Rab MeCo Baselayers Review

Rab's new baselayers blend merino wool and synthetic fabrics - do they achieve the best of both worlds?

Recommended

Overall Rating: Recommended

Rab MeCo Baselayers are comfortable, durable and naturally odor-free. The blending of Merino and Cocona yarns, plus the light fabric weight (120 and 165 g/m2), enable the layers to wick well and dry quickly. Additionally, the garments do not use petroleum-based fabric and are manufactured in ways that lessen environmental impact.

About This Rating

M Find other top product reviews »

Print Jump to Reader Comments

by Danny Milks & Kristin Tennessen |

Rab MeCo Baselayers Review - 1
The MeCo 165 Long Sleeve Zip Tee does well in winter conditions, but so do most wool garments. How does the fabric handle warmer weather, when synthetics tend to perform better?

Introduction

Like many other backpackers in the last decade, Kristin and I have switched from synthetic to Merino wool baselayers. Merino wool is soft, handles moisture comfortably, and has natural anti-microbial properties. I like that wool is a renewable resource, and therefore prefer it to petroleum-derived synthetics. However, wool is generally more expensive and it doesn't last as long. I tend to get holes in my lightweight (150-200 g/m2) wool layers after 120 days of use.

Synthetic fabrics have superior wicking ability, quicker dry time, better durability and are generally cheaper. Some companies, like GoLite and Patagonia, have started to address the environmental concern by using recycled content in their fabrics.

So, which one should a backpacker choose?

Well, you may no longer have to pick between one or the other, as Rab tries to bridge these two worlds with their new MeCo baselayers. Rab combined Merino wool and Cocona to create a fabric that wicks and dries like a synthetic, but smells and feels like wool. We tested these baselayers to see if they live up to Rab’s claims.

Description

Rab's MeCo baselayers are composed of 65% Merino wool and 35% Cocona. They will be available in two fabric weights, 120 g/m2and 165 g/m2, in September 2011. The 165g/m2 line includes a long sleeve zip-neck tee, pants, balaclava, beanie, and gloves. A long sleeve tee, short sleeve tee, and pants will be available in the 120 g/m2 weight. All baselayers have women’s and men’s versions, in a choice of three colors each.

What is unique about these baselayers is the fabric itself. Rab describes MeCo as:

Ethically sourced Merino wool and recycled Cocona yarns have been blended to produce a high performance fabric which combines the warmth and softness of Merino with the fast drying and wicking performance of Cocona. Activated carbon is derived from discarded coconut shells and is contained inside the Cocona recycled fibre and will not wear out or wash off. It is extremely breathable and absorbs odour molecules within the activated carbon. It offers UVA and UVB protection.

Rab MeCo Baselayers Review - 4
Features of MeCo baselayers: no seams on the shoulders where pack straps abrade (top left); flatlock seams reduce bulk (top right); long torso length and really long sleeves (bottom left); and deep chest zips on the 165 Long Sleeve Zip Tee: 10 in (25.4 cm) for women and 12 in (30.5 cm) for men (bottom right).

Rab MeCo Baselayers Review - 2
165 Long Sleeve Zip Tee, Rose color, Women’s medium, 7.1 oz (200 g), $90. The medium is a tad tight on the shoulders and loose in the waist for Kristin's 5’7” (170 cm) frame.

Rab MeCo Baselayers Review - 3
120 Long Sleeve Tee, Spring color, men's medium, 5.8 oz (165 g), $80. The size medium fits me (6’0”, 170 lbs) perfectly as I prefer a snug, but not restrictive, fit.

Performance

Kristin and I each tested a 120 Long Sleeve Tee and 165 Long Sleeve Zip Tee in the winter and spring of 2011. We used the shirts on a variety of backcountry ski tours, hikes, and runs throughout the Alps.

For winter backcountry skiing, the 165 Long Sleeve Zip Tee was my go-to shirt. It was light enough for skinning up a mountain, yet warm enough for the ski descent. When I became too warm, I simply rolled up my sleeves and vented with the deep chest zip. The shirt fit well and was comfortable.

Like most Rab shirts and jackets, the neck on the 165 Long Sleeve Zip Tee is less snug than the competition. This is likely due to the fact that Rab makes gear for climbers, who need the unrestricted movement. Kristin really liked the loose neck as she feels that collars on some other shirts are too restrictive. I didn’t mind the collar on the Rab, but I do prefer a more snug fit. Not only is it loose, it is not as tall as others. This helps performance in warmer weather, but is something to consider for really cold temperatures.

