partially dependent on the tightness of the fabric to your body. If the fabric is tight against your skin, it will want to pull hot humid air that you create to the surface of the fabric and release it to the cool dry air outside the shirt.


That doesn't seem to be a factor with this top because the lightweight polyester material is cool against your skin. It doesn't naturally foster a warm humid environment like a tight insulating base layer would and the looseness of the top allows air to flow freely between your skin and the fabric allowing circulation for body heat to move out. Paired with the lightweight and breathable material it does an excellent job of drying quickly if your sweat does make it onto the fabric. When it comes to breathability this top is nearly unmatched and excels at keeping you cool in any situation. Being a top that is built to sweat in, the Capilene line is notorious for being horribly stinky. This top has Patagonia's Polygiene® permanent odor control which helps keep the formidable stink at bay but this shirt will still end up smelling poorly, it just takes longer than before. A step in the right direction for sure but still doesn't compete with merino wool's ability to ward off the stank.

The Capilene Lightweight Crew was the only base layer top that could be effectively used as a sun shirt. On a trip through Lodore Canyon  it never left our skin. We'd sleep in it  wake up and row through the hot sun all day  and then throw a fleece and puffy over it at night.
The Capilene Lightweight Crew was the only base layer top that could be effectively used as a sun shirt. On a trip through Lodore Canyon, it never left our skin. We'd sleep in it, wake up and row through the hot sun all day, and then throw a fleece and puffy over it at night.

Comfort and Fit


This top doesn't have a traditional base layer fit. It fits loose throughout the entire garment including the sleeves and cuffs. The fit is more like a regular long sleeve t-shirt, loose and comfortable. You can easily wear it as a base layer or just as easily and comfortably layer it over another shirt. The fabric is extremely soft and very stretchy; really nice next to skin, it feels silk-like. Smooth and slippery against your skin. The lightweight recycled double knit polyester is a much cooler feeling fabric than any other base layer we tested. It feels like a technical, long-sleeved sun shirt.


It is very thoughtfully and purposefully designed. The minimalistic flatlock seams are comfortable and go unnoticed against your skin. Offset shoulder seams make it comfortable when carrying a pack. A full gusseted underarm that runs the entire length of the garment allows for the top to not rise up and expose your belly when reaching above. It is the most effective underarm gusset design and the only other top that utilizes the same design is the Rab Merino+ 120 Crew. Stretchy fabric paired with a drop-tail hem, long torso, and thumb loops allow for uninhibited mobility. This is the only model that has thumb loops, which were an added bonus. Overall, we liked the comfort and fit of this piece. If this layer was meant to keep you warm in cold conditions the fit would be counter-productive but with the purpose of keeping you cool in warm conditions, the fit does its job extremely well.

The extremely lightweight Capilene layer was the only top to feature a thumb loop which was great for layering as well as keeping the sun off the backs of our hands.
Here is the stellar seam pattern for the underarm gusset that runs the entire length of the garment making it super mobile. This top was clearly built for movement.

Drying Speed


As a top that is meant to be attached to a body that is sweating profusely, it shines in its ability to dry quickly. The lightweight polyester is slow to saturate and dries faster than you can say solar flare. This is one of the few tops you could jump into an alpine lake, lay it on a rock in the sunshine and it would be dry in a matter of minutes. It tied for the fastest flat dry time with the Rab Merino+ 120 Crew, which dried four times faster than the slowest drying top.


One of the benefits of the super quick drying fabric along with the weight and compressibility is that you can take this thing with you anywhere! Wash it in a hotel sink, in a river, shove it in your pack on any and every adventure. It's so light and versatile, there's no reason not to have it with you. It received almost a perfect score in this metric and easily outperformed all the other layers besides Rab.

