Hiking is one of the best ways to enjoy the great outdoors. The only problem? Your hiking gear, as any grain counter can tell you, can either make or break your experience. Wearing wool merino layers for your hiking apparel is recommended because they are the solution to your outdoor adventure needs.
Basically, these are comfort, versatility, lightweight, moisture-wicking, odor resistant, and durable enough to withstand any conditions.
When you’re out on the trail, you’ll want to dress in layers. Whether you are cowboy camping, backpacking, fastpacking, or day hiking, layering is crucial to keep you dry. Undoubtedly, regulating temperature and protecting yourself from rain, hypothermia, wind, and sun are equally important as food and shelter.
When you think of a merino wool mid layer, what comes to mind? Maybe it’s a full-on jacket or a sweater.
If you don’t have time to read the whole article, here are the important things:
- Your mid-layer should be breathable and wind resistant. If you go with a jacket, make sure it has zippers and pockets so that your skin can breathe while still staying warm when necessary.
- The base layer fit is very important because this layer will shape how your other layers fit together. Make sure it fits well at the waistline and sleeves, too!
- A hood on your outer layer (softshell jacket or hardshell jacket) or midlayer is also recommended for shoulder season or chilly days. Especially when you need additional warmth around your face and neck areas (it acts like an umbrella for those parts).
Merino wool hiking clothing meets all these requirements perfectly!
Hiking clothes and learning to layer
Merino wool is one of the most frequently used fabrics for hiking apparel and it’s no wonder why! Without a doubt, merino wool clothes are exceptionally lightweight and breathable, making them the perfect choice for layering for hiking and backpacking. Wearing wool is ideal if you’re an avid hiker who spends considerable time in motion.
Most importantly, merino has the remarkable ability to regulate your body temperature so that no matter what activity you’re doing (or how quickly you’re doing it) you can stay warm during cold days and cool on hot ones. For these reasons and more, merino fabrics are a top choice when it comes to hiking essentials– letting us experience mother nature in maximum comfort!
What is merino wool?
Merino wool is smoother than traditional wool and comes from the fleece of merino sheep. Breed by sheep farmers, over hundreds of years, the characteristics of merino wool are a fine, soft texture, and crimp in the fiber, which gives it elasticity. What’s more, is that it’s naturally anti-microbial.
Once it’s woven into yarn and made into textiles, its moisture-wicking and odor-resistant properties make it a favorite among fashion designers and brands.
Merino wool fibers are generally considered to be comfortable, soft, and cozy to wear because it absorbs moisture away from your skin quickly. For this reason, it keeps you dryer longer than other garments would.
The merino sheep are a special breed originally from Spain, and are now found in countries all around the world! They are found from the alpine regions of Southern Europe to the grasslands of Australia.
Selective breeding has made superior quality merino wool, known for being smooth and comfortable, holding up well against wear.
The fine wool fibers of Merino fleeces are beautifully crimped. Since these fleece can be used in so many different ways, many sheep crossbreeds have evolved to perfect to perfect the fiber.
Merino Wool vs Lambswool
Merino wool comes from Merino sheep at any age, while lambswool literally comes from lambs at their first shearing.
What is So Special About Merino Wool?
Less washing, less ironing, and more time to do the fun stuff!
Wool merinos are naturally stretchy and super soft, making them great for layers. It’s never itchy or scratchy like other wools can be, which makes it perfect for wearing next to your skin.
Merino fibers are naturally curly, which means it has a unique texture that allows them to bend and move. This natural elasticity is what makes it so durable and consistent in quality, even when wet. It doesn’t lose its shape or become stretched out over time as other materials might.
Merino doesn’t pill, fray or get stretched out of shape, even when worn over time. When you’re hiking long miles, this means that your layers will be able to keep their shape without needing replacement after just a few uses (or even less).
Because of its inherent softness and ability to be stretchy over time (see above), merino wool acts like an athletic shirt in terms of weight. Which is to say it’s not much heavier than a cotton T-shirt.
Merino wool naturally resists microbes and odor-causing bacteria, making it a great material for all layers, hiking socks, underwear, or other smelly areas.
Since it doesn’t absorb odors like cotton, foot fungus, and jock itch won’t be an issue either. What’s more, merino wool requires less washing which means less water and detergent usage.
Less laundry means less water usage, which is better for the planet and more time for hiking and camping outdoors!
Since merino wool is naturally odor resistant, it won’t smell bad even after days of use. This means that you can wear your favorite sweaters or merino wool shirt for long periods of time without worrying about how they will stink.
