Merino clothing is often touted as a traveller’s holy grail. Moisture wicking, light, warm, temperature regulating and quick drying, it can seem like the perfect fabric. There are a few caveats however, so here I’m going to give my honest opinion of merino clothing without all the hype you usually see. Aside from a pair of Smartwool socks and a few cheap and flimsy tops, all of my merino is from the brand Icebreaker, so my review is focused on this brand.
First, the clear positives that everyone raves about. Merino is indeed light, stays comfortable and warm when wet, and is soft against the skin (it doesn’t itch like other wools). The light 150-weight merino fabric in particular feels lovely to wear in hot humid weather, and by layering pieces together you can create an ultra-warm, moisture-wicking and breathable winter wardrobe without bulk.
Merino dries much faster than cotton, but you have to let it air-dry as merino can shrink in the dryer. I’ve risked dryers for a few merino items in the past when travelling without experiencing any shrinkage, but I used the lowest temperature setting and it could perhaps depend on the wool weight or the temperature of the dryer.
Merino is proclaimed not to smell, but this hasn’t been my experience. I’ve only noticed lingering smells on some of the base-layer long-sleeve tops (Siren and Oasis), and the Villa dress following frequent use, so it could be a matter of how tight-fitting the item is in the underarm area. This hasn’t been an issue with any of the tank tops or thicker sweatshirts, nor with any socks or undergarments. I’ve seen suggestions that it may be a problem with certain types of deodorant – some products or chemicals may get ‘baked’ into the fabric and are hard to remove, so when the merino heats up it smells (much like some cheap synthetics though nowhere near as bad). Using baking soda and vinegar, and soaking in hot water helps to get rid of built-in smells, but just as with the use of dryers there is the risk of shrinkage.
Durability is also an issue. A pair of Villa leggings lasted about a year before developing holes along the seam and eventually completely splitting (I’ve sewn them up once already – now they’re about to be thrown out). They’re very loose leggings, so I can’t blame the splitting on wearing the wrong size. A Villa dress lasted two years before also developing holes along the seams – though the dress was worn up to twice a week, so I feel that this is fair wear and tear. A hoodie has just started developing holes in the seams between the cuffs and the arms after about 1.5 years, and the heels went on a pair of socks after fairly infrequent use.
Lastly, my major issue with merino clothing is with the lightest-weight tops – the 150g merino. I reviewed the 150g Siren Tank in the past and mentioned it was very sheer. I’ve since purchased one of the Tech Tanks which is a looser fit and is meant to be worn on its own (without an under-layer), however it again is just too shear – even nude bras can be clearly seen. Both the Siren and Tech tanks that I purchased are pink; I also have a long-sleeve black Siren top which is opaque enough to wear with a black bra, so the sheerness does seem to depend on the colour chosen. However, a tank top that is meant to be worn solo should be opaque – this is my biggest disappointment with Icebreaker merino, as otherwise the 150-weight tops would be ideal for wearing in hot, humid climates like in Southeast Asia. It looks like they even have a new collection out for just this purpose – Cool-Lite. I’ll be looking at these when more products are available in summer. Maybe they’ll be alright with a nice sports bra underneath.
Despite these issues, I still own a heck of a lot of Icebreaker merino. In fact, I recently went a little crazy during a sale and purchased a bunch more – I just need to learn to be a little more selective of the particular items I purchase. Merino is a high-quality fabric – but not quite good enough to completely take over my wardrobe just yet.
Interested in more Icebreaker merino reviews? Check out my review on their Siren underwear.