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Merino or Synthetic base layers?
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Paul Davis
(FauxRealz) - F

Locale: East Coast
Merino or Synthetic base layers? on 10/08/2010 20:13:47 MDT Print View

I am currently in the process of rounding up a whole new (and first lightweight) collection of gear. One thing that I am wondering about is whether or not merino is a good choice for base layers.

For general three season backpacking in mild weather I plan to bring:
- 1 synthetic tee
- running shorts
- 2 pairs of socks
- down jacket
- rain/wind jacket
- rain/wind pants
- warm hat
- running hat
- and finally... a long sleeve base and a pair of tights

Ideally, would you rather have that layer be synthetic, merino, or a blend?

I appreciate your help a lot, guys. I've been posting a lot lately and I really appreciate everything.

Edited by FauxRealz on 10/08/2010 20:14:40 MDT.

Jeffs Eleven
(WoodenWizard) - F

Locale: Greater Mt Tabor
Re: Merino or Synthetic base layers? on 10/08/2010 21:47:58 MDT Print View

My vote is Merino.

As far as I am concerned its personal preference.

I can handle some dampness, and don't like to stink, so I go merino.

IMO rain pants are pointless unless its cold.

Babak Sakaki
(persianpunisher) - F
Depends on the climate on 10/08/2010 21:48:40 MDT Print View

For Dry, cold temps I use wool. When I am exerting or in humid, muggy environments, sythetic is what I use...

Amy Lauterbach
(drongobird) - MLife

Locale: San Francisco Bay Area
Re: Merino or Synthetic base layers? on 10/08/2010 22:17:26 MDT Print View

IMHO, the best article ever published on BPL was on this topic.

I've switched to wool. Depends a lot on whether you care about stink. I have hiked in a merino zip-t all day, and slept in it at night, non-stop for 10 days with no bathing, and I don't offend myself. I wear a Patagonia capeline top for one day on the trail and I find it stinky. Your mileage may vary :)

eric chan
(bearbreeder) - F
syn on 10/08/2010 23:14:37 MDT Print View

syn if its wet or cold ... merino doesnt dry as fast ...

Robert Cowman
(rcowman) - F

Locale: Canadian Rockies
merino on 10/08/2010 23:29:20 MDT Print View

+1 on merino.
more versitile that synthetic, because it is more breathable. plastic fibers only allow moisture to go around, not through. even if merino is damp or wet, still drys really fast, even faster when it's on you. even if it's wet it feels comfortable on you.

look at some of the longest expeditions

Skurka Alaska(twice)-BPL hoody and Indie hoody
arctic 1000- smartwool hoody

P. P.
(toesnorth) - F

Locale: PNW
Re: "Merino or Synthetic base layers?" on 10/08/2010 23:39:19 MDT Print View

Another vote for Merino.

Dan Durston
(dandydan) - F

Synth on 10/09/2010 00:28:19 MDT Print View

I'm all about the quick dry, so I wear the thinnest, lightest synthetic layers like the GoLite Wildwood Run Top. It's really light (ie. 2oz for a top) and you can wash one, wring it out, put it back on and it's dry in 15 min on a nice day and no more than 30 minutes in cold, humid conditions. It's so much easier to dry stuff by wearing it versus needing several hours of nice weather to hang dry it. It's true that with wool you'd need to wash it less, but quick dry is still really valuable to me for those days when it rains all day and I wind up soaked. I can sit up and read in my shelter for half an hour while my shirt dries and then go to bed in comfort. If your wool shirt gets wet you're going to need a nice window of nice weather to dry it.

Edited by dandydan on 10/09/2010 00:29:07 MDT.

Dug Shelby
(Pittsburgh) - F

Locale: Bay Area
MERINO on 10/09/2010 03:49:26 MDT Print View

Although I have heard great things about the Run Top.

I like the non-stinkiness & durablility. I have some of each, but I started out mostly with synthetic. Found out the hard way. :) And I agree with Amy, that article she posted is very meaty & informative.


