Merino wool advantages and disadvantages cover image of Kim looking uncomfortable and itchy in her Wool & Prince button up shirt

Too Un-baa-leivable to Be True?

I’m merino mad. I love wearing merino wool and constantly spill yarns about it to convince others to wear it too.

But, I’m sheepish to say I sometimes exaggerate. Here’s my confession:

Merino isn’t perfect.

If it were, I’d wear nothing else. But I wear plenty of non-merino apparel too. And even the merino clothes I rave about aren’t always 100% merino.

So, instead of trying to pull to wool over your eyes or fleece you, here are the honest benefits and disadvantages of merino wool.

Merino Wool Benefits and Disadvantages

Shrek was too cool, despite and because of his natural merino wool coat. (Image from ABC.net)

Pro: Merino’s Wearable Styrofoam

You know how styrofoam cups keep hot drinks like coffee hot and cold drinks like iced tea cold?

Well, merino does the same for you when you wear clothing made of it. It keeps you cool when it’s hot and warm when it’s cold.

And if the styrofoam analogy doesn’t convince you of merino’s insulating incredibleness, consider Shrek.

Shrek was a renegade. He’s a merino sheep who avoided being sheered for six years and, since merino sheep’s wool doesn’t stop growing, become a giant cotton ball with legs.

If his 60-pound (!) coat were made of any other material, he’d be toast. But because it’s merino, he stayed cool in New Zealand’s hot summers.

Con: Merino’s Not as Soft as They Say

The people who try to tell you merino wool is super soft are probably the same ones who tell you so-and-so veggie burger tastes exactly like real beef.

Merino definitely ain’t silk. It’s not even cotton. That’s why you’re not going to see merino wool towels hit the market any time soon.

But it’s not scratchy like regular wool, either.

Here’s the truth: Sometimes, when I initially put on a merino wool garment I think, “Hmm, this isn’t that soft.” But that thought doesn’t cross my mind after that. I don’t think about my clothes at all because it’s so magically insulating.

Pro: Merino Is Deodorant

Even when I fart the faintest of farts, Kim’s super sensitive sense of smell can detect it from across the room. It’s annoying.

But she can’t detect when I’m wearing a merino t-shirt for the 10th time without washing it. Somehow, the antibacterial properties of the fabric destroy odors.

Watch the above video if you don’t believe me. This guy wore the same shirt for 100 days without washing and people couldn’t even tell.

Chris showing the elbows of his merino wool sweatshirt
I had to put these patches on the elbows of my Ice Breaker merino wool sweatshirt because of holes.

Con: Merino’s Not Invincible

I honestly and respectfully disagree with all the other blog posts out there that claim durability to be one of the benefits of merino wool.

Sure, it’s more durable than the wool sweater your granny knit for you but it isn’t compared to whatever you’re wearing now.

You won’t see many of merino wool pants or sports apparel on the market and you will see a lot of holes in merino shirts’ elbows because it’s not that stretchy and eventually breaks.

So while it’s easily durable enough to machine wash (when the rare day comes that you have to wash it), you definitely shouldn’t put any merino in the dryer.

Pro: Merino Doesn’t Wrinkle

If you’ve seen my packing list and the travel tips our moms never told us, you know I hate folding clothes and hope to never touch an iron again in my life.

With merino, I’m assured to avoid both because the stuff doesn’t wrinkle.

I’m going to wrinkle before my merino clothes do.

Con: Merino’s Plain

Aside from some pretty spiffy dress shirts (at least I think they’re spiffy), most merino wool clothing is plain, practical type attire.

“Unstylish,” some would say.

Kim’s one of them. She doesn’t wear merino simply because she hasn’t found anything that suits her.

Apparently, merino doesn’t have the versatility of other fabrics and that fashion designers desire to transform it into impractical but stylish designs.

Chris walking in his Icebreaker tank top in the Namibian desert at Sossusvlei
Merino’s great for the hot desert because it’s as thirsty for my sweat as I am for water.

Pro: Merino’s Thirsty

Merino can absorb as much as 30% of its weight without feeling wet, making it the most “hydrophilic” of all natural fibers.

Generally, that’s a good thing because it absorbs your sweat or the rain to keep the fabric clinging to your skin. It gives your skin the room to do it’s job and regulate its temperature appropriately.

Merino wool and synthetic shirts hanging side-by-side
The only thing I don’t love about my Icebreaker merino tank (right) is that it takes longer to dry than my synthetic tanks (left).

Con: Merino Doesn’t Give Up Moisture Easily

Hydrophilic is Latin for water-loving, so just like if you gave me a beer you’d going to have a hard time getting it back, it takes a while for merino to give up the water it absorbs.

These guys found that a 100% merino wool shirt took 40% longer to dry than a 100% polyester one (48 minutes vs 34).

They also found that a 87% merino, 13% nylon Icebreaker Tech T lite dried just as fast (34 minutes). But I have a hard time believing that.

I often wash and dry my merino wool tank alongside synthetic ones and it always takes longer to dry.

Pro: Merino’s Easy-Care for Mother Nature, Too

Synthetic fabrics take 20 to 200 years to biodegrade and are polluting our waterways worse than you’d expect.

All-natural merino takes just six months. Watch the above video to see.

So whenever the sad day comes that you have to say goodbye to your trusty merino wool clothing, you can at least take solace in the fact that it’s not going to harm the planet.

Con: Sheep Might Not Appreciate Us Stealing Their Coats

Shrek probably hid from shearing for six years for a reason.

And if you look online, you’ll find horror stories of farmers treating their sheep poorly and learn all about of “mulesing.”

