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Carhartt Base Force Heavyweight 1/4 Zip - Women's Review

A good looking blended polyester and merino wool top that outperforms its price tag
Carhartt Base Force Heavyweight 1/4 Zip - Women's
Photo: Amazon
Best Buy Award
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Price:  $50 List | $49.99 at Amazon
Pros:  Warm, durable, breathable, thumb loops, 1/4 zip design vents well, excellent value, no odor
Cons:  Need to size up on fit, shorter torso and arm length
Manufacturer:   Carhartt
By Amber King ⋅ Senior Review Editor  ⋅  Nov 11, 2020
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76
OVERALL
SCORE


RANKED
#5 of 12
  • Warmth - 25% 8
  • Breathability - 25% 8
  • Comfort and Fit - 20% 7
  • Layering Ability - 20% 7
  • Durability - 10% 8

Our Verdict

We can't help but gush about the Carhartt Base Force Heavyweight 1/4 Zip for women. Not only is this polyester-merino wool blend as soft and cozy as a 100% merino wool top, but it also comes at just a fraction of the price. We wore it while multi-pitch climbing in the desert, running in the mountains, and working outdoors in cold weather. Through it all, we were kept warm, comfortable, and, most importantly, dry. On top of that, the durable polyester fibers look like new after weeks of grinding dirt and grim into its materials. This top is hard to beat when it comes to performance and the price. Just be sure to size up if you're between sizes, as it runs a bit small.

Compare to Similar Products

 
Awards Best Buy Award     
Price $49.99 at Amazon$40.99 at REI
Compare at 2 sellers
$49.99 at Amazon$49.95 at REI$49.95 at REI
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Pros Warm, durable, breathable, thumb loops, 1/4 zip design vents well, excellent value, no odorAffordable, durable, great drying speed and breathability, wind-resistantExceptionally breathable, well-priced, doesn't smell, functional for all seasonsGreat value, fitted, cute patterns, quick to wick, good breathabilityExcellent wicking power, breathable, super cute design, comfortable fabrics against the skin
Cons Need to size up on fit, shorter torso and arm lengthNot as cozy or warm as merino woolSee-through, lacks durability, pillsNot super warm, stinky fabric over time, lacks durabilityPoor durability, requires specific maintenance, see-through with lighter colors
Bottom Line A good looking blended polyester and merino wool top that outperforms its price tagAn affordable, durable, and highly breathable synthetic base layerA low cost, lightweight merino wool topA high value synthetic optionA super cute silk base layer that requires care
Rating Categories Base Force Heavywei... Capilene Midweight... Merino Long Sleeve Midweight Base Laye... REI Co-op Silk V-Neck
Warmth (25%)
8.0
6.0
4.0
5.0
3.0
Breathability (25%)
8.0
9.0
9.0
6.0
7.0
Comfort And Fit (20%)
7.0
7.0
7.0
6.0
7.0
Layering Ability (20%)
7.0
7.0
8.0
8.0
8.0
Durability (10%)
8.0
9.0
5.0
6.0
3.0
Specs Base Force Heavywei... Capilene Midweight... Merino Long Sleeve Midweight Base Laye... REI Co-op Silk V-Neck
Fabric Weight Midweight Midweight (147 g/m²) Lightweight (160 g/m²) Lightweight Silkweight
Measured Weight (size) 6.8 oz (med) 5.2 oz (small) 4.2 oz (small) Not recorded 2.4 oz
Material 80% polyester, 20% wool 100% recycled polyester diamond-grid double knit 100% merino wool 92% polyester / 8% spandex Ribbed silk
Cuts avaliable 1/4 zip Crew, 1/4 zip neck Crew Crew, 1/2 zip neck V-neck, cami
Smelly over time? No Yes No Yes Yes
Odor Control Fabric Naturally odor resistant Polygiene permanent odor control Naturaly odor resistant None None
Thumb Loops? Yes Yes No No No
UPF (Sun Protection) N/A N/A N/A 50+ No
Length (short, medium, long) Medium Long Medium Medium Medium
Fit (Based on 5'7, 140-lb woman wearing size small) Fit is small, size up Fitted at top, loose around hips Fitted, true to fit. Tight and medium, true to fit. Loose and fitted, true to size
Accessory Pocket? No No No No No
Flat-lock seams (prevents chaffing) Yes Yes No Yes No

Our Analysis and Test Results

The Carhartt Base Force Heavyweight ¼ Zip is a polyester-merino wool base layer top that balances warmth and breathability. Midweight in its performance, it can easily be layered under any cold-weather outfit or worn on its own on warmer days. Its durability and value are unbeatable, making it a great option for deal-seekers. Just be sure to get the right fit.

