Sunday, 1 December 2013

Review: Rab Aeon Plus Zip Tee base layer

Back in the day, and I'm talking 35 years ago, there was but one base layer and it was Damart.  Oh and we referred to stuff made from Damart as thermals since nobody had thought to coin the term base layer yet.  Damart was great.  Well no, it wasn't actually.  It was heavy and it didn't wick very well, but unless you were careless enough to put it in a hot wash or dry it in front of a fire, it was virtually indestructible.  Indeed, I still use a Damart T-shirt I bought in the 70s under my caving suit, on the rare occasions I go underground.

Then in the late 70s or maybe it was the early 80s, Helly Hansen came along.   Hellys were to Damart what GoreTex was to Gaberdine.  They weighed virtually nothing and  wicked away perspiration.   Like Damart, they never seem to wear out and I still use my HH long johns in cold weather.  You may be getting the idea that I have trouble throwing stuff out but that's maybe because 50% of my genes are from Yorkshire stock.

The downside of Hellys and the base layers made of man-made fibres which followed them, is that unless you are lucky enough to have a body which doesn't perspire, they start to smell quite quickly.

Two solutions came along for this problem.  One was that someone rediscovered wool, which can be itchy when worn against the skin but in its merino form, isn't (as much).  The other is that a different someone (I assume) had the wacky idea of mixing the man-made fibres with silver threads, silver ions or silver salts to kill the bacteria which make the smells.  Chemists are brilliant people but sometimes just a bit weird.

I bought a merino top about 5 years ago and it will go for a few days without washing before it gets too whiffy.  If it rains, it does tend to smell like a wet sheep.  Until recently, I'd never tried a silver based odour control garment, which brings me a step closer to the subject of this review.

Go Outdoors contacted me in September asking if I would like to review something from their online catalogue.  The only criterion was that it had to be under £50 before discount.  I've spent a lot of money with Go Outdoors over the years, even with the discount card, so this seemed a reasonable quid pro quo.  Also, as it happened, I was thinking about getting a new base layer to cycle in this winter, so the choice of what to review was easy to make.  I decided that the spec should be a long sleeved shirt with a collar and zip and some form of odour control, which would allow me to live with it after a few days of continuous use.

The Go Outdoors website lists about 50 different base layer products and I long-listed about 8 of these, which came down to a short-list of 2.  The Rab Aeon Plus Zip Tee and the Berghaus LS Thermal Zip Neck Top both costing £45 before discount.  The Rab was billed as having a Polygiene (R) Stay Fresh odour control treatment whilst the Berghaus claimed to be odour resistant.

The decision was almost made by the toss of a coin but I've never had a bad product from Rab and its Sheffield origins were enough to sway the choice in favour of the Rab.

The product details, taken from the Go Outdoors website, are:

Rab Aeon Plus Zip Tee - a midweight long sleeved zip neck tee, made with a soft feel polyester single jersey knit fabric.  
  • Revised fabric, Polyester single jersey knit
  • Polygiene® STAY FRESH odour control treatment
  • Flatlock low bulk seams
  • YKK zipped neck, chin guard
  • Thumb-loops
  • Fit: Regular
  • Weight: 260g / 9oz (size large)

Size, Style and colour

Rab Aeon Plus Zip Tee

I ordered a large.  It's a bit big on me. I probably should have looked at the size guide more closely.  However, I generally prefer to wear something that is looser fitting, even if that does go against all the principles of wicking.  

Thumb loop

The sleeves are long and have thumb loops, which I never used on the merino base layer.  I personally don't find thumb loops very useful.  When I'm cycling I more likely to push the sleeves up my arms to control temperature.

 On my kitchen scales it weighs in at 260g, which agrees with the weight shown on the label for the large size.

The men's version comes in a mid-blue body with charcoal grey sleeves.  There is an equivalent women's product in a more pastel shade of blue.  It's worth saying that I know at least two women who are fed up with gear manufacturers assuming that women only want to be seen in 'girly' pastel shades. 

Fit and comfort

The first thing I noticed was how soft the fabric felt compared to polyester base layers I've had before.

Rab describe it as mid-weight and the fabric thickness compares with that of base layers I've used for skiing.  We've had a fairly mild autumn and one reason for delaying this review was to wait for some cold weather.  Through October and early November, I've been cycling in this with a thin wind shell.  A couple of weeks ago, the temperature dropped below zero and I cycled to the office in the Aeon, a mid-layer and a hard shell - and that felt just about right

It's well constructed, the stitching is good with no loose threads and the seams are flat and comfortable. 

The zip is a YKK and as might be expected, is excellent.  With the zip fully closed, the collar provides good protection to the neck.  The zip extends halfway down the front of the shirt and allows for good ventilation when you want it.

There is some reflective trim on the back of the neck and the bottom of the sleeves.  I'm sceptical about how effective this detailing is in making you more visible, especially since on a base layer, it is likely to be covered up.

Reflective trim detail on rear of shirt

Reflective trim detail on sleeve
 Warmth,  wicking and odour control

I've already alluded to its warmth.  This isn't really a garment for the summer months, although its probably ideal for walking across Scotland in May.  For winter walking, running, cycling or skiing, it's pretty much ideal, I would say.  It seems to wick well and dries pretty quickly at home.  I haven't taken it camping yet or tried to dry it in humid conditions.

I was keen to know how well the silver salt based odour control would work.  In fact it seems to be pretty effective.  I made a point of not throwing it in the washing machine with the rest of the gear when I got back from a ride but just leaving it in a corner to 'fester' between uses.  By its 4'th use without washing, it was starting to get a bit 'fresh', which is to say, smelly.  But that's probably not unreasonable.  I could imagine wearing it for a few days without washing it and not feel too much embarrassment on returning to civilisation.

Value for money

So would I buy one?  Well £45 (or £40.50 after discount) seems quite a lot of money.  If I'd just seen it in the shop, and without knowing anything about it, I might have thought twice about spending that amount on a base layer.  But over the years, I've learnt that it's all too easy to opt for the cheaper product and find that it just doesn't perform out on the hill.  Good kit is worth paying a premium for and the Rab Aeon Plus Zip Tee is a good product: functional, attractive and well made.  I'm expecting this to last me at least 5 seasons and probably more, given that I am unlikely to wear it in the summer. 

Summing up

I think this is a good bit of gear and it pretty much met my original set of requirements.  My main criticism is that it's warmth probably limits its use to colder weather.  It will be getting a lot of use this winter.  As long as it remains serviceable for at least 5 years, I would consider it to be excellent value for the money.

Now, perhaps I could review the Berghaus LS for comparison?

1 comment:

Alan Rayner said...

Good review Tony. I agree with you on all your judgements of the pre-Aeon gear. I have the Aeon tee which is a bit lighter than the zip top. Its lasted 3yrs so far although it has shrunk a little. (Probably my fault). But i would have another one.
I find the “Silver” effect does work and the Rohan ultra Silver tee especially. If this Rab top works as well as that then its a good one and worth getting.