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The Best Merino Wool Shirts of 2023
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The Best Merino Wool Shirts of 2023

Merino wool is a pretty magical fabric. It’s lightweight, it wicks away moisture and odors, and it helps thermoregulate (that is, it’s breathable).

That being said, there are some tradeoffs for this wonder textile. It can be more fragile and less durable, both in wearing and washing, which is why we considered both 100% merino wool layers and merino wool blends (with a majority of merino greater than 60%).

It’s not easy to find that perfect, comfortable yet functional, fits-great, do-it-all layer, but merino comes pretty darn close.

We tested dozens of merino wool shirts to find the best on the market, wearing them in all kinds of conditions and pushing the shirt’s limits. Here are our staff’s favorite merino tees — as well as some honorable mentions.

At the end of our selection, check out our in-depth buyers guide, comparison chart, and frequently asked questions sections to guide you to your next wear-all-day shirt.

The Best Merino Wool Shirts of 2023

Best Overall: icebreaker Tech Lite II Crewe T-Shirt — Men’s & Women’s

The Best Merino Wool Shirts of 2023

Our staff testers love the Tech Lite II Crewe T-Shirt ($80) by icebreaker because we can wear it all year. In hot weather, this tee is light, breathable, airy, and made of 100% natural merino that has built-in odor-wicking properties. In cooler weather, it feels soft and comfortable as a base layer.

For a tee that can be used in any type of weather, it was easy for us to consider the Tech Lite II as the best merino wool shirt overall.

While comparing this tee to others that we had tested, we did feel that the Tech Lite II felt slightly thinner than other tees, which made us wary about its durability. However, after a few months of testing, we’re comfortable with the quality and longevity.

icebreaker Tech Lite II
Cold in the morning and hot by afternoon, a late autumn day tested the temp-regulating power of the Tech Lite II Crewe; (photo/Nick Belcaster)

Overall, we are impressed by the amount of use we get from this tee, regardless of the weather. We also really love the fit and coverage, especially the sleeve length on the women’s cut. While the Tech Lite II Crewe is a bit thinner for the price, the outstanding quality makes it a great buy.

Specs

  • Material: 100% merino wool
  • Weight: 5.3 oz.
  • Special feature: Underarm gussets for added mobility and reduced discomfort

Pros

  • UPF 20 protection
  • Odor resistance
  • Moisture-wicking properties

Cons

  • Thinner than other comparable tees

Check Men’s Price at REICheck Women’s Price at REI

Best Budget: Smartwool Merino Short Sleeve Tee — Men’s & Women’s

Smartwool Merino Short Sleeve Tee

Smartwool doesn’t make just socks; it makes all sorts of apparel, like the Merino Short Sleeve Tee ($75). This moisture-wicking tee kept us cool on warmer-weather hikes but also offered good coverage.

This layer is a super-comfortable piece at a reasonable price and is now more sustainably made. In terms of construction, we like that it is made with 87% merino with a nylon-spun core, striking a good balance between soft, stretchy, breathable, and durable.

We also like that the layer was durable when packed, worn, and washed multiple times over the few months we tested. This tee has a lot to offer while still being reasonably priced, making it a great option for those who want a budget-friendly tee.

Despite loving that this tee runs taller for those with a longer torso, we did discover that the sizing for different body types was a bit trickier than other merino tees we’ve tested — possibly due to some versions of the tee being colored with plant-based dye.

However, after finding the right fit, we actually enjoyed the options of plant-based colors, which make this tee a unique departure from the standard black or gray hues we usually see in merino layers. And who doesn’t love tie-dye?

If you want to keep on the go while still remaining stylish, look no further than the Merino Short Sleeve Tee

Specs

  • Material: 87% merino wool, 13% nylon
  • Weight: 3.6 oz.
  • Specific feature: Comes in plant-based tie-dye options

Pros

  • Durability from nylon spun core
  • Moisture management
  • UPF 20+ protection

Cons

Check Men’s Price at REICheck Women’s Price at REI

Runner-Up: Ibex 24-Hour Short Sleeve Tee — Men’s & Women’s

Ibex 24-Hour Short Sleeve Merino Wool Tee

Vermont-founded Ibex has been making merino apparel since 1997. After a short out-of-business stint (that lasted 2 years), the Ibex brand is finally back. We’ve been testing a number of styles, including this 24-Hour Short Sleeve Tee ($88), which is made with 100% 19.5-micron merino wool and is just as soft and light as it sounds.

