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Merino vs. Synthetic for a Thru
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Nate Powell
(powell1nj) - F

Locale: North Carolina
Merino vs. Synthetic for a Thru on 09/03/2012 15:45:03 MDT Print View


Any folks out there who've done a long-distance thru-hike (most specifically the PCT) care to comment on the best fabric choice for shirts? I like the idea of merino for the breathability and the much talked about lack of stink. Thoughts? Seems likely that a person is going to smell pretty bad either way on a thru, but my experience with merino is limited. Is merino worth the price/potential loss in durability?


michael levi
(M.L) - F

Locale: W-Never Eat Soggy (W)affles
close on 09/03/2012 15:57:44 MDT Print View

For a t-shirt I like a good synthetic, but I absolutley love merino baselayers/ underwear (150 weight).

Edit: I just like the versitility of my synthetic shirt, it seems to work better for the heat and sweaty backs. It also might dry just a bit faster.

When it gets cool merino just feels soo good because its always soft and you dont have it wash it often. When sleeping with wool it does a good job keeping my tempature regulated in my down bag. Maybe it absords the moisture that would normally be there, reducing the "sticky" feeling. Synthetic hasn't worked as well for me here.

Edited by M.L on 09/03/2012 16:07:13 MDT.

Dena Kelley

Locale: Eagle River, Alaska
Re Merino vs. Synthetic for a Thru on 09/03/2012 16:26:49 MDT Print View

I love my Merino shirts but anything lightweight in Merino seems very prone to holes, just from normal wear and washing. I've taken to babying my Merino gear by hand washing and line drying but I just don't know if it would hold up to a thru-hike the way synthetics would.

drowning in spam
(leaftye) - F

Locale: SoCal
Re: Merino vs. Synthetic for a Thru on 09/03/2012 16:33:07 MDT Print View

Depends on the synthetic. I tried to my polyester work for a while, but can't take the stink anymore. Nylon stinks too, but polyester takes it up a few notches. I also like that nylon is less likely to snag.

Scott S
(sschloss1) - F

Locale: New England
Nylon on 09/03/2012 17:01:03 MDT Print View

I wore a long-sleeved nylon shirt on the PCT, and I'll be wearing the same on the CDT. Nylon does not get particularly smelly (I went 10+ days between washings a few times, and the smell was tolerable). It's also bug proof, which you'll be thankful for in the Sierras and Oregon. Mosquitoes can bite right through most poly t-shirts.

Nate Powell
(powell1nj) - F

Locale: North Carolina
re: on 09/03/2012 18:06:11 MDT Print View

Thanks for the info everyone. Scott - can you recommend a specific brand/product for a nylon shirt? Thanks.

Warren Greer
(WarrenGreer) - F

Locale: SoCal
Nylon Long Sleeve shirt on 09/03/2012 21:23:05 MDT Print View

Rei makes a nice one. I have one of these and it is great. And bug proof versus a synthetic, which the bugs can bite right through as mentioned above.

Exofficio also makes nice lightweight l/s nylon shirts; I've used one (a loaner) and it worked great. They are more expensive but nice.

ed hyatt
(edhyatt) - MLife

Locale: The North
Merino - thru on 09/04/2012 00:33:09 MDT Print View

You could always go for the 'best of both worlds'

I have used Merino on the JMT and many European Alpine hikes of several weeks duration as well as in Scotland quite a bit. In the dryish environs of the Western US and (usually) the Alps it worked well for me. In damper conditions it can be clammy, slow to dry, and one smells a little like a sheep at times....

I've been using a mixed layer (the link above) this season and it does seem the 'best of both worlds' - does not reek (to me ;-) and dries relatively rapidly. Also pretty durable - as others have mentioned I have readily worn small holes in 120 merino base layers within a season.

I recently got some Arcteryx 'Phase' baselayers on sale - purportedly not that smelly; we'll see who runs away...

Lars Laird Iversen
(larslaird) - M
+ 1 on meco. on 09/04/2012 01:39:32 MDT Print View

I'm basically a merino man, but the meco does what it promises. More durable and dries faster than the 100% merino, but still as warm and (nearly) as comfortable. A great material! As was mentioned, the increased strenght makes it viable to get down to 120 material. To do that with merino, you have to be super careful, and it'll still get wholes pretty soon...

