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Merino Wool As Midlayer and Not Just Base Layer
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(mountainwalker) - MLife

Locale: SF Bay Area & New England
Merino Wool As Midlayer and Not Just Base Layer on 02/22/2006 13:44:58 MST Print View

Anyone have any experience with merino wool as a midlayer and not just as a base layer? Can anyone recommend any lightweight midlayer options? Or would you recommend sticking with fleece midlayers?

I find merino base layers (I use the Ibex Pacifica and Woolies Zip tops and bottoms) best thing since apple pie (almost), but have stayed with fleece midlayers for the weight savings. For my main midlayer I use a Patagonia outlet special makeup R2 without the stretch panels and without the chest pocket yet with higher loft than is available on the R2 today (and only $29). The piece weighs 12 ounces in Medium (it's oversized and really a Large cut) and has quite a bit of loft. It's similar in loft to Patagonia's Body Rug pullover. I also use a large powerstretch zip top about 10 ounces and a windpro top of about 14 ounces.

Can anyone comment on merino as a midlayer? Can anyone recommend light merino midlayers offering similar warmth?

Roger B
(rogerb) - MLife

Locale: Here and there
Re: Merino Wool As Midlayer and Not Just Base Layer on 02/22/2006 14:17:33 MST Print View

I prefer the BPL Possum Down Jumper as a mid layer coupled, when necessary with a Montane Solo Gillet (Vest) probably similar to a Montbell vest. I use Icebreaker Merino as my base layer

This arrangement has kept me warm into the lower 20's

James Hemphill
(jhemp_00) - F
wool vs synthetic on 02/22/2006 16:31:16 MST Print View

After a year of switching to a all wool line up for my backpacking woredrobe I have come to some conclusions.
First off, I spend at least 15 days of each month out in the Gila mountains backpacking around. (I'm artist/house painter with lots of free time). I wanted to switch to a all natural fibers for philosophical reasons. I felt it would be better to wear an all natural product than plastics.
Well what I concluded was that wool is great for a light weight base layer and thats about it. I used Ibex woolies and Zepher tops. They dried out somewhat fast and were very comfortable in a wide range of temps. The best thing was they diddnt start to smell bad after a day or two. I could wear the tops for a week without getting much odor in them. I would wear a synthetic top(Patagonia capaline) and after a few hours they would reak! So I am sold on wool for my thin lightweight base layers. No more synthetics.
Now, when it came to wool as my mid and outer layer tops I was much less impressed! I used the Ibex shak jersey and full zip, and Ibex Neve Jacket(Softshell w/ wool). First off, if you get heavier wool tops wet in the winter they will take forever to dry. Days to dry! I know wool still keeps you warm when it is wet, but it's wet and feels wet to wear and you will get cold. I would much rather have a plastic fleece top that dries out super fast. I can even wash a fleece in a stream and have it dry in a few hours or so. Cant do that with wool. Wool just dries too slow in the heavier weights.
If you dont think you'll sweat too much, or get them wet from snow or rain, then go for it.
On the plus side, I wasnt afraid of sitting close to the fire with my wool tops on. Many a fleece have met thier maker by the campfire!!!!!

Thats my 50 cents
james Hemphill

Michael Abrahams
(MikeTheDigital) - F
Re: wool vs synthetic on 02/22/2006 22:11:37 MST Print View

I have come to similar conclusions. I recently bought an Ibex merino wool midlayer and am impressed with the quality. But i'm not too impressed with the functionality, especially for the weight. Merino wool base layers are where its at! I will stick with fleece for now as a midlayer.

Robert Miller
(procab) - F
Re: Merino Wool As Midlayer and Not Just Base Layer on 02/22/2006 22:14:02 MST Print View

I tried this last year on an overnighter on snowshoes. I used a lightweight sweater that weighs 12oz. It took too long to dry IMO. Even after setting up camp and cooking it was still damp. In order to dry it I took it in my sleeping bag with me. I layed it over my torso to warm it and vented the moist air frequently in an effort (successful) to keep my bag dry. Combined with regularly flipping the sweater over to warm the opposite side I was able to dry it in a couple of hours.

I became a big proponent of merino wool as a base layer after reading of its virtues at BPL in '02 or '03 and subsequently giving it a whirl.


Vick Hines
(vickrhines) - F

Locale: Central Texas
Re: Re: Merino Wool As Midlayer and Not Just Base Layer on 02/23/2006 11:33:22 MST Print View

Maybe the problem is the type of wool that is now popular. Everyone seems to be going to Merino - probably because it isn't itchy. But it behaves differently from regular raw wool because it is softer (read that as 'less loft') and wilts faster when wetted. Admittedly, no one by a total masochist would wear any other wool for underwear.