Rab MeCo Baselayers Review - 5
We tested the 165-weight fabric on many high-exertion activities in warm weather. Kristin often wore her shirt on hikes even when the temps rose above 70°F (21°C) (left). I was as comfortable as I could be on a late season ski trip in the Dolomites, with the weight of my ski gear, a long approach, and a high of 72°F (22°C) (right).

I really enjoyed the 120-weight MeCo fabric. The gossamer 120 Long Sleeve Tee was a pleasure to wear on days above 60°F (15°). I sweated less with the thin fabric and was comfortable as the moisture was absorbed by the shirt. The Long Sleeve Tee was light enough to wear in the warmest conditions, when I rolled up my sleeves, but also gave me the option of sun protection on my forearms.

Rab MeCo Baselayers Review - 6
On one hike, I gained 3100 feet (950 m) on an unshaded south-facing trail. The day was quite warm (75°F/24°C) and I was wearing a pack without any mesh back panel (left). When we stopped for lunch, my back was very sweaty and the shirt was wet. However, sweat was not visible as the fabric had efficiently wicked the moisture away from my skin and spread it over a greater surface area (right). This accomplished two things: increased comfort and faster drying (less than ten minutes).

Rab MeCo Baselayers Review - 7
We poured 50ml of water onto a 200 g/m2 Merino wool shirt (left) and the MeCo 165 Long Sleeve Zip Tee (right). The water naturally spreads out quickly on the 165 g/m2 MeCo shirt on the right, as contrasted to the visible water stain on the 100% wool shirt. The Cocona wicking works!

How about the smell? We can say conclusively that these shirts have all the odor-fighting capability of pure wool. I wore the 165 Long Sleeve Zip Tee for two weeks straight. I usually hung it up at night to air out, but sometimes I wore it for days on end. There was no discernible odor or oil buildup in the shirt over those two weeks, or at any other time during our testing. Kristin also tested the shirts' odor-fighting capability. However, her clothing rarely smells, so she is not the best subject for testing. These garments were no exception - her shirts never smelled badly. We only washed the shirts three or four times over the entire testing period. Even then, we usually washed the shirts because of food spills, which were removed without any residual stains.

In another test, I walked under a waterfall and drenched my 120 Long Sleeve Tee. It temporarily had the same distinctive smell that wool has when it is soaking wet. Wool-wearers know what I’m talking about. Typical sweating does not produce this odor.

Rab MeCo Baselayers Review - 8
A closeup of the pilling that formed on my 165 Long Sleeve Zip Tee.

Throughout the many months of hard use, the only issue we had was pilling on the face of the garments. This happened in all of the shirts and was present throughout the garment, not just the high-wear areas.

The pilling happened after only three machine washings, even though we were very careful with cleaning: the shirts were inside out, all zippers were closed, we used delicate cycle, mild detergent, and line drying. I contacted Rab, who had not seen this issue during their year of product testing, nor were they able to replicate it after my inquiry. Pilling happens when the fabric yarns are pulled out slightly, but not enough to compromise the durability. Pilling happens occasionally on wool garments. [Editor's update: the testers have now used the baselayers for more than seven months without any issues in durability, so the pilling in this case is merely cosmetic.]

Environmental Concerns

Rab has made a technical line of athletic wear, while lessening the environmental impact of the manufacturing of the fabrics. “Ethically sourced Merino” comes from Australian sheep that are not mulesed (a controversial surgery that removes the skin around the sheep’s buttocks to prevent flystrike). Cocona is made in a bluesign accredited facility and uses non-chlorine wash to save water and energy. Using recycled synthetic fibers reduces the fabric’s carbon footprint by about 40%, as compared to new polyester. Cocona also uses a wider fabric roll, which they claim reduces waste by about 25%.

Weight Comparisons

The lightest 100% wool baselayers are made with 140 g/m2 fabric, though 150 g/m2 is much more popular. A few synthetics are significantly lighter than the MeCo 120. The most popular is probably the 80 g/m2 DriMove Lite fabric that GoLite uses in its Wildwood Line.

A few other companies have recently brought wool/synthetic blends to the market.

Brand Line % Wool/Synthetic Fabric Weight (g/m2)
The North Face Tolowa 65/35 149
Mammut All-Year varies* 150
Montane Bionic 38/62 168
Devold Active 80/20 205
*Mammut uses a fabric blend on the garment body and a synthetic-only fabric on the underarm area.

Assessment

Rab hit the sweet spot with the MeCo layers, garnering the best of both fabrics. The shirts are soft, comfortable, and odor-free. We sweated less with the lightweight fabrics and the shirts dried quickly when they did get wet.