What we appreciated most about this tee: It regulates the body’s temperature in hot weather, is moisture- and odor-wicking, and is lightweight. Additionally, it feels nice against the skin, works as a standalone tee or base layer, and it’s easy to hand wash and hang dry, which is perfect for travel.

Ibex 24-Hour Short Sleeve Tee
With a full 100% merino wool construction, the 24-Hour Short Sleeve Tee has unrivaled stretch; (photo/Nick Belcaster)

Our main warning with this tee is that it’s more fitted than others. So, if you want a roomier fit or if you are in between sizes, be sure to size up.

If you want a tee that breathes, the 24-Hour Short Sleeve Tee is it. Synthetic performs by the numbers, but the feel of natural materials — merino wool in particular — is unparalleled. And no one does merino better than Ibex, so it’s great to see the brand in full swing!

And heads up: This Ibex merino tee comes in a tank (even lighter with 18.5-micron wool) and long-sleeve versions as well, giving you more options for style and fit.

Specs

  • Material: 100% 18.5-micron merino wool
  • Weight: 3.2 oz.
  • Special feature: Requires fewer washings

Pros

  • Moisture-wicking
  • Lightweight material
  • Odor resistance
  • Soft

Cons

  • Fits tighter than expected

Check Men’s Price at IbexCheck Women’s Price at Ibex

Best Merino Wool Shirt for Cycling: Men’s Kitsbow Mullinax Merino Tee & Women’s Laurel Mountain Merino Tee

Kitsbow Mullinax Merino Wool Tee

The Mullinax and Laurel Mountain Merino Tee by Kitsbow ($89) probably have to be the merino shirts we got the most compliments on while wearing. Both on the bike and at the brewery or around town, our guess was due to the simple but flattering design and the colors.

The drop hem and the slightly longer raglan sleeves were one reason why we chose this for our favorite cycling or MTB-specific layer. But honestly, it worked great for hiking and general outdoor wear too.

And while these Kitsbow merino shirts are made with a 75% merino wool and 25% synthetic blend, the company claims the fabric’s blend wicks faster and dries faster than just pure merino.

It’s also worth noting this is designed by a cycling apparel company. But it’s definitely a tee, not a jersey — there are no pockets on this shirt. Still, it served its function as a comfortable, odor-wicking go-to layer.

And while we didn’t quite know how to test some of Kitsbow’s claims, we did like the performance of the Laurel Mountain Merino and Mullinax Merino Tees enough to give them the best for cycling title. We also love the added bonus that they are both made right here in the USA.

Specs

  • Material: 75% merino, 25% synthetic fabric
  • Weight: Unavailable
  • Special feature: A crash policy that repairs your Kitsbow tee

Pros

  • Semi-merino and semi-synthetic fibers aid in durability
  • Moisture-wicking
  • Raglan sleeves for movement
  • Drop hem for ultimate coverage

Cons

  • Made for cycling but has no pockets

Check Men’s Price at KitsbowCheck Women’s Price at Kitsbow

Best Merino Wool Shirt for Running: Oiselle Flyout Wool Tee

Oiselle Flyout Merino Wool Tee

Women’s running apparel brand Oiselle touts merino wool as the “Swiss Army knife” of fabrics, and we’re compelled to agree. The Oiselle Flyout Wool Tee costs $58 and is made primarily of merino wool and polyester, a combo that makes it affordable and functional.

It has the natural properties of merino wool, but a thicker plated-knit — Polartec Power Wool — with the addition of synthetic polyester (bluesign approved) for a soft yet durable construction.

We also noticed the two-toned threads, as well as seams on the hem and collar (not flatlock) that gave the shirt both a little grip and some element of design. This is a simple and subtle shirt, with a slightly tapered fit. But we love it — especially for running. It’s also available from size 2 all the way up to plus sizes 20/22.

The one thing we couldn’t help but notice with this tee, especially after extensive testing in various terrain, is that the color choices don’t lend themselves to too much dirt. So, yes, after just one or two wearings, we had to wash ours.

For runners who are searching for a perfect tee that lends itself to functionality and durability, we vote for the Flyout Wool Tee as the one to get without breaking the bank.