Merino wool is a natural wicking material, which process of pulls moisture away from your body. This helps to keep you dry and comfortable. It’s especially important for hikers who want to hike in warmer weather or on long backpacking trips with minimal breaks.
Safety Advantages in Merino Wool Layers
When you’re out in the wilderness, safety is of utmost importance. You need to prepare for any situation that may arise. The good news is that with wool when you wear merino layers, it provides all kinds of protection too.
Insulates when wet
From a safety standpoint, wearing wool is a great option for hiking outfits. It insulates when wet, even if you get caught in a downpour. What’s more, regular wool can absorb up to 30% of its weight in moisture!
If your waterproof jacket has lost its water resistance, then wearing a merino wool shirt gives you an extra layer of insulation. In cases where you are outdoors without winter hiking gear, your chances for delaying or preventing hypothermia improve.
Merino wool sheep fleece naturally blocks harmful ultraviolet rays. Wearing wool in hiking shirts for camping, bouldering, or backpacking, gives you extra UV protection from the sun from reaching your arms and legs.
It also helps keep colorfastness at an optimal level so you don’t have to worry about your favorite outfits fading over time (or early). That said, don’t forget you also want to protect your head and shield your eyes from bright sun rays.
Merino fabric has an impressive ability to resist flame when exposed directly without melting or burning away. It self-extinguishes. However, when it burns, it doesn’t melt and stick to your skin. If there’s a fire nearby, this trait can save your life!
You can even use greasy wool as a tinder, so long as it doesn’t burn up too quickly. A hack would be to soak old strips of regular wool in oil and store it in a waterproof tin. When you need to start a fire, remove a strip and use it for kindling until other materials are available for ignition purposes.*
While not necessarily related specifically to personal safety considerations like those mentioned above, this feature does make everyday life easier because static electricity can cause damage over time by breaking down fabrics faster than normal wear would.
Environmental Benefits of Wearing Merino Wool Layers
Wool products have a low environmental footprint. Sheep need to be sheared, otherwise, they can overheat and die in the summer. If sheep are not shorn, then their extra coat attracts lice, mites, ticks, and maggots, causing health issues. In other words, it is cruel to not shear the majority of modern sheep.
Less need to buy means you can wear wool purchases for casual outfits, running errands, and for outdoor activities.
Wear merino wool as a base layer to trap body heat, or you can wear it under other layers of clothing for added warmth. If you are camping in cold climates, then these extra layers will allow you to get a good night’s rest in your sleeping bag.
If your shirts, pants, sweaters, and socks have reached the end of their lives, then compost or recycle them.
The durability of merino wool is another reason why it’s an excellent choice as layers, for outdoor activities. If you take care of your merino garments, they will take care of you for months on end, through hiking, camping, backpacking and more!
Merino Wool Yarn Grades- Guide
Merino sheep yield wool of different grades, with some having a diameter of 24 microns or less. Garments are usually crafted from wool with diameters between 11.5 and 24 microns. For perspective, the average human hair micron is between 50 to 100.
While other textiles such as blankets, insulation, and furnishings are made from medium and strong micron fibers. The lower the microns, the more costly and softer the merino wool is.
Micron chart guide to merino wool:
- Strong merino: 22.6 microns to 24 microns
- Medium merino: 20.6 microns to 22.5 microns
- Fine to medium merino: 19.6 microns to 20.5 microns
- Extra fine merino: 18.6 microns to 19.5 microns
- Superfine merino: 17.6 microns to 18.5 microns
- Ultrafine merino: up to 17.5 microns
Ultrafine merino wool is used to make lightweight underwear, premium suits, knitwear, and other premium fabrics. It feels like silk, an incredible natural fiber yarn that keeps you cool in summer and warm during winter.
Fine to Medium wool of great quality has microns falling between 19.6 and 20.5, thus making it ideal for medium-weight knits. Its strength and toughness make it a great choice for outerwear pieces, but it’s still soft to the touch.
Fabric Weight for Layering
The fabric weight is a measurement of how much the wool garment weighs per square meter. The lower the number, such as 150g, the lighter and thinner the garment.
The higher the number, such as 350g, the warmer and heavier your layering system will be.
Fabric Weight Chart: Warmth Guide
- 100-150g/m2: lightweight (wear alone in warmer seasons and baselayer in fall and spring)
- 200-270g/m2: midweight (wear alone in spring and fall, and baselayer for winter)
- 300g+ : heavyweight (don as a top outerlayer for fall and winter)
When it comes to layering for outdoor adventures, pack a variety of weights, from light to heavyweight, based on season, weather, and location. Certainly, you can be a trail mermaid and rely on only a hiking jacket and synthetic layers, but do you really want to sacrifice comfort in shoulder season?