The success of these baselayers doesn’t just depend on great fabric, though. The shirts are snug yet comfortable, sport a long torso and even longer arms, and a generous zipper. I was pleased with my fit, but Kristin preferred a slimmer cut. The shirts have a no-frills design - there is nothing that we would have (or could have) removed. In fact, the 120 g/m2 shirts each weighed about 1 ounce (28 g) less than Rab’s stated weight. The craftsmanship is impeccable. The minor issue of pilling is the only lingering issue. The MeCo line shows that it is possible to make a highly technical product that is environmentally friendly and competitively priced.

Just as we were considering switching back to synthetics, Rab has given us the best of both worlds. Our only hope is that Rab comes out with a hooded version soon!

Rab MeCo Baselayers Review - 9
One happy hiker: warm and dry at 2000 meters, looking across to the Mont Blanc Massif, near Chamonix, France.

Specifications and Features

Manufacturer Rab (rab.uk.com)
Model Line MeCo Baselayers
Availability September 2011
Fabric Composition 65% Merino Wool, 35% Cocona
Fabric Weights 120 g/m2 and165 g/m2

Weights of Tested Shirts

Model (size Medium) Men's 165 Long Sleeve Zip Tee Women's 165 Long Sleeve Zip Tee Men's 120 Long Sleeve Tee Women's 120 Long Sleeve Tee
Manufacturer Weight 7.8 oz / (220 g) 7.1 oz / (200 g) 5.8 oz / (165 g) 5.1 oz / (145 g)
Measured Weight 8.0 oz / (226 g) 6.9 oz / (195 g) 4.8 oz / (137 g) 4.1 oz / (117 g)

  Full Line of MeCo 120  
Long Sleeve Tee Men's 5.8 oz / 165 g
Women's 5.1 oz / 145 g
MSRP $80
Pants Men's 4.4 oz / 125 g
Women's 4.1 oz / 115 g
MSRP $60
Short Sleeve Tee Men's 4.2 oz / 120 g
Women's 3.5 oz / 100 g
MSRP $60

  Full Line of MeCo 165  
Long Sleeve Zip Men's 7.8 oz / 220 g
Women's 7.1 oz / 200 g
MSRP $90
Pants Men's 5.8 oz / 165 g
Women's 4.8 oz / 135 g
MSRP $70
Gloves Unisex sizes 1.0 oz / 28 g MSRP $20
Beanie Unisex sizes 1.3 oz / 36 g MSRP $25
Balaclava Unisex sizes 1.5 oz / 42 g MSRP $25

Disclosure: The manufacturer provided this product to the author and/or Backpacking Light at no charge, and it is owned by the author/BPL. The author/Backpacking Light has no obligation to review this product under the terms of this agreement.


Citation

"Rab MeCo Baselayers Review," by Danny Milks & Kristin Tennessen. BackpackingLight.com (ISSN 1537-0364).
http://backpackinglight.com/cgi-bin/backpackinglight/rab_meco_baselayers_review.html, 2012-01-03 00:00:00-07.

Print

Reader Comments

You must login to post comments.

New Visitors: Create a new account
Username:
Password:
Remember my login info.

Forum Index » Editor's Roundtable » Rab MeCo Baselayers Review


Display Avatars
Sort By:
Addie Bedford
(addiebedford) - MLife

Locale: Montana
Rab MeCo Baselayers Review on 01/03/2012 13:49:38 MST Print View

Companion forum thread to:

Rab MeCo Baselayers Review

Doug I.
(idester) - MLife

Locale: MidAtlantic
Re: Rab MeCo Baselayers Review on 01/03/2012 14:05:15 MST Print View

Danny, curious why you only gave a recommended, instead of highly recommended, rating. These have also become my shirts of choice, including when cycling. Other than minor pilling you gave them a glowing review.

Hendrik Morkel
(skullmonkey) - MLife

Locale: Finland
Re: Re: Rab MeCo Baselayers Review on 01/03/2012 14:19:59 MST Print View

Douglas, it has to do with the BPL Review policy. The article goes through a review panel, were folks will point out stuff. If the author goes for a Highly Recommended, the Head Gear Editor pretty much needs to have the item as well and needs to concur with the author. If that's not the case there will only be a Recommended. At least that's my experience.

There's somewhere more info on that, but start looking here.

Joe Clement
(skinewmexico) - MLife

Locale: Southwest
Rab MeCo Baselayers Review on 01/03/2012 14:31:17 MST Print View

Probably got dinged because the Idester liked it. Non-paleo baselayer anyway.

