WON Landing Page March 2022

Why Merino Wool is a Hunter’s Best Base Layer

Merino wool has become a hunter’s best base layer, moving beyond fashion and into the woods. First Lite clothing introduced the first camouflage Merino in 2007 and the First Lite Llano crew was my introduction to Merino as a base layer. Since it’s wool, I feared it might be itchy (there was that traumatic childhood experience in a wool Christmas sweater!), but Merino is super soft. It is a natural, odor-resistant fabric that transitions well from the field into the sleeping bag, making it the perfect second skin.



Merino, for all of its marvelous attributes lauded by rock climbers, river walkers, mountain skiers, backcountry hikers and hunters alike, has a cult following that raves about its feel as much as its functionality. There is no other fabric that is as versatile and able to work as well for hunting clothing quite like pashmina scarves and baby booties. Merino is multitalented: it’s soundless, scentless, and shineless, and it offers softness, skinniness, stretchiness and superfineness. It regulates body temperature, keeping you warm when wet and cool when sweaty.

But, I wanted to know: how does it perform when it’s really put to the test?



(Steven Meyer photo)

It took me a season of wearing Merino to recognize and appreciate the value of its temperature-regulation factor. On a mountain hike in which the climb left me sweaty and the summit left me cold, my new base layer did its job. It breathed without bad breath, and that’s saying a lot. Just to experiment, I didn’t wash my shirt for a week and travelled into the mountains on 3 separate occasions. I even slept in the darn thing, just to prove that I could out-stink it. At the end of the week, it hardly stank. And that’s no testament to my ability to produce an odor.

First Lite clothing does not currently offer a women’s line although the men’s small works fine and has a roomy-shouldered shooter’s cut. The First Lite camouflage offering includes ASAT as well as “dry earth” and a shade of green that is so woodsy it should be called “divine pine,” but I wanted to expand my Merino horizons and find a shirt made for the female form. Luckily, there’s the Minus33 mid-weight crew, which was a perfect fit. Minus33 wool is certified by the Australian Wool Testing Authority and meets the required ethics and quality (First Lite’s wool also is certified as non-mulesing).



Christine wears a First Lite hat. (Steven Meyer photo)


Once the shirt proved itself, I started to look at other Merino next-to-skin products: socks (Darn Tough Vermont), hats and gloves. Then, in a moment of rare shopping lucidity, I wondered, would Merino make good underwear? I was not the first Merinoholic to wonder such a thing. Merino underwear are not your grandmother’s wool underwear! One reviewer even wrote an ode to the icebreaker thong: “You lay upon my buns so neatly/ and keep me smelling oh so sweetly/ with not a line upon my seat/ for playing outside you can’t be beat.”

Here are some things to be aware of when shopping for Merino base layers:

  1. 100% Merino. Some say that 100% Merino does not hold up over time and washings. Other purists insist blending Merino increases its already phenomenal features by making it more durable. Still others say blending reduces the natural qualities. (I’m on the side of 100% Merino).
  2. Micron-gauge. This is different than the overall weight of the fabric. A micron is a measurement used for the size of the wool fiber. The smaller the number, the softer the feel. For next-to-skin, 17.5 microns work best. Larger microns work better for outerwear.
  3. Sustainable practices. Good wool manufacturers will note if they are non-mulesing or have environmental, animal welfare, or social standards that matters to the consumer.
  4. Washable. 100% Merino can be washed cold and tumble-dried on low. I use a delicate detergent and have never used a dryer on mine. Many claim that Merino wool will not shrink into a hand-me-down-to-a-child size in the dryer. It’s always good to check the label.
  5. Seams. As with any other base-layer offset seams, or seamless features, can make or break the fit and feel. Since Merino has become as popular as performance-wear, there are a myriad of options available – thumbholes, hoods, zippers, buttons and side panels, to name a few.

(Steven Meyer photo)

I’ve put my Merino through the wringer on sweaty upland hunts, wet days in the duck blind, camping in the snow, waist-deep fly-fishing and near-freezing ocean charters. A bush-pilot friend wears it because it is even less likely to catch on fire. What more could you want in a hunting fabric? Merino wool is the sheep’s meow!

  • About Christine Cunningham

    Christine Cunningham is a lifelong Alaskan, author and outdoor columnist known for her contributions to outdoor magazines and her commitment to creating opportunities for women to connect and share their stories. Her first book, “Women Hunting Alaska,” profiles some of Alaska’s most outstanding female hunters.


The Conversation

  • Ripley North says: August 17, 2015 at 8:53 am

    My husband is going to be taking me hunting with him for the first time this fall and I need some gear. It’s nice, that with a base layer of merino wool, that I won’t smell to bad. I also like how it will regulate my body temperature. Thanks for all your help Christine.

    • Barbara Baird says: August 18, 2015 at 11:47 am

      Christine knows her stuff! You’re going to love the Merino wool, Ripley, and good luck on your first hunting trip! Please, will you share your photos with us on our social networks? We’re rooting for you!

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