One winter several years back, I was out instructing a day of ice climbing with a friend of mine (who happens to be a Patagonia athlete), and he was wearing what is now the Patagonia Capilene Air Hoody. (I believe this original version was called the Merino Air Hoody.) When I first saw it, I was impressed with this snug, buff/hood hybrid type baselayer that seemed to fit so perfectly under a helmet, and was sure that I needed one. Due to animal rights issues with wool suppliers, the original product was discontinued before I could get my hands on one. When I saw that Patagonia was re-introducing this layer, I immediately bought one to check it out. I’ve used this layer for about 25 days now, and will it’s not a full review quite yet, here are my initial thoughts.
The Short and Sweet:
The Capilene Air Hoody is a 50% Polyester, 50% Wool “baselayer” that comes with or without a hood. They also make a pair of leggings, and its available in both mens and women’s fits. It’s a light, comfortable thin type fleece feeling layer that fits extremely well. It’s stretchy, breathes well, and the hooded version fits fantastically under a helmet. This layer wears comfortably with a tee-shirt underneath, or works well standalone. For highly aerobic activities like ski-touring or running, I’ll probably wear a 100% polyester shirt underneath, but for most days, it will be my go to baselayer, especially for activities involving helmets. Despite being marketed as just a baselayer by Patagonia, I really think of this piece more as a very light “fleece type” pullover, that is a lot more versatile than just a baselayer.
I’ve worn this layer for about 25 days so far. I don’t feel like I have enough milage for a full-on review, but more than enough to give a pretty good idea of how it performs in most conditions. So far it has come along for an 8 day backpacking trip in Colorado (late September), gone up a number of multi-pitch rock climbs, been on a few trail runs, and finally, has been out for one day of early season “skiing”.
What strikes me most about this layer is how well the hood fits. To be totally honestly, that is the main reason why I bought it. I spend a huge chunk of my winter ice climbing and ski touring. If you’ve ever worn a hat or hood under a climbing helmet, you know what it can be annoying to get the fit just right, and it can be a challenge to cover all the skin you need to. I’ve officially given up on hats in the wintertime, and focus mostly on some combination of headband, buff and hood to keep me warm, but have yet to find the perfect combination of simplicity and comfort - until now. The Capilene Air Hoody fits tight to you skin (think wetsuit hoody), and comfortably fits under a climbing or even ski helmet (see photo). It’s awesome.
The other standout about this layer is how comfortable it is. The knit poly/wool blend feels great on your skin, almost like a blanket. It’s slightly stretchy, doesn’t restrict motion, and doesn’t bunch. The thin, tight to skin material makes it easy to layer with other clothing.
As with anything, I do have a couple grips or concerns with this particular piece. First, I find that the material is rather thin, and due it it’s knit design, am worried about the overall durability. I wore this piece as an “outerlayer” pullover, a number of times over a tee-shirt, and would recommend not doing that if you want the material to last, despite how convenient and comfortable it may be to do otherwise.
Another concern I have is in the warmth of the hood. On those really cold, windy winter days, I’m not sure this hood will provide enough insulation for the head. It seems like you could probably layer with a second fleece or down hood, or hat, but I’m not sure how well that will go. Along the note of warmth, it’s worth mentioning that this is probably warmer than most baselayers you’re used to. As I’ve mentioned already, it feels more like a very light fleece. If you’re looking for warmth, this is a great choice, but be warned it will probably add to your current layering system warmth without really changing much.
The last issue I have is specific to the hooded version specifically. When the hood is down, the tight elastic material bunches the hood pretty tightly around your neck. I didn’t bother me much, but is something to be aware of before you buy it. I would consider trying it on in the store if you think it might bother you.
All Said and Done
This layer is awesome. Throughout the review, I keep forgetting that is (or at least it’s marketed as) just a baselayer. The reality is it is a versatile, comfortable light pullover that works well for a variety of activities. My main highlight is how awesome this piece fits under a helmet. My multi-year search for the ideal system is over. It is definitely going to be my go-to for all of my winter recreation, and am definitely investing in the tights and even considering buying the non-hooded version as well.
Looking for the best possible deal on new gear? Consider shopping at the Outdoor Gear Exchange. As a previous employee of three years, I proudly stand by this privately owned local gear store based in Burlington, Vermont. They’ve been outfitting climbers for 20+ years, and have played a significant role in improving the outdoor community in the Northeast. This store supported me and my pursuit of a career in the outdoors, and hope they can continue to do so for others in the future. Support small business, get a good deal with great customer service, by shopping on Gearx.com.
(P.S. if you want sift through the internet marketing BS, feel free to shoot me a message and I’d be happy to explain more about why I stand behind the Outdoor Gear Exchange over giants like REI and Backcountry.com)