Specs

  • Material: Polyester/merino wool blend
  • Weight: 2.8 oz.
  • Special feature: Ample sizing choices

Pros

  • Affordable
  • Raglan sleeve
  • Moisture-wicking properties

Cons

  • No UPF benefits
  • Non-flatlock seams
  • Gets dirty easily

Check Price at Oiselle

Best Merino Wool Shirt for Hunting: KUIU ULTRA Merino 120 LT SS Crew-T

KUIU ULTRA Merino 120 LT SS Crew-T

One of the downsides of the plushness of merino wool is its fragile nature — not something that’ll fly when scrubbing around in the brush. Thankfully the KUIU ULTRA Merino 120 LT SS Crew-T ($79) makes use of a new fabric tech that pushes the strength of merino to new heights and makes it perfect for your next hunting trip.

Nuyarn takes the soft touch of merino wool and spins it around a nylon core, greatly increasing its durability and stability. And since the fiber is drafted as opposed to twisted, it retains all of the high-loft softness and breathability we love about merino.

We loved the feel of the ULTRA Merino 120 LT SS in hand, and during use, it felt like a fabric we wouldn’t be worried about moving around in the woods with. KUIU claims its fabric has a 35% increase in stretch over normal merino, and we believe it.

KUIU ULTRA Merino
The KUIU ULTRA Merino 120 LT SS Crew-T stood up to the abuse of carrying heavy pack weights — all without pilling; (photo/Nick Belcaster)

Currently, there isn’t a women’s version of the ULTRA Merino 120 tee — the closest you’ll get is the Women’s ULTRA Merino 145 LS Crew, a version with a thicker 145 g/m² fabric weight. We would love to see the thinner and more breathable fabric of this tee brought to the entire lineup.

Since the temperature-regulating qualities of merino are allowed to shine through, the KUIU ULTRA Merino 120 LT SS Crew-T would make a perfect tee for anyone looking for a standalone hot-weather or base layer cold-weather hunting shirt.

Specs

  • Material: Nuyarn merino (70% merino, 30% nylon)
  • Weight: 4.3 oz.
  • Special feature: Increased durability without losing breathability

Pros

  • Nuyarn construction; increased durability and stretch over typical merino
  • UPF 50+ sun protection
  • Available in different camouflage prints

Cons

  • No women’s cut is currently available

Check Price at KUIU

Best of the Rest

Bombas Merino Wool Crew Neck Long Sleeve T-Shirt — Men’s & Women’s

Bombas Merino Wool Crew Neck Long Sleeve T-Shirt

Like Smartwool, Bombas is another brand known for making high-quality socks — but it also crafts other apparel, like the Merino Wool Crew Neck Long Sleeve T-Shirt ($74). Right off the bat, we loved the silky-soft feel of this tee, which felt like a plush pajama top.

That’s thanks to its 50% merino and 50% TENCEL Lyocell blend, which not only makes it feel incredibly comfortable but also aids in its ability to dry quickly when sweating or battling light precipitation.

It also contains cooling elements that are perfect for hiking in warmer temperatures. Other bonuses we admired were its UV protection properties and thumb holes for properly staying put underneath layers or under gloves.

Oh, and we can’t forget about the flattering colors this merino tee comes in — welcome additions to the otherwise standard black and gray merino shirts.

Bombas Merino Wool Crew Neck
An ideal layering piece, the Merino Wool Crew Neck Long Sleeve from Bombas has thumb holes for keeping the sleeves where they belong; (photo/Rebecca Ross)

Unfortunately, we would be remiss if we didn’t discuss a few of the tee’s shortcomings. For starters, we weren’t thrilled that this midweight top is quite see-through, especially in the lighter colors. Since it claims to be made for layering, however, it’s not a problem with that in mind.

Another issue was its odd fit. We found it a bit tight in the arms and bust area and too loose everywhere else. If you’re finding the sizing too tight as we did, we suggest sizing up.

And finally, Bombas claims this long sleeve is great for keeping you cool in hot weather, but after realizing how sheer it was, we weren’t fans of wearing it alone. But we find it perfect for underneath additional layers while camping in cold climates.

After taking a moment to select a size that works for you, you will be happy to have this ridiculously soft and warm Merino Wool Crew Neck Long Sleeve for your cold-weather hiking, biking, or camping adventures.