“Mulesing,” to save you from Googling it yourself and seeing the graphic photos, is the removal of large swaths of skin and flesh from the area around the anus of a sheep. Sheep farmers do it to combat a blowfly infestation called “flystrike,” which sometimes afflicts the unnaturally dense, urine- and feces-encrusted skin folds around their animals’ rear ends.

Some farmers have abandoned mulesing for other flystrike prevention techniques. Others do it because it works and is good for the sheep.

And most merino brands say they take caution to only work with ethical farmers.

It’s up to you to form your own opinion on whether this is a disadvantage of merino or not.

Pro: Merino Keeps the Dirt Off My Shoulder

One final magical benefit of merino wool is that is naturally anti-static.

I didn’t know this until doing research for this post, but static attracts lint and dirt and other tarnishes.

That explains why, in addition to its odor-and wrinkle-lessness, I can wear merino so many days on end without having to clean it.

Con: Merino Takes a Lot of Money out of My Pocket

You may get a bit of sticker shock when you see the prices of my favorite merino wool clothes.

I think they were worth the investment. You may not.

Merino Wool vs. Other Fabrics

Chris smelling his stinky synthetic shirt.
Synthetic shirts start stinking pretty much as soon as I put them on. My merino shirts don’t.

Merino vs. Synthetics

Low quality synthetic shirts start stinking as soon as you look at them, stain easily, and don’t insulate, but they’re more stretchy and durable than wool.

Higher quality synthetics do a better job at negating the downsides. Prior to getting into merino, I was all about Lululemon’s shirts. I still have some and wear them regularly. But they cost the same as merino.

Merino vs. Cotton

Cotton’s definitely softer, cheaper, and more versatile from a style standpoint, but it’s worse for any type of activity because it gets heavier, stinkier, and dirtier faster.

Merino vs Wool

Merino should have taken a lesson from alpaca and cashmere and completely dropped the word “wool” from its name.

“Wool” brings back mostly negative memories of having to wear unpleasantly scratchy clothes to cope with even more unpleasant weather. And it always had holes in it.

Merino’s fibers are finer, which makes it softer, and longer, which makes it stronger.

Merino vs More Exotic Furs (?)

Speaking of cashmere and alpaca, there are plenty of other of animal furs like mohair, angora, and camel that are less popular than merino but may have some potential as technical clothing.

It’s hard to find many companies selling clothes made from the stuff online, but I am curious to get an alpaca shirt from WoopWear in the Northwestern US.

Chris and Kim looking fit in Namibia
Two things I love: Kim and not wearing clothes.

Merino vs. Nothing

The best fabric is no fabric at all. Or just a pair of comfy merino shorts if I have to. That’s why Kim and I live in places like Medellin and Cape Town during the northern hemisphere’s winter.

But wearing nothing’s not perfect, either. It’s frowned upon in public and, no matter hairy I get, it’s horrible at insulating.

Merino with Other Fabrics!

Some companies are messing with nature and combing Merino for super fancy, technical fabrics. Many of my favorite products are made this way.

Let me tell you about some of them now!

My Favorite Merino Stuff

I want your first merino experience to be as good for you as it was for me, so start slow and start with the best.

Try with one of the following merino wool products and, if you like it, let your merino wardrobe blossom from there.

Happy to have my tapa-bar-worthy Wool&Prince shirt for Spain’s sweltering summer.

Wool&Prince Wool-Linen Button Down

This short-sleeved Wool&Prince button-down shirt is from the guy in the video above who wore the same shirt for 100 days.

I’m still working it in but it’s already become my go-to for travel (the chest pocket’s key for boarding passes and passports and the no-stink’s a relief to people sitting by me) and for going out for tapas here in sweltering, summer Spain.

Because it’s half linen, it gets more wrinkly than 100% merino clothes, but I don’t mind. It gives the shirt a less preppy and more casual look.

Chris in merino wool tank top in Namibia.
Staying cool in my favorite merino wool tank top on our desert trip in Namibia (which may or may not be worth visiting)

Icebreaker Strike Lite Tank

This tank top is the one that won me over to the magic of merino. It’s easily my favorite article of clothing. You’ll see me wearing it in tons of photos across this blog.

Sadly, Icebreaker’s not making it anymore. They have this Anatomica Tank ($65), but I don’t like the Anatomica t-shirts so I’m wary of getting it.

Chris wears his comfortable
My Momentum shorts are one of the three best pairs of shorts I have.

Icebreaker Cool-Lite Momentum Shorts

It’s funny that they call these shorts “Momentum” ($90) because I basically only wear them when sitting around at home.

I rarely wear them out of the house because Kim says they’re not suitable for the public, but the first thing I do when I get home is put them on.

Playing my favorite game in my favorite Cool-Lite merino wool t-shirt in Taipei, where we ate 24 foods in 24 hours.

Icebreaker Cool-Lite Sphere Short Sleeve Crewe

The Cool-Lite Sphere ($75US) is easily my favorite t-shirt. I wear it everywhere and for everything. And I’m allowed to because Kim says it looks good on me.

I also have an Anatomica ($70) but actually dislike it. It’s too tight in the armpits and somehow, unlike all other merino wool clothing I have, gets stinky.

Darn Tough Athletic Socks

Darn Tough is a great name and these socks live up to it. They’re guaranteed for life.

Wool-d You Give it a Chance?

Hopefully I’ve convinced you that merino wool’s benefits far outweigh its disadvantages.

If not, please leave a comment to tell me what your doubts are or to share what fabric you prefer and why.

And if you want more questionable advice from Kim and I, check these out:

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