Experienced backpackers, hikers, and campers know that their hikes will only be as good as the clothes that they wear during these activities. This is why you should look for the best Merino wool base layers for backpacking.
Choice of clothing in such physically strenuous activities as backpacking should provide comfort and mobility. What you wear outside should also be appropriate for the weather. When dressing for cold or cool weather, or those seasons that have fluctuating weather conditions and temperatures, it’s wise to layer up.
Layers consist of a base layer (also known as long underwear or thermal wear), a middle layer, and a top layer, but the base layer is super important because it’s the layer closest to your skin. Merino wool base layers are the best options when it comes to choosing base layers for your hiking or backpacking excursions.
Top 11 Best Merino Wool Base Layers for Backpacking
|Outdoor Research Alpine Onset||Check On Amazon
|MERIWOOL Men's Base Layer||Check On Amazon
|Alvada Merino Wool Hiking Socks||Check On Amazon
|Minus33 Merino Wool 705 Chocorua||Check On Amazon
|MERIWOOL Women's Base Layer||Check On Amazon
|Minus33 Merino Wool 718 Ticonderoga||Check On Amazon
|Icebreaker Merino Oasis Shirt||Check On Amazon
|Minus33 Merino Wool 803 Franconia Bottom||Check On Amazon
|LAPASA Long John Set||Check On Amazon
|Kari Traa Kink Base Layer Top||Check On Amazon
|Woolly Women's Merino Wool Henley||Check On Amazon
1. MERIWOOL Men’s Base Layer
This MERIWOOL shirt is midweight and made of 100% Merino wool, so it has all those benefits of the wool that you desire. The fabric density of this shirt is 250 g/m2, which makes it appropriate for the warmer months and great for the colder ones. The base layer is breathable, odor-fighting, and moisture-wicking. And an added bonus: it’s machine-washable and dryer-safe!
Sample Customer Review… This my third Meriwool base layer garment and I like them all. I bought them for skiing to see if they could do multiple days with just an airing out overnight without any odor and they exceeded my expectations. I had been using a well known tech base layer and it had to be washed each night and hung to dry so multiple pairs had to be packed to insure a dry set each day. They are also very comfortable against my skin and the fit is perfect. One piece of advice and this is probably for any merino wool base layer, the moths like it just as much as I do. My first buy was hung in a closet without any moth protection an got several holes over the off season. Live and learn, I now summer them in a sealed container with cedar chips.
2. Outdoor Research Alpine Onset
This Outdoor Research shirt is made of 83% Merino wool, 12% nylon, and 5% spandex, so it has great durability and allows for a lot of bending and flexing and stretching. This base layer has a comfortable fit, and it still retains the moisture-wicking, quick-drying, and odor-fighting properties of pure Merino wool. Lastly, this shirt is lightweight, so it’s good to wear through all four seasons.
Sample Customer Review… I am buying this for the third time! I love camping and do it constantly. This shirt allows me to stay cool in the day by being lightweight with my loose-fitting shirt but it also keeps me warm at night when I have my tight-fitting shirt. I can easily layer my shirts or wear them as is. The quality of material helps it be torn resistant which comes in handy when walking off-trail and mother nature wants to poke you. It is also quick-drying for all those sweat drenchers like me. In addition, it masks odors even after being outdoors for hours, I can still return home without the smell of stank following me. This time, I have bought one for my husband’s birthday for when he goes mountain climbing with his friends. Overall, quality over quantity is important to me which is why I highly recommend it.
3. Minus33 Merino Wool 705 Chocorua
This base layer from Minus33 is midweight and made of 100% Merino wool. It’s warm and comfortable and great for cold weather, especially if you’re planning to camp in cold weather conditions overnight. A cool feature of this base layer is that it has a drop-tail hem for extra coverage and warmth.
Sample Customer Review… I love my Minus 33 wool shirts. I started with a lightweight one (Tico) for fall hunting and now have the tall sized medium weight. I used it for ice fishing last winter. I love it, it wicks the moisture away and doesn’t stick after a few hours like the synthetic fabrics. I will wear it for a whole weekend while ice fishing. I am not sure I would want a heavy duty one, it might be too much warmth for me when sitting in the ice shanty.
4. Minus33 Merino Wool 718 Ticonderoga
This 718 Ticonderoga by Minus33 is made of 100% Merino wool, so it won’t hold odor, and it will keep you dry. A unique thing about this base layer is its crew neck design. This crew neck will partially cover your neck, which is great for insulation and maintaining warmth in cooler weather conditions. This shirt is also lightweight, which makes it wearable through all four seasons, especially the fall. Nevertheless, all these great features of the Minus33 Merino Wool 718 Ticonderoga make it one of the best Merino wool base layers for backpacking .
