Norrona Wool Round Neck Review
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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