merino wool is superfiber. Merino T-shirts somehow manage to stay comfortable in 95-degree heat, while Merino hoodies will keep you well below freezing. Unlike synthetic fibers derived from petroleum, merino wool is natural and renewable. One sheep can grow 4-5 pounds of wool a year.
That’s because the merino wool sheep drink only the purest alpine water and learn the art of comfort under the tutelage of these slightly arrogant Pashmina goats, who, let’s face it, know a thing or two about wonderful, cushiony softness. Just kidding. merino wool does come from merino sheep, which have a finer, softer wool, making merino much more comfortable to wear next to your skin. It is not clear if Merino sheep adopted this idea from pashmina goats. What I know for sure is that merino wool is a wonderful, little-known fabric that has become the cornerstone of my winter wardrobe.
Merino sheep do not only live in cold climates. Their wool has evolved to keep them comfortable over a wide range of temperatures, and the same can be said for merino wool clothing. I wore merino t-shirts on hot days and felt great, although this is less true when you add high humidity to the mixture – apparently merino sheep don’t rest in the tropics. Either way, the versatility of wool means there are a huge number of blends and options to choose from. Here are some of our favorite merino wool products we’ve tested.
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Merino wool is versatile, but I still find the best use for it is a lightweight mid-layer, like a hoodie. It’s warm enough on its own for chilly days, amazingly wind resistant, and can be combined with an outer shell to form a great lightweight layering system for day hikes. It’s also a good option for the gym or walking around the city.
The Icebreaker sweatshirt was my introduction to merino wool and remains my favorite jacket I’ve ever owned. Alas, after about 10 years mine ran into moths (see our care guide below) and had to be thrown away. My style was not quite the same as in the picture, but very close to it. This jacket is 100% merino and is incredibly warm despite not being that thick. This makes it a great option for days when the weather can change significantly – warm enough for a chilly morning but won’t be a burden in your pack for the rest of the day. It’s a form-fitting side, so if it’s not your thing (and it’s not mine), take the next size up.
If you don’t want to make your first purchase in 100% merino wool, don’t worry. There are plenty of blended garments on the market these days that take advantage of merino wool to a great extent and contain enough cotton or polyester to keep the softness that many of us are used to. This Ten Thousand hoodie is a good example. It’s 76 percent polyester, 18 percent merino and 6 percent elastane, making it soft and stretchy, making it perfect for training, climbing, or any outdoor activity where you need your jacket to flex and stretch with you.
Replace fleece with an intermediate layer
I have nothing against synthetics. It has its place, but I rarely wear it these days. I prefer a sweatshirt like the picture above or mid layers underneath. Merino is better at helping your body regulate temperature rather than just keeping you warm like fleece and other synthetic fabrics.
The Kora’s Yardang jersey is designed as a mid-weight mid layer. This is probably the most versatile item in my wardrobe. It’s enough on a cool spring day, but thin enough to put another layer on top of it when you need more. It breathes nicely and is very soft. Yardang is made from 70% Merino wool and 30% Himalayan yak wool. This is the softest merino in my collection. If you like this mix, there is also hat And neck gaiters on the Yardang line.
If you have concerns about using goose down As an insulating layer, merino wool is also a worthy replacement for synthetic insulation. Vests are kind of a layering cheat if you want to keep your body warm but your arms are mobile, or you want some extra warmth without adding too much bulk. I (Adrienne) like to wear an Ibex’s Wool Aire vest under my regular wool coat if I’m going out for the night or for a long run.
I’m old enough to remember when the “base layer” was any cotton T-shirt you wore. If you were cold there, you put on a jacket. If you were hot in it, you sweated. You necessity a special shirt for hiking? No. Just go hiking. However, whether marketing gear for outdoor activities or not, base layers matter. I love some merino wool T-shirts, especially in spring and autumn. They don’t really differ much from cotton, but they don’t smell after you’ve been sweating in them all day, which is a huge bonus on multi-day hikes or just going to the gym.
We love these long sleeve Smartwool shirts for their softness. An 87% blend of merino wool and nylon makes them incredibly comfortable. In our base layer guide, we say this shirt is the “perfect weight”, with thick seams (read: stronger, more durable) but not so heavy as to cause any discomfort – the shirts lie flat and sit off the shoulder, as do any other. a semi-decent base layer is a must.
The most shockingly expensive T-shirts I’ve ever owned are nonetheless one of my favorites. They are warm, but at the same time cool and surprisingly good at stopping the wind. These shirts don’t handle moisture well; for this I would probably go with a mixture. Please note that some Icebreaker t-shirts are blended, so find out the details of your favorite design before investing.
Don’t forget your legs! It never ceases to amaze me (Adrienne) how many people put multiple layers of insulation on their upper body and leave their legs. completely naked. Depending on the weather, I have several leggings of different weights that I can change. My favorite is the classic Icebreaker leggings, which have lasted me almost a decade. However, the rest of my family (my wife and two kids) use REI’s own merino wool base layers and leggings, which are a reasonably priced option and won’t irritate my son’s sensitive skin.
Several options for women
And now a few words about the fit. Women are not the only people whose bodies can vary from standard sizes. But I (Adrienne) am 5ft 2in and struggle to find the right clothing options, especially those designed to fit against the skin. No matter how high-quality the base layer is, it will not keep you warm if it is pulled around the waist or sags below the hips.
Most major brands offer a feminine version of their base layers. However, if you’re having a hard time finding the right pair, the Kari Traa leggings have a very high waist that helps keep them high. The patterns are cute too, for those of you who mind walking around the house in what looks like pajamas. Leggings Allbirds ($64) also use a mix of Tencel and nylon for durability, with a high waist for a more secure fit.
Although merino wool is very soft, most products in this category are blends, usually with some form of nylon. Darn Tough socks are a WIRED favorite. They are great for skiing, hiking, rock climbing and whatever else you want to do. These blends vary in weight, but most are 50 percent nylon and 50 percent merino, making them dry slightly faster than pure merino while still being warm and comfortable enough.
The weirdest thing about socks is that, as a warm-weather lover, I hate socks. Every day with socks is a kind of bad luck. However, these Carhartts (given to me by a friend who was worried that I was wading through the snow in sandals without socks) are really good. They are incredibly warm and soft and never smell. These are probably my favorite socks – if I had favorite socks.
Merino wool comes in a variety of weights, often listed as “200 g/m²” or something similar (“g/m²” refers to grams per square meter). On the lower level, you have t-shirts and underwear, which are typically 150 gsm. -layers, and anything above 300 is heavier clothing.
How to care for merino wool
Most merino wool products come with care instructions. Most likely, it will need to be washed in cold water and laid out to dry horizontally. The latter is important, as hanging the wool to dry will stretch it out (due to the weight of the water). While most merino labels state that the item is machine washable, my experience is that hand washing merino will extend its lifespan. This is especially true for very light (150g/m2) Merino base layers and T-shirts.
I’ve never had a problem storing merino wool in the closet between wears, but for long-term storage, I recommend you take precautions against moths, which are notorious for eating holes in wool. I lost my merino clothes because of moths.