Matt Lutz
(citystuckhiker) - F

Locale: Midwest
Re: Merino or Synthetic base layers? on 10/09/2010 04:28:12 MDT Print View

I vote synthetic for one reason: durability. I've had wool pill up on me. I wear Capilene 1 short/long sleeve shirts for running and have been for a few years now. They have taken a beating while running: heat/cold/UV light/repeated washings/etc and they look almost brand new.

You'll have to deal with a stink factor, so the longer the expedition, the more likely you'll want wool e.g. my R1 hoody is pretty gnarly after a four days.

ben wood

Locale: flatlands of MO
Re: Merino or Synthetic base layers? on 10/09/2010 08:54:47 MDT Print View

well like others have said - the stink factor

myself? depends - i'm a pretty stinky guy, so the wool really helps and i take it on anything other than an overnight. that said, the capilene line is my favorite, i almost always wear my cap2 for running, hiking, just around, and sometimes for overnights. it does stink considerably more, but its superduper tough, like someone else mentioned.

if i were doing a thru-hike or something long, i would definately go with the wool, its comfortable, washes well in the wild and you wont offend yourself as much.

personal preference maybe, but i wouldn't worry too much about the cold wet issue with wool, just don't wash your shirt when its 30deg out. i wash mine at the hottest part of the day if at all

Diplomatic Mike

Locale: Under a bush in Scotland
Merino + on 10/09/2010 09:54:05 MDT Print View

Merino for me.
I vary the thickness depending on temps expected.
My usual hiking area can be very windy, so merino has an added benefit, apart from the well known anti-stink properties.
With synthetics, i hate that cold feeling you get across your back when you stop, as your sweat cools instantly. I don't get that with merino.

Tom Lambrecht
(tlambrecht) - F

Locale: Front Range
merino on 10/09/2010 11:09:19 MDT Print View

I'm retooling my baselayer choices as well and favoring wool due to the stink factor--can go much longer before my spouse starts raising her eyebrows than with any of the synthetics I've tried

plus wool just "feels' better to me

Dan Durston
(dandydan) - F

Cold Feeling on 10/09/2010 11:19:42 MDT Print View

With synthetics, i hate that cold feeling you get across your back when you stop"

Yeah but that cold feeling is the synthetic shirt drying way faster. If you want to avoid this feeling, then you're using a sorta cold, damp wool shirt for significantly longer. It's a trade off but I find the synthetic much easier to live with in extended damp/rainy conditions. Wool may feel nicer in nice or medium conditions, but in extended poor conditions I find synthetic really takes the win and that's what I like to be prepared for.

Regarding the 'stink', I've never noticed significant stink from any of my baselayers...synthetic or otherwise. Maybe its just me (or my nose sucks?). I agree that wool feels slightly nicer on the skin, but to me this is a pretty minor consideration compared to weight and moisture management.

"IMHO, the best article ever published on BPL was on this topic.

This is a great article for sure, but it doesn't consider extremely light synthetic layers you can get. The synthetic fabrics tested weighed 111-133g/m2, whereas you can get synthetic shirts weighing nearly half that (60-80g/m2). Wool was 40-60% slower drying that the synthetic shirts tested, and these really light synthetic layers are way faster still. You can get wool shirts a bit lighter than the ones tested, but not radically so.

For me, staying dry (or getting dry) out there is really important. With wool once I get it wet, I find it very difficult to get dry if the conditions are humid and rainy. In nice conditions it works well, but when it's sloppy out I get tired of being damp for several days.

My strategy is to use the lightest, thinnest, fastest drying synthetic baselayer. If I need insulation I'll layer my wind shirt and/or insulating clothing over top. Even in the winter I use the thinnest stuff. I can ski tour up a slope and get totally sweaty and then at the top I can stand in the breeze on the ridge in my shirt (and get really chilly) for about 3 minutes and then my shirt is dry and I get layer up and hang out in total comfort. In wool I'm damp all day.

...just my opinions. It depends in the conditions you're hiking in but I like to always be prepared for the worst.

