The Patagonia Capilene Lightweight bottoms are quickly becoming a cult classic, balancing a comfortable next to skin feel with the fastest drying and lightest weight base layer fabric that Patagonia offers. A perfect fit for those that don't need a ton of warmth but require a little something more than bare skin. Created for seasonal use ranging from summer adventures thru more temperate winter outings, these bottoms are a go-to piece for everything that lives outside of deep winter. Summer backpacking, fall mountain biking, spring skiing, fall fly fishing, and international travel - check to all of the above! The other comparable lightweight model is going to be the REI Co-op Lightweight Bottoms which are $15 cheaper but not nearly as light. Read on for the nitty-gritty and to see if these are the right choice for you.
Patagonia Capilene Lightweight Bottoms Review
Cons: Not very warm, looser fit
Our Analysis and Test Results
The perfect layer for high-intensity, hot and sweaty activities in cool to warm weather, these lightweight bottoms are soft and cool offering stellar breathability and a loose, comfortable fit.
Warmth is not what these bottoms are designed for and not a bottom you should consider if warmth is something you need from a pair of bottoms. Their strengths lie in their versatility across three seasons and some uses in winter, and their incredible ability to wick sweat, breathe, and dry crazy fast. The super lightweight polyester does offer some warmth - just enough for cool summer evenings in the backcountry, crisp fall campfires, and backpacking in chilly weather. Guiding winter backpacking courses in the Southwest, we personally enjoy combining these bottoms with a lightweight insulation pant like the Patagonia Nano Air Pant for colder season nights in the backcountry. That way we can have a lighter base layer for hiking in cool to warm conditions without worrying about overheating but crank up the toasty factor for those cold desert nights.
We found that these bottoms, although they are made for high exertion missions and warmer weather, they are a great option if you tend to run hot or easily overheat in traditional long johns during the winter. For most, they would be too thin and not provide enough insulation for really cold weather, but for those that burn naturally hot, these are a good consideration if you need just a little something and don't want to overheat. If you require superior breathability but need a little more warmth, check out the lightweight SmartWool Merino 150.
If the Patagonia Capilene Lightweight Bottoms were Pele, breathability would be the sport of soccer. Sure, both are extremely athletic and probably proficient at most endeavors, but they are experts above all others in a specific category. There are no other bottoms that are as lightweight, breathe and dry as quickly as these bottoms. An open grid pattern combined with the thin 100% recycled polyester fabric and loose(r) fit allow these things to breathe incredibly well and dry faster than your sweat can grab onto the material.
Weighing in at a mere 89 grams, these bottoms hardly weigh more than a handful of change and dried light speeds ahead of all the other bottoms in our drying test. In high exertion activities like chilly mountain biking and cross-country skiing, these prove their expert ability at staying dry. Other bottoms that breathe extremely well are the lighter merino fabrics of the SmartWool Merino 150 and the Outdoor Research Alpine Onset bottoms. Both are going to breathe and wick sweat away from the skin extremely well but provide more warmth than the Capilene Lightweight.
Comfort & Fit
Comfort and fit are both contested on these bottoms. Some people really like the super smooth and stretchy polyester, and others don't love the feeling next to skin. The fabric feels cool against the skin, whereas most bottoms feel warm against the skin when you wear them. We personally enjoy the slick and smooth polyester fabric. Enjoyment of the fit is another quality that seems to differ between users. The bottoms have a slightly loose fit, they aren't skin tight like most long johns, but they aren't overly baggy. They sit lightly on the skin, which makes sense and is effective for their purpose of being cool and drying quickly. The legs are a bit short for taller folks, and the crotch sag isn't bad at all, but there's a touch there unless you wear them at a modest level on your waist.
Quality of design and craftsmanship, as always with Patagonia, are excellent. Sustainable 100% recycled nylon is stretchy and slides easily in any layering system. Minimal flatlock seams, a comfortable and wide waistband, and a thoughtfully designed gusseted crotch allow for unrestricted mobility for all-day wear.
To combat the notorious stink factor of Capilene, Patagonia has armed these with Polygiene® permanent odor control which helps out quite a bit, but they still tend to get stinkier faster than a merino layer. Overall, quality design and craftsmanship with a loose and comfortable fit but a little longer legs would be appreciated. The other synthetic lightweight we tested were the REI Co-op Lightweight Bottoms which have a wonderful fit.
The fact that these are constructed with synthetic material means they are going to be more durable than their merino competitors. Even though these are made with an extremely thin and breathable fabric, it is more durable than all of the merino layers except the thick SmartWool Merino 250 which it is comparable to.
In our infamous hole-burning abrasion test, these bottoms escaped with just a little surface wear, even with how thin they are! Other lightweight and midweight merino bottoms like the SmartWool 150 had a hole cooked right through them after the abrasion test. For durability and longevity, these are a pair of bottoms that will accompany you on years of adventures.
These bottoms are perfect for any adventures that live in the milder seasons of the year, or as we explained above in the Warmth section, can be used for winter if you tend to run on the hot side. The lightweight and cool fabric are great for high-exertion activities where you're working hard and require a bottom that will breathe remarkably well and dry lightning fast. We loved them on fall river trips, shoulder season mountain biking trips, and summer backpacking and backcountry climbing trips where having a layer for cooler nights is mandatory, but warmth isn't a huge consideration.
Value of these bottoms, when compared to versatility, quality, and durability, is stellar! There is only one bottom, the REI Co-op Lightweight Bottoms, that is cheaper but weigh significantly more and don't breathe as well or dry as fast. We think for the price these are worth having in your quiver, and we wear ours to death.
A super lightweight synthetic base layer bottom that breathes incredibly well and dries lightning fast, Patagonia Capilene Lightweight bottoms are a perfect companion for sweat-inducing activities in warm to cooler weather. If you love working hard and need a bottom that will provide some insulation while working as hard as you do to wick away sweat and keep you dry and comfortable, we suggest these puppies. Versatile and comfortable, they're a great option for active users in all conditions that live on the warmer side of freezing.
— Roland Mott