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Hands-on Gear Review
The North Face Warm Review
Cons: Snags easily, not very warm, average drying speed
Bottom line: With a solid performance across the board, and stand-out comfort and durability, this relatively inexpensive contender presents a great value, and wins our Best Buy award.
Fabric Weight: 180 g/m 2
Weight (size M): 8.3 oz
Manufacturer: The North Face
We had to shell out more than a few pretty pennies for a lot of the long underwear tops we purchased for this review. With so many base layers costing $90 and up, we were skeptical at first of the performance we would receive from The North Face Warm. After tossing this product over our heads and heading to the outdoors, we quickly realized that we could kiss our fears goodbye. While ironically not providing a great deal of insulation, this contender very breathable, and appears to be built to last. Moreover, it is one of the most comfortable shirts we tested. Seriously, this shirt feels smoother than a partner's touch. This product placed fifth overall after tallying total scores, but costs at least $30 less than the four products that placed ahead of it. With a strong performance across the board, and a comparably affordable price, it took home our Best Buy award.
The Warm wasn't without competition for this award. The Patagonia Capilene Midweight gave it a good run, being even more breathable, drying much faster, and costing the same. If you're looking for the best overall performance, the SmartWool Merino 250 Base Layer has it all, winning our Editors' Choice award. Consult our Men's Long Underwear Review for a list of all products we tested, as well as in-depth descriptions of how we scored the competitors in each metric.
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Our Analysis and Hands-on Test Results
The synthetic fabric of Warm by The North Face offers a lot of goodness for only $60. It provides solid base layer performance across the board without any major drawbacks. We especially liked its comfortable feeling against our skin, and its above-average durability in a category of products notorious for their lack of longevity. This valuable product won't let you down in the backcountry, and will save you considerable cash in the checkout line, making it a clear choice for our Best Buy award.
Despite its name, the Warm didn't provide a ton of insulation in comparison to other models we reviewed. However, it is a lightweight model with a fabric weight of 180 g/m², so we can't expect the impossible. It is noticeably warmer than the other lightweight models, the Patagonia Capilene Midweight, Rab Merino+ 160, and Under Armour Base 4.0, though. It was sufficiently warm enough to keep us happy when temps dropped to 40°F, and even a little below, when moderately active. This shirt didn't have as great of a temperature range as the SmartWool Merino 250, and tended to overheat when the thermometer rose above 65°F in active use.
Without any thumb loops to keep the sleeves up, we wished the sleeves of this model were a little longer to protect our wrists from cold air exposure. The torso was just barely long enough to keep our bellies covered during most overhead, reachy movements, but some extreme reaches did pull it up above the waist of our pants. For better skin coverage when swinging through the backcountry, consider the tasc Base Layer.
Although this top can get a little warm, its solid ability to wick away moisture to the outside of the shirt counteracts the extra heat and sweat. Our backs tended to get a little sweaty when hiking fast with this top under a backpack, but this moisture evaporates quickly, especially after removing the pack. The Patagonia Capilene Midweight, a comparably inexpensive synthetic model, provided even better breathability in the backcountry.
During our indoor workout test, we worked up a sweat and then timed how long it took to dry out after ceasing exercise in a controlled, indoor environment. Following multiple rounds of pull-ups, mountain climbers, burpees, and more, it took this top less than six minutes to transmit the moisture we created between our skin and the inside of the shirt to the external air. Among our pool of competitors, the most breathable top was the Helly Hansen Lifa Stripe Crew with its thin fabric and a tight fit that increased the fabric surface area contact to the air.
Comfort and Fit
This contender really pulled through in this category. We found the smooth texture of this product felt great. As we moved, the fabric of this model seemed to glide over our skin like a silky caress. Who doesn't like that? Unlike its wool competitors, this product has an absolute zero itch factor, which we think many outdoor enthusiasts and athletes will appreciate. Furthermore, the quality seams lie very flat, and in no way rub or chaff during activity. We love all these features!
If you just can't stand wool products for their feeling on your skin, we recommend this North Face model, or the Arc'teryx Rho AR, which proved to be very friendly to epidermises.
The only room for improvement in this metric would be some small changes to the fit. We wished the sleeves stayed in place a little better, and we think the neck collar could fit a little more snug to our necks. If you prefer a tighter, more flexible fit, look no further than the tasc Base Layer. If you're looking for a baggier fit for high-intensity activity, though, the Patagonia Capilene Midweight is a good product to consider.
The North Face supplied this base layer with their FlashDry technology. As the name implies, it is aimed to speed up drying time. While this product isn't very thick, it took longer than we expected to dry in our timed test. The Warm was 38% slower to dry than the fastest model, the Lifa Stripe Crew. It also barely beat the SmartWool Merino 250, which had a much thicker top.
In this metric, the Warm's most exceptional characteristic is its bomber seams. With the exception of the stitching around the zipper, the entire seam system is either triple or quadruple stitched in flatlock seams. When The North Face says /flat/lock, they really mean it. The profile of the seams was one of the lowest of all models, comparable to the barely noticeable seams on the SmartWool 250 and Arc'teryx Rho. Not only do they resist chafing, but they also didn't let loose a single thread during three months of extensive use.
The high durability and quality craftsmanship of this product lend itself to putting up with many, many trips through the washing and drying machines.
This product lost a point in durability due to its likeliness to snag. When walking through the backcountry, this top tended to snag on bushes and branches. This created imperfections on the surface of this top, of which there were a handful at the end of the testing period. While this didn't really affect its performance, it didn't look very nice. Wearing another layer on top of this shirt will stop this, though.
This model stretches to fit over t-shirts easily, but feels a little tight over top of even thin base layers. However, with the high level of comfort provided by this top, we're not sure why you'd want to pass it up as your first layer.
The Warm fits under mid-layers and jackets easily, as the smooth outer surface of this model gently slides into the sleeves of over-layers. However, it was prone to moving around a bit under other layers, which forced us to regularly readjust. The best lightweight model for layering was the Rab Merino+ 160, but for the ultimate in layering ability, check out the Arc'teryx Rho AR.
If you need a base layer for low to medium activity in cold or cool temperatures, this product will serve you well. Furthermore, if your skin rejects itchy fabrics, we can't imagine it would complain about the ultra smooth and comfy feeling of this shirt's fabric.
We were happy that we could find a solid base layer that didn't cost $90-$100. Although it didn't win any category, it performed well enough for us to consider this model, with its $60 price tag, an excellent value. The Warm deserves our Best Buy award.
From the moment we first pulled our arms and head through the appropriate holes of The North Face Warm, we crossed our fingers that this super comfy shirt would also perform well in the field. To our satisfaction, it didn't disappoint, especially in terms of breathability and longevity. The products that managed to outscore this top also cost a full $30 more. It's inexpensive in comparison to the other models, breathes well, and will likely outlast the competition in the long run. Best Buy? Oh yeah!
— Ross Robinson
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