Edited by dandydan on 10/09/2010 11:27:05 MDT.

Diplomatic Mike

Locale: Under a bush in Scotland
Re:"Merino or Synthetic base layers?" on 10/09/2010 11:41:43 MDT Print View

Staying perfectly 'dry' isn't important to me. Staying comfortable is.

Scotland isn't known for nice or medium conditions. I've worn a merino base for 11 days without any discomfort. I'm old enough to remember the horrible stinky, slimy polypropylene layers.

Edited by MikefaeDundee on 10/09/2010 11:45:43 MDT.

Dug Shelby
(Pittsburgh) - F

Locale: Bay Area
"Or my nose sucks." on 10/09/2010 12:51:17 MDT Print View

Hahahaha...I don't know why, but that just came across as pretty hilarious! :)

Brett Peugh
(bpeugh) - F - M

Locale: Midwest
merino and others on 10/09/2010 13:02:55 MDT Print View

I used to worry about the whole staying dry thing but then I realized that I don't soak my shirts through and I also take a rain jacket. The most I ever do usually is get the pits wet unless it is very hot out at which point I don't care if the shirt is wet.

Poly and my body have this weird tendency to stink within a day also. Right now I am using 50/50 stuff for above 70F and Ibex Indie Hoody for below. They work nice and can be layered. The 50/50 stuff does end up stinking after a few days but I bring two Ts and alternate while washing. Those viscose rayon Hawaiian shirts work well also as they dry super fast and are very light.

Dan Durston
(dandydan) - F

Dry on 10/09/2010 13:27:04 MDT Print View

I should clarify, my goal here isn't to stay dry (although that's always nice). It's to be able to dry off after getting wet, instead of being stuck in a wet/damp state for days.

Sometimes getting wet is pretty much unavoidable. Right now in Japan, Glen Van Peski & that crew are facing 1.5" of rain per hour while scrambling up steep trails. Even with rain gear, I bet most of those guys are soaked. Being able to deal with getting soaked is more important than trying to never let it happen.

If living in a somewhat damp state for days in a merino layer works for you then great. I prefer quickly returning to being dry with a super quick dry shirt.

Edited by dandydan on 10/09/2010 13:29:26 MDT.

eric chan
(bearbreeder) - F
comments on 10/09/2010 13:51:26 MDT Print View

a few points

1. syn does dry out quicker than merino ... simple fact ... there are time when you're in minus 20 C weather with a soaked baselayer layer from yr sweat, and you need to dry out without taking off your layers ... ie climbing

2. in a PROPER base layer the slower drying properties of wool shouldnt matter too much IF the wool is thin ... i really dont get all these thick wool base layers ... because

3. the purpose of a base layer is to wick away moisture from to the outer layers, thus thinner is better ... if you want warmth ,,, wear a thicker insulating layer ... i see a lot of people buy thick merino and use it like a light sweater

4. most people i see with wool "base layers" are doing it wrong .. they buy baggy merino, which while not as revealing, defeats the purpose of a base layer ... it should be close to SKIN TIGHT to wick away moisture ... it doesnt matter how unflattering yr big belly is under that merino top ... size it tight

so in summary i use both ... but to get the max performance from wool size it thin and tight

loose fitting and thick merino ... you might as well wear a fleece, itll dry quicker

just my experience

Edited by bearbreeder on 10/09/2010 13:52:02 MDT.

Diplomatic Mike

Locale: Under a bush in Scotland
Merino on 10/09/2010 14:12:09 MDT Print View

"3. the purpose of a base layer is to wick away moisture from to the outer layers, thus thinner is better ... if you want warmth ,,, wear a thicker insulating layer ... i see a lot of people buy thick merino and use it like a light sweater

Sorry Eric, but i disagree with you.
The purpose of a baselayer is to feel comfortable next to skin.
Some folk might prefer to feel cold and dry, i like to feel warm, and maybe damp.
Wool os exothermic, so it should keep you at whatever temp you are at.