A few months ago I returned from a 10 day trip to England where I primarily wore a single t-shirt. This was an experiment to see if wool was all the hype it has been touted to be. I am officially in search of the best merino wool t shirt. All the reviews make it seem magic: as soft as cotton, thin and breathable, warm in winter and cool in summer, doesn’t smell after weeks of wear and never needs to be washed? Is this possible and is it true? Yes and no.
Merino wool shirts are expensive, like really expensive. But what if you can live for months-on-end while wearing the same shirt over and over, every day, and never having to change it because it never gets dirty? You would be happy and your travel pack would be small. What if there is a magical material that never needs to be cleaned and doesn’t leave you smelling like a hippy after 9 days at Burning Man? I am happy to announce that such a material does exist my friend, and after over 6 months of testing shirts I now bring you my review on a few of my favorites.
The London Experiment
Back to my first experiment with the wool t-shirt. Upon returning from London I hung my well-worn merino t-shirt to air out in the closet, I didn’t wash it. I waited several days and smelled it, nothing. I compared it to a freshly laundered cotton shirt. They smelled the same, clean. Wait, what? I had worn this shirt for at least 10 days. And not 10 days of sitting around air conditioned rooms. This was 10 days of airports, miles of hiking around London, busses, castles, rainy days, Stonehenge.
The secret to find the best Merino Wool t shirt
Merino wool’s secret is that it is naturally anti-bacterial. To discover the best merino wool t shirt we need to look at some other materials. Some companies incorporate other materials such as nylon or polyester into the fabric. The advantage of this is that the shirt tends to be softer, cheaper, more durable, and tend not to pill as much. The disadvantage is that you lose some of the anti-bacterial properties of 100% merino wool. The shirt can be worn every day, but will need to be washed more often than pure merino wool and will tend to start to smell slightly after a few days.
My Shirt Reviews
I’m not going to go into the details of merino wool and how and why it works. There are plenty of other blog posts about that if you want to delve into it. This post from Well Traveled Mile is one of the best. I am also not going to give you reviews of shirts I have only read about. I am however going to give you unpaid, unaffiliated reviews of the shirts that I actually wear every day while I travel. For a complete list of all of my travel gear read this post.
In my search for the best merino wool t shirt I decided to try a few different brands. My first purchase was from Icebreaker. My first impression was the itchiness. It was hard to wear it itched so much. Definitely not “as soft as cotton.” This shirt deserves a chance though. After about 3-4 washes the shirt becomes softer and the itchiness became less noticeable.
The shirt holds up well to wear and being mostly (87% merino wool, 13% nylon) it really doesn’t need to be washed more than once a week. You could probably get away with just rinsing the shirt out in the hotel sink. It really doesn’t retain odors, it’s kind of awesome.
This shirt is probably my favorite merino wool t shirt so far. This one is actually soft, it feels really good and doesn’t have that initial itchiness of other merino wool t shirts. Weighing in at only 78% merino wool this shirt does tend to get a bit smelly after a few days wear. Not to say that it stinks, it just doesn’t smell as fresh as other shirts do. The durability is however higher than the Icebreaker shirt, I can see myself wearing this shirt for years.
This shirt is nice. It look fantastic and is versatile. I tend to bring darker colors for travel because they go well with almost anything, this shirt is no exception. The attention to detail is outstanding, the stitching is perfect, and the lowest metal button has a different style so you know you’re finished. The only downfall to this shirt is the thickness. It’s great for cool climates but anywhere above room temperature and I will be sweating to the oldies in this thing, especially with a t shirt under it.
When I bought this shirt it was available in black, a great color for travel in my opinion. Unfortunately Ibex seems to make this shirt now only in two blue plaid colors. Don’t get me wrong, as a native Michigander my love for plaid runs deep. Not so deep however that I would pay over $100 for a shirt that doesn’t match anything and can only be worn daily if you want to draw weird looks from your friends and family. This shirt is fantastic, hopefully Ibex begins to make it in a wider variety of colors.
Now we have it. Two merino wool t shirts, one short sleeve button up, and now one final shirt to finish off my clothing repertoire, the pièce de résistance, the one shirt to rule them all.
This is my favorite merino wool button up shirt. You could wear this thing to a wedding, it looks that nice. Lose the tie and the top button and this makes a great travel companion. Most countries in the world tend to be a bit more fashionable and conservative than the US. This shirt is great in that it looks good but can literally be worn with almost anything, in almost every situation you can imagine.
This shirt also doesn’t wrinkle (make it doesn’t wrinkle easily). Roll it up or lay flat in your bag and it will come out crisp and clean every time. And you don’t need to wash it, ever, at least I never have. I have worn this shirt dozens and dozens of times, it doesn’t stink and looks fantastic. Well done Wool & Prince, well done.