Initially the mountaineer’s material of choice, Merino wool thinned, cut and styled itself to fit the gym, street and office. The current Merino market is ripe with comfortable, bright and versatile shirts, jackets, underwear, socks and more. Today’s Merino clothes look a lot better than my classic blue Dartmouth X-country Ski zip-up, which was sewn by Ibex before they cared about style. (I still love to wear it.) Here are some of the very best Merino clothing makers:
Ibex: I think of Ibex as the company that popularized Merino. Maybe that’s just because I was living in Boston when merino got cool, but I’d say there’s more to it than that–the quality of Ibex’s material and stitching is unmatched. Ibex was also the first to invest in better colors, style and variety.
Icebreaker: The Ibex of the West Coast, Icebreaker offers awesome colors and sporty styles. I think the quality of Icebreaker’s stitching and overall durability is slightly less than Ibex, but still very good. Icebreaker’s shirts run a bit larger than Ibex’s, so for people with a wider frame they may fit better.
Wooly Clothing Co.: Wooly is the new kid on the block (launched in 2013). After seeing their designs, I have to say Wooly is definitely one of the coolest Merino companies. I like their fresh colors, cuts and styles.
Minus33: Minus33 is what Ibex used to be. Check out Minus33 if you want heavy, warm Merino gear for cold conditions. Style isn’t the focus; think of Bear Grylls climbing Mt. Everest.
IO Merino: IO makes versatile, high quality Merino clothing that’s designed for travel and outdoor use. I love my IO Merino long underwear.
Raffi: Raffi Shaya is known as the “King of Cashmere.” His company makes some of the highest quality merino sweaters available. If you’re looking for refined style, check out Raffi online.
Darn Tough: Everyone needs a pair of Darn Tough socks. You’ll never go back to cotton! I’ve never worn more comfortable, versatile or longer lasting socks. They work in all weather conditions and come with a lifetime guarantee!
Patagonia: All the other companies on this list offer 100% Merino clothing. While they used to make amazing 100% Merino shirts and jackets, Patagonia now mixes recycled polyester with their Merino to increase durability. The result is shirts that don’t feel as soft or comfortable to me, but they do wick moisture away better than pure Merino.
Merino wool is an eco-friendly, renewable resource provided by the hundreds of millions of Merino sheep living around the world. (Many Merino sheep live in Australia in New Zealand.) Each year, sheep naturally produce a new fleece. Merino wool is also biodegradable; when a Merino shirt is discarded in soil, it will decompose within a few years.
Merino is much softer and more elastic than other kinds of wool. Due to small pockets of air formed by its fibers, wool has the unique ability to act as a breathable insulator and can keep your body at a constant temperature in cold and hot conditions. It keeps you drier than synthetic clothing by wicking away moisture. The ability of Merino to absorb water, combined with its natural antibacterial properties, make it one of the very best odor resistant fabrics. Merino is also static resistant, stain resistant and effective at protecting your skin from UV rays.