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REI Co-op Lightweight Crew Review

A simple, functional base layer with performance issues consistent with its price point
REI Co-op Lightweight Crew
Photo: REI Co-op
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Price:  $40 List | Check Price at REI
Pros:  Inexpensive, breathable, functional
Cons:  Lack of durability, long dry times
Manufacturer:   REI Co-op
By Aaron Rice ⋅ Review Editor  ⋅  May 27, 2021
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60
OVERALL
SCORE


RANKED
#14 of 16
  • Warmth - 25% 7
  • Breathability - 20% 6
  • Comfort and Fit - 20% 6
  • Drying Speed - 10% 4
  • Durability - 15% 5
  • Layering Ability - 10% 7

Our Verdict

Don't underestimate the value of the REI Co-op Lightweight Crew. Even though it ranks low overall, when compared directly to the competition, this lightweight top scores a nice balance between warmth and breathability. The polyester-spandex blend offers some stretch for improved comfort and a more forgiving fit. Unfortunately for those looking for a versatile layer for an extended backpacking trip, long dry times and durability issues might not make this your best option. But for other, low-output activity across a variety of environments, the Lightweight Crew is a 3-season option that presents high value for its affordable price point.

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Pros Inexpensive, breathable, functionalAffordable, fashionable fit, breathableAffordable, tough and ultralight, thoughtful articulation, UPF protectionUltralight, airy and breathable, affordable, up to 100% recycled polyesterExtremely breathable, lightweight, dries fast, super affordable
Cons Lack of durability, long dry timesFiner thread Merino is not quite as warm, slightly itchy, shoulder top seamsIneffective odor control, warm-weather focusedNot a warm layer by itself, loose-fitting cuffs can get caught up when layeringPoor fit, not very warm, not super durable, stinky
Bottom Line A simple, functional base layer with performance issues consistent with its price pointThis top delivers the fine qualities of a merino wool base layer without the extreme costA versatile, lightweight, and affordable layer that protects from the sun and fights off the chill of early adventure morningsA high-value piece whose breathability and airy fit means that it can be worn for high-output activity regardless of the season, but not your go-to layer for mid-winter warmthThis top is an impressively breathable and lightweight base layer built for activities where you are creating a lot of heat
Rating Categories REI Co-op Lightweig... Meriwool Midweight... Outdoor Research Ec... Patagonia Long-Slee... Helly Hansen Lifa S...
Warmth (25%)
7.0
8.0
5.0
4.0
4.0
Breathability (20%)
6.0
8.0
9.0
9.0
8.0
Comfort And Fit (20%)
6.0
7.0
7.0
8.0
4.0
Drying Speed (10%)
4.0
6.0
8.0
8.0
6.0
Durability (15%)
5.0
7.0
7.0
7.0
6.0
Layering Ability (10%)
7.0
6.0
7.0
7.0
6.0
Specs REI Co-op Lightweig... Meriwool Midweight... Outdoor Research Ec... Patagonia Long-Slee... Helly Hansen Lifa S...
Material 92% polyester, 8% spandex 100% merino wool Airvent 100% polyester 100% double knit polyester (37% recycled, heather-colors; 100% recycled, solid-colors) 100% Lifa® polypropylene
Fabric Weight Not Listed 250g/m² 108 g/m² 77 g/m² 125 g/m²
Weight (size M) 6.1 oz 9.8 oz 3.4 oz 3.8 oz 4.4 oz
Types available short sleeve, crew, 1/4 zip crew crew, 1/4 zip, hoody long sleeve, t-shirt crew
Thumb Loops? No No No No No
Air Dry Test (minutes) 70 45 30 30 35
Fit Semi-fitted Slim fit Slim fit Slim fit Slim fit
Stitching Flatlock seams Flatlock and flat seams Flatlock seams Flatlock seams Flatlock seams
Dryer safe? Yes No Yes Yes Yes
Shoulder top seams? No Yes No Yes Yes
Drop tail hem? Yes Yes No Yes No

Our Analysis and Test Results

The top-half to the well-respected pair of long underwear bottoms, the REI Co-op Lightweight Crew doesn't quite match up when comparing performance. This simple, synthetic top is a blend of 92% polyester and 8% spandex that allows for a more versatile fit, with underarm gussets and raglan sleeves to improve mobility. A UPF 50+ fabric rating is a welcomed addition for summertime use, but a change in fabric construction severely impacts functionality, particularly breathability.

Performance Comparison


This is a value-minded base layer that is still plenty capable of...
This is a value-minded base layer that is still plenty capable of keeping up with your athletics, particularly through the warmer three seasons.
Photo: Jill Rice

Warmth


Likely its greatest asset, the REI Lightweight Crew is not lacking when it comes to warmth. Even though its fabric weight is unavailable, at 6.1 ounces for a size Medium, this top falls squarely on the appropriate end of the spectrum. And yet, it manages to provide a level of heat retention on par with other wool competitors pushing the midweight range. This is remarkable for any synthetic layer — which tends to have trouble competing with the warmth-to-weight ratio of Merino wool in particular — but understandable based on the material design.