Serge Giachetti
(sgiachetti) - M

Locale: Boulder, CO
meco on 09/04/2012 04:03:32 MDT Print View

here to echo what others have said: meco is awesome. Has the best qualities of merino/synth-that p.retty much settles it for me. I'd get a 120 LS for a thru. If only rab had a 120 meco hoody. It'd be the perfect base. Lets petition

Martin RJ Carpenter
(MartinCarpenter) - F
Might well be sense on 09/04/2012 04:25:54 MDT Print View

In durability terms mid weight (~190ish) merino would easily cope. The problem there is that it does add a little bit of intrinsic warmth which could be something of a problem in context.

Pete Staehling
(staehpj1) - F
Wool vs tech fabrics on 09/04/2012 05:54:55 MDT Print View

You need to see what works for you. Personally, for me the no stink thing was definitely not real. The merino stuff I used was some of the stinkiest gear I have worn. I find that some of my synthetics tend to get stinkier than others, so I take the ones that have proven to be less so on longer trips.

I also find that any wool I have had soaks up a lot of moisture and gets heavy. It also dries very slowly. In much of the west the drying may not be an issue though since you may not experience as much humidity. In the Appalachians the wool stuff seemed to never dry.

As a caveat I'll add that the majority of my experience is with bicycle touring rather than backpacking, but I have crossed the US a couple times and have done a number of other long tours so I think much of that experience is similar to a through hike in this regard.

John Zahorian
(johnzahorian) - F
ibex merino on the pct on 09/04/2012 10:01:54 MDT Print View

I used Ibex Woolies top and bottom on the PCT (ls shirt and long underwear) and they got torn up. Someone gave me a cotton short sleeve shirt in NorCal and I used that the rest of the time. My experience is that it doesn't matter too much.

If you were going to an area where you would be wearing more than one layer for most of the day, a merino wool baselayer would make more sense. It is warmer for the weight and would be protected by the outer layer(s). My experience was that a merino wool baselayer used as your main shirt will not last a thru hike without lots and lots of holes.

Scott S
(sschloss1) - F

Locale: New England
Wool on the PCT on 09/04/2012 11:13:27 MDT Print View

Wool may be stink-free (or not), but it won't keep the mosquitoes off of you. If you're okay with wearing extra layers on 90-degree days in northern California or spraying yourself head-to-toe with DEET, then go for it. If not, nylon is better.

In answer, to the OP's question, I wore a l/s shirt from REI (I think it was the Mojave--can't recall). But my guess is that just about any nylon shirt would be fine. The year I hiked, lots of folks were wearing the Eco Mesh shirts from RailRiders.

Michael C
(chinookhead) - F - M
My preference is wool on 09/05/2012 17:42:25 MDT Print View

Scott, I agree with you......that wool is not a good barrier against bugs when compared to nylon.

However, this year when hiking in Colorado for over a month I treated all my clothese, including my long sleeve wool shorts with permethrin, and i did not get one bite. The bugs sometimes landed on me, but they bounced or "rolled off".

If I'm hiking for over a day polyester and other synthetics cause me problems in terms of comfort and stink. I just start feeling sticky and the fabric stops breathing or keeping me warm when I need the warmth because it feels sticky and it is not breathing well/ Whereas, my wool tops continued being comfortable without washing for a couple days.

I'm totally sold on wool and I've been slowly converting my winter and summer gear to wool. I first made the change with my winter gear (base layers).

However, the downside of wool is that the thin 150 weight ones are not that UV protective and I still like a nylon UPF protected button down shirt when I'm just sitting in the exposed sun for long periods.

Jen Churchward
(mahgnillig) - F
Columbia bug shirts on 09/05/2012 21:21:35 MDT Print View

If you're looking for something to keep the bugs & sun off, Columbia has a new line of permethrin treated clothing that is pretty good. I bought a couple of shirts and pairs of trousers for both me and my hubby on clearance from Sierra Trading Post outlet in Reno a couple of months ago, and haven't been bitten at all since I started to wear them. I also really like the REI Sahara stuff, but it's not treated with permethrin and I prefer not to spray it myself since I have a house full of cats.