The Best Merino Wool Base Layers for 2017


Smartwool NTS Mid 250 Crew Top

Smartwool NTS Mid 250 Crew Top

A base layer is one of the most vital pieces of hiking clothing as it is in direct contact with the skin and therefore significantly influences your comfort level and performance. Base layer clothing is responsible for managing moisture, protecting the skin (UV rays, chafing etc.) and maintaining the body’s natural temperature by reducing thermal conductivity. Therefore, the fabric of the base layer should tick the following boxes: moisture-wicking, quick-drying, durable and breathable. Most modern base layers are made of polyester, Merino wool or nylon. Sometimes blends of these materials are used in order to mitigate the respective downsides of each material. However, Merino wool is becoming the material of choice when it comes to base layers – exactly because it offers superior breathability and moisture wicking performance in comparison to competitive materials such as polyester and nylon. Furthermore, Merino wool is also naturally antimicrobial, super soft to the touch and offers great UV protection. The natural material, however, also has its downsides – it is relatively expensive, dries slightly slower than synthetic materials and is in some cases less durable than synthetic materials. For more information about base layer materials, please check the Comparison of Base Layer Materials.

In this review we selected and reviewed the best Merino wool base layers for hiking, mountaineering, trekking and other outdoor activities.

We deliberately chose only long-sleeved base layers as they offer great performance year-round (excluding the warmest summer days when a short-sleeved base layer offers the needed ventilation). If you are looking for a short-sleeved base layer please check our review of the Best Hiking Shirts which includes 2 Merino wool base layers and 3 polyester base layers, all short-sleeved.

If you are looking for women’s Merino wool base layer, please check our Best Merino Base Layers for Women review.

1. Buying a Merino Wool Base Layer – What is important?

Material:

Merino wool fabrics differ by density, porosity and fibers’ diameter. The fibers’ diameter greatly influences the softness of the fabric; the smaller the diameter, the softer the fabric will be. Merino wool fibers have a diameter between 17 microns (Ultrafine Merino Wool) and 24 microns (Strong Merino Wool). Merino wool base layers are usually made of fabric with a density from 130g/m2 to 250 g/m2. Base layers with a fabric density of less than 160 g/m2 can comfortably be used for hiking in warm conditions while more dense fabrics are best for hiking in autumn, spring and winter.

Merino wool can be also blended with other materials such as for example nylon, polyester and polyamide. The main intention of blending Merino wool with other materials is to increase the fabric’s strength and decrease its drying time. However, blends also have a downside; the fabric becomes less soft to the touch and if the content of other synthetic materials is very high, the fabric also starts losing its breathability and natural antimicrobial properties. For more information about Merino wool please read Why you should wear Merino wool clothing.

Seams:

A base layer should have seams which do not cause any rubbing or chafing. In order to reduce any possible discomfort caused by the seams, manufacturers often use flatlock seams which reduce the friction between the skin and the seams. Flatlock seams are particularly vital for tight-fitting base layers.

Odor-resistance:

Merino wool is superior to any other material when it comes to odor-resistance as it naturally contains lanolin (wool wax) which efficiently eliminates odor-causing bacteria. Synthetic fabrics can be treated with antimicrobial agents to mimic this quality, but these will eventually be washed out and the odor-resistance lost. Merino wool does not have this problem as lanolin cannot be washed out if the garment is washed as directed.

Durability:

Pure Merino wool is not as durable as synthetic materials such as for example nylon and polyester. However, some manufacturers blend Merino wool with nylon (+ 13%) in order to increase the durability. This also allows them to make very thin and porous fabric without jeopardizing its durability.

Fit:

The fit of a base layer influences its performance; tight-fitting best layers are best for cold conditions while base layers with a regular or loose fit are best for warm conditions as they add some ventilation.

2. The Best Merino Wool Base Layers Review

The Best Merino Wool Base Layers for 2017

The Best Merino Wool Base Layers for 2017

  1. Icebreaker Oasis Long Sleeve Crewe
  2. Smartwool NTS Mid 250 Crew Top
  3. Ibex All Day Crew
  4. WoolPro Agena
  5. Woolx Base Camp LS

Comparison

Feature/Product Icebreaker Oasis Long Sleeve CreweSmartwool NTS Mid 250 Crew Ibex All Day CrewWoolPro Agena Woolx Base Camp LS
Material100% Merino wool100% Merino wool
87% Merino wool, 13% Nylon100% Merino wool100% Merino Wool
Fabric Density200 g/m2250 g/m2145 g/m2195 g/m2160 g/m2
FitSlim Form Regular Slim Slim
Washing Machine Wash Machine Wash Machine Wash Machine Wash Machine Wash
Odor-resistant Yes (natural resistance)Yes (natural resistance)Yes (natural resistance)Yes (natural resistance)Yes (natural resistance)
UV Protection YesYesYesYesYes
Icebreaker Oasis Long Sleeve Crewe

Icebreaker Oasis Long Sleeve Crewe

1. Icebreaker Oasis Long Sleeve Crewe

Suitable for:

  • Hiking
  • Mountaineering
  • Trekking
  • Backpacking
  • Climbing
  • Running
  • Everyday use

The Icebreaker Oasis Long Sleeve Crewe is an excellent base layer which is highly appreciated not only among hikers but basically among all outdoor enthusiasts. The base layer is made of 100% Merino wool fabric with a density of 200 g/m2.  Therefore, this base layer can be used year-round (as base layer or a single layer), excluding the warm summer days (+18 C). As it uses high-quality pure (non-blended) Merino wool, it provides great comfort, breathability, odor-resistance and moisture-wicking properties. The base layer features slim fit for low-bulk layering. However, even though the fit is slim, it offers great freedom of movement due to the stretchy material. Additionally, the base layer features crew neck, offset shoulder seams and drop tail hem. The offset shoulder seams eliminate chafing and rubbing when wearing a backpack while the drop tail hem prevents the fabric to ride up and expose your back. The Icebreaker Oasis Long Sleeve Crewe is best for those who want a versatile base layer for various outdoor adventures.

