Merino wool long underwear is it worth the money

10:08 p.m. on December 11, 2011 (EST)
0 reviewer rep
17 forum posts

vs fleece and polyester combo. Been a polyester in recent years due to its wicking ability and decent warmth. Seems like Merino wool is coming on strong and I hear a lot of raves how good it is. Anybody have a preference and why?

10:34 p.m. on December 11, 2011 (EST)
290 reviewer rep
1,469 forum posts

REI PolarTec PowerDry

Comes in three weights.

Great properties of wicking and when in combination of lightest and another level it fomrs a great transfer temperature control system.

Wears well and washes out pretty darn good.

Can go and have gone for 12 days at a time with no washing / rinsing.  Works well.

10:34 p.m. on December 11, 2011 (EST)
7,680 reviewer rep
2,336 forum posts

i use both.  they are both very good if done well. 

synthetics wick better and 'wear dry' faster when damp, in my experience, than merino.  i think synthetics are mildly more durable - wool is a little more likely to get holes or tears.  however, merino wicks reasonably well, does wear dry eventually, and doesn't smell bad (as some synthetics have a tendency to do). 

both synthetic and merino base layers vary considerably in warmth depending on the product.  expedition-weight merino long johns are very warm, just like expedition-weight synthetic baselayers.  very thin baselayers from either have a wide temperature range; i hike in lightweight merino t shirts in the summer in the steamy DC metro area. 


10:45 p.m. on December 11, 2011 (EST)
1,731 reviewer rep
3,962 forum posts

I personally like Capilene 3 tops n bottoms. I would rather use wool as a midlayer top(sweater, etc.)

Just my preference. 

10:45 p.m. on December 11, 2011 (EST)
1,753 reviewer rep
3,956 forum posts

I like a synthetic base layer followed by a wool mid layer, sometimes a fleece mid layer.

To me wool just has an endearing "earthy" quality to it, I enjoy wearing it.

11:56 p.m. on December 11, 2011 (EST)
2,710 reviewer rep
1,516 forum posts

I started with a set of the Cap 3s that rick mentioned above. Really, really like them. However, I have since started wearing a set of uber-light Smartwool NTS baselayers, and they are the bees knees.

Wool has one distinct advantage over synthetic baselayers (outside of the ability to prevent "the stench" for a few days longer). This centers on the fact that wool allows moisture to pass through in vapor form, rather than having to condense and be "wicked" through the fiber, as is the case with synthetics. This is due to the fact that a wool fiber is very much "alive" when compared to a synthetic fiber. The individual wool fibers expand and contract with varying levels of heat and moisture; on a microscopic level, one can actually see what look like scales expanding away from the base fiber as it warms up. Nature never ceases to amaze me. This dynamism effectively keeps you warmer when, say, taking a snack break after a strenuous hike: oftentimes, when wearing synthetic baselayers, such a rest break can lead to a chilling effect (especially in the lower back area) as the fabric dries. Due to the nature of the wool fiber, this effect is often altogether absent when wearing a wool baselayer; the fabric is certainly still wet, but due to the properties described above, one simply does not get chilled as it dries.

This phenomenon alone is enough to make me pick the Smartwool NTS every time. In fact, I might be listing my Cap 3 set for sale here pretty soon...

12:42 a.m. on December 12, 2011 (EST)
0 reviewer rep
411 forum posts

I think it was the 80s when National Geographic did an entire issue on wool.  In that issue, there was also an A5-sized supplement to further the focus.  It's a great issue, and I think I have it and the supplement stored somewhere.  They have a great blown-up view of a wool fiber, showing its scales etc.  It's probably on the first page of a Google image search now, but back then, all that information blew me away.  Maybe some industrious, kind soul has it scanned and on a blog somewhere.  I'd like to think so.  I LOVE WOOL.

7:36 a.m. on December 12, 2011 (EST)
0 reviewer rep
17 forum posts

Thanks, good posts,pillowhead that is very interesting info,yes by all means Zeno to bad you can not find the info on the net. For right now I was looking for the if it is wise in the long john end to go to wool. You look at wool coats etc.(some of those it seems like when the get wet they stay wet) is it safe to say there is wool and there is wool. The ability to wick and warmth varies so much? Is merino wool a different ball game?

10:41 a.m. on December 12, 2011 (EST)
77 reviewer rep
123 forum posts


what about merino as a sleeping bag filling?  wonder if that would work?

