Merino wool base layers are one of those things that once you discover them, you wonder how you were able to go so long without them. This post looks to explore what makes merino wool base layers so good for activities like cycling and some of our favourite picks on the market.
What is Merino Wool Exactly?
Good question. As the name suggests, the wool comes from merino sheep which are renowned for their soft and warm but breathable fleece.
One of the great properties of merino wool is its ability to absorb moisture, in fact it can hold 30% of its weight in water before you begin to feel the water on your skin.
Because the merino wool is able to hold wool before it reaches your skin, this surprisingly acts as a thermal layer where it retains warmth even when wet.
One thing we are passionate about at Commuting by Bicycle is recommending products that have good breathability.
Merino wool is the definition of breathability with it having the ability to adapt to your body temperature in differing conditions. Whether that be keeping you warm in winter by helping trap warm pockets of air next to your skin or in summer by helping capture the moisture on your skin to keep you feeling fresh.
Some believe that the fantastic breathability to see in merino wool comes from thousands of years of evolution where sheep are exposed to harsh winter and summer conditions and have adapted to suit the conditions. Whether true or not, it makes interesting food for thought.
One of the best things about merino wool vs synthetic materials is that you do not need a heavy layer to keep warm when wearing merino.
Compared to synthetic materials, merino wool has a high level of warmth to a low level of weight ratio. The merino fibres use tiny pockets of trapped air to insulate you in cold weather which differs to synethic materials that use heavy layers.
Soft on the Skin
When you think of wool, we wouldn’t blame you if you straight away think of heavy and itchy wool layers that you would wear if you were visiting the Scotland Highlands.
Luckily, Merino wool isn’t anything like this at all and is a very lightweight material that is super soft on the skin.
Merino wool includes coiled fibres which essentially gives the material ‘memory’ which allows it to return to its original shape after long days of being stretched.
This is particularly great for us cyclists where we need a garment that fits to the shape of our body and is able to either keep us warm in winter or cool in summer.
With merino wool using microscopic fibres that are smooth, this helps reduce the ability for odour producing bacteria to make their way in and start breeding.
Interestingly, merino wool also contains a natural lanolin product like what you see in cosmetic products which helps provide anti bacterial properties.
From our experience, wool products can be fiddle to wash and dry but luckily merino wool can be washed at 30c and dried like you would with normal clothes. Be sure to check the label to be sure.
If you care about the environment (you really should!), merino wool comes from a natural source that is naturally biodegradeable too. Something you don’t see with synthetic garments.
How Does Merino Wool Compare to Synthetic Materials?
It doesn’t compare.
Merino wool is In its own league when it comes to comfort, breathability, combating odour and fit. The fact that merino wool is able to keep you warm in winter and cold in summer while also being able to absorb some level of water makes it a great layer for any cyclist commuting to work.
One thing we will say about synthetic garments is that it generally is cheaper and does dry faster. From our experience, synthetic garments are also more prone to attracting odour and losing their shape over time which means you’re more likely to have to replace your garments more frequently if buying synthetic based materials.
Best Short Sleeve Merino
Woolly Clothing Merino Crew Neck T-Shirt
Woolly Clothing provide some great merino based clothing garments for people that want to buy merino without breaking the bank.
One particular call out with the Woolly crew neck shirt is that it does feel a bit ‘rough’ on the skin compared to other options out there. Some people have reported that washing the shirt can help soften it up which may be enough for some.
Best Long Sleeve Merino
Meriwool Long Sleeve Base Layer
For those of us looking for something warmer with a long sleeved version, the Meriwool long sleeve base layer is a great option.
Coming with a weight of 250gsm makes this slightly heavier than other shirts on the market which might suit some people more than others.
As you’d expect, this shirt ticks all the boxes when it comes to merino wool:
- Keeps you warm in winter and cool in summer
- Keeps odours at bay
- Maintains its shape well
We’d recommend this one for anyone looking for an affordable long sleeve merino wool top.
Best Cycling Long Sleeve
Endura BaaBaa Merino Wool Long Sleeve
The Endura BaaBaa Merino long sleeve top separates itself from the Meriwool top we previously reviewed by coming made for cyclists. How can it be made for cyclists you ask? The Endura BaaBaa is designed with a slimmer fit in mind to help keep you warm or cool while maintaining aerodynamics.
Similar to other tops we have reviewed so far, the Endura BaaBaa excels at all the characteristics of merino including breathability, keeping you warm in winter and cold in summer while helping wick any build up of sweat.
We'd recommend this one for anyone looking to buy a long sleeved top to for Winter that will also come in handy for Autumn and Spring!
Best Merino Jacket
The Pearl iZUMi differs to other garments we reviewed in this article where it uses a mix of 60% Thermal merino wool and 40% nylon fabric. We can't be sure how much this impacts the breathability and thermal characteristics which you would normally get with a 100% merino garment.
Included with the jacket is a full length zipper which helps creating ventilation on those days when it warms up and you're feeling a bit over-dressed. Also included is three back pockets which work great for storing items.
While a bit on the expensive side, we'd still recommend this as a great option for someone looking for a garment styled for cycling while acting as a warm outer layer on those cold winter mornings.