Nevertheless, heavyweight fabrics are better suited for colder conditions. If you are layering for a multi-day adventure, then you should choose fabrics of different weights. This will give you the flexibility to adjust your layers as the temperature changes.
There are three main layers of clothing you want when hiking.
Base Layer (Next to your skin)
The first is your base layer, which is the layer closest to your body. Wearing merino for a baselayer will typically be a tank top, short-sleeve, or long-sleeve shirt. It also may have synthetic fabrics like polyester or nylon or a blend of the two. Unlike synthetics, merino fabric requires more care when washing.
Choose the best merino base layer since it sits on your skin. T-shirt, long underwear, and merino wool socks should soft and wick sweat from your body. This helps regulate body temperature and makes sure that you’re dry and comfortable during aerobic activities, including hiking.
What’s more, merino wool feels great when worn under a mid-layer or a baffled down jacket or shell raincoat. The baffling and down feathers trap pockets of heated air, keeping you comfortable when temperatures drop below freezing!
However, cheap merino wool base layers are made from lower-quality fibers, which is what makes them feel itchy.
Mid Layer: The Insulating Layer
Next, comes your mid layer, which traps air in between the base layer and outer layers. The midlayer helps regulate the temperature inside the garment itself, so it can keep you warmer in cold weather. It’s also this layer you ditch in hot weather.
This insulation is the second layer and should also be breathable. It’s meant to be moisture-wicking, so that you don’t get cold or damp on a hike. It’s also lightweight, wind resistant, and windproof, to help keep heat in at night when temperatures drop.
The material most commonly used in this layer is fleece (including Polartec) because of its high warmth-to-weight ratio or down. Additionally, it traps more heat than other materials per gram (like wool).
The outer layer for rain/wind/snow protection.
The outer layer or outerwear can be a hardshell jacket or softshell jacket, and protects you from rain/wind/snow. In order to keep you dry, choose a DWR finish or material waterproof coating and windproof.
To begin with, look for ripstop nylon, Gore-Tex or similar hi-tech materials for the outer shell. These are designed to keep out water and other inclement weather conditions.
Next, check for a lining layer made of merino wool, synthetic blend, and a baffle construction. Similar to sleeping bags or down jackets, this design feature is meant to evenly distribute the heat.
If you’re looking for a hiking jacket that incorporates merino wool lining, then you’ll be delighted to find that many jackets contain this breathable material. That makes merino-lined jackets perfect for prolonged outdoor activities where sweat or rain is a factor. Also, merino-lined jackets typically come with down fill ranging from 100g to 750g or more.
You can also find merino-lined puffers, quilted mid layers, and light insulated shells. So whether you prefer a heavier-duty parka for winter hikes or just a lightweight merino shell for cooler summer evenings – there are various types of down-fill jackets with merino wool lining available to choose from!
When in doubt, over layer. When temperatures drop considerably in unpredictable weather, you won’t need to worry about being cold. And if you’re getting too sweaty while slackpacking, pack those extra layers in your hiking backpacking bag.
Types of Merino Wool Clothing
Merino wool clothing is a well-loved material for outdoor enthusiasts, but it can be hard to know where to start. There are many different types of merino wool garments, and the best kind for your needs will largely depend on the outdoor activities you’re doing.
Here’s a rundown of some common types of merino wool layers in clothing:
Tops: Crew Shirts, Tank top, 1/4 zip shirts, Hoodies, vests, jackets
Merino wool crew shirts and tank tops are great for your layering system. Wear them as base layers in colder weather or by themselves when the sun is out. The natural fibers worn next to your skin will trap in heat in winter and beat the heat in the summer. Merino wool tops are breathable, moisture-wicking, anti-odor, and absorb body heat when you need it most.
These are great for layering under your favorite t-shirt or hoody. They’re made from lightweight fabrics that breathe well and are the perfect choice for spring and summer hikes.
Get it from Fjallraven Women Abisko Tank from Moosejaw from $64.95
Get Smartwool Merino Sport 120 Tank from Moosejaw from $49.95
Merino wool shirts come in all kinds of styles and colors ranging from crew neck, 1/4 zip shirts, to long sleeve layer options. Tees make excellent base layers to mid layers when paired with insulating or outer layers on top; they’re also great as everyday wear because they wick moisture away from the body so they dry quickly after getting wet (perfect if you live somewhere like Seattle).