Ryan Jordan
(ryan) - BPL Staff - MLife

Locale: Greater Yellowstone
Review Ratings on 01/03/2012 17:50:51 MST Print View

Actually, start looking here:

http://www.backpackinglight.com/cgi-bin/backpackinglight/overall_rating_description.html

This page can be linked to from any review rating summary by clicking on "About This Rating".

The key point of an HR rating is the ability for a product to give us something *meaningful* that no other product has done.

These are ... shirts ...

OK, just kidding. I'm willing to concede that somebody will reinvent the shirt market sometime. But Rab hasn't done it yet.

Good stuff, though, for sure.

I'm also wondering if the coco messes with the ability of wool to effectively buffer body temp changes when the shirt is damp. I notice the flash-off effect more when I wear a meco shirt vs. something that's 100% merino without fiber treatments.

Mary D
(hikinggranny) - MLife

Locale: Gateway to Columbia River Gorge
Rab MeCo Baselayers Review on 01/03/2012 18:47:51 MST Print View

Just wondering why Patagonia's merino wool/polyester blend (80/20) wasn't included in the list of wool/synthetic blends.

Danny Milks
(dannymilks) - MLife

Locale: Sierras
Rab MeCo Recommendation on 01/04/2012 09:13:56 MST Print View

I submitted this review to the committee as a Highly Recommended product. They came back with the same answer as what Ryan posted above. Our message comes through loud and clear, regardless of the rating: the Rab MeCo layers are awesome.

Mary - I tried to find a broad range of companies, fabric weights, and blend ratios. I wasn't aware that the Patagonia merino baselayers are actually a blend as well. Thanks for bringing that to our attention. It looks like they have a 80/20 merino synthetic blend in 165 and 220g/m2 weight fabrics.

Diplomatic Mike
(MikefaeDundee)

Locale: Under a bush in Scotland
"Rab MeCo Baselayers Review" on 01/04/2012 09:22:35 MST Print View

You might want to add Montane to the list. They're Bionic range has been out for a few years.

Gabe P
(Gabe) - MLife
Rab MeCo Baselayers Review on 01/04/2012 10:30:23 MST Print View

It looks like your base-layer was kind of loose fitting. Was that on purpose, or did it have something to do with Rab's sizing?

eric chan
(bearbreeder) - F
nike on 01/04/2012 13:02:20 MST Print View

i have a nike wool/synth blend base layer ... its more geared to running ... but it works fine for most other things

many active use brands (ie running brands) have such i suspect, often on sale

Kathy A Handyside
(earlymusicus) - M

Locale: Southeastern Michigan
Rab MeCo Baselayers Review on 01/04/2012 13:52:45 MST Print View

Although I read all these reviews of clothing, they really don't apply much to me right now because it seems all the outdoor clothing manufacturers make women's clothes to fit very petite women. I am not petite and I have a very hard time finding outdoor clothing that fits my shape (i.e., I have hips, a stomach, etc. - all those things that, apparently, outdoorswomen aren't supposed to have). Most manufacturers make women's clothing up to size 14 and maybe 16; very few make them beyond that size range (or, at least, I haven't found them yet), and yet when I look at the size range for men, it seems that men can be bigger and still find clothes to fit, unlike women.

I will be the first to admit that I need to lose weight and am working on that. In the meantime, though, it's difficult to find good outdoor clothing to fit. I'm sure I'm not the only amply-proportioned outdoorswomen out there, though.

Ah well. It's on to the elliptical trainer for me! I just joined a local fitness club, found a couple of coworkers who also want to workout and am on my way to getting in shape for my trip this summer to Isle Royale!

Evan McCarthy
(evanrussia) - MLife

Locale: Northern Europe
Cheaper Option on 01/04/2012 14:34:51 MST Print View

I love merino wool baselayers and merino wool/synthetic blends even more. If for the durability alone, a little cyborg is good. My personal favorites are from the Icebreaker GT line (a little spandex).

More to the point . . .

I picked up a cheap set of Paradox Performance baselayers at my local Costco. There is less than 50% merino wool in their blend but the baselayers still do their job well (feel great, no stink, quick drying, yada yada). Just throwing this out there for the cost conscious folks.

Edited by evanrussia on 01/04/2012 14:38:36 MST.