Sample Customer Review… These are so comfortable and all I really needed (besides a couple of over-shirts) when I trekked to Everest Base camp in March.
I got so used to wearing them and the comfortable feel, that I kept using them even when I returned – usually with a t-shirt over the top- until it got too hot here. They have washed well so far. I haven’t risked putting them in the dryer, so I just let them air dry. So far they have their original shape and size. For sizing info., I am 6′-1 and about 170 and fairly thin. The large was just right.
5. Kari Traa Kink Base Layer Top
Former Norwegian Olympic skier Kari Traa has designed this 100% Merino wool Kink Base Layer Top to provide the female body with a perfect and comfortable fit. This half-zip thermal top is warm, odor-resistant, and stretchy, so you can feel completely comfortable and confident when going on your next outdoor adventure. Plus, this turtleneck top base layer is super stylish! Getting an enjoyable workout outdoors doesn’t mean that you have to compromise style, right?
Sample Customer Review… I wore the top and bottoms and skied all day at Vail. It was 5 degrees when we started and warmed up into the high twenties.I was very comfortable the entire day. Soft, fits well. I don’t know if the company would recommend but I bought two sets and used the other as pjs. Really nice quality, too.
6. MERIWOOL Women’s Base Layer
This MERIWOOL Base Layer for women is made of 100% Merino wool, and it’s lightweight. This base layer is stretchy, odor-resistant, and moisture-wicking, so it will keep you warm and dry in cold weather and cool and dry in warmer weather. This top can be worn as a form-fitting base layer, which enhances its properties of keeping your skin dry and cool or warm (depending upon the weather conditions of where you’re backpacking).
Sample Customer Review… I went for the Merriwool due to the wider neckline, which works better under my day-to-day clothing than a high crew-neck. I would not mind if it was even a boat-neck or a scoop-neck, but this neckline is pretty good. I was attracted to the price point. What I was not expecting was the silky softness. I really like the comfort of the raglan-type sleeve too, because it doesn’t bind like a set-in sleeve does. My husband was also impressed with the quality and value, so he purchased some Merriwool from their website. We are both very happy with these. I have long arms and the sleeves are plenty long for me. I typically wear small to medium tops, and the small fits me just right.
7. Alvada Merino Wool Hiking Socks
You have to keep your feet cozy and dry when backpacking, and these Alvada Merino Wool Hiking Socks do just the trick! These unisex socks are made of 80% Merino wool, 15% polyester, 4% nylon, 1% spandex. In other words, these socks are durable, stretchy, and comfy.
These socks are made for backpacking and walking on rugged or uneven terrain, as they are equipped with cushioning in the foot beds to prevent foot pain and fatigue. You definitely need to consider purchasing these for your next trip!
Sample Customer Review… These socks aren’t like the cheap cotton socks you get at the big box stores. If you take care of them, in other words wear house slippers and don’t wash them on hot with softener then they truly will be the best piece of clothing you will ever own. I wear them on hot and cold days, with boots and with sneakers. I suffer from really sweaty feet, they will start sweating if I get excited playing video games. Hell, they’re sweaty right now! But these anti-bacterial socks are so dope I can wear them 2 days in a row without a problem (unimaginable without merino wool). Now about Alvada Socks in particular. I don’t know why some people have problems, I assume they walk with them on around the house that’s probably 90% carpet which will screw up any fabric. I own 8 pairs(gave a pair to my brother) of these and are the only socks I wear.
8. Minus33 Merino Wool 803 Franconia Bottom
These Minus33 Franconia pants are a great midweight base layer. They are made of 100% Merino wool, so they offer all the benefits of pure Merino wool. These bottoms also offer sun protection, as they have a UPF rating of 50+. Nevertheless, these bottoms are a great addition to a stylish and effective outdoor wardrobe.
Sample Customer Review… Very pleased with this product so far. I’ve been looking for months to replace merino wool base layer bottoms from LL Bean, purchased in 2011. The new LL Bean product does not wrap the waist band in fabric, so bare elastic sits on your skin. A comparable Smartwool base layer is $95! This Minus 33 Merino Wool Base Layer is soft, comfortable, and warm. Wool is thick and finely woven, and not at all itchy. Lays flat. Gusseted crotch and wrapped waist band makes it comfortable around middle with no rubbing or pulling. I’m 5’6″ and 135 lb and medium fits perfectly, if a little long (so there are a few wrinkles in legs, but nothing to bunch or make uncomfortable). I will update this review after washing, but plan to wash in cold water inside out (as instructed) in a mesh bag (as I do with other dedicates).
