Why Fit Travelers Shouldn’t Invest in a Merino Wool T-Shirt

The Merino wool t-shirt trap. One of the reasons I created Nomadic Hustle was due to a slight disdain with general travel advice. Often, you’ll find sites that focus on traveling cheap and looking like a bum. Neither are my style. While everyone likes cheap, there’s no reason not to spend a few extra bucks to get an Airbnb apartment. 

Plus, there’s truly no reason anyone should ever step foot into a club with tennis shoes or hiking boots on. Y’all give gringos a bad name!

Still, I browse general travel blogs on occasion because you’ll often find a solid tip here and a great “things to do in…” piece there. One of the tips I thoughts was gold involved travel clothes. I saw a guy traveling around with two Merino wool t-shirts. That’s all the shirts he had. And they didn’t look half bad.

Merino wool shirts never fit like this.

Merino wool shirts never fit like this.

So I took the bait. Against my better judgment, I dropped $50 USD and another $25 on tailoring on a Merino wool t-shirt. Well, a Merino wool v-neck to be exact. And I wasted every penny of it. If I hadn’t tailored the shirt, I’d be able to return it. But I did. Tailoring t-shirts is a major key.

And this isn’t the first time I’d tried to get some Merino wool clothing to look good. I’d bought Merino wool v-necks from a different company a few years back. Still looked terrible. But I thought this time would be different. The travel shirts looked so good and normal in professional photos. It wasn’t. Still shit.

The Problems with Merino Wool

You don’t see many travelers decked out in all Merino wool. There’s a reason for that. The fabric comes with a myriad of problems that ensure normal humans far prefer other blends to it. Some travelers do rock it on the regular, but they’re either committed to the traveling light game or travel blogging.

Here are just a few of the problems with Merino wool t-shirts and clothing:

  • Expensive As Heck: Not only is the cut of most Merino clothing terrible and the fabric too thin, but you’ll actually be paying an arm and a leg to look like a traveling bum. Merino wool clothing is incredibly expensive. A decent Merino wool t-shirt will run you $50-100 USD. Yes. $100 for a t-shirt. A shirt that won’t even look good. Even if you only have to buy two of them to travel for a year, these shirts are not cheap.
  • Not Made For Fit People: If you lift weights and workout regularly, you won’t like the fit of a Merino wool t-shirt. Put simply – they’re not made for people with any type of muscle mass on them. It’s nearly impossible to get a Merino shirt to lay and conform to your physique as cotton or other blended fabrics can. Thus, you’ll find it impossible to get a Merino v-neck that will show off that impressive v-taper you’ve been working so hard for.
  • Fabric Too Thin: One of the reasons Merino doesn’t work for you fit individuals is because the fabric is way too thin. Most Merino t-shirts have a GSM of around 130-150. (P.S.: GSM means grams per square meter). Basically, the term is used to compare fabric thickness and weight. Regular t-shirts typically start at 180 GSM and go up to 210 or so. This means that unless you have an inverted chest or that of a pre-pubescent boy – your nipples will protrude in a Merino wool shirt. I tried wearing my new “travel” shirt out one day, and my friend commented that the fabric looked paper-thin.
  • Lack of Durability: While the benefits of Merino wool often outweigh the cons for diehard backpackers, the lack of durability has been noted by nearly everyone. Merino clothing is not nearly as durable as other fabrics and blends. Now, this could be because many wear these shirts all day, every day. But I’m willing to bet the thin Merino wool simply doesn’t hold up like cotton or polyester. You don’t want to spend $100 on a Merino wool t-shirt only to have the thing almost falling apart three months later.
  • No White Color: Lastly, Merino wool does not come in white. You cannot get a white Merino wool t-shirt. It just doesn’t work. I’ve looked around and have yet to find a white shirt in Merino. There are some “off-white” travel shirts in Merino, but no crisp white shirts can be found. Merino comes in a light yellow hue naturally and can be dyed in a number of colors – just not white.

It’s Not All Bad

I’ve been a bit harsh on Merino wool. And while there’s good reason for that, the fabric does have its uses. There are some benefits for individuals wearing Merino wool clothing. For example:

  • Merino wool is fast drying and dries much more quickly than cotton or polyester. 
  • The fabric doesn’t accumulate body odor. While you may smell like ass after a day of hiking, the shirt will not. 
  • Due to the lack of smell, you can wear these shirts for days on end with no issue.  
  • No bacteria accumulates, either. This helps with the smell, as well. 
  • Merino wool is not itchy and feels similar to cotton on your body.
  • The fabric insulates quite well. You’ll feel fresh in the summer and warm in the winter while wearing Merino. 

A Better Traveler’s T-Shirt Option

I’m not going to throw my Merino wool t-shirt away. I’ll bring it on the road with me and wear it on long flights, bus trips, and all day outdoor adventures. Like I said – the shirt has it’s uses. Just don’t think you’ll be traveling in style while rocking Merino. That’s an oxymoron, fam.

