The reasons merino wool is such a popular fabric for winter wear are the same reasons merino wool is great for hiking t-shirts too: it’s breathable, odor-resistant, moisture-wicking, and most of all, comfortable! Check out this round-up of the best merino wool t-shirts for hiking.
Wool isn’t just for sweaters and base layers anymore! Merino wool has gained a lot of traction in recent years for the fact that it’s a sustainable, renewable resource. Sometimes it’s harder to make a transition into eco-friendly options, but merino wool is super soft and breathable; it’s so comfortable that it’s become my favorite fabric to wear.
While I started wearing wool for base layers and winter clothes, I’ve now tried to be more intentional with my closet, and opted for short sleeve merino wool t-shirts for hiking and every day wear.
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Reasons to wear merino wool
There’s a few reasons why I’ve decided to wear more wool, for both hiking and every day. The first is that merino wool is comfortable. Good merino wool is soft and not itchy at all. It’s also better for the planet. Here are a few specifics on what makes merino wool so great as activewear:
Versatile: Wool is super versatile! Thicker weaves are warm and cozy for winter sweaters, while thinner ones are perfect for hiking t-shirts.
Breathable: This makes merino wool great for hiking and everyday use.
Odor-resistant and naturally antimicrobial: If you’re looking for a shirt that can withstand anything from a short hike to a multi-day backpacking trip, these properties make wool a great choice!
Moisture-wicking and quick-drying: Wool will help keep your body dry, and dry quickly when it does get wet. This is why wool is such a great option for activewear.
Can be washed less: This goes along with being odor-resistant. Washing less means using less water and energy. See tips at the end of this article for how to best take care of a wool t-shirt. (something abut convenient when traveling, or on that multi-day backpacking trip. Don’t feel so bad about only bringing one shirt on that multi day backpacking trip.)
No plastics: Synthetic materials, like polyester, nylon, and acrylic are just plastic. Every time synthetic clothes are washed, microplastics make their way into the water supply, and eventually down into rivers and oceans where they contaminate environments and are toxic to wildlife. If you’re interested, read more about synthetic clothes and microplastics here.
Recyclable: Wool is one of the most recyclable fibers. Read more about the sustainability of wool here.
Biodegradable: Wool biodegrades in a fraction of the time it takes for synthetics, which means it’s not taking up space in landfills for decades.
Look for wool from non-mulesed sheep: One of the main reasons I want to wear wool is because it’s better for the planet, but I don’t want that to come at the expense of animals. I’ve recently learned that some farmers practice a controversial procedure on sheep called mulesing. According the animals rights organization PETA, mulesing is a cruel practice that is incredibly painful, and there are much more humane alternatives to reduce flystrike in sheep. Not all companies disclose whether they use wool from non-mulesed sheep, and it’s something I’m looking more into. New Zealand officially banned mulesing effective October 1, 2018, so looking for wool sourced from New Zealand is an easy way to make sure its from non-mulesed sheep.
The Best Merino Wool T-shirts for Hiking
It’s time to breakout out of the mindset that wool only means winter clothes and base layers. A lightweight, short-sleeve merino wool t-shirt is the most comfortable and sustainable option when you’re looking for a hiking t-shirt. I’ve been wearing merino wool t-shirts for a while now, and I’ve gathered my favorite ones here.
Icebreaker makes merino wool outdoor and natural performance clothing, so this company is a great bet if you’re looking for wool hiking tees. The Icebreaker challenge is to see how long you can go without washing your merino wool t shirt; they say you can wear their shirts at least seven times before it needs a wash.
Icebreaker has a full range of merino wool t-shirt, from featherweight to heavy weight. They use a weight numbering system to note the thickness of their fabrics so you know how thick of a shirt you’re buying.
The ultralight shirt (weight is 150 grams per meter) is the most versatile thickness. Most Icebreaker tech lite tees are 87% merino wool and 13% nylon, though they do have some shirts that have other blends, like Tencel.
Over 70% of Icebreaker’s merino wool comes from New Zealand (so non-mulesed), and according to their website, they audit their farmers every 3 years and ensure that the sheep are free from injury or disease.
