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Norrona Wool Round Neck Review

Walking the line between light- and mid-weight, this technical Merino-blend skillfully adapts to a variety of environments
Norrona Wool Round Neck
Photo: Norrona
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Price:  $109 List | $109.00 at Backcountry
Pros:  Durable, 4-season versatility, comfortable Merino-blend
Cons:  Expensive, specific fit, slow to dry
Manufacturer:   Norrona
By Aaron Rice ⋅ Review Editor  ⋅  May 27, 2021
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71
OVERALL
SCORE


RANKED
#5 of 16
  • Warmth - 25% 7
  • Breathability - 20% 7
  • Comfort and Fit - 20% 7
  • Drying Speed - 10% 5
  • Durability - 15% 8
  • Layering Ability - 10% 8

Our Verdict

From fit to performance, the simply named Norrona Wool Round Neck is anything but. This sleek base layer is at the crux of light and mid-weight, with a level of durability not often found among other layers in its weight class. Well-balanced is certainly an apt adjective to describe this top, as it offers impressive thermoregulation throughout a wide range of temperatures. A tighter, athletic fit certainly falls within the Euro-aesthetic but allows for the merino wool/polyamide blend to work efficiently to keep you dry while working hard. From chilly alpine starts to mid-summer mountain biking, the Round Neck finds harmony between warmth and breathability, defining itself as a versatile four-season base layer.

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Price $109.00 at BackcountryCheck Price at REI
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$59 List$59.99 at Amazon$48.95 at Backcountry
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Star Rating
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Pros Durable, 4-season versatility, comfortable Merino-blendTemperature regulation, ultra-cozy, balance of warmth and breathabilitySpectra is the strongest fabric material on the market, lightweight, quick-drying, merino wool-like comfortAffordable, fashionable fit, breathableAffordable, tough and ultralight, thoughtful articulation, UPF protection
Cons Expensive, specific fit, slow to dryExpensive, recommend special laundering, slow to air-dryEasily picks up odor, stiff collar, lack of articulationFiner thread Merino is not quite as warm, slightly itchy, shoulder top seamsIneffective odor control, warm-weather focused
Bottom Line Walking the line between light- and mid-weight, this technical Merino-blend skillfully adapts to a variety of environmentsThis all-around favorite continues to keep us warm, dry, and comfortable in nearly any situationAn ultralight, breathable base layer that incorporates Spectra fiber to make it the most durable on the marketThis top delivers the fine qualities of a merino wool base layer without the extreme costA versatile, lightweight, and affordable layer that protects from the sun and fights off the chill of early adventure mornings
Rating Categories Norrona Wool Round... SmartWool Merino 25... NW Alpine Spectra Meriwool Midweight... Outdoor Research Ec...
Warmth (25%)
7.0
9.0
5.0
8.0
5.0
Breathability (20%)
7.0
7.0
9.0
8.0
9.0
Comfort And Fit (20%)
7.0
9.0
8.0
7.0
7.0
Drying Speed (10%)
5.0
5.0
7.0
6.0
8.0
Durability (15%)
8.0
7.0
9.0
7.0
7.0
Layering Ability (10%)
8.0
8.0
8.0
6.0
7.0
Specs Norrona Wool Round... SmartWool Merino 25... NW Alpine Spectra Meriwool Midweight... Outdoor Research Ec...
Material 89% merino wool, 11% polyamide 100% merino wool 90% polyester, and 10% Spectra 100% merino wool Airvent 100% polyester
Fabric Weight 170 g/m² 250 g/m² 105 g/m² 250g/m² 108 g/m²
Weight (size M) 7.5 oz 9.3 oz 4.8 oz 9.8 oz 3.4 oz
Types available crew crew, 1/4 zip, hoody crew, short sleeve crew crew, 1/4 zip, hoody
Thumb Loops? No No No No No
Air Dry Test (minutes) 50 50 40 45 30
Fit Slim fit Slim fit Slim fit Slim fit Slim fit
Stitching Flatlock seams Flatlock seams Flatlock and flat seams Flatlock and flat seams Flatlock seams
Dryer safe? No No No No Yes
Shoulder top seams? No No Yes Yes No
Drop tail hem? No No No Yes No

Our Analysis and Test Results

Though less known in the US outdoor gear market, Norrona is a highly-regarded Norwegian brand that has been developing technical clothing for more than 90 years. In that spirit, this top is a simple, yet beautifully refined, 170 g/m² base layer that comfortably navigates both the winter and summer months. As an 89% Merino wool blend supported by 11% polyamide, this rugged, thoughtfully designed, and highly technical next-to-skin layer is the embodiment of a company that makes clothing built upon a tradition of adventure.

Performance Comparison


This is one of our favorite base layers for mountain biking. Its...
This is one of our favorite base layers for mountain biking. Its balance of warmth, breathability, and durability make it a versatile all-season option as a standalone layer.
Photo: Jill Rice

Warmth


Merino wool has always been admired for its ability to provide insulation well beyond its warmth-to-weight ratio. Even though the Round Neck falls well within our limits for a lightweight base layer, a slightly higher percentage composition of Merino wool in this blended top gives it both the feel and warmth of a slightly heavier layer. While it certainly benefits from the support of a mid layer on cold, mid-winter adventures, the thick 17.5-micron fabric cut adds just enough heft to make this a reasonable standalone top. It performs particularly well in the shoulder seasons, where it may be just too warm to wear a lightweight jacket on a ride or run, but still a little too early to go out in a t-shirt.

