One of our testers liked to joke that his Merino 2 Henley, with its horizontal stripes and loose button down opening, made him look like a 'pirate baby', but this top is good for more than just swashbuckling. Patagonia has designed a great piece of long underwear that is light and breathable but still able to take some abuse. It was the top performer in our air dry test and also scored highly for comfort and fit. We like it for off-trail excursions, dawn patrol skiing, and sipping craft beer. Don't worry if you lack a parrot or a peg leg; this shirt also comes in solid patterns or a crew neck for landlubbers.
Patagonia Merino 2 Lightweight Henley Review
Cons: Less warm, limited durability, wash with care, hipster styling
Our Analysis and Test Results
Quality made long underwear from a respected manufacturer; this top provides function and style in one lightweight package.
Along with the Under Armour Base 2.0, this is tied for the thinnest of all long underwear tested. Predictably, it is also one of the least warm. This lack of insulation is not necessarily a bad quality. Less material means that this shirt is light, at 7.1 oz for a size large, and the moderate level of warmth that it does provide might be perfect for high intensity activities that produce their own heat, like backcountry or cross-country skiing. The hidden thumb loops—included on all the Patagonia base layers tested—helps trap a little extra heat around the wrists without compromising fashion.
The 80/20% merino-polyester fabric was the most breathable of the three merino wool tops tested and ranked highly in this metric overall. The thin material is partly responsible, along with a looser weave than the other merino layers, for more air space for water vapor to pass through. Another feature we like is the four button closure at the neck, the 'Henley', which lets you vent some air when you start to overheat.
Solidifying this long underwear's credentials as a great piece for high intensity outings was its first place finish in our air dry test. It beat out several more expensive products whose manufacturer's tout proprietary drying technologies. We try to explain this performance using the same qualities that made it so breathable: thin fabric and loosely woven merino wool. During the air dry test the author found it difficult to even get this top wet; having to manually agitate it while submerged before the fibers would absorb water. Perhaps there is truth to merino wool marketing claims that the material can absorb 30% of its weight in moisture before feeling wet.
The relaxed fit of the Merino 2 Henley allows you to wear it comfortably next to the skin or over another layer. Unlike the crew necks reviewed, the button down closure on this top allows you to show off a clever undershirt or your chest hair, whichever is hipper in your area.
Merino wool is inherently less durable than a comparable synthetic garment because the warmth-to-weight ratio is higher for wool, so the fabric is thinner on a shirt of equal warmth. Patagonia claims they compensate for this by adding polyester to create an 80/20 merino-polyester blend. Whether this is actually for durability or to save costs on fabric, we are not sure, but the Henley did seem as strong as the thicker merino wool options. When compared to the rest of the field, this top sacrifices durability for advantages in drying speed, breathability, and overall weight. This weakness is partially lessened because wool will not absorb odors and, therefore, should not have to be washed as often.
Comfort and Fit
Patagonia did a great job ensuring that this long underwear feels comfortable and fits well. We particularly like the thoughtful fabric backing on the metal buttons that eliminates irritation or the chill of cold metal on the skin. Functionally, this top also works nicely. It has a light, relaxed, feel that rides up less during movement than other merino wool shirts.
The versatile features of this base layer means that it can be used in nearly any application, from cutting-edge alpine ascents to casual beer drinking. Although not as warm as some of the options tested, it can be worn over or under other tops to achieve the desired level of insulation. Avoid activities where it could be subject to abrasion.
Like the rest of the merino wool long underwear tested, this top is expensive. The price comes with the fabric. However, if found on sale, the Merino Henley 2 is modestly cheaper than the Icebreaker Oasis or Smartwool NTS 250 Mid Crew, yet offers comparable performance. Durability issues decrease its value relative to synthetic options.
Overall, this top offers a nice balance of qualities; it is lightweight, breathable, and quick to dry, but delicate and less insulating. No shirt can be all things at once. Our testers believe the Icebreaker and Smartwool selections to be of slightly higher quality, but personal preferences could lead a reasonable shopper to choose Patagonia's Merino 2 Henley.
— Jack Cramer