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Smartwool Merino Sport 150 Tech Review

A functional shirt for aerobic activities that utilizes a blend of polyester and natural merino wool.
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Price:  $65 List | $65.00 at Amazon
Pros:  Breathable, quick drying, mostly natural fibers
Cons:  Itchy, hot
Manufacturer:   Smartwool
By Brian Martin ⋅ Review Editor  ⋅  Oct 25, 2019
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47
OVERALL
SCORE


RANKED
#10 of 11
  • Comfort - 35% 4
  • Breathability - 20% 6
  • Drying Speed - 15% 3
  • Versatility - 15% 5
  • Features - 15% 6

Our Verdict

While there are many things we like about the Smartwool Merino Sport 150 Tech, there are a few critical issues as well. Comfort is of the utmost importance when running, and unfortunately, the Merino Sport falls a bit short. While we appreciate the use of natural fibers, the wool is a bit too itchy. This unpleasant itch was exacerbated when we had a running pack on or tried to layer over this shirt. Apart from the itch, it's a functional running shirt; the fabric is breathable and dries relatively quick, offering proper evaporative cooling. The odor repelling properties are fantastic.


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Star Rating
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Pros Breathable, quick drying, mostly natural fibersHighly breathable, lightweight, quick dryingLots of features, very versatile, dries fast, awesome ventingComfortable flat-locked merrow stitching, durable Phasic FL polyester fabric, lots of reflectors, UPF protectionDries quickly, versatile, affordable, soft material, odor resistant
Cons Itchy, hotTaped seams on shoulders less durable than sewn seamsFabric feels rough and artificial against skin, chest pocket is smallDoesn’t allow direct air flow as easily as mesh shirts, holds lots of moistureHeavy when wet
Bottom Line A functional shirt for aerobic activities that utilizes a blend of polyester and natural merino wool.Exceedingly comfortable and fast drying are the two top attributes for the best running shirt you can buy.The best running shirt for winter or on cold days in the fall and spring.A great running shirt, well-suited for any endeavors that require layering.An affordable and comfortable short sleeve running shirt.
Rating Categories Merino Sport 150 Tech Patagonia Airchaser Ambition 1/4 Zip Arc'teryx Motus Crew Brooks Distance
Comfort (35%)
10
0
4
10
0
9
10
0
6
10
0
9
10
0
9
Breathability (20%)
10
0
6
10
0
9
10
0
8
10
0
7
10
0
5
Drying Speed (15%)
10
0
3
10
0
9
10
0
8
10
0
5
10
0
4
Versatility (15%)
10
0
5
10
0
8
10
0
10
10
0
9
10
0
8
Features (15%)
10
0
6
10
0
7
10
0
10
10
0
8
10
0
5
Specs Merino Sport 150... Patagonia Airchaser Ambition 1/4 Zip Arc'teryx Motus Crew Brooks Distance
Material 56% Merino Wool, 44% Polyester Recycled polyester 58% Polyester, 42% Recycled Polyester Double Knit With FlashDry Phasic FL (100% polyester) 85% polyester, 15% spandex
Weight (oz.) 5.2 oz. 3.1 oz. 9.4 oz. 4.0 oz. 5.5 oz.
Reflective material? Yes Yes - 2 Yes - 1 Yes - 5 Yes - 1
UPF? N/A N/A 30 25 Yes, number not specified
Odor Control? Yes Yes - HeiQ Fresh durable odor control No No Yes - DriLayer Burst fabric
Zip Neck Option? No No Yes No No

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.

Performance Comparison


As the only shirt in our review with natural fibers  we had high hopes. While the Merino Sport 150 might be comfortable to some  it was too itchy and abrasive to be a true running shirt.
As the only shirt in our review with natural fibers, we had high hopes. While the Merino Sport 150 might be comfortable to some, it was too itchy and abrasive to be a true running shirt.

Comfort


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.

Gusseted underarms and flatlock seams are traits seen in high quality and durable running shirts. If the fabric was a bit less itchy  this shirt would be excellent.
Gusseted underarms and flatlock seams are traits seen in high quality and durable running shirts. If the fabric was a bit less itchy, this shirt would be excellent.

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.

Our 5'11" 175lbs gear tester found the fit of the Merino Sport to be just right. Not too tight  baggy  or short.
Our 5'11" 175lbs gear tester found the fit of the Merino Sport to be just right. Not too tight, baggy, or short.

Breathability


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.

The entire back panel is made from a merino/polyester mesh making it significantly more breathable than the rest of the shirt.
The entire back panel is made from a merino/polyester mesh making it significantly more breathable than the rest of the shirt.

It's important to note the merino wool blend is significantly warmer than some of the other fabrics we tested. While the shirt is still breathable and an excellent option, it might not be the best choice for the hottest of summer days.

Sewn-in vents along the upper back of the shirt allow for some extra airflow. These vents were a bit uncomfortable and not effective when trapped shut with a running pack or backpack.
Sewn-in vents along the upper back of the shirt allow for some extra airflow. These vents were a bit uncomfortable and not effective when trapped shut with a running pack or backpack.

Drying Speed


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.

The front panels of the Merino Sport are extremely tightly woven merino and polyester. While this materiel was one of the slowest drying in our test  it still went from saturated to completely dry relatively quickly.
The front panels of the Merino Sport are extremely tightly woven merino and polyester. While this materiel was one of the slowest drying in our test, it still went from saturated to completely dry relatively quickly.

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.

Versatility


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.

Features


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.

The neck sweatband and back vents are some of the only added features. Unfortunately the neck band and vents are a bit abrasive especially when wearing any sort of layer on top of this shirt.
The neck sweatband and back vents are some of the only added features. Unfortunately the neck band and vents are a bit abrasive especially when wearing any sort of layer on top of this shirt.

Value


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.

Conclusion


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.


Brian Martin