Hiking Gear

The Best Merino Wool T-Shirts for Hiking (and everyday)

January 8, 2020
Hiking in a Merino Wool T Shirt along the Sonoma Coast in California

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.  

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.

1 Icebreaker

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.  

➳ Shop Now: Icebreaker Ultralight Women’s Merino Wool T-shirt

Backcountry | REI | Icebreaker

Icebreaker Womens Merino Wool Short Sleeve T Shirt

➳ Shop Now: Icebreaker Men’s Merino Wool T-shirt

Backcountry | REI | Icebreaker

Icebreaker Mens Merino Wool T Shirt

2 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 Now: Outdoor Voices Merino Wool T-shirt

Men’s Merino Wool T Shirt | Women’s Merino Wool T Shirt

Hiking through Butano State Park in sustainable outdoor clothing brand Toad&Co

Long sleeve merino wool shirt by Outdoor Voices

3 Smartwool

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 Now: Smartwool Women’s Merino Wool T-shirt

Backcountry | REI

Smartwool Womens Merino Wool Baselayer

➳ Shop Now: Smartwool Men’s Merino Wool T-shirt

Backcountry | REI

Smartwool Mens Merino Wool Baselayer

4 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 Now: Mountain Hardwear Men’s Diamond Peak T-Shirt

Backcountry | Mountain Hardwear | Zappos

Mountain Hardwear Men's Merino Wool T-Shirt

5 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.  

➳ Shop Now: REI Coop Men’s Merino Midweight Base Layer Crew Top

REI Coop Wool Short Sleeve T Shirt

5 Aviator

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 lightweight and 100% merino wool, so it’s a great go-to for both hiking and a capsule travel wardrobe.  

➳ Shop Now: Aviator Air Dry Merino Wool Travel-T

Men’s Merino Wool T Shirt | Women’s Merino Wool T Shirt

Aviator Womens Wool T Shirt

6 Bombas

The Bombas Merino Crew Neck T-Shirt is the final wool shirt to make the cut. 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. 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.  

If this is your first purchase on Bombas.com, use this referral link to get 25% off your purchase.  

➳ Shop Now: Bombas Merino Crew Neck Shirt

Men’s Merino Crew Neck T Shirt | Women’s Merino Crew Neck T Shirt

Bombas Womens Wool Blend 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 beautiful 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.  


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