Specs

  • Material: 50% merino wool, 50% TENCEL Lyocell
  • Weight: Unavailable
  • Special feature: Thumb loops

Pros

  • UPF protection
  • Incredibly soft
  • Flattering color options

Cons

  • Tight-fitting in arms and chest
  • Lighter colors are see-through

Check Men’s Price at BombasCheck Women’s Price at Bombas

Ridge Merino Merino Wool Shirt — Men’s Journey & Women’s Wander

Ridge Merino Journey & Wander Merino Wool Shirt

While other wools can be as coarse as 40 microns (think itchy grandma sweaters), merino wool can be as thin as 24 to 15 microns, which is exactly why the Ridge Merino Journey and Wander Merino Wool shirts ($60) — made with 17.5-micron merino — are so dang buttery smooth.

Mammoth Lakes-based Ridge Merino certainly has a thing for good wool, having crafted an entire line revolving around sheep’s clothing. The Journey tee is easily one of its most popular, and we found it’s for good reason. This tee is just all-around cozy.

Sewn with a double-stitched neck and sleeves, the Journey felt like it was made for the long run in our testing. Couple that with the nylon core-spun merino textile, and you’ve got a durable merino piece that’ll keep up for as long as you’ll wear it. There’s also no external branding on this tee — which is something we’ve actually come to appreciate.

Ridge Merino Journey Tee
With a smooth hand, the Ridge Merino Journey was high on our list of most-comfy merino wool shirts; (photo/Nick Belcaster)

We particularly liked the cut of this tee, which is a bit slimmer and longer, though washing and drying will shrink the tee to some degree. This can cause a little confusion when trying to size the tee, but thankfully Ridge Merino provides a sizing chart to assist.

When comfort is king, the Ridge Merino Journey and Wander Merino Wool Shirts are high on our list of most cozy merino wool shirts.

Specs

  • Material: 87% merino wool, 13% nylon
  • Weight: 5.2 oz.
  • Special feature: Super-smooth 17.5-micron merino

Pros

  • Cozy soft to the touch
  • Generous cut
  • UPF 50+ sun protection

Cons

  • Will shrink up a bit in the wash
  • Sizing gives some people trouble

Check Men’s Price at Ridge MerinoCheck Women’s Price at Ridge Merino

Allbirds Natural Run Tee — Men’s & Women’s

Allbirds Natural Run Tee

Light and airy — that’s almost everything you need to know about the Allbirds Natural Run Tee ($58). Though we should also mention the sustainability factor: This tee is made of a mix of eucalyptus tree fiber and merino wool, so you can feel good about what you wear.

Made of an ultra-breathable mesh weave, this tee was made to run. We especially appreciated the anti-chafe seams and sneaky drop pocket on the hem of the shirt, perfect for stowing keys or cards. During a few test trail runs, the Natural Run regulated temps wonderfully during a chilly fall day that turned warm by afternoon.

Allbirds Natural Run Tee
While it performs well for backpacking, we found the Natural Run truly shines on a good jog; (photo/Nick Belcaster)

Because it’s a rather thin weave, you’ll have to be careful not to snag it on anything — something we weren’t capable of. The shirt held up well, but we could imagine a failure in the worst-case scenario. Speaking of the sheer fabric, it isn’t going to be for everyone, as you can see through it against direct light.

Perfect for a day of running where you aren’t sure what the weather has in store for you, the Allbirds Natural Run Tee ticks all the boxes we look for in an active-wear merino shirt.

Specs

  • Material: 45% merino wool, 36% recycled polyester, 19% TENCEL Lyocell
  • Weight: 4.9 oz.
  • Special feature: Integrated drop pocket on hem

Pros

  • Anti-chafe sewn seams
  • Ready for the temperature swings of an all-season run

Cons

  • The thin weave is liable to snag
  • Sheer fabric won’t be for everyone

Check Men’s Price at AllbirdsCheck Women’s Price at Allbirds

Patagonia Capilene Cool Merino Shirt — Men’s & Women’s

Patagonia Capilene Cool Merino Shirt

Testing the Patagonia Capilene Cool Merino Shirt ($69) exceeded our expectations, especially for the price. This shirt is a blend of 65% RWS-certified merino wool and 35% polyester, which kept us cool — as the name suggests — while hiking in balmy summer temperatures. Yet when we added another layer, it kept us comfortable when the air got chilly.

Another thing we appreciated about this shirt is how lightweight, airy, and not quite as sheer it is compared to other merino tops — an easy standalone top for various activities. Additionally, after wearing it all day and underneath a pack while backpacking, it stayed surprisingly odor-free. In fact, it easily made it on our list of go-tos for multiday excursions.

