Marmot Polartec Crew
"Wearing this Marmot crew on a sweaty hike is like using a towel to dry off when you step out of the shower," said one tester after a hard uphill backpack in the Grand Canyon. The stellar wicking action comes from an interior waffle pattern that disperses sweat, and a superfine polyester-Cocona fabric blend.
Cocona, made with activated carbon fibers from the insides of discarded coconut shells, has innate wicking abilities that we’ve found to work better than many synthetics. Its makers claim that it also has natural odor-fighting properties, but our jury is still out.
We put this shirt through the handful of washings that Marmot says is required to activate the carbon’s antimicrobial action, then did some sniffing. Some testers gave it the thumbs-up; others said it was unusually stinky. It does provide good insulation for its weight, yet generally stays cool and dry under a shell. Testers liked the way the brushed fabric felt against their skin and how the smooth exterior slid easily under layers, but flagged it for excessive pilling. $45; men’s S – XXL, women’s S – XL (888) 357-3262; marmot.com.
Stink Fighter [50–65°F]
Mountain Hardwear eXtend Zip T
"Your campmates will thank you for wearing this shirt,” said one tester. He wore it for 10 days straight in southern Utah, and reported the odor at the end of the trip to be minimal – "just a hint of last night’s garlic, which I can’t really blame on the shirt."
The stink-fighting powers come from the fabric, VisaEndurance, which is embedded with silver ions to prevent bacteria from growing. Testers liked the pajamalike feel of the spun polyester. A mesh finish inside with thousands of pinprick holes pulls moisture away from the skin and helps the fabric dry quickly, while still insulating in cooler weather. And unlike other knit polyester tops, the eXtend did not snag on brush or abrade against rock. Fit is loose and long; some female testers reported that the sizing was too big. Also comes in featherweight. $55; men’s S–XXL, women’s XS–XL (800) 953-8375; mountainhardwear.com.
Most Durable [45–60°F]
Outdoor Research Sequence (m) / Essence (f) Zip Tee
"I wore this top caving and beat the hell out of it," wrote one tester. "Yet one spin through the washer and dryer and it was back to looking new." Its unique 88/12 blend of polyester and merino wool was one of the best in the test at keeping testers comfortable in that sweet spot from the 20s (when worn under a shell) to the mid-60s (worn alone). It also dried quickly and shrugged off stink, even after a week on the trail.
Fit is slightly roomy in the torso and the sleeves run a tad long, pleasing long-armed testers and those with cold hands. Also available in short-sleeve. $42; men’s (Sequence) S – XL, women’s (Essence) XS–XL (800) 421-2421; orgear.com.
Wicking Champ [30–50°F]
Duofold Varitherm Expedition Weight Zip Mock
"Cozy as my favorite blanket," said one tester after a rainy, snowy spring snowshoeing trip in the Sierra. The polyester-Lycra Varitherm has two layers of fabric sewn together, which boosts warmth and sucks up moisture like a two-ply paper towel. "I’ve never worn such a thick baselayer that wicks so well," said another tester.
The ample four-way stretch allowed us to reach out ("for ridiculous handholds,” wrote one climbing fanatic), and the neck zipper aided venting. It’s versatile, too: Some testers used the Varitherm as an outer layer over a tee when backpacking in 40°F temperatures. Sizing gripe: The women’s fit is too short in the torso and sleeves. $44; men’s S – XXL, women’s S – XL (800) 448-8240; duofold.com.