Smartwool Merino Sport 150 Tech Review
Our Analysis and Test Results
It goes without saying that merino wool will have a slightly more coarse feeling against your skin than some purely synthetic fabrics. Even with this in mind, the Merino Sport was distractingly itchy. While it maintains many redeeming features, the itchiness was a significant hitch in our giddyup.
To start with the positive, the Merino Sport had a comfortable, regular fit, and it was neither formfitting or loose. The size large was perfect for our 5'11", 175 pound gear tester. The moderately stretchy merino wool/polyester blend and gusseted underarm panels allowed for a full range of motion without feeling any restriction. To cap off the positives, the comfort boosting attribute was its flat-lock sewing throughout the shirt, making seams relatively smooth and comfortable inside the shirt.
Unfortunately, some attributes detracted from the overall comfort. While many merino wool shirts we've tested in the past aren't notably itchy, the Merino Sport is. Upon our initial test, we immediately noticed how coarse the fabric is. We put the shirt through several wash and dry cycles, even using a fabric softener - hoping to get a bit of the itch out of the shirt. These efforts were in vain. After weeks of testing and trying to break in the Sport, it remained too itchy for us to recommend for those with even mildly sensitive skin. If you don't have sensitive skin, there are some great redeeming features packed into this shirt; we would recommend trying it before buying it or purchasing from a retailer that offers returns.
Mesh paneling and sewn in vents around the neck make the Merino Sport highly breathable. While our standardized soaking test revealed it was able to hold 34% of its total weight in water, it never felt heavy or saturated while we were out for a jog. The mesh panels and vents allowed enough airflow to prevent saturation, and we remained relatively cool, even when the temperatures crept into the triple digits.
Our standardized testing revealed a surprisingly rapid drying speed for the wool/polyester blend of the Merino Sport. Within the first 10 minutes of drying, the Sport lost 95% of its initial water weight, and by the second measurement at 20 minutes, it had returned to its dry weight. These results were also noticeable in the real world. Even though the Merino Sport could hold a relatively high percentage of water relative to overall weight, it never felt saturated while running.
All of our real-world testing took place in the low lands of Tucson, AZ, or in the higher elevation mountains that surround the city - at around 8500 feet in elevation. No matter how humid it was or how hot the air temperature, the wool/polyester blend performed well.
Our biggest gripe is how itchy the fabric feels against our skin; this negative attribute also cuts into the versatility of the shirt. Having anything layered over this shirt enhances the itch, making it ill-suited for excursions requiring extra layering; this also applies to running packs, which didn't feel particularly good when wearing this shirt. The Merino Sport is, however, a good looking shirt and blends in well while out and about in the city, making it more of an all-around shirt rather than purely for aerobic pursuits.
As a general rule, running shirts aren't highly featured with many extras; the Merino Sport is no exception. It is equipped with sewn-in vents, gusseted underarm panels, and an entirely mesh ventilated back panel. The most notable feature is the natural odor repelling abilities of merino wool, which was appreciated in the hot climate of Arizona.
At its current retail price, it is hard to say that the Merino Sport is of good value. Unfortunately, merino wool is an expensive fabric and likely the prime reason for the high cost of this shirt. While we wouldn't hesitate to spend this amount for an ultra-comfortable, high-performance shirt, the itch alone is enough to send us looking for an alternative running shirt. As a casual wear item, this shirt looks good, and the benefits of merino wool are undeniable. The fact remains that this shirt is too itchy to be effective as a running layer.
While the Merino Sport has many redeeming features, the itchy fabric was a dealbreaker for our testers. We appreciated the odor repelling properties, breathability, and quick-drying nature of the merino wool blend, but at the end of the day, the discomfort left us wanting something else to wear on our run.
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