 

Pros:

  • Comfort
  • Fit
  • Moisture-wicking
  • Breathable
  • Odor-resistant

Cons:

  • /

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Video

Smartwool NTS Mid 250 Crew Top

Smartwool NTS Mid 250 Crew Top

2. Smartwool NTS Mid 250 Crew

Suitable for:

  • Hiking
  • Mountaineering
  • Trekking
  • Backpacking
  • Climbing
  • Running
  • Everyday use

The Smartwool NTS Mid 250 Crew base layer differs from the Icebreaker Oasis Long Sleeve Crewe by using a slightly thicker fabric. Therefore, it best works as a base layer in relatively cold conditions or a single layer in moderate conditions. The base layer is made of 100% Merino wool with the density of 250 g/m2 which provides very good insulation and thus allows you to use less insulated mid-layer while hiking on cold winter days. However, as the fabric is relatively thick, it also dries longer than thinner base layers as it absorbs more moisture. The insulation is additionally increased by form fit which reduces the ventilation and prevents the body warmed air from escaping to the outside. The base layer uses flatlock seams and shoulder panels (no seams in the area where the backpack’s shoulder straps come) for increased comfort. The Smartwool NTS Mid 250 Crew base layer is best for those who want a base layer for hiking in cold and cool conditions.

 

Pros:

  • Comfort
  • Fit
  • Warmth
  • Breathable
  • Odor-resistant

Cons:

  • /

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Ibex All Day Crew

Ibex All Day Crew

3. Ibex All Day Crew

Suitable for:

  • Hiking
  • Mountaineering
  • Trekking
  • Backpacking
  • Climbing
  • Running
  • Everyday use

The Ibex All Day Crew is the only base layer in this review that is not made of 100% Merino wool as nylon fibers (13%) have been added to increase the durability of this very thin and porous fabric. This base layer is with its low density (145g/m2) also the only one which will perform great on warm summer days, but can also be used for year-round hiking together with an appropriate mid-layer. The 87% Merino wool used in the fabric is superfine with a fiber diameter of 18.5 microns and contributes to the base layer being extremely breathable, moisture-wicking and fast drying. The garment is sewed with flatlock seams and has a regular fit for increased ventilation and a crew neck. The Ibex All Day Crew is best for those who specifically want a thin Merino wool base layer for hiking in relatively warm conditions. The garment can be easily used even on the warmest summer days if you are not bothered by the long sleeves (which protect your skin against UV rays).

 

Pros:

  • Thin and porous fabric
  • Breathable
  • Moisture-wicking
  • Odor-resistant
  • Fast-drying

Cons:

  • Slightly less soft fabric due to the nylon

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WoolPro Agena

WoolPro Agena

4. WoolPro Agena

Suitable for:

  • Hiking
  • Mountaineering
  • Trekking
  • Backpacking
  • Climbing
  • Running
  • Everyday use

The WoolPro Agena base layer uses extrafine Merino wool where the diameter of the wool fiber is between 18.5 and 19.5 microns. The density of the fabric is 195g/m2 and therefore this base layer is suitable for year-round use – except for very warm summer days. The garment is primarily designed to be worn as a base layer but can also be used as a single layer at higher temperatures. The WoolPro Agena is fairly tight fitting but as the fabric is very stretchy it doesn’t restrict movement. The WoolPro base layer also features a loose elastic hem and ActiveSeam stitches. ActiveSeam stitches are 30% stronger than flatlock seams, but still twice as stretchy.  However, these seams do have one disadvantage; they are “felt” more than flatlock seams. Nevertheless, the base layer still offers great comfort. The WoolPro Agena is a great versatile base layer that keeps you comfortable while doing basically any outdoor activity.

 

Pros:

  • Fit
  • Quality
  • Comfortable
  • Odor-control

Cons:

  • Seams are “felt” more than flatlock seams

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Woolx Base Camp LS

Woolx Base Camp LS

5. Woolx Base Camp LS

Suitable for:

  • Hiking
  • Mountaineering
  • Trekking
  • Backpacking
  • Climbing
  • Running
  • Everyday use

The Woolx Base Camp LS is, like the Ibex All Day Crew, a very lightweight Merino wool base layer that performs best in warm conditions, even though it can be used basically year-round together with an appropriate mid-layer. In contrast to the Ibex All Day Crew base layer, this base layer doesn’t use nylon fibers for better durability; instead it is made of a slightly thicker fabric (160g/m2). It uses ultrafine (the highest grade) Merino wool with a fiber diameter of 17.5 microns. Therefore, the fabric is super soft to the touch and offers great comfort. The base layer is made with flatlock seams, printed interior label, embroidered logo and articulated sleeves. The Woolx Base Camp LS is a great base layer that offers incredible performance in warm weather and thus it is highly recommended for hikers, mountaineers, trekkers and other outdoor enthusiasts.

 

Pros:

  • Quality
  • Comfort
  • Design
  • Breathable
  • Moisture-wicking
  • Odor-resistant

Cons:

  • /

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