Durability


As with all Patagonia products, they pride themselves on making quality, durable gear. This top is no exception. Even though it is an extremely thin fabric, it is made of 100% recycled polyester which is an inherently strong yarn. The double-knit polyester gives this a level of durability that lives above the weight of the fabric. In our abrasion test in the lab, this layer fared pretty well showing some surface scuff marks. The fabric thinned slightly but wasn't close to wearing a hole. For reference, our abrasion test cooked a hole right through the much thicker synthetic fabric of The North Face Warm.


It has high-quality stitching and seams, we didn't witness any tearing or unraveling at the seamlines. The fabric was easy to snag on sharp branches like Acacia (aka Cats Claw) and did leave a pull at the fabric but didn't tear through it. Although it is durable for how thin it is, it's not as durable as heavier synthetic layers like the Arc'teryx Phase AR but is significantly more durable than a merino of the same weight like the Rab Merino+ 120, for example.

Here is the damage from our abrasion test. Pretty minor  especially considering the significantly thicker North Face Warm synthetic layer now sports a hole through the fabric.
Here is the damage from our abrasion test. Pretty minor, especially considering the significantly thicker North Face Warm synthetic layer now sports a hole through the fabric.

Layering Ability


The smooth, silk-like glide of this top makes it extremely efficient for layering. The smooth fabric allows layers to cruise right over the top of it with ease and the thumb loops allow it to be layered underneath tighter, stickier mid layers like a Patagonia R1 without snagging, pulling or bunching.


Because of its looser fit, it feels at home overtop a t-shirt or another base layer. We found ourselves wearing it in a myriad of ways - next to skin when it was hot, layered over another base layer when it was crisp, and throwing it over a light t-shirt while sleeping during the warmer summer nights.

Best Applications


We discovered this to be the perfect layer for activities like summer or fall backpacking where you can wear it as a sun shirt to keep you cool all day and then as a layer to keep you warm on those delightfully cool summer evenings. It also served us well on summer and fall river trips through the Grand Canyon and Lodore Canyon. It's the perfect layer for adding just that little bit of warmth you need in your sleeping bag on warm summer nights but won't allow you to overheat. Then when you wake up you might as well keep it on as the sun comes out and you row down the river.

Obviously  brushing your teeth in it is the best application! This thing is your best friend in cool to hot temperatures when you're working hard  but not to be trusted it in the bitter cold.
Obviously, brushing your teeth in it is the best application! This thing is your best friend in cool to hot temperatures when you're working hard, but not to be trusted it in the bitter cold.

Another great application we found is for traveling. It's lightweight and takes up no space, serves as a super versatile layer for any season of travel and can be washed in a hotel sink or a river and dry quickly.

Value


As the Best Buy Award winner, we're going to have to say the value versus price on this top is, in our own words, the best bang for your buck. Even if you're on a search for a base layer to weather the bitter winds of old man winter, for $50 this top is worth just having in your quiver. For such a great price, the quality and versatility of this base layer are unbeatable. For a week's worth of Starbucks Pumpkin Spice Lattes, you could have a layer that is a go-to for all of your summer adventures and world travels. For the wide range of benefits this base layer offers, it seems worth it to us.

Our Best Buy Award winner  at $49 it's hard to not justify having this in your quiver given its quality of construction and stellar versatility in everything but warmth.
Our Best Buy Award winner, at $49 it's hard to not justify having this in your quiver given its quality of construction and stellar versatility in everything but warmth.

Conclusion


The Patagonia Lightweight Capilene Crew is so light and breathable that we forgot we were wearing it almost every time we put it on, it was impressively breathable and dried so fast that we weren't sure it was ever wet. Its unique ability to be worn as a layer to help keep you warm in cooler temps or alone as a sun shirt in the blistering heat of summer makes this stand out from the bunch for being a base layer that isn't restricted to winter or colder weather. Its versatility to be worn for nearly every purpose through the warmer months of the year make this top an Award Winner and a great do-everything layer for everything but winter. For what you get, it's a fantastic deal.


Roland Mott