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Top Merino Wool Base Layers of 2023

The Ultimate Guide for Men

Choosing the right base layer for your activity can keep you comfortable and dry during any season or adventure—from high alpine skiing and climbs to stargazing from your campsite and everything in between. A base layer can provide warmth, breathability, moisture wicking, and greater mobility, allowing you to fully enjoy your time outdoors.

While base layers are important for men and women, today, we’ll focus on men’s base layers and review some of the top brands, starting with an evergreen favorite: Smartwool.

Smartwool offers a variety of warm, breathable, comfortable, and versatile options. The super soft, lightweight fabric remains comfortable even if it gets damp from sweat or the elements. The Classic Thermal Merino 1/4 Zip, for example, is a perfect base layer for backpacking adventures as the shoulder seam was moved off the crest of the shoulders to prevent backpacking straps from digging in. The 100% Merino wool is also top quality. That quality, though, comes at a price: $120 at REI. This top also is designed for colder weather. So, while we recommend it for virtually any fall or winter activity, there are better base layers for summer hikes.

A more affordable Smartwool 100% Merino Wool long sleeve is the Meriwool Merino 250. This stylish, comfortable, and breathable shirt is made of extra-fine-spun wool for a mid-weight layer to keep you cozy on and off the slopes or at the campsite on cool evenings. One complaint is that it can be slightly itchy, especially when first purchased. Choose your favorite color for $59.99 on Amazon and give it a few wears to break it in for total comfort. 

For a midweight layer, they also have the Intraknit Thermal Merino that allows for freedom of movement and a slim, athletic fit. This design includes panels for added durability for an excellent base layer that’s just right for cool-to-cold activities for $60 to $130 on Backcountry.com, depending on the size and color. 

Of course, it’s not just the upper body that needs extra warmth. If you enjoy hunting in the fall or mountaineering in the winter, a base layer on the bottom can keep your legs cozy and dry. The classic Smartwool Men’s Merino 250 base layer bottom offers a fit that’s slim enough to wear under clothing but isn’t so skin-tight it prevents movement. Depending on the color and size, you can find a pair of these versatile bottoms for between $68 and $115 on Amazon

No matter which base layer you choose, Smartwool is known for its variety, comfort, and creativity. It also comes with a two-year guarantee.

Another brand that creates some great, versatile Merino wool pieces is Black Diamond. For example, they offer a blended, half-zip hooded top that is hailed for its comfort and functionality. The 78% Merino wool, 22% polyester Solution 150 has a sweet spot between light and medium that can also be worn alone if temperatures rise. It has a slim, athletic fit, including thumbholes to hold it in place, that stretches with you through cooler temperature hikes or ski runs. It can be found for $145 at Backcountry.com.

If you are looking for a base layer designed for runners, the Brighton Base Layer offers an engineered Merino mesh that is more open around the torso with a more closed knit around the arms for greater comfort and reduced chafing. It’s available for $88 on Tracksmith.com

Why Choose Merino Wool? 

There are newer, more high-tech fabrics for base layers, but Merino wool has some distinct advantages. One of the most important is that it’s a natural fiber that’s comfortable against the skin. It can also be blended with other textiles to enhance its durability and wicking properties to help your body regulate temperature and stay dry and thus warm, even when wet. 

Merino wool is also naturally odor-resistant. Most synthetic tech gear must be chemically treated to help keep odors in check. (And let’s face it, they often can’t keep the funk away with extended wear or after several adventures.)

Merino wool also comes in several weights, so you can choose the right options for your next adventure—whether you’re cross-training, enjoying an evening by the campfire, taking advantage of a POW day, or shopping in town. Merino wool is considered one of the best fabrics to wear in cold and hot weather. Because it’s breathable and moisture-wicking, it can also help reduce how much you sweat. Yet when the temperatures drop, the natural folds in the fibers also trap air to better insulate the body and keep it warm. Again, because it’s moisture-wicking, it also keeps the skin warm even when wet. In fact, Merino wool can absorb up to 35% of its weight in moisture before it begins to feel wet.

Proper Care for Longer Wear

Properly caring for Merino wool base layers can extend longevity, which is important as Merino wool can be costly. To keep your garment in top condition for years to come: 

  • While you can and should launder your Merino wool, you should be able to wear it three or even four days before it needs to be cleaned. That said, before your first wear, wash the garment to help prevent pilling. 
  • Wool shrinks when exposed to heat and friction. Avoid washing it over 86 degrees F (30 degrees C). And do not tumble dry it. The best option is to hand wash it by soaking 10 to 20 minutes in cool to lukewarm water with a few drops of detergent. Then gently agitate before rinsing thoroughly with clean water. Gently squeeze out the water but avoid any wringing, which can distort the shape. Alternatively, you can place it in a washing machine using a delicate cycle, cool water, and gentle liquid detergent. 
  • Lie the garment flat to dry or hang it out of direct sunlight. Do not dry it in a dryer, and avoid the use of fabric softeners, which can interfere with wool’s natural odor-resistant properties.
  • Repair small tears, rips, or holes by darning them with a silk sewing thread, so the holes don’t continue to get larger. 

Merino Wool Base Layer Takeaway

Merino wool is one of the absolute best options for any adventure. Unlike traditional wool, it is lightweight, soft, and surprisingly warm and comfortable. It also isn’t itchy, especially after the first few wears. It also doesn’t need to be washed as often as other fabrics like cotton and especially synthetic materials as it repels moisture to prevent the growth of pesky bacteria that cause odor. Yes, it can be expensive, but it’s also an investment piece that can last years with proper care. If the cost is a concern, though, keep your eyes open for sales, as you can find discounts, especially for less popular colors or styles. 


Image Source: smartwool.com

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