It only takes one day wearing a piece of performance-focused merino apparel to rid you of any notions that wool should be a fabric confined to the winter. This all-season, all-natural product wicks sweat like a sponge, keeps you cool when it’s hot, and doesn’t retain body odor—which is probably why you end up wearing it for more than just one day. True, it doesn’t dry as fast as synthetics; for high-octane travel, go with a darker color to avoid telltale sweat lines. And it’s more expensive than its competitors. But it’s worth the investment. Simply put, it’s one of the best travel-friendly fabrics out there—and the industry continues to unveil new ways of working with it. Here are some of the best, just in time for your warm-weather exploits.
1. Allbirds Runners, $95; 2. Voormi High-E Hoodie, $229; 3. Duckworth Vapor Wool Tee, $60; 4. United by Blue Ultimate American Sock, $38; 5. Trew Superlight Nuyarn Merino Pocket T, $59; 6. Patagonia Merino Air Hoody, $149; 7. Icebreaker Cool-Lite Spheria Short-Sleeve V Lace, $90.
Top photo courtesy of Star Athena, CC BY
Nathan Borchelt is a gear-obsessed travel writer and adventurer whose collection of shoes, backpacks, jackets, bags, and other “essential” detritus has long-outgrown his one-bedroom apartment (and his wife’s patience).
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Just when you think they can't find another application for merino, Allbirds takes New Zealand-sourced wool and turns into shoes. The dual-faced textile knit upper conforms to your feet almost like a pair of slippers, with no rubbing or pinching. And they breathe better than anything save a pair of mesh sneakers or flip-flops thanks to merino's all-natural thin-fiber construction. The padded insole is also lined with wool for more softness, moisture wicking, and odor protection, and the low-density foam and rubber uppers keep the shoes lightweight and bouncy. They aren't a go-to pair of kicks for serious trail running, but they break the mold for comfortable, innovative travel shoes. Comes in six different colors.
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Colorado-based Voormi are addressing the one Achilles' heel of merino wool: its ability to stand up to foul weather. By weaving a waterproof/breathable membrane right into the wool fabric, their merino wool outer layers stand up to rain—without sacrificing its soft-to-the-touch texture. Their colder-weather jackets received lots of accolades last winter, but for warmer weather, gravitate toward the High-E hoodie, which stands at the center of their line of single-weave wet-weather protection. It comes with two zippered side pockets and a half-zip with a seriously high collar line, providing the right amount of warmth and shelter on a brisk night under the stars. Just know the athletic fit is snug. Size up if you prefer looser layers.
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Unlike some brands, who import their wool from Australia or New Zealand, relative upstarts Duckworth takes pride in the fact that their wool is 100% grown on the Helle Ranch in Montana, and each piece is custom yarn-knit and sewn in the States.
So, as localovre as wool is likely to get. Exercise that U.S.-centric pride this season with one of their tri-blend heathered Vapor Tees, made from summer-weight wool, so it dries faster than thicker weaves.
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While you could wear these warm socks with your favorite pair of retro hiking shorts, chances are they'd be too warm for the summer—which is great, because they're currently only available as a pre-order. These socks boast 24% bison down, which is rated to be warmer than traditional wool, along with a mixture of form-fitting nylon and a central backbone of merino, with reinforced heel and toe areas, ribbed arch support, and flat-toe seams.
United by Blue
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Direct-to-consumer, Oregon-based Trew introduced their Nuyarn last winter, and now they bring that fabric construction to summer with their new Pocket T. It uses super-fine 125 merino wool that's wrapped around a nylon core and doubled up to create strong, two-ply yarns that are knitted into fabric. End result? Wool that's 35% stretchier, 16% stronger, 25% warmer, 3% lofiter, and dries up to five times as fast as traditional merino. The winter versions became a harsh- to mild-weathr go-to for their reliable performance. And the contrast of colors at the sleeve and pocket adds a fun twist to the traditional summer base layer.
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This hoody is at home on the mountains as it is for beachside star-gazing. Made from wool sourced from the grasslands of Patagonia that's been blended with Capilene (the company's proprietary synthetic) this base layer delivers warmth and breathability. The "puffy yarn" also increases the stretchiness and loft, but without adding weight, and the whole thing has been put together with a computerized 3D knitting machine to remove the seams and thus eliminate all chaff points. Like the Voormi hoody, this one fits tightly, especially when you pull up the hood. Size accordingly.
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Just because merino wool is a tech fabric doesn't mean it has to look like it. Icebreaker's Spheria ads a burst of color with its nature-inspired graphic integrated into the shirt's loose, V-neck design. The Cool-Lite fabric blends 65% merino with a mixture of nylon and Tencel, another all-natural fabric made from wood cellulose—which makes the shirt 40% cooler than Icebreaker's Bodyfit products. It also wicks better, dries three times faster, and looks perfectly effortless.