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?
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.]
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%.
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 uses a fabric blend on the garment body and a synthetic-only fabric on the underarm area.|
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!
One happy hiker: warm and dry at 2000 meters, looking across to the Mont Blanc Massif, near Chamonix, France.
Specifications and Features
|Model Line||MeCo Baselayers|
|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
|Pants||Men's 4.4 oz / 125 g
Women's 4.1 oz / 115 g
|Short Sleeve Tee||Men's 4.2 oz / 120 g
Women's 3.5 oz / 100 g
|Full Line of MeCo 165|
|Long Sleeve Zip||Men's 7.8 oz / 220 g
Women's 7.1 oz / 200 g
|Pants||Men's 5.8 oz / 165 g
Women's 4.8 oz / 135 g
|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.