Travelers who plan to stay outdoors all the time, rarely have access to laundry facilities, and enjoy looking like they’re traveling often love wearing a Merino wool shirt. For the rest of us, there are better options out there. There are many t-shirts out there that are made for traveling around a bit, but still look great.

Rocked the Prana V-Neck to Machu Pichu.

Rocked the Prana V-Neck to Machu Pichu.

One of my favorites is the Prana V-Neck. This shirt became my go-to t-shirt while traveling around for a straight year. The shirt is made out of a great fabric that keeps you cool while still looking good. If you like to workout, you’ll find this shirt fits amazing. The fit is so good I didn’t even have to tailor this v-neck.

Avoiding the Merino Wool Trap – Overall

A Merino wool t-shirt has its uses, but you’re much better off getting other fabrics before you hit the road. Unless you’re planning to do a lot of hiking and little washing of your wardrobe, avoid the Merino wool trap and build your travel wardrobe with other fabrics.

P.S.: Honestly, these are the best travel shirts I’ve found. By far. Bar none.

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Jake D

Travel junkie turned blogger. Location independent. From the Midwest, but often based in Latin America. Big on beaches, rumba, and rum. Addicted to the gym. Committed to showing a different style of travel - one that involves actually interacting with locals and exploring different cultures.

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dan26dlp - June 27, 2017

Why does he reccomend the 50%cotton 50% polyester? it seems like it would not do anything Merino would do and is really not an alternative. Polyester and cotton notoriously retain wetness and smell, and are very hot.

Reply
    NomadicJake - June 27, 2017

    My point is that merino wool t-shirts generally lack a lot of style and are only conducive to ultra-light packing or hiking.

    I’ve since found a merino wool shirt I like, but it took a lot of trial and error and I still love the Prana V-Neck.

    Reply
      dan26dlp - June 28, 2017

      What was the merino wool shirt you liked? I’m looking at purchasing some and using them as my everyday shirts as part of a move towards minimalism. Also worth mentioning, Arizona V-necks look great if you lift upper body and have some definition. Fits good around the arms and has a slight V taper.

      Reply
      dan26dlp - June 28, 2017

      I’m looking at unbound, they look like they fit well but I’m not sure and for $100 I better be sure.

      Reply
        NomadicJake - June 29, 2017

        Woolly Clothing isn’t a popular brand, but I love their stuff: https://www.nomadichustle.com/best-travel-shirt-woolly-merino-wool-henley/

        Reply
        Luis A. Rivera - October 12, 2017

        Hey Jake, my experience have been different. I’m 5’10”, 175 lbs. I bought one black Unbound Merino V-neck, size medium (190g/m2) to test it. The shirt looks awesome!!!!, fit but not too tight. Is my favorite now, no smell, etc. Just been wearing it like for 2 weeks without washing (once again, to test it for my backpack travels). The only problem is that attracts a little bit of dust-lint and I think is going to start pilling. Also, is expensive ($65). I haven’t used any other brands, I will try my luck with cheaper alternatives.

        Reply
          NomadicJake - October 12, 2017

          Hey Luis, glad to hear you found a great merino shirt. I looked at Unbound a bit, but ultimately decided on buying from Woolly.

          I’ve since changed my views a bit on merino wool, as it truly depends on the product.

          If you’re looking for a cheaper option, check this out: https://www.nomadichustle.com/best-travel-shirt-woolly-merino-wool-henley/

          Reply
      disqus_PNq8SDZKMo - June 29, 2017

      Please do share which merino shirt you found! Any opinion on Wool&Prince?

      Reply
JY - August 30, 2017

I’m not a fan of this article. Most people spend the money on merino wool for the practical benefits, not the “style”. There’s a reason that many seasoned travellers, outdoor enthusiasts and athletes endorse merino wool. Also, I am surprised you toned down the benefit of merino wool being odourless while playing up the negative of “no white colour”. Seriously? I’m sure most travellers worry more about having to wash their smelly clothes than not being able to wear white. Reading this article I would’ve thought the target audience were runway models and the like.

Reply
Tom Ford - September 12, 2017

The only true point is that there is no optically white merino, which is the material only limitation. The closest you could achieve is with a blend or cotton face on the front and merino on the back.

Everything else in this post that you lost as a negative is false. I don’t even lift and my merino tee has very trim well fitted sleeves.

You must buy your shirts from REI garage.

Reply
    NomadicJake - September 12, 2017

    You just made my whole point. If you lift, most Merino product simply don’t look good on you. The fit is made for skinny people. That’s my point.

    I’ve actually found a merino company I love, but most Merino stuff just doesn’t work for me because I spend a lot of time in the gym. So the cut is all wrong.