Unfortunately, this top isn’t perfect. We found signs of pilling and snags after a couple of washes. However, given its reasonable price and the fact it requires fewer washes in between wears, we still like it. And since it has a sizable percentage of polyester, it’s not exactly as soft as other 100% merino shirts, but still, we think it’s pretty soft considering.

Patagonia Cap Cool Merino
Soft and cool, the Capilene Cool Merino Shirt offers high comfort but lower durability; (photo/Rebecca Ross)

If you want a shirt that fits comfortably, doesn’t impede mobility, is versatile in both cool and warmer temperatures, and is reasonably priced, then the Capilene Cool Merino Shirt is a strong contender, in our opinion.

Specs

  • Material: 65% merino wool, 35% recycled polyester
  • Weight: 3.1 oz.
  • Special feature: Side vents with a subtle backdrop

Pros

  • Reasonably priced
  • Odor resistance
  • Good for various temperatures
  • Breathable

Cons

  • Signs of pilling and snags after washing
  • Marginally rougher than 100% merino wool

Check Men’s Price at PatagoniaCheck Women’s Price at Patagonia

Voormi River Run Wool Hoodie — Men’s & Women’s

Voormi River Run Hoodie

The Voormi River Run Hoodie ($129) is made of 100% merino wool but with a unique blend and construction. This USA-made hoodie uses an ultralight Precision Blended Wool, a fabric weighing under 100 g/m². That’s 30-50 g lighter than the leading merino fabrics currently on the market, Voormi claims.

When packing and when wearing, we can attest that this hoodie is light. In fact, it’s so light and versatile that we’re not sure where we haven’t worn this Voormi layer — paddleboarding, camping, climbing, snowshoeing, kayaking, hiking, and running errands. And with the amount of time spent under the sun, the UPF 50-rated protection of this sun protection shirt is a welcome feature.

So, what are our cons? It’s crazy ultralight and soft, meaning it’s prone to snag easily, which also doesn’t bode too well with the high cost. But ultimately, with the amount of wear this hoodie has gotten, it’s well worth the investment.

The River Run Hoodie was designed with everything from fly fishing day trips to multiday river trips in mind, which is one of the main reasons we love it so much. So, if you are heading up into alpine territory, or looking for a merino base layer for fall, it’s a good choice for that as well.

Specs

  • Material: 100% merino
  • Weight: 7 oz.
  • Special feature: Full-cover hoodie

Pros

  • Built-in thumb loops
  • Versatile
  • UPF protection
  • Ultralight weight
  • Soft

Cons

  • Expensive
  • Prone to snagging

Check Men’s Price at VoormiCheck Women’s Price at Voormi

Merino Wool Shirt Comparison Chart

Merino Wool Shirt Price Material Weight Special Feature
Ibex 24-Hour Short Sleeve Tee $88 100% merino wool 3.2 oz. Requires fewer washings
Icebreaker Tech Lite II Crewe T-Shirt $80 100% merino wool 5.3 oz. Underarm gussets for added mobility and reduced discomfort
Smartwool Merino Short Sleeve Tee $75 87% merino wool, 13% nylon 3.6 oz. Comes in plant-based tie-dyed options
Kitsbow Laurel Mountain Merino Tee &
Mullinax Merino Tee
$89 75% merino wool, 25% synthetic fabric Unavailable A crash policy that repairs your Kitsbow tee
Oiselle Flyout Wool Tee $58 Merino wool, polyester blend 2.8 oz. Ample sizing choices
KUIU ULTRA Merino 120 LT SS Crew-T $79 Nuyarn Merino (70% merino wool, 30% nylon) 4.3 oz. Increased durability, without losing breathability
Bombas Merino Wool Crew Neck Long Sleeve T-Shirt $74 50% merino wool, 50% TENCEL Lyocell Unavailable Thumb loops
Ridge Merino Journey Merino Wool Shirt $60  87% merino wool, 13% nylon 5.2 oz. The longer cut moves with your body during exercise
Allbirds Natural Run Tee $58 45% merino wool, 36% recycled polyester, 19% TENCEL Lyocell 4.9 oz. Integrated drop pocket on hem
Patagonia Capilene Cool Merino Shirt $69 65% merino wool, 35% recycled polyester 3.1 oz. Side vents with a subtle back drop
Voormi River Run Hoodie $129 100% merino wool 7 oz. Full-cover hoodie

Why You Should Trust Us

The folks at GearJunkie have been dyed-in-the-wool fans of merino since well, forever. Merino wool has been the premium activewear textile of choice for many GearJunkie testers, and we’ve used shirts made from the material for years. In order to find the best merino wool shirts, we raided our closets, pulled out our most trusted tops, and put them to work.