➳ Shop Icebreaker Women’s Merino Wool T-shirt : Backcountry | REI | Icebreaker
➳ Shop Icebreaker Men’s Merino Wool T-shirt: Backcountry | REI | Icebreaker
Aviator designs clothing specifically for travel, aiming to make them comfortable, versatile, and able to go at least a few wears between washings. The Air Dry Merino Wool Travel-T is 100% merino wool. It’s soft and lightweight without being see-through. At 200 GSM (grams per square meter), it feels perfect for warm weather. It’s been a great go-to of mine for both hiking and everyday.
The Aviator merino wool tees come in four neutral colors that make them easy to mix and match if you’re trying to build a capsule travel wardrobe, or just trying to simplify everyday life! And if you’re looking for a great pair of jeans for your travel capsule, I love the fit, stretch, and useable pockets on these ones!
➳ Shop Aviator: Men’s Merino Wool T Shirt | Women’s Merino Wool T Shirt
The Smartwool Merino 150 Base Layer makes a great standalone t-shirt, especially for hiking and backpacking. The raglan sleeves were specifically designed with carrying backpacks in mind; there are no seams where your backpack straps rest. This lightweight merino wool shirt is 87% wool and 13% nylon.
➳ Shop Smartwool Women’s Merino Wool T-shirt: Backcountry | REI
➳ Shop Smartwool Men’s Merino Wool T-shirt: Backcountry | REI
4 Nui Merino Tencel Tee
Nui Organics has been one of my favorite companies for kid’s clothing over the last several years due to their full commitment to sustainability and their amazing merino wool clothing. This New Zealand-based company ethically sources its wool, does not use harmful chemicals to process the fabric, and uses recyclable packaging.
They’ve now launched both a men’s and women’s line, so I can enjoy the same high-quality fabrics my son has come to love. Nui Organics’ most recent collection included tees made of merino tencel blend — 56% Tencel, 38% Merino Wool, 6% Elastane.
Tencel is a sustainable fabric made from wood pulp. It shares similar properties to wool; it’s soft and breathable, and often used in workout apparel. As a naturally derived fiber, it‘s also biodegradable. These merino tencel tees are some of the lightest and softest I’ve ever felt. We put them to the test while hiking in hot and humid weather, and they performed great. This fabric blend is also great for travel since it’s machine washable, fast drying, and it doesn’t wrinkle easily. Use code NOMAN15 for 15% off your purchase at Nui Organics for the rest of 2021.
➳ Shop Nui Organic’s Merino Tencel T-shirt: Men’s Merino Tencel Tees | Women’s Merino Tencel Tees
5 Unbound Merino
Unbound Merino is another company that emphasizes the superiority of merino wool clothing for travel with its “Pack Less. Experience More.” mantra. The core of the Unbound Merino line are its Men’s Crew Neck and V-Neck Tees made from 100% merino wool.
These Merino Wool Tees are 190 grams per meter, so have a good weight for every day and hiking without being too thick. They come in seven different colors, so you aren’t just limited to grey, blue or black if you want to add more color (but you can stick with those basics too!). The line extends to long-sleeve shirts, hoodies and socks made from 100% merino wool, as well as shorts and pants made from a merino wool and cotton blend. They currently only offer men’s clothing, but have a women’s line in the works.
➳ Shop Unbound: Merino Wool Crew Neck | Merino Wool V Neck
6 REI Co-op
REI Co-op gear is usually great quality at a great price, and this 100% merino wool hiking t-shirt is no exception. The short-sleeve version only comes in men’s, but there is a women’s long-sleeve option.
7 Mountain Hardwear
The Diamond Peak Short-Sleeve T-Shirt by Mountain Hardwear is 100% merino wool and has ergonomic seams so you don’t have to worry about chafing. This shirt is lightweight enough that it’s great for hot days, and the natural wicking ability of merino wool is great when you work up a sweat. So far they only have this style for men. Hopefully the women’s version is coming soon.