    Reply
Neil - October 7, 2017

You should also check out the Canvas and Next Level tri-blend t-shirts on amazon. They run about $8 a piece, and are 75% technical materials (polyester/nylon) and 25% cotton.

The canvas brand ones run a bit slimmer in the shoulders so it works better for me (skinnier). If you’re bigger and lift a lot the next level brand may work better for you. They do have v-necks as well!

Reply
    NomadicJake - October 7, 2017

    Interesting! Thanks for the tips. I’ll give these two shirts a go, too.

    $8 is cheap!!!

    Reply
Aaron Liu - November 29, 2017

Your first mistake was assuming merino wool clothing was meant to be stylish when actually they’re just functional underwear for backpackers. They’re meant to be used as a wicking shirt or base layer, designed to be as light and pack-able as possible. Your second mistake was getting a shirt meant to fit skin tight on slim people tailored to fit your muscular arms and chest. It’s not gonna happen.

Reply
    NomadicJake - November 29, 2017

    I get that not all merino clothing was designed with style in mind, but why can’t it be?!

    There’s a market for stylish merino clothing. Just like there’s a market for baselayers, etc.

    And, yeah I get most of the clothing is meant for hikers and backpackers – not avid gym goers, but again, maybe there’s another market.

    I’ve recently found some merino shirts I absolutely love. I believe they look great and can fit any build.

    Reply
      stijn - February 6, 2018

      Hi, you are right Jake, and to address the market for stylish merino clothing, wolk-Antwerp was founded.

      Reply
        NomadicJake - February 6, 2018

        Send me some samples for review and I’ll let this stay 😉

        Reply
          stijn - February 7, 2018

          Jake,
          I am not the owner of Wolk-Antwerp, I just have a button down shirt from that brand which I like a lot. So I am sorry, I can’t help you with samples. Maybe you can reach out to them via their site?

          Reply
          NomadicJake - February 7, 2018

          Well, thanks for the comment then. I’ll remove the link and leave it up.

          I’ve been looking for a merino button down for awhile now, but haven’t pulled the trigger on anything yet. Will definitely consider them.

          Reply
John M Knox - January 29, 2018

I’ve had some fairly stylish 100% printed merino t-shirts from Finisterre. I also had an organic cotton/merino blend one which had better shape retention than full merino. They have now brought out these new Merino/Tencel blends which seem to be fitted so I will be interested to try one. No connection other than being a fairly satisfied customer. I had a Merino t-shirt from Icebreaker which was terrible and tore easily and was all of the things you describe above. The main reason I would use one is for warmth in winter and wicking properties especially when climbing up mountains I use as a base layer. For everyday use cotton is so much better.

Reply
    NomadicJake - January 29, 2018

    Thanks for the insightful comment! I’ll have to look at Finisterre. Never heard of the brand Icebreaker is definitely only for a base layer or just as a gym shirt. I’d never wear it outside of active wear.

    Cotton is solid, but I still think there’s better fabrics for travelers – especially when traveling light.

    Reply
Kerrie Richards - October 6, 2018

Try merino country – a full range of t-shirts including loose and tight fit (originally designed for military) and also a white Merino T!

Reply
Matt - October 15, 2018

FWIW, I’ve been traveling S. America for a year and a half straight: brought Merino wool items, brought technical and some cotton items.

Status report at this point:

Both expensive merino wool shirts ( icebreaker and another brand I can’t remember because I threw it away) fell apart to the point where I can no longer wear them without looking like I should be begging in the street.

Pure technical shirts I have all either thrown away or mail back home. Even the “advanced“ ones end up stinking within for five hours.

Blend shirts like 60/40 Poly-cotton typically are super comfortable, Pleasant to wear, and do dry quickwe when washing. Like a cotton shirt left drying overnight will probably not be dry in the morning if there’s no strong wind, but there is a good chance the blind item will.

That said, I now favor cotton. The blends always have a milder version of the problem with the purely technical shirts: they start to stink quicker than cotton. Basically I get one day out of them almost without fail. I am in relatively close contact with people, so the amount of stink is unacceptable. Even when it’s cool out and I don’t sweat st all, a little bacteria takes root and by the next day there’s some mild but noticeable smell.

With cotton I find if it’s not stinking sweating hot, I can get two, three, even four days out of one shirt if it’s cooler or at least breezy enough out.

It is very hard to receive mail safely in South America and often customs wants money. So I have been buying on the road and mostly what I buy now after much experimentation is cotton.

Merino is wildly superior — for the month or two that it lasts. I will no longer buy it til someone figures out durability.

Reply
    Jake D - October 15, 2018

    I’ve had no issue with the Woolly Clothing brand I recommend above.

    I’ve worn it for over a year and it’s still in solid shape.

    That being said…

    I don’t know what type of wear and tear you’re putting on the shirts.

    But I do know that cotton doesn’t work for me while traveling as getting more than 1 day out of it just doesn’t happen.

    Cheers for the detailed insights.

    Reply
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