Ben Pearre
(fugue137) - MLife
Warmth? on 01/04/2012 15:06:48 MST Print View

I know that this is "just a baselayer", but I'm curious: for the same weight, and across various moisture contents, how do these fabrics compare in warmth to pure wool? For example, do I have to carry a heavier midlayer to make up for the less wool? Probably not noticable in practice... or is it?

Martin RJ Carpenter
(MartinCarpenter) - F
Limited stretch on 01/04/2012 15:25:29 MST Print View

Think the slightly loose fit is intrinsic - they don't really stretch all that much. Certainly quite a lot less than 'normal' merino, presumably due to how its woven. No problem at all if they fit :) (unless of course you insist on skin tight base layers.).

Kristin Tennessen
(ktenness) - MLife

Locale: Sierra Nevadas
Fit & Stretch on 01/04/2012 19:09:06 MST Print View

Kathy, I have a difficult time finding excellent-fitting female gear as well, and I blame it on our "4th dimension" which creates a wider variety of female body types. Thus, harder to standardize. Please don't let outdoor companies dictate what is an appropriate body type!

Ben, I don't carry a warmer midlayer when I choose MeCo over merino. I feel my Icebreaker GT (pictured in the water test photo above) is slightly warmer, especially in direct sunlight, but I don't notice a significant difference with a layer on top.

Ismail Faruqi
(ismailfaruqi) - F
warm weather performance on 01/06/2012 01:21:42 MST Print View

I wonder how the 165 would perform in warm weather. Any comment from anyone using it?

Danny Milks
(dannymilks) - MLife

Locale: Sierras
Rab MeCo on 01/08/2012 21:43:36 MST Print View

Mike - Montane Bionic is already on the list of other wool/synth blends on the markets.


Evan - Thanks for pointing out the availability of other blends, probably significantly cheaper.

Ben - Based on my experience, there is no noticeable difference between the MeCo blend and straight wool of the same weight. However, MeCo handles moisture better, so I could be about as comfortable in warm weather with the slightly heavier 165 g/m2 MeCo as I would be in 150 g/m2 wool.

Ismail - As I said above, you can get away with wearing a slightly heavier MeCo fabric in warmer weather than you would a pure merino layer. I would be comfortable hiking in the Sierras during the summer with a 165 LS Zip Tee. However, my dream would be a 120 weight hoody. That would be light enough for hot weather but the hood would add instant on-trail adjustability.

Gabe - I think the shirts fit me really well - snug but not too tight. But, the MeCo fabric seems to relax a little with every use, and then tighten up again with each washing. As we only washed them every 10-15 days of use, chances are that the photos show the shirt in the temporarily relaxed state of dirtiness.I hope that makes sense. I find the same thing happens with my pure wool layers too. Martin's post is also correct - there is slightly less stretch with the MeCo than with merino blended with a small percentage of lycra or similar stretchy synthetic fabric.

Edited by dannymilks on 01/08/2012 21:44:18 MST.

Robert Cowman
(rcowman) - F

Locale: Canadian Rockies
pilling on 01/08/2012 22:48:34 MST Print View

wash merino wool or merino blends with a pair of jeans(buttons and zippers done up) to rub the pilling off. Icebreaker and Ibex recommend this for their garments.(as the last sales meeting i went to for both these in september)

And Arcteyx Rho LTW is a blended fabric as well as the eon LTW

Edited by rcowman on 01/08/2012 22:55:57 MST.

Danny Milks
(dannymilks) - MLife

Locale: Sierras
Piling on wool on 01/10/2012 10:50:05 MST Print View

Thanks for the advice on washing wool with a pair of something more abrasive. At the time of testing, our clothing was mostly wool plus a pair of light synthetic slacks and a Montbell Thermawrap (which we rarely washed). So, yes, we were washing our MeCo and wool stuff together without anything like jeans.

Also, I wanted to add to my comment above that the necks on these Rab pieces are loose. This is not unique to just the MeCo, as their Microlight Down vest and jacket are also like this. My guess is that Rab uses strong climbers as their models for deciding the fit, and these climbers have thicker/stronger necks than a regular joe like me.

Danny Milks
(dannymilks) - MLife

Locale: Sierras
Costco Merino Blend on 02/02/2012 14:51:07 MST Print View

To add a little detail to Evan's post above:
Costco sells mens and womens baselayer tops and bottoms. They cost $25 and are composed of 9% merino and 91% synthetic fabrics. Evan states that he has good luck with the odor-control of these layers, which is great. Still, I find it hard to believe that 9% merino adds a noticeable difference. Anybody else have experience with these Costco budget blends?

Edited by dannymilks on 07/18/2013 12:12:11 MDT.