First impression: This top looks way too good to be a technical performance piece. Second impression: This top works way too well on the trail to be an everyday piece. So much for impressions.
After nearly three months of testing, our staff was fighting over our samples because this airy, wool/Capilene top proved so comfortable in such a wide range of conditions and circumstances, from winter ski touring to summer backpacking to dinner on the town.
The secret behind the fabric: Patagonia created a new process that blasts the fibers with air as they spin, creating more loft and thus more insulating value. “On a chilly night on the Turkish coast, everyone else was snuggling into their puffies but I felt warm and comfortable in just the Merino Air crew over a baselayer,” one tester says. The blended fabric even looks different: It’s textured with an intricate zigzag weave that resembles a fine, hand-knit sweater. It’s soft against the skin, extremely stretchy, and works equally well as a base- or midlayer.
It proved ultrabreathable, too, thanks to the gridded exterior that promotes airflow. Another happy result of that open weave: Stink has nowhere to hide. Combined with wool’s natural odor resistance, this keeps the sweater uncommonly fresh. Five days into our Turkey trip, we couldn’t detect any funk, not even when we sniffed each other’s armpits (ah, the glories of gear testing).
Merino Air fabric comes in a crew and scuba-style hoody, as well as bottoms. Some of us loved the crew because it was cooler and less bulky around the neck, but the hoody had devout fans as well. “It stayed on so well and made the perfect sleeping hat,” says one tester.