I've had very good luck with oiled conventional wool in loose-knit and cable-knit sweaters for mid-layer. Their only problem is they are too hot above freezing when I'm moving hard. Oiled wool takes forever to wet out - you can go for a while in the rain without protection - but like all wool, once it finally gets soaked, it dries slowly. On the other hand, in a loose knit, it insulates pretty well when wet.

A historical note. In pre-synthetic times when wool was king folks went two different ways in making outdoor gear. The European way was to weave tight fabrics and then felt them to make windproof, water-resistant gear - such as Melton jackets. The North American way was to weave or knit loosely to create more dead air pockets in a fabric that was lighter in weight but had to be protected with a shell.

(mountainwalker) - MLife

Locale: SF Bay Area & New England
merino as midlayer; merino softshells on 02/24/2006 10:06:04 MST Print View

Thanks Roger, James, Michael, Robert and Vick,

You confirmed what I was thinking. My high loft outlet R2 fleece is super warm with a 3 ounce windshirt or light softshell (15 ounce Patagonia Stretch Krushell, same jacket as Ready Mix) or hardshell over it, and a thin light merino baselayer under it provides the comfort. That fleece top, which is like a thick synthetic fur, only weighs 12 ounces, is super durable and dries out super fast. Merino as a midlayer just didn't make sense to me.

I'd also have to agree about the merino softshell jackets as well. I was a bit suprised by the high kudos BPL lavished on them, though I like that merino is a renewable resource and think the material has more potential. I have the same two Ibex jackets, but find they're much more suited to casual use. They are not as functional or versatile as my 15 oz. Patagonia Stretch Krushell. They are not very water resistant, don't provide much warmth in high wind without a windshirt under or over them because they are very air permeable, take longer to dry out and don't have a hood. And with a shell over them, they are also not as warm as a high loft synthetic midlayer like my fleece.

I could only see using the Neve in a very high abrasion situation, like rock/ice climbing/bushwacking, but I think the Krushell/Ready Mix handles abrasion quite well for the weight (though I wouldn't use it bushwacking). I use my Neve as a 3 season around town jacket. I sometimes use my icefall for hiking, and use it as an around town late spring, summer and very early fall jacket. You can extend the range of the Icefall by using a light windshirt under it to slow evaporative cooling and give you much more wind-resistance. The Icefall does breathe very well, so if you're using it in dry weather, it will be very comfortable in high exertion activity, like fast hiking. Another plus - merino softshells fight off stink 10x better than any softshell with synthetic knit on the inside, like capiline.

Lightest merino softshell combo I like - my merino baselayer (Ibex pacifica or woolies about 7 ounces) plus my 3 ounce windshirt (Patagonia Houdini). I think a great, light softshell or winter shirt combo would be a light merino layer laminated to a light windshirt layer. Anyone ever see anything like this?

(mountainwalker) - MLife

Locale: SF Bay Area & New England
A thumbs up though for Merino softshell pants on 02/24/2006 10:43:53 MST Print View

I will add one super kudos for Ibex and merino softshell - every bit of BPL's postive review of Ibex's guidelite pants was deserved, which are supposed to be made of the same climalite merino wool-nylon mix used in the Neve or Icefall. 15 ounces. I get tremendous use out of these pants - they feel comfortable in 30-65F, and can be worn easily in colder weather with the addition of a wool baselayer underneath. (Only in extremely cold windy and wet conditions do I use my Mammut Castor pants instead). You can wear the Ibex Guidelite for days on end without suffering serious stinkage. They are very durable and stretch very well.

Vick Hines
(vickrhines) - F

Locale: Central Texas
Re: A thumbs up though for Merino softshell pants on 02/24/2006 12:13:24 MST Print View

Let's hope someone wakes up and listens about natural fiber garments. Properly designed fabric can match synthetics in performance.

And I agree with you about renewables... unless your fleece is recycled pop bottles....

Wool fabric design ideas:
My mom used to knit anything I asked for, but nothing lasts forever. Imagine a sweater-vest weighing 7 oz. made with very 'hard', stiff, high-loft, kinky wool wrapped on a strong wool core then loosely knitted into almost a fishnet. Boy! that was a warm pullover. Maybe I should take up knitting. It worked because ALL you need for good insulation is something that can keep the outside and inside layers apart with enough fibers that the boundary layer of every fiber is touching the boundary layers of the adjacent fibers. Since the boundary layer is pretty thick - 1/16 inch, if I remember rightly - it does not take a high fiber density to achieve effective insulation. That's how loosely knitted wool works. But it has to be the hard, itchy, stiff kinky kind of wool to do that, and such wool has to be combined with a stronger, long stapled, smooth yarn such as Merino,linen, or ..uh.. polyester because otherwise, its yarns are too weak for hard use. And such garments need to be inside a shell anyway because their low fiber density presents no resistence to the wind whatsoever.

