six women in six different styles of merino shirts
(Photo/Mary Murphy)

The Best Merino Wool Shirts of 2021

Looking for the best merino wool T-shirts out there? Check out our favorites for summer and fall hiking, biking, and more.

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 cons.

For one, it can be more fragile and less durable, both in wearing and washing. Which is why we’ve considered both 100% merino wool layers and merino wool blends (with a majority merino — greater than 60%).

And two, in our opinion, it can be hard to shop for and find that perfect, comfortable yet functional, fits-great, do-all layer. Not anymore!

We requested and tested dozens of merino wool shirts to find the best on the market. Here are our staff’s top five favorite merino tees (and a few honorable mentions below).

The Best Merino Wool Shirts

Best Overall: Ibex Apparel 24-Hour Tee (Women’s & Men’s)

ibex merino tee

Vermont-founded Ibex has been making merino apparel since 1997. After a short out-of-business stint (that then lasted 2 years), the Ibex brand is finally back. We’ve been testing a number of its spring 2021 styles, including its 24-Hour tees.

The 24-Hour merino tee is made with 100% 19.5-micron merino wool and is just as soft and light as it sounds. What we love most about this tee: It wicks away odor great, it feels nice against the skin, it works as a standalone tee or base layer, and it’s easy to hand wash and hang dry — perfect for travel.

Based on how often we’ve worn it so far and its performance, we’re hoping this merino shirt (it’s a bit of an investment) lasts for years.

What’s more, it breathes! Synthetic performs by the numbers, but the feel of natural materials — and 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!

Our only note of warning with this tee is it is more fitted. So, if you want a roomier fit or if you are in between sizes, be sure to size up.

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

Shop Men’s at IbexShop Women’s at Ibex

Runner-Up: Icebreaker Tech Lite II Short Sleeve (Women’s & Men’s)

icebreaker tech lite

Our staff tester has a couple of these Tech Lites, and loves them year-round. In hot weather, the Tech Lite II tee is light, breathable, and airy. In cooler weather, it still feels soft, comfortable, and protective next to skin.

The Tech Lite II is made with 100% odor-wicking, natural merino. For us, it felt just a bit thinner than other tees we had in testing, which made us wary about its durability. That being said, after a few months of testing, we’re comfortable with the quality. We also really loved the fit and coverage of this tee, especially the sleeve length and women’s cut.

For quality 100% merino, Icebreaker’s Tech Lite II is also a pretty good price.

Shop Men’s at REIShop Women’s at REI

Best Budget: Smartwool Merino 150 Plant-Based Dye Short Sleeve (Women’s & Men’s)

smartwool merino 150 tee

Old news: Smartwool doesn’t just make socks — it makes all sorts of apparel. This new plant-dyed version of Smartwool’s Merino 150 tee is a wicking T-shirt that not only kept us cool on warmer-weather hikes, but also offered good coverage and some style. Smartwool’s Merino 150 is majority merino (87%) with a nylon-spun core for durability.

This layer is a super-comfortable piece at a great price, and now more sustainably made. In terms of construction, we like the part-merino, part-synthetic blend — it seems to be a good balance of soft, stretchy, breathable, and durable. The longer length also makes it a great choice for those who run taller.

We also like that the layer was durable when packed, worn, and washed multiple times over the few months we tested. And, that the three plant-based dye colors are a unique departure from the standard black or gray hues you usually see in merino layers. Who doesn’t love tie-dye?

Shop Men’s at REIShop Women’s at REI

For Cycling: Kitsbow Laurel Merino Tee — Women’s & Mullinax Merino Tee — Men’s

kitsbow tee

This probably had to be the merino shirt I got the most compliments on while wearing, both on the bike and at the brewery/around town — I’m guessing 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.

It’s also worth noting that 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.

Kitsbow’s merino shirts are made with a 75% merino wool and 25% synthetic blend. It even claims that the fabric blend wicks faster (and dries faster) than just pure merino. We didn’t quite know how to test this claim, but did like the tee’s performance enough that it made it on our list!

Our last bonus point for Kitsbow’s Mulligan and Lauren merino shirts — they are made right here in the USA.

Shop Men’sShop Women’s

For Running: Oiselle Flyout Wool Tee

oiselle flyout tee

Women’s running apparel brand Oiselle touts merino wool as the “Swiss Army knife” of fabrics. And we happen to agree. The Oiselle Flyout is made with a majority merino wool and polyester blend. It’s got the natural properties of merino, but a thicker plated-knit — Polartec Power Wool — with the addition of synthetic polyester (Bluesign-approved!) for durability.

The Flyout has a soft feel, but it’s also pretty solid in its construction. We noticed the two-toned threads, as well as the seams on the hem and collar (not flatlock) that gave the shirt both a little grip and maybe some element of design. This is a simple and subtle shirt, with a slightly tapered fit. But we love it.