On top of that, we also surveyed the market for the latest and greatest merino wool options — finding new technologies like Nuyarn — and added them into the mix.

Our testers included outdoors folk from across the country, who hit the hills and trails decked out in merino in order to test fit, comfort, style, and durability. We paid special attention to finding layers that had a perfect balance of the softness of merino while still maintaining some strength over the long run.

Buyers Guide: How to Choose a Merino Wool Shirt

100% Merino vs. Merino Blend

This one is a personal preference. That said, there are certain things that 100% merino wool is hands-down good at. First, 100% merino wool provides a more next-to-skin feel than a merino blend, especially those that have a higher synthetic content. Second, merino wool offers natural antibacterial, UV protection, and moisture-wicking properties that synthetics don’t naturally have.

However, when it comes to a merino blend, there are certain beneficial features, such as tending to be cheaper and easily outlasting their more fragile counterparts.

If you want a merino layer for hiking, hunting, or just spending time outside, consider all the uses 100% merino wool has to offer. And if you’re investing in a merino shirt for, say, a rugged backpacking trip or rock climbing, or if durability is of high importance, then go for a merino blend.

Also, if you’re brand new to merino and just want to try it out and see what all the fuss is about, a merino blend can be a bit more wallet-friendly the first time around.

Merino Wool Shirts
Three merino wool shirts, each with a different construction or blend of wool and other fibers; (photo/Nick Belcaster)

Polyester

Polyester is a manmade material that has much better dry times than merino wool and resists shrinking in the wash — something merino wool struggles with. A blend can offer a textile with components that complement each other so you end up with a garment that works for many situations.

Most merino wool shirts tend to use as high of a percentage of merino wool as they can get away with while still receiving the benefits of polyester. We prefer at least 75% merino wool in our blended fabrics. In our testing, it was no surprise the 100% merino shirts were the softest of the bunch.

Nylon

Another manmade fiber, nylon can add impressive durability to fabric blends. Garments like the Ridge Merino Journey Merino Wool Shirt incorporate a percentage of nylon into their weave and gain strength in return.

Technologies like the Nuyarn used in the KUIU ULTRA Merino 120 LT SS Crew-T draft merino wool around a nylon core in order to offer the benefits of nylon while avoiding compressing the merino wool.

TENCEL Lyocell

A branded fiber that comes from the pulp of eucalyptus trees, Lyocell is similar to rayon in construction but offers a highly sustainable process where both solvent and water are recycled during the weaving. Garments that use Lyocell in their blends have high-strength properties due to the high tenacity of the fabric.

Smartwool Merino 150 T-shirt and performance hike light cushion ankle socks
The Smartwool Merino 150 tee; (photo/Eric Phillips)

Thickness & Weight

Other important aspects to consider when shopping for a merino wool layer are thickness and weight.

When it comes to weight, you’ll come across something written as GSM or g/m² — the weight of the material. Put simply, the lower the number, the thinner the material. For year-round layers, you’ll want something on the lower side, like around 120 to 180 g/m². And for extra warmth, you’ll want to go higher.

As for thickness, it’s all about the microns — the diameter of a single wool fiber. The lower the number, the thinner it is. It also means it’s softer and more expensive. In our opinion, the lower the micron, the more you’ll want to live in it, but you’ll need to take extra precautions due to its delicateness.

KUIU, icebreaker, and Allbirds Merino Shirts
The Ibex 24-Hour Short Sleeve tee uses 100% 18.5-micron merino wool, while the KUIU 120 LT uses a NuYarn blend of 70% merino wool and 30% nylon; (photo/Nick Belcaster)

Fit & Style

We included a variety of shirts on this list: tees, long-sleeve tops, and even a hoodie. Each has advantages, depending on the type of activity you intend to engage in.

For those who need something for primarily cold temperatures, a layer that is tighter-fitting with loads of mobility that won’t feel restrictive under an extra one or two layers is recommended. Others who want something that can be worn all year (like our staffers), should go for something looser with a more relaxed fit.

However, we did not include all of the merino wool layers under the sun. We focused on shirts because they are versatile for a variety of weather conditions and activities.

