Gear Review: WoolPRO Merino Wool

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Why Buy?

About a year ago, I started testing my first merino wool products in preparation for a 60+ mile backpacking trip on the High Sierra Trail (HST). During my gear testing for this trip, I started to realize that merino wool is an amazing material. After finishing my trip I was convinced of it’s antibacterial (odor preventing) and wicking properties. My testing continued throughout the summer and fall in temperatures ranging from the 30s to 90s. I was continually impressed how well merino regulated my body temperature and was especially impressed with how much merino could be worn between washes. For those not familiar with merino wool, Wikipedia has a good summary:

Several properties contribute to merino’s popularity for exercise clothing, compared to wool in general and to other types of fabric:

  • Merino is excellent at regulating body temperature, especially when worn against the skin. The wool provides some warmth, without overheating the wearer. It draws moisture (sweat) away from the skin, a phenomenon known as wicking. The fabric is slightly moisture repellent (keratin fibers are hydrophobic at one end and hydrophilic at the other), allowing the user to avoid the feeling of wetness.[8]
  • Like cotton, wool absorbs water (up to 1/3 its weight), but, unlike cotton, wool retains warmth when wet,[9] thus helping wearers avoid hypothermia after sweating from strenuous exercise or getting rained on when outside.[8]
  • Like most wools, merino contains lanolin, which has antibacterial properties.[10]
  • Merino is one of the softest types of wool available, due to finer fibers and smaller scales.[9]
  • Merino has an excellent warmth-to-weight ratio compared to other wools, in part because the smaller fibers have microscopic cortices of dead air, trapping body heat similar to the way a sleeping bag warms its occupant.[11]

source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Merino

While I was very impressed with the merino products I used on the High Sierra Trail, the training hikes leading up to it, as well as those that followed, I’m always trying to see if there’s something better out there. WoolPRO contacted me a few months ago and I’ve been testing their products ever since. Before even seeing their products, a few things about WoolPRO caught my eye:

  • They knit the materials for their merino wool and don’t sell it to other companies
  • They have a direct to consumer business model, allowing them to sell a high quality product at a lower price point than their competitors
  • They developed activeseam (activeseam.com), which is the world’s first branded stitch. Activeseam is stronger than a traditional flatlock seam and doesn’t cause chaffing or irritation like other seams can.

After a few email exchanges with WoolPRO, they decided to send me three items: Agena Long Sleeve, Juno T-Shirt, and Zond Arm Warmers. Here are some un-boxing photos:

 


My Observations

The observations below include notes from my hikes between January and April 2016, as well as testing at the gym and around the house. Much of the testing was completed on my cross-country drive from CA to NH. The WoolPRO products really impressed me on the backpacking portion of my drive. The Juno and Agena also got tons of use while I drove.

Juno T-Shirt

  • The Good
    • It is a good looking shirt. The athletic cut suits my body type and I have received several compliments while wearing it!
    • The antibacterial and odor resistant qualities of this shirt are amazing. On my cross-country trip, I wore the shirt for 3 days of backpacking and a day of snowshoeing & snowmobiling. The shirt still did not smell bad, so I wore it for 2 days of driving afterwards, all without washing. I have also worn the shirt for a weeks worth of workouts (3 lifting sesssions, 3 HIIT sessions) between washings.
    • I noticed very little itch when trying the shirt on. After washing the shirt the first time, the itch was gone.
    • The fabric appears to be very durable and has held up the best of any of the 100% merino shirts I own.
  • The Bad
    • More expensive than synthetic shirts, but competitively priced with merino t-shirts from other companies.
  • The Bottom Line
    • If you’re a backpacker, they are definitely worth the investment.  Whenever I go on any trips where being able to wear a shirt multiple days without washing is beneficial, these shirts will find their way into my gym bag, backpack or suitcase. The shirt is functional and looks great!

Agena Long Sleeve

  • The Good
    • Like the Juno, the Agena has an athletic cut and is a good looking shirt.
    • Extremely soft and very comfortable. Most people I’ve shown it to have a hard time believing it’s wool.
    • Very warm and has been used as my primary insulation layer on several snowshoeing trips.
  • The Bad
    • More expensive than synthetic sweatshirts, but competitively priced with merino gear from other companies.
  • The Bottom Line
    • At just $10 more than the Juno, if I could only own one garment from WoolPRO, this would be my choice!

Zond Arm Warmers

It may seem like an odd choice, but I actually asked for these when I was reviewing WoolPROs line of products. I was hoping that they’d help increase the temperature range on a short sleeve t-shirt and eliminate the need to carry another layer (ie lightweight longsleeve T). I had my doubts that they’d stay in place and figured they’d need constant re-adjustment.

  • The Good
    • They stayed in place and increased the temperature range of the Juno.
    • They were really useful on snowshoeing trips. Rolling the sleeves down and exposing my arms allowed me to cool off without stopping to remove a layer of clothing.
  • The Bad
    • They only come in one size. If you have very small or large arms(bigger than 16″ bicep measurement), they may not stay in place or be uncomfortable.
  • The Bottom Line
    • I really like them and plan to continue using them instead of carrying a lightweight longsleeve. Now I just need WoolPRO to developed a set of baselayer bottoms with removable leg warmers (hint, hint)!

Final (& somewhat random) Thoughts

  • The look/style of the Juno and to a lesser extend, the Agena, was surprising. I can wear them to dinner, traveling or to work without feeling under-dressed.
  • While I would consider merino wool an expensive option for everyday use, it is a very important part of my layering system for backpacking, hiking and snowshoeing.  
  • After seeing how they performed on the Coyote Gulch Backpacking trip, I’d feel comfortable with the following torso layering system for a 3-4 day backpacking trip:
    • The Juno, Agena and Zond Arm Warmers as my principle layers for hiking. I would not plan on washing any of these items on the trail
    • A second synthetic (read: cheap) top for sleeping.
    • A down sweater if temperatures were expected to dip into the 30s.
  • Over the last year I’ve found the key to extended usage between washes is airing merino out at night.
  • One bonus of using merino wool on a daily basis is less laundry. If you’re conscious of water usage (as most residents of California should be), or just hate doing laundry, it may be something to consider for everyday use.
  • If money were no object, I would replace my gym shirts and the majority of my everyday t-shirts with merino.

 

Disclaimer: The products reviewed in this entry were provided to HikingGeek.com by WoolPRO.