A huge question for active mountain hunters and stand hunters alike it baselayers, Merino or synthetic material. This debate can go either way, it’s really a matter of what you like/don’t like. Here I’ll just highlight a few things from each that may help you decide which is right for you and then I’ll give my own take on what I use. I won’t go into brands too much because there are a lot of different brands for each, some great and some not-so-great.
PRO’s: Merino is great. It’s natural, coming from Merino sheep known for thriving in environments that make us shiver from our couches. It wicks moisture very well. On top of wicking, it has antibacterial and antimicrobial properties that aid in preventing scent. It is both warm for those cool days and super breathable for that all day stalk. Merino comes in different weights for different conditions so you can wear it in 85 degree weather or -20 degree in the tundra. My favorite thing about Merino is that it still keeps you warm even when it’s wet, does it get any better than that?
CON’s: Merino doesn’t wick as quite as fast as synthetic and it doesn’t dry as fast either. It also requires a little more care, Merino won’t last as long as synthetics either, a couple of years of heavy use is usually it compared to the thousands of washes synthetics can take. Aside from that, they can be a little more expensive for the higher quality pieces. Merino can also snag if you’re bushwhacking so that’s another thing to be weary of. Also, merino will have trouble drying out if the humidity is high.
PRO’s: Synthetics have a huge upside! They wick incredibly fast and dry seemingly just as fast. They are also super breathable as well. While at first, they were pricey, they are really reasonably priced now. Synthetics are super durable and can last a long time without any special care. Synthetics get most of their warmth by keeping you dry, even when the humidity is high. They also can be made to be snag resistant unlike merino so that’s another plus when you’re out in the thick woods.
CON’s: Synthetics are not as warm as Merino nor as soft on the skin. With recent exception of some that have antibacterial materials added, most do not and that can cause bacteria to grow and they begin to stink. Even the ones with antibacterial materials added will begin to stink after a couple of days of use.
The best option differs for everyone. It depends what you’re doing and what keeps you comfortable. To me, I like the new Merino that is actually a hybrid of both. They use Merino wool and a synthetic type yarn so you get the benefits of Merino with a little more of the durability and ease of care that synthetics offer. Personally, I love synthetics when I’m working out but I will only use Merino when I’m hunting. My workout clothes get washed after every use but hunting clothes don’t get the same luxury, sometimes they’re worn for days at a time. I need something that won’t stink after a day and can keep me warm and cool, potentially in the same day. If I need to I can usually wash my Merino in the creek and dry it overnight but that isn’t going to work on synthetic baselayers. There are a ton of brands depending on what you’re looking for, but if you’re looking for hunting baselayers, I would highly recommend brands like First Lite, Kuiu, and Sitka. Those are a few of the top brands and yes they are pricey but you get what you pay for. A more budget friendly but still quality Merino is Scheels Outfitter brand. I have used this and was extremely impressed! High quality gear is not an expense but rather an investment into your hunting future. Good luck out there!