Merino wool is a super fiber Merino t-shirts somehow manage to be comfortable in 95 degree Fahrenheit heat, and Merino hoodies will keep you warm below freezing. Unlike synthetic fibers derived from petroleum, Merino wool is natural and renewable. A sheep can produce 4 to 5 pounds of wool per year.
That’s because the sheep that make the merino wool drink only the purest alpine waters and study the art of comfort under the tutelage of those slightly smug Pashmina goats, who, let’s face it, know a thing or two about wonderful softness and padded. It’s a joke. merino wool does They come from Merino sheep, which have finer, softer wool, making Merinos much more comfortable to wear next to the skin. It is not clear if Merino sheep got this idea from Pashmina goats. What I do know is that merino wool is an extraordinary, overlooked fabric that has become a cornerstone of my winter wardrobe.
Merino sheep don’t just live in cold climates. Their wool has evolved to keep them comfortable in a wide range of temperatures, and the same is true of clothing made with Merino wool. I’ve worn Merino T-shirts on 100-degree days and it felt good, though this is less true if you add a lot of humidity to the mix: Merino sheep don’t vacation in the tropics, apparently. Whatever the case, the versatility of wool means there is a staggering variety of blends and options to choose from. These are our favorite Merino wool products we’ve tried.
Special offer for Gear readers: get a 1 year subscription to WITH CABLE for $5 ($25 off). This includes unlimited access to WIRED.com and our print magazine (if desired). Subscriptions help fund the work we do every day.
Merino wool is versatile, but I’d still say the best use case for it is as a lightweight midlayer, like a hoodie. It’s warm enough for chilly days on its own, surprisingly windproof, and can be combined with an outer shell to form a great lightweight layering system for day hikes. It is also a good option for the gym or for walking around the city.
An Icebreaker hoodie was my introduction to Merino wool, and it’s still my favorite jacket I’ve ever owned. Unfortunately, after about 10 years mine had an encounter with moths (see our care guide below) and had to be removed. Mine was not the exact style pictured, but it did look a lot like it. This jacket is 100 percent merino and incredibly warm, despite not being that thick. That makes it a great option for days when the weather can vary considerably: It’s warm enough for a chilly morning, but it won’t be a burden on your pack for the rest of the day. This is on the fitted side, so if that’s not your thing (and it’s not my thing), get the next size up.
If you don’t want to go 100 percent merino on your first purchase, that’s fine. There are a ton of blended garments on the market now that get much of the benefits of merino, with just enough cotton or polyester to retain the softness many of us are used to. This Ten Thousand hoodie is a case in point. It’s 76 percent polyester, 18 percent merino, and 6 percent elastane, giving it a soft, stretchy feel that makes it ideal for working out, rock climbing, or any other outdoor activity where you need your jacket to stay put. flex and stretch with you.
Replace the fleece with a midlayer
I have nothing against synthetic fleece. It has its place, but I rarely use it these days. I prefer a hoodie like the one above or the mid layers below. Merino is better at helping your body regulate its temperature, rather than just keeping you warm like fleece and other synthetic materials do.
Kora’s Yardang Jersey is designed as a mid-weight midlayer. It’s probably the most versatile thing I have in my closet. It’s enough on its own on a cool spring day, but then thin enough to layer another on top when you need more. It is pleasantly breathable and very soft. The Yardang is a 70 percent merino blend, supplemented with 30 percent Himalayan yak wool. It is the softest merino in my collection. If you like this mix, there is also a hat and neck gaiter on the Yardang line.
If you have questions about the use goose down As an insulation layer, merino wool is also a decent substitute for synthetic insulation. Vests are like the trick code for layers if you like to keep your core warm but your arms mobile or if you want to get an extra soup of warmth without adding too much bulk. I (Adrienne) like to wear the Ibex Wool Aire Vest under my regular wool coat if I’m out at night or on a long run.
I’m old enough to remember when a “base layer” was whatever cotton t-shirt you put on. If you are cold in that, you put on a jacket. If you got hot, you sweated. You need a special T-shirt for hiking? No. Just go hiking. That said, marketing outdoor gear or not, base layers are one thing. I have come to love some merino tops, especially in the spring and fall. They don’t really feel much different than cotton, but they don’t smell after you’ve been sweating in them all day, which is a huge plus on multi-day hiking trips, or just trips to the gym.
We love these long sleeve tops from Smartwool for how soft they are. A blend of 87 percent merino wool with nylon means they’re incredibly comfortable. In our underwear guide, we call this top an “ideal weight,” with heavy seams (read: stronger, more durable) but not heavy enough to cause discomfort: the tops lie flat and sit off the shoulder, like any other. half decent base layer should.
The most shockingly expensive jerseys I’ve ever owned, though, are some of my favorites. They are warm, but somehow cool, and surprisingly good at stopping the wind. These shirts are not good for moisture; for that, I’d probably go with a mix. Please note that some of the Icebreaker t-shirts are mixes, so check 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 top half and leave their legs completely naked. Depending on the weather, I have several different weights of leggings that I can trade up. My favorites are the classic Icebreaker leggings, which have lasted me for almost a decade. However, the rest of my family (my spouse and two children) wear REI merino wool base layers and leggings, which are a reasonably priced option and won’t irritate my son’s sensitive skin.
Some specific options for women
And now a word about the fit. Women are not the only people whose bodies can differ from the standard size. But I (Adrienne) am 5’2″ and I struggle to find clothing options that fit me, especially ones that are designed to fit next to skin. As high-quality as the base layer is, it won’t keep you warm if it gets pucker around the waist or sag below the hips.
Most major brands offer a women’s version of their base layers. However, if you’re having a really hard time finding a pair that works, Kari Traa’s leggings have a very high waist that helps keep them in place. The patterns are pretty too, for those of you who object to parading around the hostel in what looks like pajamas. Allbirds Leggings ($64) also use a blend of Tencel and nylon for durability, with a high waist for a more secure fit.
While merino wool is very soft, most products in this category are blends, usually with some type of nylon. Darn Tough socks are a WIRED favourite. They’re great for skiing, hiking, climbing, and just about anything else you want to do. These blends vary by weight, but most are around 50% nylon and 50% merino, which makes them dry a little faster than pure merino while still keeping you warm and comfortable. comfortable.
The weird thing about socks is that as a warm weather lover, well, I hate socks. Every day in socks is kind of a failure. That being said, these Carhartts (given to me by a friend who was worried about him wandering around in sandals with no socks in the snow) are really nice. They are incredibly warm and soft, and they never smell. They are possibly my favorite socks, if I had favorite socks.
Merino wool comes in different weights, which you will often see listed as “200 gsm” or something similar. (The “gsm” refers to grams per square meter.) The important thing is the scale and where your garment falls. At the lower end, you have T-shirts and underwear, which typically weigh 150g/m², although we’ve seen some as low as 120g/m². In general, anything under 200 g/m² will make a good base layer. 200 to 300 g/m² -layers, and anything over 300 is a heavier garment.
How to care for merino wool
Most merino products will have care instructions. Most likely to wash cold and lay flat to dry. The latter is important, as hanging the yarn to dry will stretch it (due to the weight of the water). While most merino labels will say that the garment is machine washable, my experience has been that hand washing merino will extend its life. This is especially true for very light merino undergarments and T-shirts (150 g/m²).
I’ve never had a problem storing merino in my closet between uses, but for long-term storage, I recommend taking precautions against moths, which are notorious for eating holes in the wool. I have lost merino clothes to moths.