1:43 p.m. on December 12, 2011 (EST)
0 reviewer rep
411 forum posts

May 1988

2:51 p.m. on December 12, 2011 (EST)
0 reviewer rep
1,157 forum posts

caryernst said:


what about merino as a sleeping bag filling?  wonder if that would work?

 Back in the day Class 5 quilted wool into nylon garments as insulation just as you would quilt in synthetics.  I don't know how well if worked, but the general idea has been tried.  A sleeping bag insulated with wool would be heavy, but certainly warm. Here is an add for a Class 5 jacket.

3:51 p.m. on December 12, 2011 (EST)
800 reviewer rep
2,162 forum posts

I am completely sold on wool.

I haven't used capilene, so I can't compare that one, but I have used polypro and other synthetics. All of the synthetics that I have work get very stinky very quickly, in less than a day.  They are also very prone to annoying and difficult static charge buildup. The polypro base layers I've worn were uncomfortable, getting bunched up and constantly "grabbing" at skin and hair. 

Since getting wool socks and baselayer I haven't looked back. I sweat. A lot. Which means I get stinky, and my boots were always rank smelling no matter what I did to prevent and manage it. My current boots, which I've had going on 9 months and have covered hundreds of miles, have never seen a synthetic sock. They still smell like sweet leather, without a hint of funk.  The wool layers and socks I have do not dry appreciably slower that the synthetics I own.

After hoofing it up a steep climb, even if the wool may be holding a good deal of moisture, I do not feel nearly as wet and clammy as in poly. I completely believe wool breathes better than the plastic stuff, even if the latter may wick better.

Hands down, I am far more comfortable in wool. 

7:55 p.m. on December 12, 2011 (EST)
0 reviewer rep
1,157 forum posts

I have used both, still have some capilene, but prefer wool.  For whatever reason I seem to be more comfortable in a wider range of temperatures in wool than in synthetics.


10:14 p.m. on December 12, 2011 (EST)
2,780 reviewer rep
1,638 forum posts

I posted in the other baselayer thread going on now. I suggest reading the following article if you havn't before. It has alot of useful information.

Wool is expensive so I have taken to buying it from thrift shops/2nd hand stores. So far I have gotten 2 nice merino wool tops, and a nice wool sweater. If you know what your looking for you can find some great items at 2nd hand stores.


11:27 p.m. on December 12, 2011 (EST)
7 reviewer rep
158 forum posts

"I am completely sold on wool."


Indeed.  I have 20+ years experience with capilene and will attest to it being the best of the best synthetics in terms of durability and stink management.

But I have made the switch to merino wool tops.  I particularly like the patagonia merino 1 (which is a capilene/merino blend).  No chafing, better temp/comfort range, good wicking, and almost as fast drying as the capilene lightweight fabric.  Just much more comfortable for me.

I have tried smartwool lightweight and paty merino 2, but hands down prefer the lighter weight blend. 

I haven't tried merino bottoms.

11:31 p.m. on December 12, 2011 (EST)
2,710 reviewer rep
1,516 forum posts

Great article! Thanks for the link, Rambler!

1:10 p.m. on December 13, 2011 (EST)
743 reviewer rep
1,442 forum posts

I am one who uses a combination. Something to remember, is that not all wools are the same, even merino wools. As I posted on another forum topic, merino was once popular, then twenty years ago I couldn't find it, and recently, someone described to me the new wonder wicks, keeps you warm when wet,..etc. A further advantage of wool, is its ability to insulate in warm conditions. Traditional bedouin robes are wool, for the cold nights and hot days.

Wool materials are heavy and they don't generally last as long as synthetics, especially the merinos, which are knitted. They are also quite expensive. One thing that many of the modern wools have as an advantage, is they are not pure wool. Often cotton, nylon, lycra are used in combination, giving a material that retains its shape well, softer to the touch, etc.

As I mentioned, not all wools are the same. What the animal was(goat, sheep, musk ox), what the environment was like, how the wool was spun, all these things and others contribute to the material's performance. Even the famous boiled wool garments from Austria are a further process.

For me, a merino wool long sleeved top goes on all winter or cold shoulder season trips. I often wear it over a light capilene.  In summer, on my canoe trips in the Yukon and Barren Lands, I take a Korean War Officer's wool shirt, a very tight weave.

