When we venture outside, we want the best of the best when it comes to clothing and gear. That’s why a lot of our base layers, clothing, and hiking socks are made of Merino wool. It can be more expensive than synthetics or cotton, so is it really worth it?
Let’s dive in and talk about the properties of Merino wool and what makes it so great. By the end of this article, we hope you’ll know everything there is to know so you can make an educated decision if you want to try Merino wool on your next adventure. We know that over the years, Merino wool clothing has become our go-to!
What is Merino Wool?
Merino is a breed of sheep that’s known for having the softest and finest fleece. Originally from Spain and commonly seen in the highlands of Australia and New Zealand, Merino sheep can now be found in the United States as sustainable American companies try to bring their materials to the U.S. Because of Merino wool’s thin diameter, it isn’t itchy like regular wool, so it’s become used widely in technical fabrics for outdoor enthusiasts, especially in socks and base layers.
Why Should You Buy Merino Wool?
Merino wool is a natural material with numerous advantages over other fabrics and synthetic materials. It can wick sweat easily and is soft, comfortable, odor-resistant, and can help regulate your body temperature. All these features make it ideal for outdoor clothing, especially since it doesn’t smell and can be worn multiple times between washes. While the price may push some people away, those who value quality will appreciate all that Merino wool has to offer.
The Best Features & Advantages of Merino Wool
Merino sheep wool is an outstanding material that tends to outperform other options such as cotton and synthetics. So what makes it so awesome? Let’s talk about the best features of this fine wool.
Comfort & Softness
Comfort is key when it comes to any type of clothing, and Merino wool is known for being smooth and soft without the itchy traditional wool feeling (even for sensitive skin). This is because a single Merino wool fiber is only 17 microns thick, compared to human hair that’s 70+ microns and regular wool that’s about 40+. This smaller diameter means it’s softer and more flexible without being itchy.
This softness makes it perfect for a wide variety of applications ranging from every day shirts to base layers and active wear. Plus, the smooth fabric makes it more abrasion resistant, letting it last longer than other materials, and the outer layer is stain resistant.
Moisture Wicking & Breathability
Perhaps one of the most magical properties of wool is its ability to wick moisture. Wool only absorbs about 30% of its weight in water, while cotton can absorb up to 2,700%. While this seems backwards, it’s better that wool doesn’t absorb as much moisture because then it doesn’t hold water and make your skin more prone to blisters. Instead, it distributes the moisture so it’s not trapped next to your skin, and lets it dissipate and evaporate through the outer layers. This helps you stay more dry and comfortable.
Wool is also porous compared to synthetic fabrics, so it’s better suited for evaporating your moisture in a way that doesn’t leave you feeling cold, wet, or clammy. Even when it’s wet, Merino wool insulates better than other materials.
Temperature Regulation & Warmth
In addition to its moisture wicking capabilities, wool is also great for temperature regulation. It’s proved itself to be better than synthetic or cotton fabrics, no matter the time of year. When we go hiking, it’s great for all day wear since it keeps us warm in the early morning then helps keeps us cool later in the day.
Merino wool absorbs your body’s moisture and condenses it inside the fiber, which gives off heat and helps keep you warm. Also, the natural bends and crimps in the fiber trap air and insulate the body heat of the wearer. It’s even warmer than a synthetic material that’s the same weight.
In warm weather, Merino takes that same moisture and evaporates it outside of the fabric to keep your body temperature down. This keeps you cool, dry, and ventilated even when you’re working hard.
Odor Resistance & Anti-Microbial
Wool is also naturally antimicrobial and odor resistant, making it the perfect material for multi-day treks and adventures. It absorbs odors without letting it grow stinky bacteria, so you can wear the garment for multiple days without torturing your adventure partners with your B.O.
It only releases the odors upon washing, but you don’t even need to wash it each time you wear it. This means you can go longer between washes without sacrificing smell or durability. That’s one of the many reasons why wool hiking socks and underlayers are the preferred options for multi-day backpacking trips and thru hiking.
Speaking of wearing Merino wool garments for multiple days, know that it can be machine washed. Check the care label because some items may require hand washing, but most products can go through a normal wash cycle with mild detergent and lower temperatures.
When compared to cotton, Merino fiber is 6 times stronger. This means Merino garments will last longer and withstand wear and tear more effectively than other fabrics. That being said, thin and lightweight pieces of Merino clothing can wear through if you wear them heavily and frequently, so pay attention to high-friction areas that are more prone to wear and tear.
To make them even more durable, a lot of Merino wool socks are a combination of wool and nylon. Nylon adds durability and strength, while a small percentage of elastane or spandex will keep the fabric stretchy and more pliable.
When you wear wool shirts, you’ll find that they are naturally wrinkle resistant. Even if they are folded (e.g., if you’re travelling) then just hang the garment for half an hour and the wrinkles will work themselves out.