Get your Icebreaker long sleeve shirt from Amazon- Mens from $85.00 and Amazon- Women starting at $85.00
For instance when you need to keep your core warm but its not cold enough for a jacket, vests are an excellent midayer for choice. It’s a must-have for any layering system because they give your arms a full range of motion. They are also great for wearing around town when you don’t need that extra outerwear.
Get Men’s version from Amazon for $139.95
Get women’s version from Amazon for $144.00
Whether as a layer or wearing it by themselves, these are a great addition to your hiking gear. Because it’s easy to throw on when it’s cold outside, buy hiking hoodies and sweatshirts made of 150g-350g weight—just grab one off the hanger and put it on!
Get womens version from Amazon for: $59.99
Get it from Amazon for: $73.96
A 1/4 zip is the perfect way to add some style to your layering system without sacrificing warmth. They’re great for wearing with a vest or jacket because they have the same amount of coverage but are cut lower in the front, giving you more flexibility when it comes time to move around.
Get it from REI from $135.00
Three-season hoodies are also the perfect merino wool layer, when hiking in changing weather that you may encounter, as they’ll help keep the wind out and your body heat in. Flip up the hood to keep your head and neck warm.
Get it from Amazon for: $54.99
Get it from REI for $220.00
An insulated wool jacket, like Woolly Clothing Nature Dry Loft bomber, with a durable water resistant shell that is also wind resistant, is a vital piece of clothing for any hiker. The wool adds that extra heat for cold temperatures, while the shell protect you from rain and wind.
If you’re hiking in a warmer climate, then it’s best to leave the puffy jacket at home. Opt for a softshell jacket and pack your layers in your hiking daypack.
Get it from REI at $200.00 or Amazon from $180.00
Get it from REI at $300.00
Bottoms: Leggings, tights, Briefs
If you’re looking to layer your leggings or tights, it is important to know that there are two main ways of doing so: over or under. Under layering allows for a better wicking effect because the wool will pull moisture away from your body and towards the outer layer of clothing, which can then transfer this moisture onto the outside of your layers.
Merino wool leggings and tights are a must-have layer for any cooler-weather hiking outfit. They’re great for layering in the winter, but they’re also perfect for wearing alone during the warmer months. You can also find waterproof pants for hiking too, though many people prefer wearing extra hiking tights or hiking leggings to keep out the cold.
Get it from or Amazon from $59.99
Get it from Amazon from $79.99
Briefs and Underwear
Everyone has an underwear preference. Men debate over boxer briefs or micro briefs. Women debate bikini briefs vs. boyshorts. Nevertheless, for ultimate underwear comfort, look for flatlock seams, and fabric that contains merino wool, nylon, and spandex. It’s the flatlock seams will prevent chafing and irritation.
But there’s one thing that everyone agrees on: when it comes to your underwear, you want a material that will keep you dry and comfortable in all conditions. That’s why we recommend merino wool briefs and underpants! They’ll keep you feeling fresh, even after sweating through a hike or long run.
However, wash your briefs and underwear, each time after you wear them. Yes, merino wool is anti-microbial but let’s not neglect all hygiene on the trail.
Nylon and spandex in the fabric help to keep you feeling dry even after a workout, while the merino wool regulates your body temperature to make sure you don’t overheat or get cold.
Get it from Amazon from $26.99
Get it from Amazon from
Accessories in Wool
Accessories can be used to complete your look and make it more functional.
Nothing is worse than having cold fingers, especially when you need them for tasks, like tying your shoes or using your phone apps. Hiking gloves are a great way to protect your hands from frostbite, and keep your dexterity while warming your hands.
They are also a good way to help you grip onto hiking poles and other equipment like mountaineering tools.
Get it from REI for $40.00
Merino Wool Hiking Socks
Options galore here! From ankle, crew, full length, day hiker, runner sock, ski and snowboard socks. Certainly, you’ll find the right height since hiking socks range from ankle height, crew, and full length. If you’re hiking in wet conditions, then merino wool should be the primary fiber along with nylon and spandex.
Also consider wearing hiking leg gaiters to keep dirt, tiny rocks, and water out.
Get Darn Tough Men’s from REI for $25.00 or from Darn Tough Women’s for $25.00
Headwear can be a useful way to keep your head warm, whether it’s a beanie. multiclava, or balaclava. Whether its Australian merino or English wool, as an insulation layer inside your hat, either of these will help trap air between your hat and head. Certainly, it will be warmer than just wearing an ordinary beanie alone.
Get it from Patagonia for $49.00
A neck gaiter can also help keep the wind, cold, dust and insects out while keeping your of your face and mouth warm. It’s both a versatile fabric tube that goes around your neck and covers it, sometimes it comes with a hood. This can be particularly useful if you’re hiking in the desert or skiing.
