Smartwool Intraknit 200 Crew Review
Compare prices at 3 resellers Pros: Warm and breathable, gender-specific mapping for ventilation, extra-long hem
Cons: Too tight in the wrong places, slow to dry, delicate
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Our Analysis and Test Results
With all of the hype, we were very excited to get our hands on the Smartwool Intraknit. A heavily engineered Merino/polyester-blend top, Smartwool uses gender-specific 3D-mapping to target ventilation zones — such as across the upper chest and down the spine, for men — to increase breathability where moisture tends to build up. Additionally, they intricately knit elastane in key areas of articulation — like the armpits and elbows — to improve mobility without pulling on other fabric panels.
But for all of the incredible attention to detail and thoughtful design, the Intraknit 200 misses the mark in terms of fit, in a way that we found very difficult to understand. Even on the slender, mountaineer's frame of our head tester, we found ourselves uncomfortably self-conscious to wear this top anywhere but under a zipped-up jacket. Looks aside, the arms are too long, leaving the articulated elbows down around our forearms. Despite 3D-construction, this top is nowhere near seamless, except for in the small, designated ventilation-zones.
For its weight, this top is certainly warm — we were able to handle long belay-stances in nothing more than this top and a mid-layer, while our partner climbed a north-facing wall in a puffy. It is also surprisingly breathable — while it wouldn't be our first choice for cool-weather running, it did perform well during slightly less strenuous activity, such as backpacking. For all of its flaws, we can see merit in the design for which the Intraknit 200 is designed — snowsports — where a long, stretchy torso and slim fit makes it easy to tuck-in and layer over while providing solid thermoregulation at the base of your layering kit.
The Intraknit 200 proved its merit in terms of warmth. The slim fit Merino-blend does a great job of trapping heat while on the move and retaining it once you come to a stop. On an evening where we reached our alpine camp a little later than expected, our lead tester instinctively pulled on a puffy before setting up the tent. But within five minutes, he had to take it off, with this top providing plenty of warmth all on its own.
As with many base layers where wool is included, the associated number will tell you a lot about how warm these layers will be — a material weight of 200 g/m² means that there is more material, more loft, and more warmth than a top with a weight of 135 g/m². The Intraknit 200 was right on point for its material weight, and did a noticeably better job at blocking the wind than other, similarly-weighted Merino-poly blends in our testing.
For its weight, we were impressed with the Intraknit 200's ability to shed excess heat. During aerobic activity, this top maintains a nice, even temperature, even if it is a little on the warm side. The relaxed collar of the crew neck helps dump heat and moisture, and the merino wool does a nice job of wicking sweat.
Overall, the intricately woven vents — across the upper chest, and down the center of the back — work according to their design, helping keep you drier in zones that are notoriously sweaty. But the arms are cut unfortunately long in relation to the relative size of the shirt. As a result, the zone meant to be articulated around the elbows ends up more in the middle of the forearm. When we pulled up the sleeves to re-position these vents, the bunching of material on the inner-elbow and around the bicep caused heat and sweat to pool in these spots.
Comfort and Fit
As mentioned above, the arms are the first place we noticed that something was wrong with the fit of the Intraknit 200 — they are excessively long, with the cuffs coming down past our fingertips when the fabric is pulled flat. The cuffs are flared, and while they do an okay job staying in place, we constantly found ourselves having to push up the sleeves, resulting in uncomfortable bunching and constriction on our forearms or biceps.
While this top is 3D-mapped in terms of articulation, it is in no way seamless — only the [/]mapped[/] zones are seamless. This is a very cool innovation in terms of the knitting process — to create articulated zones that use less material, and add breathability without adding bulk — but we found the description of the top to be misleading. The top itself is constructed with flatlock seams, which does help improve the stretch of the fabric, but are given no extra-consideration in terms of placement, and tend to feel bulky and itchy in all the traditional spots — like over the crest of the shoulder when wearing a backpack.
For layers constructed from a Merino/poly-blend, they generally aren't as soft next-to-skin as a full-Merino layer, and we are in no way docking this top points in terms of comfort. The Intraknit 200 received a low score almost entirely based on fit. This top is lanky — even for a tall, slender figure — with unusually long arms and a notably long torso. While the tight, athletic fit and stretchy material are supposed to enhance freedom of movement, we couldn't help but feel restricted while wearing this top. Even the articulated cuts of the armpits, specifically located to increase arm mobility, pulled uncomfortably on the torso when reaching for climbing holds. The deep cut of the hem is great for tucking into snow pants — but combined with an exceptionally tight fit through the chest, shoulders, and arms, the cuts of the Intraknit 200 are very tight. While we were hoping for a suave, Euro-cut top that would put in work all day on the slopes and then pass-off as a fashionable sweater in a high-class wine bar, we were self-conscious to wear this layer anywhere but below our zipped-up jacket.
When it came to drying out on the body, the Intraknit 200 performed at the middle of the pack, but far behind similarly-weighted, sweater-style designs. The merino wool half of the blend certainly did a good job of wicking up sweat, but the polyester-half did not do quite as good of a job at drying out as we would have hoped. This fact was particularly obvious in the elbows, where the articulated zone did not fit as it should, and as a result, pooled sweat rather than helping this top actively dry out during aerobic activities.
Through further testing, drying speed was an area of below-average performance for the Intraknit 200. While it must be noted that it was one of the heavier-weighted layers in our testing, this top took 15-20 minutes longer than similarly weighted tops to dry out in the direct sun during our lab testing. As a top that is specifically noted to be a "lay-flat-to-dry" type of garment, don't expect to wash and dry this top quickly.
The Intraknit 200 should be divided into two specific areas when it comes to durability — the delicately knit ventilation zones, and the rest of the fabric body. The majority of the body, despite feeling like a fine-cashmere sweater, is actually pretty durable. We dragged this top up some very gritty sandstone on a few climbs and were happily surprised not to find a missing stitch.
However, on the more intricately-knit ventilation zones, after extensive use there are many tails of fabric twisting off into space. The main exception to this is in the elbows, where the parallel stitches seem to be significantly more durable than the cross-hatch pattern employed on the chest and back.
The Intraknit 200 falls somewhere within the unfortunate Goldilocks-zone of base layers — a little too bulky to comfortably layer over, but too tight to comfortably layer underneath. With both instances, it only took a little fussing to get things adjusted just right, but it was not as easy-going as other layers in our testing.
The material is stretchy enough to snugly wear over a synthetic t-shirt, which gives it the ability to double as a lightweight mid layer thanks to its warmth-to-weight ratio. The tight fit keeps this top in place when layered over with a fleece mid layer, but definitely pairs better with a thin puffy to steer-clear of any potentially uncomfortable constrictions.
The Intraknit 200 is not easy on the wallet, but does fall into the same range as similar base layers included in this review. This top certainly offers superb warmth and breathability that rivals a few of our award-winners. However, for the price, we believe that other options perform better in areas where this top is currently lacking.
While our testing revealed a high amount of criticism — particularly in terms of fit and breathability — we have high hopes for the future of the Intraknit 200. The knitting-technology used in creating this series is seriously cool, and may very well be the future of body-mapping for high-quality wool base layers. If you want to grab a piece of one of the newest and coolest base layer-technologies on the market, we suggest trying out this layer for yourself. Try it on before you remove the tags, though, to ensure you're into it.
— Aaron Rice