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October 31, 2017 1:13 PM   Subscribe

What is the best merino wool t-shirt? I'm looking for helping narrowing down the options.

I've made the move to wool socks and underwear and I love them! Merino keeps me heat-, odor-, and comfort-controlled. Now I'm interested in wool t-shirts for casual use.

I've searched and found lots of companies (SmartWool, Icebreaker, Outlier, Olivers, Wool & Prince, and more). I love the durability of my DarnTough socks - if only they made shirts too!

I'm willing to invest if it's a super high quality piece of clothing, up to ~$100/shirt. Does price correlate with quality? What about softness or durability? Is 100% wool best? I'm browsing men's black t-shirts, but I'm open to all thoughts. Thanks!
posted by Mr Yak to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (12 answers total) 18 users marked this as a favorite
I have Icebreaker merino tees that I love. I balked at spending $45 apiece, but they got me through a month-long trip to Europe with simple hand washing, gently rolling in a towel, and hanging to dry overnight.

Icebreaker is the only company I've bought from, but I have no complaints about quality or durability. They are soft, too - I am very sensitive to wool but I didn't scratch at all in their tees.

If I was going to buy another merino tee, I'd go with a superwash wool - they are softer and easier to care for, and I'm not sure but they may be able to be dried in the dryer.
posted by onecircleaday at 1:22 PM on October 31, 2017 [1 favorite]

I've got some SmartWool stuff I really love, but it's not cheap either. And I'd be SUPER SUPER WARY of putting any of this stuff in the dryer.
posted by uberchet at 1:58 PM on October 31, 2017

SmartWool is the best if you're able/willing to spend on it. I have no problem running their products through the washer and dryer over and over again.

But $105 for a shirt is a lot.
posted by dis_integration at 2:08 PM on October 31, 2017

WoolX has the best durability as far as I can tell. I was researching pants (long underwear), not t-shirts, but reports seemed very consistent.

But merino wool is quite prone to abrasion and snags. People frequently report that they get small holes in the garment for no reason (not moths, just like the patch wore through or rubbed away). For long-term durability, get a polyester-wool blend. I really like my Rab Meco 120 tee. Still really warm, can put it in the dryer, no holes, no smell.

For lower prices, Ebay can sometimes have good deals. That's where I got the above tee for $20 instead of $45.
posted by danceswithlight at 2:08 PM on October 31, 2017 [1 favorite]

I've noticed no major difference in durability between my Icebreaker and Smartwool, but have had less success with Ibex t-shirts. John Smedley stuff holds up really well, too. I was it all in my washing machine's wool cycle and dry it flat on a sweater rack. The shirts get pretty heavy wear in my daily life and I have one Icebreaker tank dress that I've worn weekly for a couple years now which looks great, Easily one of my best cost per wear purchases, ever.
posted by crush at 3:14 PM on October 31, 2017 [1 favorite]

Patagonia has some very good quality wool blend shirts, and they come basically guaranteed for life. I have 2 that I wear in regular rotation, and they don't hold onto odor, and I can throw them in the dryer if I'm in a hurry.
posted by suelac at 3:42 PM on October 31, 2017 [2 favorites]

Second call for Patagonia- I wore a black merino shirt from there for 30 days straight (washing by hand every night)....I've also had Patagonia thermal underwear for approx 15 years... their stuff is great.
posted by bquarters at 3:52 PM on October 31, 2017

Of all my various wool (or mostly wool) shirts, undershirts, etc., my go-to favorites are still Icebreaker and Smartwool. For really thin, light undershirts, the Icebreaker ones have a finer hand. For mid-weight undershirts and shirts, the Smartwool ones are equally nice. I definitely prefer the 100% wool ones *but* I have one Stoic shirt that has a good bit of nylon and spandex in it and it's quite nice -- it's proven to be exceptionally durable. In terms of comfort and durability, you mostly get what you pay for: shorter, rougher, or weaker fibers feel worse and wear much faster.
posted by introp at 5:39 PM on October 31, 2017 [1 favorite]

I have some strong opinions about merino t-shirts, having tried many of them over the last decade.

No t-shirt matches the durability of Darn Tough socks, but in general, they seem to be improving. Despite the allure of 100% merino, those shirts that have 5-20% nylon have exponentially increased durability.

Ibex and Smartwool are lovely, but they get holes very quickly. I keep trying, but they keep disappointing. I haven't tried the Outlier t, because I was skeptical of the issues of other brands' 100% merinos, but their products are highly regarded. Cheaper options like Terramar shrink quite a lot.

By far, the most comfortable and most durable has been the new version of Wool & Prince, which has the nylon filaments wrapped around the merino threads. It is thinner and smoother than most of the others, with a feel that is closer to duofold poly, but with the normal benefits of merino. I wore one of these 5x/week most of the summer, and it still has no holes (machine-wash, hang-dry). I previously had a first-gen 100% merino, but I found it shrank in length quickly—I imagine this has been improved, but have not tested new editions.

I also really like the Chrome t, which has a few holes after owning it for almost five years, but is a bit longer than most, targeted toward coverage when cycling. I don't see a short-sleeve version on their website.
posted by zachxman at 5:39 AM on November 1, 2017 [2 favorites]

I'd agree with Zachxman on the durability of shirts mixed with Merino and a synthetic. I've owned a shirt from Icebreaker (2 years going - wearing it today actually) and a Smartwool (for close to 10 years). The Smartwool is still wearable but if I'm not careful it can tear easily (it looks a bit like a Frankenstein monster nowadays). I preferred the fit of the Smartwool a bit more then the Icebreaker (I'm a thin but tall guy). I've had a few cheaper ones over the years - most have shrunk on me despite careful hand washing and drying so I do think you kind of get what you pay for. If you spend a lot of time outdoors and/or enjoy the cold I think they are worth it.

Saying all that, my true favorite wool shirt is a vintage Penman's wool undershirt from the 40's that I bought second hand from a Salvation Army store in Winnipeg. I doubt its made of merino but it has served me very well.
posted by Ashwagandha at 7:38 AM on November 1, 2017

Response by poster: Thanks for the suggestions! I appreciate your shared experiences and recommendations so far. I'll check these out and come back with any updates.
posted by Mr Yak at 5:07 PM on November 1, 2017

My husband and I both have icebreaker tshirts that we use for backcountry outdoor adventures, rock climbing, and around town for about three years now. They've all held up extremely well - no holes, no tears, no visible wear.
posted by Jaclyn at 12:28 PM on November 3, 2017

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