(mountainwalker) - MLife

Locale: SF Bay Area & New England
kinky wool + smooth inner layer and thin outside wind layer on 02/26/2006 21:56:54 MST Print View

That sounds like an excellent idea. Let's see if we can get Ibex, Smartwool or Icebreaker to whip that up, or is there any enterprising person out there willing to go for it? You do it well and I'll be the first to buy and endorse.

Edited by mountainwalker on 02/26/2006 21:58:01 MST.

Kesson Reid
(Kesson) - F
Re: Re: Re: Merino Wool As Midlayer and Not Just Base Layer on 03/06/2006 20:14:56 MST Print View

Here is my two cents worth.

I am using Icebreaker Skin 200 as a base layer and the Interstate full zip as my mid layer and I would take it anyday over synthetic.
1. A lot less bulk, as I would compare its warmth to at least 200 weight fleece with nowhere near the bulk.
2. I feel alot more comfortable in a larger variety of temps even when wet (and I don't see drying time as much of an issue), plus less smell, I find it less static and it looks less technical but still does the job.
3. The only issues I can see so far are the price and maybe durability, but if you look after it or if you have lots of cash I doubt that it will much of an issue for the comfort you will get over the lifetime of the garment.

(mountainwalker) - MLife

Locale: SF Bay Area & New England
wool versus synthetic midlayer on 03/07/2006 09:35:57 MST Print View

Hi Kesson,

I'd agree with you on the next to skin layer. But after having tested a Smartwool merino midlayer, and polling lots of friends who've tried wool, I'd have to disagree on the midlayer.

1) the next to skin layer is going to pretty much match the weight of the synthetic, match drying time and offer the same warmth but with more comfort over a wider range of temps and with less smell. Next to skin merino is far superior to synthetic. Hands down.

2) every merino wool midlayer I've seen and have seen friends using weighs more for the same warmth and takes much longer to dry than a high loft fleece midlayer. High loft is the key here - you can get an 11-12 ounce very high loft fleece jacket (like the Patagonia Body Rug pullover or my outlet special makeup R2 jacket that has the same loft with a full zip for only 12 ounces) that offers more warmth and dries much much faster than any wool midlayer. You can practically shake all the water out of a high loft shag type of fleece.

I wish this weren't true, because I love the properties of merino wool and I it's important to me that it's a renewable resource. FYI A standard 200 weight fleece jacket is no where near as high loft as these pieces and typically weighs a lot more.

3) I find that with a merino next to skin layer under a synthetic layer, I get the benefits of the merino and the weight benefits of the synthetic midlayer. I get the comfort over a wide range of temps benefit and my fleece midlayer smells a lot less because of the anti-bacterial properties of the merino next to skin layer. And when the fleece does need a washing, I throw it in the washer without a care and it comes out unscathed very time. Durabiilty is not the issue because I take very good care of my gear and it lasts me for many years.

That's why you'll find some special forces using wool for next to skin, but not for midlayers when they have access to high loft fleece and low weight wind resistant powerstretch.

4) Wool has it's own smell when wet, you get used to it, but it's a strong smell. No big deal in a next to skin layer, because it dries fast as a result of body heat, but a wool midlayer will stay wet for a long time and have that wet wool smell for a long time.

5) I will pay for quality, functionality and better performance, but in the midlayer, the wool is not yet offering that. With entry of a lot more companies into wool next year, hopefully we'll see some worthwhile innovation in wool garment design that will bring up the performance and keep the weight down.

That said, it's great that you found a wool midlayer piece that offers you enough warmth and performance for the weight. I'll try to check out the Interstate. How much does it weigh?

Kesson Reid
(Kesson) - F
Re: wool versus synthetic midlayer on 03/07/2006 16:30:29 MST Print View

Not sure on the weight, the weight wasn't listed on their website, its called Upstate not Interstate to which I referred to it in my last post sorry about that, I was close. Comparing it to my size Med. Arcteryx Covert Collar Zip which is somewhere around 16oz , I would say it weights less than that and nowhere near the loft. I agree the higher loft performance fleece will be warmer when it gets colder but for spring /fall and anything above 20F I think I would still prefer my Upstate as the bulk is not there and I find I am more mobile, especially under a shell.I haven't gotten it wet yet so I don't know how long it will take to dry but its pretty thin so I can't see it taking to long to dry with body heat.


Edited by Kesson on 03/07/2006 19:12:50 MST.