It wouldn't be our first choice for mid-winter warmth, but it surely...
It wouldn't be our first choice for mid-winter warmth, but it surely did fine come spring time when the sun is your constant companion.
Photo: Jill Rice

Breathability


Even thicker-cut synthetics base layers tend to breathe well, and the Lightweight Crew is no exception. This lightweight top is well suited to summertime adventures — thanks in part to a UPF 50+ protection rating — but tends to handle lower output activities like backpacking better than those that require more exertion. On trail runs, the Lightweight Crew doesn't breathe quite as well as directly comparable synthetic options. While it does a fairly good job of wicking sweat away from your body, the thicker-cut polyester-spandex blend has a bad habit of retaining heat underneath its relative baggy cut.

This fabric design would work better with less spandex, and more...
This fabric design would work better with less spandex, and more emphasis on creating ventilation holes that were a bit more permeable.
Photo: Jill Rice

Comfort and Fit


Just like the matching bottoms, the Lightweight Crew top has a tough time competing head-to-head with the comfort offered by merino wool layers. The 8% spandex adds a welcomed bit of stretch to improve fit, particularly for those with broader shoulders or chests. But despite its silky appearance, this top is more sticky than smooth when worn next to skin.

Click to enlarge
Click to enlarge

Raglan-sleeves pull the seams off the shoulders, a thoughtful touch that will certainly appeal to anyone who wears a backpack. Flexible, underarm gussets — combined with the stretchiness of the spandex — will help climbers make that reach for the next hold. And a drop tail hem makes it easier for skiers to keep this layer tucked in to keep the cold out. Yet, despite all of these features, the fit and feel of the Lightweight Crew are simply a bit off.

Underarm gussets, combined with the partial spandex construction...
Underarm gussets, combined with the partial spandex construction, certainly improve the reach and general movement of the REI Lightweight Crew.
Photo: Jill Rice

Drying Speed


This is where the thick cut of this base layer becomes apparent. While most synthetic tops are much quicker to dry than their natural-fiber counterparts, the REI Lightweight Crew is remarkably slow. Our "soak'n'dry" test simulates the process of handwashing and subsequently air-drying these tops — much like you would do on an extended backpacking trip. Despite its weight class, this top took a little more than 65 minutes to fully dry in the mid-day sun of the desert Southwest. To apply some context, that is more than twice the amount of time of comparably weighted synthetic tops, and the same amount of time as a midweight base layer nearly twice the weight of the Lightweight Crew.

Despite its weight and synthetic build, this top took a long time to...
Despite its weight and synthetic build, this top took a long time to dry when washed and flat dried. Fortunately, it is one of the few that is dryer-safe.
Photo: Jill Rice

Durability


Durability is another particular weakness of this lightweight layer. Based on a similar abrasion test run on the REI Co-op Lightweight Bottoms, we didn't expect any better results out of the Lightweight Crew. Although our laboratory-style abrasion test is overly abusive, the objective data provides us with information that reliably correlates to durability over time. Flatlock seams may help improve the longevity of this top, but it is not nearly as capable of standing up to batterings as well as other, comparably lightweight models.

Synthetics tend to be a bit heartier than their all-natural...
Synthetics tend to be a bit heartier than their all-natural competitors, but durability is not this top's strongest suit.
Photo: Jill Rice

Layering Ability


As an exposed layer, the material pattern of the Lightweight Crew is susceptible to snags, particularly from thorns that have a habit of catching the thinner pockets that make up the "ventilation" holes. From a perspective of both style and functionality, this top is best considered as a base layer, rather than a stand-alone top. As noted above, the material is less than ideal when worn next to skin — fortunately, this trait seems to fade as the top is broken in through repeated washings. The silk-like polyester slides comfortably under any type of mid-layer, even those built with notoriously sticky Polartec Power Grid fleece.

What a spot for an apres hang. This top was comfortable even when...
What a spot for an apres hang. This top was comfortable even when layered underneath a sun hoody and extra insulating layer.
Photo: Jill Rice

Value


Don't shy away from our critiques and the relative ranking of this top. Remember, all of the products in this review are scored relative to one another, and that the Lightweight Crew still scores highly in some key categories. It is still a workhorse of a base layer and should receive due credit for its value. At a price point that is significantly lower than the competition, you can purchase a full base layer set — tops and bottoms — for the equivalent price of some other base layer tops.

A staple base layer, when paired with its identically-designed...
A staple base layer, when paired with its identically-designed bottom half, the duo represent a nearly unbeatable match relative to overall value.
Photo: Jill Rice

Conclusion


Simple, functional, and affordable, the REI Co-op Lightweight Crew will not disappoint if you hope to pick up a versatile, 3-season base layer before your next adventure. Solid performance for a very reasonable price, this top offers a respectable balance of warmth, balance, and value.

Whatever your choice of outdoor endeavor, this is a versatile...
Whatever your choice of outdoor endeavor, this is a versatile, 3-season option presented at an unbeatable value.
Photo: Jill Rice

Aaron Rice