Patagonia Capilene 4 Expedition Weight Zip Neck
$99, 6.5 oz. (men’s medium)
Sizes: men’s XS-XXL, women’s XS-XL.
No matter what your outdoor activity, in any season, the most versatile piece in your apparel quiver will always be a highly breathable, fast-drying, midweight top. That’s especially true in winter, when instinct tells you to go for a thicker, warmer base layer—which will often just make you overheat while on the move and then dries slowly. (More on that point at bottom of this review.) Patagonia’s Capilene 4 Expedition Weight Zip Neck fits the fill perfectly, pulling duty alone or over a lightweight, wicking top in winter, while being light enough for cooler days in spring and fall or in the mountains in summer.
I wore this top for numerous winter days of moderately aerobic backcountry skiing and highly aerobic skate-skiing, including a four-hour skate-skiing session in circumstances that challenge a layering system: very warm sunshine but shade temperatures only in the mid-20s. I sweated heavily skiing uphill and then hit long downhill stretches, and had extended sections of steady climbing that constantly shifted between hot sun and chilly shade. But this top kept me warm enough going downhill that I never pulled on a jacket (certainly in part because of the warm sunshine), and it dried within a couple of minutes after I reached the top of each long climb. The Polartec Power Dry High Efficiency fabric’s grid pattern against the skin traps warmth in air pockets and feels soft, while the smoother outer face slides easily into middle and outer layers. This heaviest version of Capilene line is like a lighter iteration of Patagonia’s long-popular R1 fabric for winter—but more versatile. An amino acid/carbon antibacterial treatment let me wear this top for three straight days of sweaty activity without it getting unbearably stinky. The small thumb loops inside the cuffs prevent the sleeves from creeping out of a glove (keeping wrists warm, thus improving blood flow to fingers to keep them warmer), but those loops appear to be delicate and liable to blow out before you wear out this durable top. Bonus: Feel good about this purchase—the fabric is partly (30 percent) made from recycled plastic bottles and synthetic garments.
On that point above: Instead of relying on a heavy base layer for warmth, turn to a versatile jacket that provides additional warmth or cuts wind when needed. A few I like are the Norrona Lofoten Warm2 High Loft fleece jacket, the Marmot Variant Hoody, and the Mountain Hardwear Super Power Hoody.
NOTE: I’ve been testing gear for Backpacker Magazine for 20 years. At The Big Outside, I review only what I consider the best outdoor gear and apparel. See all of my reviews by clicking on the Gear Reviews category at left or in the main menu.