9. LAPASA Long John Set
With the LAPASA Long John Set, you get a base layer top and bottom. This set is made of 100% Merino wool, so it’s breathable and soft and comfortable to the skin. It also features rib-knit technology that allows a 4-way stretch, making it a great base layer for outdoor activity and one of the best Merino wool base layers for backpacking.
Sample Customer Review… I bought this because they are merino wool that is why they are expensive compared to cotton or nylon base layers. I usually use merino wool product as a base layer for hiking and likely will use for skiing. So I was very unhappy with the item when I opened the package and labelled as 100% cotton, I contacted the seller they told me they are merino wool material indeed, just wrong labelled by mistake. They also show me the proof of the material. Then I wore the top and pants for trying, I haven’t done any physical work while wearing this yet, but I haven’t sweated in them while wearing them in my house, in stores, in my car, or outside. So far I’ve worn this 2 days in a row, for 12 hours each day. After 2 days, I’ve smelled the clothing all over and it still smells good! I really like the waist band. Its very soft and comfortable. Super soft and comfy. The construction is simple and clean, will be buying more in the near future.
10. Icebreaker Merino Oasis Shirt
This Icebreaker Merino Oasis Shirt is a long sleeve crew shirt that makes a perfect base layer for not only backpacking but also for mountain climbing, running, hiking, and trekking. It can also be worn through all four seasons!
This shirt is made of 100% Merino wool, so you’ll get the odor resistant and moisture-wicking properties of pure Merino wool. The Oasis Shirt has a slim fit, but it still allows for stretching and flexibility. Lastly, this shirt has offset shoulder seams that will diminish chafing or that painful friction from carrying your backpack or gear. All around, this is a pretty good base layer.
Sample Customer Review… Been a Icebreaker fan for many years…. come to know their products very well and with the countless times i have enjoyed nature and the national parks and national and state wildlife reserves it has become one of my only choices for comfort and protection from the elements because they breathe well and keep you warm without the itch of conventional wool. They fit to form for someone who is fit and in relatively good shape. I also very much the woven designs for their baselayer and midlayer line, excellent color choices.
11. Woolly Women’s Merino Wool Henley
This ultralight Woolly Merino Wool Henley is a stylish and comfortable shirt that can be worn on the trail and worn off the trail. It is made of 95% Merino wool and 5% elastane, which is a very stretchy synthetic fiber. And even though the Woolly Merino Wool Henley is not made purely of Merino wool, it still has the moisture-wicking and odor resistance properties of Merino wool.
This shirt’s natural temperature regulation allows it to be worn in all four seasons (yes, even in those hot summer months), and it has the unique feature of being biodegradable and environmentally sustainable. And to top it all off, this shirt has an adjustable neck closure, so you can basically choose your desired and most comfortable fit.
Sample Customer Review… I purchased this shirt in May 2020. I love it! I did get the orange color and I will agree with other comments that it is a bit see through. I was kind of expecting this since it was a light weight shirt and I have other brands like Icebreaker that are see through in the light weight tops. I bought this as a top to wear over a sports bra during the summer to protect me from the sun and be comfortable going from inside to outside in the heat and then AC. The shirt does this perfectly. It is also so comfortable that once fall started I use this as a pajama top too. The shirt has held up very nicely. I do not dry it though, I hang it to air dry. As for washing I was on cold after multiple uses thanks to merino properties. I purchased a L. I am 5ft 6 inches. Weight at the time of purchase was 165. I had just had a baby and now my weight is 149. At my current weight I would get a M. I have made additional purchases from this company as well and have been happy with those.
What Is Merino Wool?
A natural fiber that originated in Spain and harvested from Merino sheep, Merino wool has lots of benefits that you would be thankful for while backpacking. But you’re probably internally asking what most people assume about wool: Won’t Merino wool be itchy? To your surprise, it’s actually not itchy at all! The wool of Merino sheep is ultra-fine wool and super soft and not itchy to the human touch or feel.
Now that you feel better knowing that Merino wool won’t give you an annoying itch, let’s explore the other benefits of Merino wool.
Merino wool is very warm and cozy. It resembles the feel of cotton. The warmth of the wool makes it a perfect base layer for backpacking in cold weather or cold climates.