This versatile top does a fantastic job with thermoregulation...
This versatile top does a fantastic job with thermoregulation, gracefully balancing warmth and breathability to keep us dry during long approaches.
Photo: Jill Rice

Breathability


This top proves itself as a true four-season technical layer based on its ability to balance warmth and breathability. Unlike other, directly comparable merino-blends, the Round Neck opts for polyamide — or nylon — instead of polyester as the synthetic support to the majority merino wool construction. This will come into play more later on, but this distinct difference in material choice makes this top slightly less breathable than its most direct competitors. However, with merino wool doing much of the heavy lifting, this top is still remarkably capable through a wide range of temperatures. The thermoregulation of this piece allows it to seamlessly transition between winter in the alpine and summer in the desert — a common experience for us during testing, thanks to the nearly 40-degree temperature swings that regularly occur during the shoulder seasons in the Southwest.

This top offers the thermoregulation capability to stand up to any...
This top offers the thermoregulation capability to stand up to any sort of adventurous, all-day mountain run.
Photo: Jill Rice

Comfort and Fit


The Round Neck is thoughtfully designed to offer a comfortable fit for a range of activities. This top is split with particular seam placement to enhance articulation — for instance, the arms are completely separated from the torso, which allows for improved reach without having to add underarm gussets. A large range of mobility benefits from the natural elasticity of Merino wool, which is further supported by the nylon-blend — a material that is much more flexible than polyester.

Click to enlarge
Click to enlarge

The style and fit of the Round Neck is certainly tailored to a European market. This athletically cut top is tighter fitting than most, particularly through the forearms. While a bit constricting at first, we quickly turned fond of a unique design that puts the cuff seams around your forearms rather than your wrists. Without the benefit of thumb loops, this helps lock the arm in place when pulling on a mid layer and keeps your sleeves from billowing during fast-flowing bike descents.

This layer has a unique design, where the seam on the cuff is...
This layer has a unique design, where the seam on the cuff is setback from the wrist, which helps improve both fit and durability at a spot that often sees fraying.
Photo: Jill Rice

Drying Speed


Even though nylon is designed to be hydrophobic, once saturated, both it and wool tend to take a long time to dry out completely. This is certainly exemplified in the air dry times of the Round Neck, which took a little more than 50 minutes to flat dry — this is even longer than similarly weighted, 100% merino wool tops. While we may not recommend this top for backpackers planning to do laundry on extended backcountry trips, we certainly would still recommend it for those planning an extended winter hut trip. This blended layer offers superior thermoregulation, evaporative capacity, and most importantly, natural odor control. This means that you can ski hard all day for days in a row without fear of your friends kicking you out of the cabin.

Though it weighs a bit more than similar layers, this top still...
Though it weighs a bit more than similar layers, this top still dries surprisingly fast for a merino-blend.
Photo: Jill Rice

Durability


Polyamide (nylon) is a distinctly stronger material than polyester, one that is both more pliable and more resistant to damage by abrasion. Not only does the Round Neck feel much more substantial than many of its counterparts, but its construction is supported by particularly burly flatlock seams. This top appears to have been designed for the harsh realities of the Norwegian backcountry, an assertion that is well-supported by our overly abusive abrasion test. While it is not the most durable layer in this review, for its weight — and considering the majority merino wool knit — we can assure you that this top will stand up to practically any adventure you throw it into.

Despite a bit of piling, this top sure stood up to the friction of...
Despite a bit of piling, this top sure stood up to the friction of our overly aggressive abrasion test. We would highly recommend this as a standalone layer for climbers and mountain bikers alike.
Photo: Jill Rice

Layering Ability


Although one may expect that the merino-heavy blend would make this top difficult to pair with sticky fleece mid-layers, the Round Neck slides easily beneath practically any over layer. The close-to-skin, Euro-styled cut is great for adding extra layers over top on bitterly cold days, without worry of constrictions while in motion. Though we believe any base layer benefits from thumb loops, this base layer solves the problem of bunched-up sleeves by cinching the forearms, rather than positioning the flatlock seams more traditionally around the wrist. Though this is less of a casual option than others, it does have the flair of a mountain bike jersey when worn as a standalone layer.

Even on mid-winter tours, this base layer keeps us plenty warm...
Even on mid-winter tours, this base layer keeps us plenty warm simply paired underneath a mid-layer and a thin, lightweight shell, like the award-winning Patagonia Houdini.
Photo: Jill Rice

Value


Exceptional performance — particularly among merino-blend layers — is often accompanied by an exceptional price tag, and the Round Neck is no exception to that rule. But it is important to consider versatility: this top is just warm enough to wear as a standalone layer during the cooler shoulder seasons, warm enough to stand up as a solid base mid-winter, and breathable enough for long alpine days in the summer. Combine all of that with top-notch durability, and the value of this four-season base layer is well established.

Even down to the embossed rubber logo, this top is thoughtfully...
Even down to the embossed rubber logo, this top is thoughtfully designed to last many adventures over many seasons.
Photo: Jill Rice

Conclusion


We have been impressed by the performance of Norrona's technical base layers in the past, and the Norrona Wool Round Neck continues to build on that impression. This technical layer excels in practically any climate, and certainly across all four seasons. From desert crack climbs to enduro-style mountain biking to long ski tours, you can confidently push your limits in this base layer knowing that it will keep you warm, dry, and comfortable through it all.

We were amazed at just how well this top kept us cool and dry, even...
We were amazed at just how well this top kept us cool and dry, even on a hard ride under the scorching mid-day sun of the desert Southwest.
Photo: Jill Rice

Aaron Rice