It’s that time of year when you’re thinking about the winter season just around the corner, but not quite ready to get off your bike yet. I tested out six Merino tops ranging from 34% to 100% Merino fabric, and a pair of socks for good measure. These active Merino tops will have you sorted to shred in all conditions.
What is Merino wool anyway?
Merino wool comes from Merino sheep that graze in Australia and New Zealand. The Merino breed has been used to make this super soft and fine thread since the 12th century, and it’s not the itchy wool fabric you remember from growing up.
Merino wool stands above synthetic or cotton materials because of all its technical and unique qualities. The material is known for its natural, climate-regulating properties and excellent breathability qualities that result in performance and comfort.
There are many unique qualities and benefits to Merino wool:
- Moisture management
- Heating and cooling properties
- Strength and durability
- Natural odor resistance
With that said, it is no surprise that Merino wool is expensive. Shopping for Merino-based apparel does take a bit of research to get the most out of the investment. However, for those with active lifestyles, it is often worth the expense as the apparel generally lasts for years, which is welcome news for mountain bikers who put a lot of wear and tear on their clothing. Even though Merino wool is primarily designed for performance, it’s also really comfortable for everyday wear.
As Showers Pass puts it, “the one challenge in owning Merino wool clothing is the special care necessary to maximize its lifespan. If washed and treated properly, it can last many years. If not, you might find yourself questioning the high cost.”
I tested out various Merino pieces ranging from 34% to 100% Merino fabric. As my first impression review, I was able to feel some key differences that set each piece apart from the others. What is really great about this mountain biking specific Merino apparel is the crossover potential to be used for other outdoor activities year-round.
Kitsbow Lory Merino Top
The Kitsbow Lory Merino Top is a stylish long sleeve with a Merino and polyester blend that makes this a perfect long sleeve to wear as a baselayer or all on its own.
The Merino interior will help keep body temperature regulated and odors at bay, while the exterior polyester makes it a breathable top.
In terms of fit, this long sleeve is form-fitting but not skin-tight, which makes it comfortable and does not restrict any arm movements while out riding. It has a longer backside to keep your back from catching any cold air. As with any base layer, there isn’t much room for elbow pads underneath, but this shirt would be great for more casual rides.
A nice detail is the snap button closures that help with airflow while climbing and can be easily snapped shut when descending through chillier sections of the ride. The snaps also add a stylish element to show off on the trails.
Kitsbow produces high quality outdoor apparel and they are unique in their Made to Order approach, which aims to minimize waste. Each product will be made/sewn in the US when you buy it. They will repair any apparel for a reasonable charge, if possible, or help you get back into Kitsbow apparel in some other way.
The Kitsbow Lory Merino Top has quickly become one of my favorite shirts for this colder season because it will keep me riding and outdoors through the elements, and looks quite good on and off the bike.
At a glance
- Fabric: 34%, 16.5 micron Merino (next to skin) 66% polyester (facing the elements)
- Distinguishing features: Snap button closure at front
- Fit: Form Fitting
- Colors: Blue Ash, Black, Titanium, Oxblood Heather, Cedar (tested), Black Heather
- MSRP: $125.
Showers Pass Women’s Apex Merino Tech T-shirt
The Showers Pass Apex Merino Tech T-shirt has a simple and clean design, while offering high quality performance made with a combination of Merino wool and nylon.
This tee has a classic look while providing the seemingly magical Merino wool properties of antimicrobial protection from odors, natural breathability, and stretch. The material is very soft and feels lightweight. It offers plenty of airflow and wicks away moisture, keeping you dry during hotter days. I tested this during an 80-ish degree heatwave, and even after a sweaty and dusty day, it was impressive that the tee stayed relatively dry and did not smell. Showers Pass offers a warning on their website that you can “expect the Apex to shrink 1-2% after washing. With gentle stretching or regular wear, the garment will relax back to its original size.” Their page dedicated to care instructions can help clear up any doubts about caring for Showers Pass Merino wool apparel.
In terms of fit, the relaxed fit claim is accurate. It has the familiar t-shirt fit and feel, with added features like UPF 40 sun protection and flatlock stitching on the side panels that help prevent chafing, unlike traditional seams. It is designed with a longer back for coverage while riding. Of course, the short sleeves allow for easy elbow protection and excellent ventilation.
According to Jeremy from Showers Pass, the Apex tech tee comes with a 1-year guarantee. “We pride ourselves on customer satisfaction and want our customers to be happy with their gear, so we are always going to go above and beyond in this arena and find a win-win solution if and when issues arise.”
Overall the simplistic design combined with the high performance Merino threads, makes the Showers Pass Apex Merino Tech T-shirt a great go-to choice for warmer temperature rides or any outdoor activity your heart desires.
At a glance
- Fabric: 87% Merino Wool / 13% Nylon blend
- Distinguishing features: UPF 40 sun protection
- Fit: Regular Fit
- Colors: Hollyhock, Clay (tested), Dark Shadow, Strong Blue
- MSRP: $75. Men’s and women’s styles available from Moosejaw. There’s also a long-sleeve version at Competitive Cyclist.
