I’m sick of wearing plastic shirts.
“Tech” gear is great for shells, jackets, shoes, and packs, but I want something natural feeling against my skin that doesn’t stink, is soft, and most of all, keeps me warm in the winter and cool in the summer. Wool fits all those requirements perfectly.
It’s also expensive, it can be confusing with thread counts, weights, qualities, etc., and whoa, watch out when and how you dry it.
For this review, I’ll compare a few different versions of my go-to fall/winter running top: The long sleeve crew or zip-neck running shirt.
Note on washing/size
First thing: The moment you buy an expensive wool shirt, you need to let your significant other, spouse, parent, or laundry lady that at least one of your running garments does not go in the dryer with the rest of the clothes. Sure, most tags say that it’s fine on low heat, but I choose to either use the “air dry” option on the dryer, or let it lie flat or hang to dry. It’ll either stretch out to weird dimensions or shrink beyond recognition.
Take care of it, and it’ll take care of you.
For the sake of this review, all pics and testing was performed after an initial wash. I wanted to ensure that none of the garments shrunk up in the wash/dry process, and thankfully, none did.
What is wool?
Wool is a fabric made from the hair of a sheep, goats, or yak. Different hair comes from different species, and grades are assigned to the fineness and quality of the wool. Some of these tops are 100% wool, while some are blended with manmade materials.
- A Merino is an ancient breed of sheep, originally from Turkey, but now found mainly on New Zealand and Spain.
- The Merino sheep produces between 6-40 lbs of wool each year. If it isn’t shorn regularly, the sheep will suffer from heat stress, mobility issues, and blindness.
- Merino sheep live in temperatures that range from below freezing in the winter to close to 100 degrees in the summer. The sheep’s wool regulates their body temperatures throughout the extremes.
- Merino wool is some of the softest wool available, due to it’s finer fibers.
- More info on Merino wool here.
Additional benefits of wool
- It doesn’t stink! Because wool doesn’t “wick away” sweat, the shirt stays stank-free, and it’s not just a gimmick. There’s a reason seasoned travelers wear wool…they can go for days on end without having to wash their clothes.
- A few years ago I did a review on a wool shirt from IceBreaker. I wore the shirt every day for a hundred mile week. At the end, I blindfolded my wife (who’s got an hyper-sensitive olfactory system) and she couldn’t tell which shirt had been worn. Seriously.
- It’s generally plain. No big logos or flashy colors, I like the simplicity.
- Zip top.
- 96% Merino, 4% Lycra.
- Made in China
- Small pocket on back hop for key or folded bills.
- Finger holes
- One of the few with vented underarms.
- Wash warm water. Lay flat to dry. No dryer.
I’ve still got a wool Icebreaker top from three years ago that’s in great shape. I’ve worn it a ton and can vouch for the long-term quality. I like the thinner wool-mesh on the sides and bottom portion of the arms. Zips all the way up the neck, ensuring warmth stays on body.
- 48% merino wool, 48% polyester, 4 lycra
- No thumbholes
- Long and lean cut.
- Machine wash cold, tumble dry low. Kept me warm during my cold runs in Texas.
I hadn’t looked at the makeup of the material until I wrote this review and was surprised this was only 48% wool. It’s done a fantastic job of keeping me warm and has many of the soft qualities that 100% wool embodies.
- Made entirely in Oregon
- 100% Australian merino wool
- Long arms and trim fit
- Thumb holes
- Crew neck
- Washing: Cold and delicate, lay flat to dry.
I really like this shirt a lot. Definitely the longest arms of the bunch, and the thumb holes are generous enough to allow the whole hand to stay warm. It’s got a quality feel to it, but my wife thinks it’s see-thru. The company should and could charge more for this shirt.
- 79% merino wool, 21% nylon
- Made in Turkey
- Cold wash gently, tumble dry (though I air dried mine.)
- No thumbholes
- Mesh venting on sides and back
Fits the largest of any of the shirts. A silly thing to notice, but I like the zipper a lot. It lays flat and locks into place. I’ve worn this shirt running, I’ve worn in hiking, I’ve worn it to lunch and dinner…like most of these, very all-purpose.
- 58% merino wool, 42% polyester
- Trim fit
- No thumb holes
- Aesthetic designs on back
I like the fit and the warmth this shirt provides, but it doesn’t have the softness of the other tops, likely due to lower wool ratio.
All of these shirts have done a great job of keeping me warm, and all have shown the positive properties of wool that I’d expect.
My favorite of the bunch would be the PEP Shevlin, as the 100% wool feels great, I love the fact it’s made in Oregon, and the price is so significantly lower than the others in the group.
If you haven’t worn wool, of if you’re looking for a great gift for someone, I’d highly recommend checking out any of the items above.