See more Smartwool neck gaiters from REI starting at $32.00
Best Practices Fabric Care Guide: How to Wash Merino Wool
If you’re not already aware, wool is a natural fiber that comes from sheep. It’s extremely durable and performs better in cold temperatures than cotton, but a bit harder to care for.
Tips to caring for merino layers to keep them looking their best and smelling fresh!
- Use a gentle detergent or wool wash to keep your merino layers looking both their best and smelling fresh!
- Hand wash in cold water.
- Rinse thoroughly
- Avoid using fabric softener.
- Dry flat or tumble dry low (Check manufacturer’s care label before you tumble dry). While some brands like Minus 33, manufacture their clothing so you can put them in the dryer without worry. Minus 33 uses a water-based fabric treatment that helps repel odor and moisture, which means you can put their clothing in the dryer and still keep it looking great.
Merino Wool Care Products
Merino Wool Outdoor Clothing Brands
When it comes to merino clothing, one of the best brands is Smartwool. The company makes everything from socks to underwear and shirts. If you’re looking for a pair of wool socks, Smartwool does not disappoint.
Minus33 is another popular brand that offers some great merino wool layers from tanks, tights, shirts, beanies, and jackets, for hiking in cold temperatures. Icebreaker Merino also makes comfortable layers that are perfect for winter hikes or any other outdoor activity in cold weather.
Love Patagonia? Then check out their selection of merino wool products including hats, gloves and baselayers for men and women alike. L.L Bean has an extensive line of merino wool shirts as well!
Rab, Darn Tough Vermont Socks, are two other brands worth mentioning because they offer high-quality products at reasonable prices -and they’re made right here in the USA! Mountain Hardwear specializes in waterproof breathable fabrics while Helly Hansen focuses more on performance garments (both are available online).
Other popular brands:
FAQs Frequently Asked Questions
– Merino sheep’s fleece is a natural, renewable and biodegradable fiber.
– Merino wool fabric is durable, resistant to wear and tear, and doesn’t need to be replaced as often as other garments, minimizing waste.
– It doesn’t require the use of petroleum or harmful chemicals, reducing greenhouse gases or chances of waste spills
– Merino wool is a natural anti-bacterial fabric, which helps to reduce bacteria buildup and odors.
Merino wool can shrink and felt, when washed in hot water or exposed to a high-heat source such as a dryer.
To prevent shrinkage, it is best to hand wash or machine wash your merino wool layers on delicate cycle, in cold water and lay flat to dry. Additionally, washing with a gentle detergent specifically designed for wool fabrics can also help prevent shrinkage. Using wash bags helps protect the garment from snagging, stretching out, or tearing.
Merino wool is considered to be less itchy than traditional wool because the fibers are finer and shorter. However, some people may still experience itchiness when wearing merino wool.
This can be due to a few factors:
Sensitivity to lanolin: Lanolin, which is a natural oil found in sheep’s wool, can cause skin irritation in some people. This is particularly true for those who have sensitive skin or eczema.
Improper washing: If the wool is not washed properly before it is used, it can retain lanolin and other irritants that can cause itching. Also, using detergents that contain dyes or perfumes can irritate the skin.
Strong or medium grade yarn microns: Because merino wool fibers have different grades of yarn, any fabric is woven from these grades can cause itching since the fibers are rougher.
Allergic reactions: Some people may have an allergic reaction to the wool itself, which can cause itching and other symptoms.
It’s worth noting that merino wool yarn can be woven with other fabrics to make it more comfortable and reduce itching. Choosing a fine to ultrafine grade micron merino wool fabric, combined with proper washing, can help reduce itching for most people.
It all comes down to grades, yarns, and fibers.
The finer the micron count, (which only merinos can produce), the softer the fabric will be when woven into a garment – meaning no itchiness whatsoever! The lowest grade of this special wool starts at an impressive 19-micron count while higher-end garments can go up to 15 microns or lower. Therefore, ultrafine merino gives you that ultra-luxurious feeling when worn close to your skin.
In conclusion, merino wool is an amazing material that has many benefits for the adventurer and traveler. Not only is it lightweight, breathable, and temperature-regulating; it’s ideal for any activity in any season!
When camping or hiking, make sure to add or remove layers of clothing as needed in order to keep comfortable in all temperatures.
Finally, remember the most important point: buy the best merino wool layers you can afford. High-quality materials last longer and perform better which gives your adventures the level of comfort they deserve!
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Last update on 2023-02-20 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API