Pearl Izumi Women’s Merino Thermal Long Sleeve Baselayer
The Pearl Izumi Women’s Merino Thermal Longsleeve Baselayer is the thickest/heaviest base layer in this roundup, weighing 250g/m2. Temperatures in the Bay Area are starting to drop, so I tested this out during sunset rides at around 54° F along with my Pearl Izumi Windshell, and it was a great combination that kept me warm and dry throughout.
This is a minimalistic long sleeve design with integrated thumb loops at the sleeves to keep them in place and blocking the cold air. If you are a heavy sweater, the polyester interior helps keep skin dry, while at the same time the Merino wool exterior provides insulation.
The form-fitting thermal makes for an excellent base layer underneath your favorite wind shell or vest. The sizing guide put me at a size large and the fit was true to size. Despite it being almost skin-tight, the base layer did not restrict movement during my test rides and I felt it had just enough stretch. The thermal has a shorter front with a longer back, which many will appreciate to keep the warmth in during rides.
A downside to the fit was that the front started to roll up slightly during my ride because it was a bit short. It would be nice if the front was slightly longer to prevent rolling. However, once I zipped up my wind shell, it stayed in place. Obviously, because of the cut, it is very difficult to fit any sort of elbow protection underneath the sleeves, which seems to make this thermal geared as a base layer to wear for more casual and less aggressive rides. A quick note – the tag is sewn on the outside, and is removable. Make sure to take note of this before you think you are wearing it inside out.
The Pearl Izumi Thermal Long Sleeve is definitely made for cold days and provides a good balance of moisture-wicking breathability and thermal warmth. This makes it a great base layer underneath your favorite wind shell so chilly days won’t keep you indoors.
At a glance
- Fabric: 65% recycled polyester, 35% merino wool
- Distinguishing features: Thumb loops, Recycled Repreve® XS Polyester technical fibers are made from recycled plastic water bottles.
- Fit: Form fitting
- Colors: Phantom (tested)
- MSRP: $110, available at Competitive Cyclist
Patagonia Women’s Merino 3/4-Sleeved Bike Jersey
The Patagonia Women’s Merino ¾-Sleeved Bike Jersey was made to be a versatile addition to your MTB wardrobe, as the Merino will provide a layer of warmth during chilly rides but also make an excellent breathable jersey in warmer temperatures.
The Patagonia Merino ¾-Sleeved Jersey offers the best of both worlds, with its material designed to keep your body temperature regulated; it’ll keep in the warmth during chilly rides and also wick away sweat when temperatures start to rise. The Merino wool prevents bad odors and keeps you dry even after long hours of wear. I tested this out during an 80-degree, hour-long ride, wore it on a day trip with no AC, and for a casual walk and was extremely impressed that it did NOT smell! I was amazed by how long it took before I finally felt I had to wash it.
This jersey has an overall relaxed and flattering fit for a very comfortable feel. The back is longer than the front and provides good coverage while on the bike. I really like that the ¾ sleeves are loose enough to fit my G-Form elbow pads without any trouble, while also being long enough to keep out chilly winds.
It’s also worth mentioning that the jersey is certified to Responsible Wool Standard (RWS), which ensures protection for both the animals that supply the wool as well as the land they graze on.
Patagonia guarantees everything they make, so if you are not satisfied or the product does not perform to your satisfaction, you can return it to the store you bought it from or to Patagonia for a repair, replacement, or refund in what they call their “ironclad guarantee.” They claim that wear and tear damage can be repaired for a fee.
The Patagonia Merino 3/4-Sleeved Bike Jersey can be worn as a standalone jersey or as a base layer during fall and winter rides and the casual fit makes it easy to wear this off the bike too.
At a glance
- Fabric: 3.4-oz 65% RWS-certified merino wool/35% recycled polyester
- Distinguishing features: Made with certified Responsible Wool Standard (RWS)
- Fit: Regular Fit
- Colors: Black (tested), Hyssop Purple
- MSRP: $99, available at Backcountry.com
Icebreaker Merino Oasis Base Layer
The Icebreaker 200 Oasis Crew is made of 100% Merino (the only 100% Merino top in this roundup), making this a lightweight, insulating, yet breathable long sleeve featuring the almost ‘too good to be true’ merino wool properties. Beyond its performance features, Merino wool fiber is naturally renewable, recyclable, and biodegradable.
It’s worth mentioning that Icebreaker has a deep-rooted history and is a pioneering company in the Merino wool industry. What began in 1995 with an idea from a 24-year-old man named Jeremy Moon led to various pioneering achievements, such as becoming the first company in the world to establish long-term contracts with key Merino wool growers in 1997, and later become the first company to print graphics on Merino wool in 2006. Their full story is on their website.