It’s a Natural Fiber That’s Renewable & Biodegradable
Every year, each Merino sheep can grow upwards of four to five pounds of wool. That’s a lot! Plus, these sheep can hang out in pretty harsh conditions (anywhere from 5 degrees to 95 degrees) and the wool keeps them comfortable year-round. This makes for sustainable farming where the focus is on keeping the animal healthy and happy.
Also, Merino wool fibers naturally decompose in soil in about 12 months, giving its nutrients back to the Earth. This is much more environmentally friendly than synthetic fabrics that are made of plastics and polyester.
Merino wool can provide up to UPF 20+ sun protection depending on the way it’s spun and dyed.
Summary of The Pros and Cons of Merino Wool
- Wool wicks moisture
- Comfortable in most temperature conditions
- Odor resistant
- Naturally antimicrobial
- Lasts longer
- Warmer than synthetic fibers of the same weight
- Dries slower after soaking
- More expensive
Repairing Merino Wool
To keep Merino wool as sustainable as possible, you can take the time to repair small holes and patch worn areas to help the garment last longer. You’ll need a small needle, a nice thread, and an inside-out article of clothing that needs some help. You’ll stitch a grid pattern – here’s a great video representation.
Note: Patagonia has an amazing Worn Wear repair program, but they won’t accept Merino wool base layers or socks because they’re considered under garments. Keep this in mind if you’re buying from Patagonia, but know that it’s a great option for non-base-layer clothing!
Price of Merino Wool
While wool is traditionally known as being expensive, it’s hard to compare when cotton is just so cheap and easy. Cotton will always be cheaper, which is why it’s good for every day casual wear, but you’ll hate wearing it while hiking.
In reality, wool isn’t much more expensive that other technical materials and synthetics, so paying $15-20 per pair of hiking socks isn’t absurd. Ultimately, spending more money on socks will save you more in the long run because it will last longer.
As for clothing pieces, expect to pay upwards of $80-$100 for a shirt and $120+ for bottoms. This cost is the biggest downside of Merino wool shirts and pants, but it can be worth it if you value the advantages listed above.
Merino Wool and Synthetic Fibers Mixed
100% Merino wool products will be quite a bit more expensive than mixed fibers, but we actually like it better when Merino is combined with a synthetic material. These hybrid designs utilize the best features of each material to make something even better. This takes away some of the naturally biodegradable properties, but it’s traded for increased durability and a slightly more affordable price tag.
Our Top Recommendations for Merino Wool Clothing and Garments
These Merino wool or wool blend hiking socks are ready for your next hike. For more hiking sock recommendations, check out the Best Hiking Socks to Prevent Blisters.
- REI Co-Op Merino Wool Lightweight Hiking Socks
- Darn Tough Hiker Micro Crew Cushion Socks – Men’s & Women’s
- Smartwool Performance Hike Socks – Men’s & Women’s
Hiking Sock Liners
These hiking sock liners are a wool blend and they help prevent blisters on long day hikes and backpacking trips. For more sock liner recommendations, check out Best Hiking Sock Liners.
These short sleeve t-shirts are perfect for daily wear as well as hiking and backpacking. They’re great at wicking sweat and staying odor-free between washes.
- Patagonia Capilene Cool Merino Shirt – Men’s & Women’s
- SmartWool Classic All-Season Merino T-Shirt – Men’s & Women’s
- Icebreaker Tech Lite II Crewe T-Shirt – Men’s & Women’s
- REI Co-Op Merino 185 Base Layer Top – Men’s & Women’s
These base layers are great for wearing under cold weather gear or they can be worn on their own in warmer conditions.
- Patagonia Capilene Air
- Smartwool Classic
- REI Co-Op Merino 185
What is so special about Merino wool?
Merino wool is special because it is an extraordinary natural fiber with many advantages that make it ideal for everything from casual every day clothing to heavily worn items for hiking and backpacking. It’s moisture-wicking, odor-resistant, and super soft and comfortable.
What is a disadvantage of using Merino wool?
The main disadvantage of Merino wool is the price, which is what usually pushes away new purchasers. Its natural qualities make it well worth the price tag, though so it’s worth checking out. Some people also say that lightweight Merino wool clothing won’t last as long as synthetics, but when combined with nylon in a mixed material garment it will last longer than on its own.
Why is Merino wool so expensive?
Merino wool is so expensive because it’s a natural material that takes time and effort to harvest and process. However, it’s well worth the price tag because of its outstanding natural properties that make it perfect for a wide variety of applications.
Is Merino better than wool?
Merino wool is much better than regular wool, especially since it’s significantly softer. This makes it more comfortable to wear while still having natural wool properties like wicking sweat, resistance to odor causing bacteria, and more.
Ashley is an adventurous soul who loves all things nature, especially warm sunshine, wildflowers, scenic snacking, and mushrooms. She is an avid outdoor enthusiast who has spent years enjoying time outside doing things like hiking, camping, and rock climbing.
Her goal with Know Nothing Nomads is to make these hobbies easily accessible through knowledgeable content and how-to’s based on all the stuff she’s learned on her journey. If she isn’t writing an article, she’s probably in a forest looking at big mountain views and tiny pieces of moss on the side of the trail.