Performance Comparison


The Carhartt Base Force Heavyweight is a high-value base layer top...
The Carhartt Base Force Heavyweight is a high-value base layer top that our testers love. Its polyester-wool construction brings about the best of both worlds when it comes to materials. Comfortable, excellent breathability, with wonderful comfort. Enjoy it while hiking, running, and more.
Photo: Amber King

Warmth


This deliciously warm base layer top is a great choice for the four-seasons where colder weather might abound. Advertised as a 'heavy-weight' base layer top, it's built to keep you warm when the temperatures plummet. While it is thicker than most base layer tops, it still feels more like a midweight top. It's one we'd sport throughout all the seasons, although summer use is mostly restricted to alpine environments and nighttime.


Built with a polyester-merino wool blend, it features excellent thermoregulation to keep you dry and, thus, warm. When we took a windy hike-run up the Red Mountains in Ouray, CO, we decided to wear this as our stand-alone layer. When we got sweaty from running, it wicked and breathed efficiently while the thicker materials kept us protected from cold, cutting winds.

During a cold spell during the Fall months in Colorado, we chose to wear it as our primary base layer while working outside in 10-degree weather, all-day. It kept us dry and warm in these conditions. We also wore it during warm days and learned that it still did a great job.

Amber, our main tester, uses this as a layer on a cold day while...
Amber, our main tester, uses this as a layer on a cold day while teaching at her local forest school.
Photo: Amber King

It has all the warmth extras that we appreciate. The ¼ zip collar allows you to regulate heat build-up and with added neck protection. The length is also sufficient to keep you completely covered. Overall, a warm contender that'll keep you protected and happy as either a layer or a stand-alone long sleeve.

Breathability


With a construction that boasts both polyester (80%) and merino wool (20%), it has a wide range of thermoregulation. The 1/4 zip construction allows you to off-load heat easily with the fabric breathing efficiently. It's not the lightest construction, so we'd recommend it for any aerobic mission in cool or cold weather, but it's not built to completely keep you dry when the temperatures begin to rise.


When you hold the materials up to the sky, you can see the porosity of the fabric—little tiny holes that promote airflow, and thus breathability. The rigid polyester fibers do an excellent job of wicking and moving moisture, while the merino wool aims to keep you warm whether the shirt gets soaked or stays dry.

When running with it on in 40-degree weather, it remained on our bodies the whole time. We zipped up the collar when a cold wind came by and zipped it down when it started to heat up. Once the temperatures moved into the 50s (F) we ended up taking it and just running with a tank layered underneath. For climbing, we were able to climb in this top easily during crisp and cool weather, with it breathing well for this activity.

On this hike/run this top did excellent work breathing and wicking...
On this hike/run this top did excellent work breathing and wicking away sweat while climbing up steep mountain shoulders. Here, we hike up the Red Mountains towering over Ouray, Colorado.
Photo: Amber King

Overall, breathability is as you'd expect it to be for any high-performance top. It provides excellent breathability with a material thickness that resembles a midweight layer. It's thick but not too thick that it doesn't breathe through the fabric. It's a great option to wear as a complement to any winter outfit or a stand-alone layer in warm weather.

Comfort and Fit


When unpacking this top, we were initially surprised at the level of high-quality construction. The materials are as soft as any 100% merino wool contender, with a stellar fit that doesn't stretch out even after wearing it for days. While we can appreciate that most merino wool tops are super cozy, many will deform and will not hold their shape over time. With the polyester integration, you get the best of both worlds, cozy comfort with a fit that stays consistent as you wear it, even after days of no washing. This was our experience anyway.


Another excellent comfort feature is the ¼ zip neck, which allows you to wear it in two different ways. Either zipper up or down for different types of weather. The neck collar is nice and roomy, while the materials offer just enough stretch and mobility to move with the body.