The Oasis Crew is form-fitting but not overly snug and offers a relaxed and flattering fit in the torso area. The sleeves are a tad looser than your typical base layer, but it would still be difficult to fit any elbow protection underneath. The Oasis Crew also offers the drop hem design for back coverage, similar to other biking tops. This long sleeve is probably best used as a base layer, perhaps under a wind shell jacket or vest for casual, less aggressive rides.
An interesting feature on the Icebreaker website is their interactive sizing guide they call “Fit Finder.” I was very impressed with the survey-like questionnaire, a welcomed contrast to the standard size chart. The “Fit Finder” asks to input your height and weight measurements, and belly shape including flatter, average, I don’t know, or curvier. Then it asks your hip shape from straighter, average, or wider, then bra size, age, and lastly your fit preference between tighter, average, or looser. Then, it will recommend your size based on data from other people similar to you and whether they returned the top or not. For me, the “Fit Finder” recommended a large size, and it ended up being accurate to my preferences.
Since this top is made of 100% Merino wool, it’s important to pay attention to the care instructions in order to get the most life out of the Oasis Crew. During my Merino research, I learned that the reason there are not as many merino wool pants or sports apparel on the market is that Merino wool is actually not very stretchy and eventually breaks or tears. There are many claims of holes in merino shirts’ elbows or armpits over time. Luckily, Icebreaker offers a warranty on all products and will replace an icebreaker garment within a year of purchase if it has been damaged by faulty fabric, stitching, or manufacturing.
When all is said and done, the Oasis Crew will keep you warm while out and about in cold environments, and also keep you dry by wicking away sweat and moisture, making this a great base layer for riding during the colder seasons, and is even wearable for other indoor and outdoor activities.
At a glance
- Fabric: 100% Merino Wool
- Distinguishing features: 100% merino wool
- Fit: Slim fit
- Colors: Snow, Nightfall, Redwood (tested)
- MSRP: $105. Available at REI and Backcountry.
Pearl Izumi Women’s BLVD Merino Vest
So, I’ve covered a mix of merino short sleeve, 3/4 sleeves, and long sleeves but what about ‘no sleeves’?
The Pearl Izumi Merino Vest is made with high-quality, lightweight Merino and nylon materials that provide warmth in an active package. For riders who need just a bit more warmth for early morning, night rides, or icy cold winter days (non Californians), this vest is a great addition. Pair it with a base layer for casual bike rides and even activities out of the saddle.
The Merino wool (18.5-micron fine Merino to be exact) provides insulation to keep the rider very cozy while at the same time helping dissipate enough heat to keep temperatures under control. I tested this vest on a few 55-60° chilly morning casual rides (my CA version of chilly), and it provided more than enough warmth and insulation to get me working up a sweat, while at the same time the Merino properties also let my chest breathe somehow. I was pleasantly surprised the Merino claims held true! I love that I can wear this off the bike as well, and the vest even has the potential to dress it up.
I found the relaxed fit claim to be true, with detailing throughout the vest designed to give a non-boxy look. The style is what makes this vest easy to wear almost anywhere. When zipped all the way up, the collar did not get in the way of my helmet chin strap and the interior was very comfortable and soft against my neck.
This functional vest also has the bonus features of having zip up pockets (my favorite!) for storing a phone, car keys, or favorite snacks. The vest also included some BioViz reflective elements on the shoulders to be visible during your sunset and nighttime adventures.
Pearl Izumi says that if a product fails due to a manufacturing or materials defect, even after extended use, the company will replace it with a like product, or repair it to restore the original function without charge. The vest’s high quality and Pearl Izumi’s warranty give me confidence that the price is justified.
The Pearl Izumi Merino Vest is a great addition for riders looking for some extra warmth and a casual look, with the added luxury and performance properties of Merino wool.
At a glance
- Pockets: Two zippered hand pockets
- Fabric: 57% merino wool, 43% nylon. Outer: 100% polyester
- Distinguishing features: Two zip up pockets, reflective shoulders
- Fit: Relaxed Fit
- Colors: Forest (tested)
- MSRP: $190. On sale for $133 at Performance at the time of publication.
Swiftwick PURSUIT Four Ultralight Socks
And finally, if you’re in the market for Merino apparel this season, there are also sock options. The Swiftwick Pursuit Four Ultralight Socks claim to be “the best socks you will ever wear. Guaranteed.” I’ve tested these out for a couple of weeks and I am pleased with them so far. I am looking forward to testing them in the summer months next year.
These socks feel thin and breathable while at the same time durable. These Merino Wool socks helped keep my feet dry all day even after a morning ride and running errands. The cuff height is below the calf which makes it ideal for biking or hiking out on the trails. The socks are made of a blend of 48% Merino Wool, 28% Nylon, 13% Olefin, and 11% Spandex.
What makes these socks great is that they can be worn year-round, keeping you warm in the cold, and cool in the heat. Pick your favorite color and enjoy the moisture-wicking socks.