For running and sweatier, dirtier, and maybe more rugged activities, we definitely vote for this layer. (Aside from the color choices that is, which don’t lend themselves to too much dirt. Yes, after just one or two wears, we had to wash ours.)

The last major perk with this budget-friendly merino tee? It’s available from size 2 all the way up to plus sizes 20/22.

Shop Women’s at Oiselle

Honorable Mentions: More Merino Layers

Helly Hansen Kids’ Merino Mid Base Layer Top

helly hansen merino long sleeve kid's top with stripe pattern

We’d be remiss not to include our favorite merino wool shirt for the little ones while we’re at it. Helly Hansen’s Merino Mid Base Layer top took the cake in that category.

Like many of the adult merino tees we listed above, this top functions great as a standalone layer for a variety of outdoor activities, or as a base layer/layering add-on for when the temps drop. Though given that it’s long sleeve and midweight, it’s definitely better as a baselayer.

The Merino Mid Kids’ Base Layer is made with 19.5-micron, non-mulesed merino wool and flatlock seams. It offers a bit of stretch and wicking — but, most importantly, an extra-soft feel perfect for little kids. This layer is available in children’s sizes 2T-4T.

Shop Kids’ at REI

Allbirds Apparel Wool Hoodie

allbirds wool hoodie

Sustainable hemp shoe brand Allbirds started making apparel last fall. One of its first drops was the Wool Hoodie ($138), made with 100% ZQ merino wool in a double-knit construction.

Of all the merino hoodie layers on our list, this one is the thickest, thanks to the thick-gauge yarn, as well as its sturdy, yet comfy, detailing like the roomy hood and ribbed cuffs and hem. It’s not crazy expensive for a hoodie, and it solves something a merino tee or base layer just can’t: the need for extra-cozy extra warmth.

In addition to Allbird’s Wool Hoodie merino construction, comfort, cozy fit, and warmth, this layer has even more cool features. For one, the merino wool is sustainably sourced and OEKO-TEX certified. Two, the entire hoodie is carbon neutral. Allbirds achieves this by using only natural materials and then offsetting its manufacturing with credits.

If you are looking for a less performance-oriented, more “sweater weather” style layer, this is a good one.

Shop Men’s at Allbirds

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

voormi ultralight wool hoodie in gray

The Voormi River Run is 100% merino wool but made with a unique blend and construction. Voormi uses its Dual Surface ultralight Precision Blended Wool, a fabric weighing under 100 g per square meter. That’s 30 to 50 g lighter than the leading ultralight merino fabrics currently on the market, Voormi claims.

In hand, when packing, and when wearing, we can attest that it’s light. It’s also colored using a wool-specific, individual-yarn dying method.

Now, on to our feedback. I’m not sure where I haven’t worn this Voormi layer — that’s just how versatile it is. Paddleboarding, camping, climbing, snowshoeing, kayaking, hiking, running errands (and if I fished, I’d wear it fishing). The Voormi River Run 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.

But it’s also a UPF 50-rated long sleeve with a hood. 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. And, it’s made in the USA. Our only con? It’s crazy ultralight and soft, meaning it’s prone to snag easily.

Shop Men’s at VoormiShop Women’s at Voormi

Buyer’s Guide: How to Choose 

100% Merino, or Merino Blend?

This one is, you guessed it, personal preference. That said, there are certain things that 100% merino wool is hands-down good at. Things like providing a next-to-skin base layer for skiing or a long sleeve (great for cooling and wicking in warmer weather, and insulating and wicking in cooler weather). Whether you need a merino layer for hiking, hunting, or just spending time outside, consider all the uses merino shirts are great for.

If you are investing in a merino shirt for, say, a backpacking trip, or if durability is of high importance, go for a merino wool blend. Also, if you are 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.

smartwool's performance hike light cushion ankle socks
The Smartwool Merino 150 tee; (photo/Eric Phillips)

Fit and Styles

We included a variety of shirts: tees, long-sleeve tops, and tanks on this list. What we didn’t include is all merino wool layers under the sun. We focused on shirts because they are versatile for a variety of weather and activities. (Our staff wears them year-round.)

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 that too.

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 certain folks swear by merino.

If you know you want a natural fabric that comes with all the soft, cooling, and wicking properties that merino does, keep price in mind — $80 for a T-shirt?! 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, expensive to import, and more fragile to work with compared to thicker synthetic yarns. So I always weigh that factor when purchasing anything with merino.

voormi

FAQ

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 all of merino’s great properties, it is 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 is 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 an 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.

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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 — it works 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 the 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 mild soap is all you need. Even when I wear a lot of merino wool when in the outdoors, I try to wash sparingly. And I always air dry or hang to dry.

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