➳ Shop Mountain Hardwear Merino Wool T-Shirt: Backcountry | Mountain Hardwear
Bombas makes some of my all-time favorite wool socks, and they also make merino wool tees! Bombas launched by selling what it calls “the most comfortable socks in the history of feet,” and donating a pair of socks to those in need for every pair of socks sold. Bombas has since expanded into merino wool t-shirts, and continues the one for one donation model.
The Merino Crew Neck is made of 50% merino wool, 50% Tencel. Like I mentioned above, Tencel is a soft, breathable, sustainable fabric made from wood pulp.
If this is your first purchase on Bombas.com, use this referral link to get 25% off your purchase.
➳ Shop Bombas: Men’s Merino Crew Neck T Shirt | Women’s Merino Crew Neck T Shirt
9 Isobaa Merino Clothing
Isobaa makes a full range of superfine merino wool clothing for men, women and kids. Isobaa’s 100% merino wool shirts are some of the softest I’ve ever felt, and all come from non-mulesed sheep.
You can tell how much thought and care is put into Isobaa’s products, all the way down to the packaging. All of our merino wool shirts arrived in recycled and recyclable brown paper and cardboard. It can be a little frustrating for a sustainable product to arrive in plastic packaging, and I really appreciate the effort Isobaa has made to create a fully sustainable supply chain.
Isobaa’s 150 weight short sleeves tees are 100% merino wool, lightweight and breathable; they’re great for warm weather hikes. The 180 weight long sleeves are just a bit thicker and perfect for when it’s cooler. They also have merino wool hoodies and sweaters when you need to add another layer.
Isobaa offers versatile colors like grey and navy, but they also have a few brighter options including red, bright blue, plus a couple of striped tees. The women’s tees have a longer cut, so they’re great if you have a longer torso or just like to have a bit of extra coverage when you’re wearing a pair of leggings.
➳ Shop Isobaa: Women’s Merino Wool T Shirt | Men’s Merino Wool T Shirt
10 Outdoor Voices
I have several Outdoor Voices merino wool t-shirts and love them all. The lightweight weave is made for doing things. These are 89% wool with 11% nylon for added durability. OV makes these wool tees for both men and women. The newer women’s merino wool t-shirt I have from OV is more fitted, so if you want a more relaxed fit then size up. Even though these shirts are great for wearing all year-round, they seem to be only offered seasonally on the Outdoor Voices website. If they’re not currently in stock, check again in a few months.
➳ Shop Outdoor Voices: Men’s Merino Wool T Shirt | Women’s Merino Wool T Shirt
Where to score a good deal on a merino wool t-shirt
Most merino wool t-shirts run between $50 and $80, which can be steep for an exercise shirt. With proper care, they last a long time, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t look out for a great deal. We watch for sales on Backcountry and REI (Black Friday and Cyber Monday usually have the biggest discounts), and also look for deals on discount websites like Steep & Cheap (which is owned by Backcountry), Mountain Steals (owned by Moosejaw) and REI Outlet. The selection is much more limited, but if they do have something you’re looking for (like a merino wool shirt!), then you can snag it at a deep discount (like 50% or more).
How to care for merino wool
After making an investment in a merino wool t-shirt, it’s important to take care of it correctly if you want it to last. Here are a few tips on keeping your wool t-shirts in great condition.
Rethink Clean and Wash Less: I used to think it was gross if I didn’t wash a piece of clothing after every wear. But this isn’t true. A lot of clothing can go several wears (or more) without being washed, like jeans and wool! One way to refresh your wool without washing is to put a worn item in a ziploc bag and place it in the freezer overnight. The low temperatures kill bacteria and will make your clothes feel fresh again. We got this great tip from Nui Organics, which makes the softest merino wool clothes for kids.
Use the right soap: One of the worst things you can do to your wool clothes is throw them in the wash with regular detergent. Most laundry detergent is made of enzymes that are designed to break down biological molecules – like food stains. But since wool is also a biological molecule (it’s basically just proteins), laundry detergent will break down the molecules in your wool clothes too. The best way to wash wool is to do it in cold water with no agitation and a wool specific wash, like this one. It smells great too!
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