Patagonia Long-Sleeved Capilene Cool Lightweight Review
Compare prices at 2 resellers Pros: Ultralight, airy and breathable, affordable, up to 100% recycled polyester
Cons: Not a warm layer by itself, loose-fitting cuffs can get caught up when layering
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Our Analysis and Test Results
Born out of the need for a base layer that can stand up to the fast-and-light ethos of many of the Patagonia's athletes, the Long-Sleeved Capilene Cool Lightweight shirt might be a mouthful, but it is anything but cumbersome. Its ultra-lightweight build, breathable material, and airy fit make it perfect for high-exertion activities like trail running and cross-country mountain biking. We found it to perform better than almost any other layer in warmer climates — even in the hot sun of the desert southwest — where it quickly air-dried on our bodies, even after soaking up sweat underneath a heavy backpack.
As a stand-alone layer, the Capilene Cool Lightweight is too thin to stand up to much more than an early-autumn chill. However, its athletic fit and super soft next-to-skin feel make it a good base to layer your winter kit over. One of our only complaints with the update of this iconic piece is the loss of thumb-loops; when pulling on a tighter-fitting midlayer, especially those with particularly grabby face-fleece, the loose-fitting cuffs of the Capilene Cool Lightweight sometimes caught up in the sleeves. Put this layer on in the morning for your marathon days — whether it's climbing, running, backpacking, biking, or skiing — and know that at the very least, your base layer is covered, regardless of what other clothing gets layered-on or pulled-off throughout the day.
Before judging the warmth of this layer too harshly against a pool of mostly thicker competitors, we need to establish that the Capilene Cool Lightweight performs absolutely as it is marketed: as Patagonia's lightest-weight base layer, that falls at the end of the weight-and-warmth spectrum. In fact, we go so far as to call this an ultra-lightweight base layer — the fabric weight of this shirt is nearly half that of every other shirt in this test — and we find that weight and warmth tend to go hand-in-hand. This layer is best suited for high-exertion activities or higher temperatures.
Having set the record straight, this layer often exceeded our expectations in terms of warmth. We found that it performed best when protected from the wind. We loved pairing it with the award-winning Patagonia Houdini wind jacket, whether we were running or biking. Even on nights camping in the alpine when temperatures dipped just below freezing, we were comfortable sleeping just in this shirt, and only needed to throw on an additional layer when finally the urge to find a tree overtook us, and we were forced to climb out of our bags.
Although it is not necessarily warm, the Capilene Cool Lightweight is right at the top of the charts when it comes to breathability. The material of this shirt is consistently cool next-to-skin — whether it's worn by itself on a desert adventure when you need a little extra sun protection, or layered up underneath a puffy when temperatures drop on that north-facing wall. Couple that with HeiQ Fresh odor control, and this layer is bound to keep you dry and comfortable, even for days at a time — but not fresh forever.
The slightly looser, athletic fit moves air across your body exceptionally well. This layer does a magical job of maintaining that cooling sensation, even as our bodies warmed up throughout a long trail run. The relaxed fit of the collar does a particularly great job of dumping heat. If this is not enough — as experienced during a sun-soaked climb — the stretch of the loose-fitting cuffs allows you to pull up the sleeves completely, effectively turning this long sleeve shirt into a t-shirt.
Comfort and Fit
This layer follows the classic, athletic-cut used by many outdoor-wear producers, but with a slight twist. Rather than skin-hugging, the Capilene Cool Lightweight is baggy by many base layer standards. We found this to be a nice change of pace, allowing for a better range of movement, and a relaxed fit that made us want to continuously wear this top from sun-up to sun-down — and then to sleep, and repeat. Good space in the shoulders and stretchy polyester made reaching for holds easier when climbing, but a slightly shorter hemline (despite its slight drop-tail) could be an issue when you want to tuck-in for better core-heat retention.
The simple design has minimal articulation, and while this may detract ever-so-slightly from mobility, it makes this top incredibly comfortable as a next-to-skin layer. Although it is sewn with burly flatlock seams, the seam placement almost gives it the feel of seamless 3D-mapping. The airy fit, thin build, and soft, recycled-polyester equate to a larger range of comfort in a variety of 3-season environments, especially when engaged in high-output activities — this top became our go-to shirt for alpine trail running. It does a great job with thermoregulation, particularly when paired with a lightweight jacket to protect from the wind.
The Capilene Cool Lightweight top is designed to be worn when working hard and sweating heavily. As a result, it is simultaneously designed to dry off quickly on a body in motion. We loved this top for backpacking, with its ability to work comfortably through a range of temperatures during the day and the ability to quickly dry out in the evenings before the sun went down.
Drying speed and breathability tend to go hand-in-hand, but add to the mix an incredibly light material weight, and this top was the second-fastest drying time in our "soak n' dry" test. After a long day of backpacking, lay this top out to dry in the sun and know that within a half-hour or less, you'll be able to throw it back on or pack it away without fear.
The Capilene Cool Lightweight crew is the latest iteration in a long line of well-loved (and well-abused) base layers from Patagonia, a company that prides itself on setting the bar for the highest-quality outdoor gear — both in terms of product life, and production ethics (did we mention this polyester is up to 100% recycled?!).
The thin polyester held up surprisingly well through our abrasion test and being dragged up sharp, limestone corners while climbing. After heavy use, we found a few spots on the inside where some tiny seams had dropped. However, the outside face-material, combined with burly, flatlock seams, makes for a top that hits above average when it comes to durability.
The slippery, almost silk-like feel of the recycled polyester allows this top to be easily layered over. We found it works great as a true base layer, worn next-to-skin, with a mid-weight fleece directly on top, and a shell over that. This may seem disparagingly obvious to some — but often bulkier base layers end up with you feeling constricted, particularly with movement through the elbows.
Our biggest criticism with this otherwise outstanding base layer is that with this update, designers decided to ditch the thumb-loops. This results in the loose-fitting cuffs sometimes disappearing up into the elbows of your mid-layer — this is particularly true with the stickier fleece of the crowd-favorite, Patagonia R1.
As our Top Pick for a lightweight base layer, the value of the Capilene Cool Lightweight top is supported by its high marks in nearly every testing metric. An ultra-lightweight, ultra-comfortable piece that shines in terms of breathability during 3-season activity — and even holds up in the heart of the winter when properly layered over. It is one of the quickest drying, and one of the most versatile tops when it comes to fit, lasting durability, and overall performance. Not to mention, that the Fair Trade Certified sewn double-knit polyester is made of up to 100% recycled content, depending on colorway — we think this is very cool, can you tell?
If you are looking for a new layer that will take you through summer backpacking trips, into the fall as a running top, and through the winter and spring as a base layer for those long ski tour days, we think the Capilene Cool Lightweight is an incredibly versatile option, earning our Top Pick for a lightweight base layer. Not to mention (yet again) that you will be living up to the 3rd-R of reduce-reuse-recycle credo, because this top uses up to 100% recycled polyester (if you choose to buy a solid color pattern.) If you run cold or need heavier-weight layers for sitting on ski lifts, look at a thicker top, preferably made of merino wool. But if you want something for the other 3-seasons at an unmatched value, you've found it.
— Aaron Rice