2:07 p.m. on December 13, 2011 (EST)
12 reviewer rep
613 forum posts

I have used many different types of base layers and about all of the synthetics since the mid-'70s and I have gone back to pure merino wool from Icebreaker-the finest-Smartwool-never again-, some IoBio and MEC-quite decent, especially considering the price. Nothing, I have ever used works as well in all conditions, especially in severe, sub-zero cold and damp cold.

I also found a chilling effect from synthetics and the wicking effect is not so pronounced here in this extremely wet country as it may be elsewhere, so, I gave my last sets to a nephew and now have lots of merino to choose from.

I like to layer very light merino under medium merino under Primaloft in cold weather and then use my down garments over the same in very severe cold. I often wear 3-4 layers of carefully sized clothes to hunt in and all are wool, pure wool, no mixtures,especially with cotton. I find that my woolies last very well, but, I always handwash and flatdry them so that they will.

I really wish that SwannDri was still imported into Canada and made in New Zealand as I found their shirts to be outstanding.

8:49 p.m. on December 13, 2011 (EST)
0 reviewer rep
411 forum posts

Dewey, thanks for mentioning Icebreaker.  New to me, and I'm finding myself interested.

8:47 a.m. on December 14, 2011 (EST)
76 reviewer rep
135 forum posts

I also use very thin merino base layer. The one I have is not the best quality out their but suits me very well in almost all conditions and specially in very cold weather. I've used it in the alps in the summer, during canadian winter, fall etc...It dries pretty quickly (enough for anything I can think of), i can wear it for days before smelling bad, and you can revive it using lanolin (wool bubbler). High quality wool, if proper care is apply, last for a very long period. I still have grand ma's made wool pull over (they are over 40 years old) and they are in pretty good shape. 

My usual configuration, I stole from Mike Horn in one of his book, is thin merino, fleece mid layer, etc... 

10:42 a.m. on December 14, 2011 (EST)
0 reviewer rep
1,157 forum posts

I have been pleasantly surprised by the quality of IO/BIO.  A local shop sells their overstocks at a steep discount so I get them about 50% off of retail.  My IO/BIO has held up very well and I wear it a lot, I have a cold office so I wear a long sleeve merino top to work under my clothes every day all winter long.

I have merino by IO/BIO, Icebreaker, Smartwool, Patagonia, Stoic ('s house brand), REI, Ibex and Minus 33.

I like them all and wear them all, though my favorites continue to be the IO/Bio.

The Stoic products are the crudest in terms of quality, not bad, just not as good as the rest.  However I got them cheap on Steepandcheap so the price was right for a utilitarian garment.

Icebreaker is better quality than smartwool in general.

Minus 33 is new to me this season and so far I think it is great.

For Christmas I bought myself a Woolpower top which many people I know swear is the best thing out there.  The inside looks like the inside of a smartwool sock with the terry loops.  I won't get to wear this for another couple of weeks so the jury is still out.

I don't know if REI still makes merino underwear.  I bought long johns from them several years ago and I like them a great deal; perfect weight and fit for me.

All the products I've used are good but I've bought nearly all of it on clearance so the price was right.  If I had to pay retail I'd lean to IO/BIO, Icebreaker and Ibex.

9:08 p.m. on December 14, 2011 (EST)
0 reviewer rep
61 forum posts

It's not too difficult to find lower prices for merino base layer closeout items, especially off season. I live in merino wool throughout the winter and often use lighter weights in summer. If I expect to get soaked I will opt for Capilene instead. Having tried nearly every brand, I would recommend checking the sizing in Icebreaker's bodyfit line before making that plunge. The Ibex Shak was too coarse for my liking but their Zepher line is tied with I/O Bio Contact as favorites. The Patty items are also quite exceptional but if you're concerned about pricing you won't start there. Don't be surprised if you end up there though.

2:49 a.m. on February 22, 2012 (EST)
189 reviewer rep
36 forum posts

I can't wear any type of wool against my skin on the top half - itchy!!! Advertising says non itchy, for for me it is.  Don't wear thermal bottoms while hiking (get too hot) only for sleeping, so carry polypro as it's lighter. But superfine merino is very warm and cozy and I wear the wool leggings under my trousers around town in winter!

April 9, 2020
Quick Reply

Please sign in to reply

More Topics
This forum: Older: LOWA Zephyr GTX Boots - any good? Newer: Film Lives
All forums: Older: Keeping my sleeping bag WARM Newer: Backpacking and Large Format Cameras.