The materials are soft with just enough stretch to provide all-day...
The materials are soft with just enough stretch to provide all-day comfort. Soft like merino with the performance of polyester. Nice.
Photo: Amber King

As an added bonus, it has thumb loops, which we love! While our testers did use them often, our team felt the loops are a bit small. Since it is simply a thin piece of material and not very padded, it's not as comfortable as other thumb loops we've seen.

The zip neck plunges just below your chest, offering great...
The zip neck plunges just below your chest, offering great ventilation and options for wear. This adds to its versatility and comfort.
Photo: Amber King

The fit of this top feels a little small. Our main tester is 145 lbs, 5"7, with an athletic build who normally wears a size 6 or size small top. We ended up ordering a size medium, which Carharrt advertises as a perfect option for size 8 - 10. This fits our size 6 tester perfectly. As a result, we'd recommend sizing up, especially if you're between sizes.

Pictured here is our author working day-to-day in this base layer...
Pictured here is our author working day-to-day in this base layer top. It's super comfortable for remote work!
Photo: Amber King

The length is sufficient for ladies with a medium torso, but those who are a little longer might find the fit short. The arms are just long enough for "medium" and "short" limbed testers but a little short for those with longer arms. On a windy day on a ridge, we did wish for longer arms and a little more stretch to the materials. We tried to pull the shirt over our hands when we didn't have a coat on but couldn't quite get that extra coverage. As a result, the fit feels a bit small and offers just the right amount of stretch. For some, the coverage may not be enough.

Luna is normally as size XS and wears the medium with plenty of...
Luna is normally as size XS and wears the medium with plenty of length in the arms and torso. She is about 5"1, 120 lbs. Be sure to size up!
Photo: Amber King

Layering Ability


The layering ability of this shirt is excellent. Whether you're adding a fleece over top in cold weather or a tank underneath, we had no problems pulling them on. The materials are primarily polyester with less friction than 100% merino wool tops. The materials don't bunch and will maintain its shape without riding up. The thumb loops help too.


Pulling tighter layers over top requires a bit of work, but the...
Pulling tighter layers over top requires a bit of work, but the thumb loops come in handy! Here we add a layer as the wind picks up on this 13,000 ft ridge.
Photo: Amber King

Durability


Wow! After testing the Carharrt Base Force Heavyweight 1/4 Zip while running, climbing, biking, and hiking, it still looks new. We've washed it, thrashed it, and pulled at the fibers to see if they'd deform. After all our abrasion and washing tests, it holds up. We will continue to test this top for a longer period and get back to you if anything changes over the year.


One of our main abrasion tests was wearing this top with a 70-L loaded pack for two weeks while working an outdoor education job. We typically did a lot of bushwacking, getting into the willows of beautiful riparian zones and commonly encountering bushes that grabbed and pulled on it. We also wore it while climbing in Red Rocks on multi-pitch climbing routes, wiggling up dihedrals, and face climbing with friends.

We also wore it while running in cold weather. Wearing a running...
We also wore it while running in cold weather. Wearing a running pack or a backpacking backpack regularly is a great test of what the shirt material can endure. In this case, it's a lot!
Photo: Amber King

Through it all, the polyester-merino construction holds up. After inspecting for any signs of wear, we see no holes and just a tiny bit of minor pilling (as we observed with all merino wool tops). The construction also looks solid, with no thread fly-aways or unraveling. So far, we deem it quite durable and are happy with its performance.

Value


To be frank, we haven't found a base layer top that offers this high level of value. While it's not 100% merino wool, it boasts all the performance and comforts of merino wool, with better durability (due to the polyester integration). It also doesn't stretch out after wearing for days on end, like other 100% merino tops typically do. For the price, the performance is unbeatable, making it one of the best value options you'll find on the market.

Conclusion


If you seek a high-value base layer top, find confidence in the Carhartt Base Force Heavyweight ¼ Zip. While advertised as heavy-weight, it feels more like a midweight top. It's a great choice for four-season use, providing ample warmth in the winter in a layered system and excellent breathability to wear on its own. It's a cute, comfortable, and welcome addition to any outdoor woman's closet. The best part? It's affordable. Just be sure to get the right fit.

Luna and Ruby enjoy some beautiful views while staying warm in the...
Luna and Ruby enjoy some beautiful views while staying warm in the Carhartt Base Force.
Photo: Amber King

Amber King