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Never-Die ‘Capilene’ Top Endures Near 2 Decades of Wear

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On a recent trip to Norway, I had a bit of an epiphany as I slipped on my standby Patagonia Capilene Midweight top: The old green shirt and I, right then I realized, have been on a hell of a lot of adventures together!

The author, in the Capilene top, in the mid-‘90s with his father after a day of biking in Ireland

Indeed, I almost got misty-eyed remembering all the times I’ve worn the well-loved shirt, including during a month in India, on four or five trips to Mexico, and then on a month-long bike ride across Ireland with my mom and dad.

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The Capilene shirt was against my skin as I huddled through a horrible nightlong snowstorm at 13,900 feet on Colorado’s Crestone Needle. . . and all those memories were from before the year 2001!

There have been many, many more adventures since then, and astonishingly the Patagonia Capilene shirt barely shows signs of wear. Other than a few snags on the back caused by a rough canyon wall, the shirt looks pretty much the same as the day it was new.

Patagonia created its Capilene line in 1985. The fabric is a polyester, and today it’s sold in four varieties in the company’s product line.

According to the company, founder Yvon Chouinard was inspired to move from polypropylene, which was common in the industry in the ’80s, to polyester after seeing a demonstration of a football jersey being cleaned of grass stains at a sporting-goods show in 1984.

2012 version: Patagonia Capilene Midweight crew top

Milliken, the company that made the football jerseys, had developed a process that etched the surface of the synthetic fiber as it was extruded so that it wicked moisture better. Chouinard saw the fabric as perfect for underwear and soon Capilene Polyester was born.

A decade or so after Chouinard’s first Capilene product, I purchased my amazing shirt while working at Midwest Mountaineering in Minneapolis. What a wonderful investment it has been!

The current version of this shirt, which I suspect has changed since my 1990’s edition, retails for $49. I like to think that the price was about the same, or maybe even higher, when I made my purchase long ago.

A conservative estimate of wearing the shirt in the outdoors for activity 20 days a year since 1996 works out to 320 days. That’s approximately 15 cents per day.

Close-up of some Capilene

Not a bad deal for a comfortable and wicking shirt that takes a while to get stinky and, in my opinion, looks pretty good in the vast majority of social settings.

It’s nice to have a go-to shirt that’s tried and trusted. Patagonia Capilene has proven itself without a doubt. Here’s to another decade of wear in this long-enduring green top!

—Sean McCoy co-founded “Vertical Jones,” a climbing ‘zine, in 1997 with Stephen Regenold (editor of GearJunkie). McCoy then worked for a decade as a journalist and photographer in the Virgin Islands before relocating to Denver this year. He is a frequent contributor to GearJunkie.com.

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