If you are looking for winter-specific merino base layer sets, zip-up merino layers, or merino underwear (yes, it’s a thing!), we’ve got separate coverage on those too.

Allbirds Natural Run Tee
The fine mesh weave of the Allbirds Natural Run tee makes it a specialized fit for running; (photo/Nick Belcaster)

Color

Layers that come in an assortment of colors are always welcome — they mix things up from the monotonous black and gray we often see. However, while we love mixing things up, our testers have routinely noticed layers that come in pastel colors tend to be sheerer than navy, black, and dark gray.

Keep this in mind if you don’t want your undergarments showing through, unless you strictly use them as a base layer and will always be covered.

icebreaker and Allbirds Merino Wool Tees
Both the icebreaker Tech Lite II and the Allbirds Natural Run tee come in a number of different color schemes. As a bonus, Allbirds reports its carbon footprint; (photo/Nick Belcaster)

Price

When you buy a merino wool shirt or garment, you aren’t just buying, you are investing. Investing in a higher-quality, naturally odor-wicking, and hopefully much longer-lasting layer. Synthetics are great, and there can be high-quality synthetic blends that have the same properties, but many folks swear by merino.

If you know you want a natural fabric that comes with all the soft, cooling, and wicking properties that merino has, keep the price in mind ($80 for a tee?!). It sounds ridiculous at first, but the price does truly reflect the quality of merino wool fabric.

Why the higher price in the first place? Merino wool is a more expensive fabric — more time-intensive to produce, more expensive to import, and more fragile to work with compared to thicker synthetic yarns. So, we always weigh that factor when purchasing anything made with merino.

Voormi

Frequently Asked Questions

What’s so special about merino wool?

Merino wool is a natural material, meaning it doesn’t come from manmade plastics or synthetics. It’s lightweight and soft to the touch. It wicks away moisture and odors, and it helps regulate body temperature. All of that wrapped into a single fabric. No wonder humans have been using and wearing wool since 10,000 BCE.

However, because of merino’s great properties, it’s in high demand and usually more expensive than other fabrics. The narrow sourcing and supply chain of merino wool also contributes to its market value. The majority of the wool on the market is produced in Australia, Argentina, and New Zealand.

Is merino wool better than cotton?

In simple terms, yes. When it comes to exercising or spending lots of time in the outdoor elements, double yes. Merino is better in the sense that it’s a natural and porous fiber. So, if you are sweating, that sweat can escape — this is what makes merino a natural at regulating moisture and body temp, wicking away odor, and cooling.

Cotton is an especially thick synthetic fabric, much different than lightweight or nano-spun synthetics, and much different than merino wool.

Is merino wool itchy?

Heavy wool blankets or wool-lined slippers might evoke ideas of itchy, coarse fabric, but put those thoughts aside — merino wool is different. Merino wool is notoriously fine — with fine, fragile, and soft fibers.

Merino garments are even measured by the tiny diameters of the fibers, called microns. Most merino wool shirts we tested used merino wool that measured between 17.5 and 20 microns.

And the smaller the microns, the finer the fabric. If you are looking for the softest merino layer money can buy, you’ll want to look somewhere in the 15- to 17-micron fabric range.

How does merino wool keep you warm?

Merino wool (wool from a sheep) naturally retains heat to keep you warm. But, thanks again to its porous fiber nature, it’s still breathable at the same time.

How does merino wool keep you cool?

The fact that merino wool both retains heat and wicks away sweat — working to both warm you up and cool you down — is one of its best properties. Wool keeps you cool by letting sweat escape through the fibers and away from your skin and body. This means you won’t get clammy or chills, and it also helps with wicking body odor.

Other fibers — synthetics or plant-based fabrics — are not as fine, porous, or breathable. They’ll do the job, but not as good a job. (That being said, our staff has a great time testing the latest in bio-based fabrics — unique layers sewn with everything from bamboo to hemp to corn.)

How often should I wash merino wool shirts?

You’ll want to treat your merino shirts and layers with care. Because merino is a natural fiber, you also don’t want to use bleach, scents, or fabric softeners that can clog up the wool and prevent merino from doing all the things it does naturally.

Washing every few wears — sometimes even just once or twice a month — with cold or warm water and a mild soap is all you need. Even when I wear a lot of merino wool when outdoors, I try to wash sparingly. And I always air-dry or hang it to dry.