Merino wool fibers are perhaps one of the most breathable fabrics out there. Merino wool is also a wicking material, with each strand of the wool being able to absorb up to 30 percent of its weight in moisture. This is why you want to avoid clothing items that are made from cotton because cotton retains moisture. So yes, . . . because Merino wool is a wicking material, you can even wear it during the summer! Cotton. . . not so much.
Merino wool has a natural resistance to odor-causing bacteria. Let’s discuss a little animal science to explain this antibacterial capability: The glands of Merino sheep produce lanolin, or wool grease that behaves as a wax. This lanolin lines the fibers of the wool, so it saves the fibers from getting odor-causing bacteria. Therefore, clothing made from Merino wool doesn’t typically stink after those sweaty backpacking adventures. The natural odor-control properties of Merino wool clothing also means that they don’t need to be washed as frequently as materials that may retain moisture and odor like cotton or synthetic fabrics. How convenient!
Merino wool provides natural protection from the sun’s damaging ultraviolet rays. In fact, most wool clothing has an Ultraviolet Protection Factor (UPF) rating of 30 or higher.
Because Merino wool is naturally crimped, it has some elasticity that allows for lots of bending and stretching without incidents of tearing. To further increase durability, clothing made from Merino wool may also contain synthetic materials like nylon.
Let’s face it: Sweating outdoors is inevitable. And we all abhor that icky feeling of being soaked in sweat. Not only is being wet with perspiration uncomfortable, but it can also dampen (wink, wink) your outdoor experience.This problem is eliminated with Merino wool clothing! Along with its moisture-wicking abilities, Merino wool has thin fibers that can be finely spun and woven into a lightweight fabric that dries very quickly.
Now that you know some of the benefits of Merino wool, let’s go over three very important things to consider when choosing the best Merino wool base layers for backpacking.
Typically, clothing made from Merino wool is classified by fabric density. Fabric density is labeled as a number g/m2 (like 250 g/m2, for example), and it refers to the number of grams of Merino wool in every square meter of fabric. Fabric density of Merino wool clothing is described as being ultralight, lightweight, midweight, or heavyweight. These weights depend on the activities you’re doing and the weather conditions during the time of these activities.
Ultralight Merino wool base layers (150 g/m2 and under) are great for doing outdoor activities in hot weather. It keeps you dry and odor-free while providing UV protection. Lightweight Merino wool base layers (160 to 190 g/m2) are good to wear through all four seasons. They’re not too hot, and not too cold. They’re just right! They can be worn alone in warm or hot weather or underneath an insulated jacket in cool or cold weather.
Midweight Merino wool base layers (195 to 250 g/m2) are perfect for those freezing winter months. Make sure to wear well-insulated and warm outer layers to pair with Merino wool base layers of this weight. Heavyweight Merino wool base layers (greater than 250 g/m2) are very dense and great for cold weather, especially if you plan on being outside for a long time. Merino wool base layers of this weight are very warm, so really consider if they’re the best option for any strenuous activities you may do. You don’t want to overheat.
Clothing made purely with Merino wool is not cheap. Not only this, but 100% Merino wool is vulnerable to breaking and not always being able to withstand large amounts of bending and stretching. To combat these potential issues, you may consider buying Merino wool base layers that are blended with other fabrics like nylon, polyester, or polyamide. These wool blends are typically very durable and affordable, and they still have most of the benefits of pure Merino wool. Just be sure to look for Merino wool base layers that have at least 80% wool in order to reap these benefits.
Most Merino wool base layers have a slim fit so that they can be worn under other layers of clothing, but there’s a large assortment of base layer styles out there that are made from Merino wool. You may consider the climate or weather conditions when deciding on what style to wear while backpacking. For example, Merino wool long sleeve and zippered shirts are the best Merino wool base layers for backpacking in cold weather conditions. Short sleeve Merino wool shirts are great for warm or hot weather.
The fit of a base layer is very important. The way any base layer fits will affect its performance. You want to be sure to buy a base layer clothing item in a size that gives you mobility. Also, base the fit off of the weather: tight- or form-fitting base layers are ideal for cold weather conditions, but base layers with a regular or loose fit are best for warm weather conditions, as these true-to-size and loose sizes provide ventilation.
After exploring the benefits of Merino wool and the clothing items that contain it, you should be convinced that Merino wool is a must-have material in your outdoor wardrobe. Your backpacking journeys should not be negatively impacted by uncomfortable clothing. Your outdoor adventures should be fun, memorable, and, above all, safe. Wearing the best Merino wool base layers for backpacking will provide you with these great outdoor experiences.
Written by Artesa Cox; Contributors: Ciaran Carbery-Shaha, Leah Jarrell, Cam Holzhauer