Hands-on Gear Review

Smartwool Merino 250 1/4 Zip - Women's Review

Editors' Choice Award
Price:  $100 List | $70.00 at Amazon
Compare prices at 2 resellers
Pros:  Wide range of thermoregulation, cute, super cozy, great fit, fantastic breathability, no odor fabric
Cons:  Lacks durability, absorbs more water
Bottom line:  This Editors' Choice winner features a wide range of thermoregulation and versatility wrapped into one heck of a comfortable package.
Editors' Rating:   
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Material:  100% Merino wool, 250 Midweight
Zip neck or crew neck?:  Zip
Smelly over time?:  No
Manufacturer:   Smartwool

Our Verdict

The Smartwool Merino ¼ Zip is our favorite baselayer this year. Winning our Editor's Choice award, this top will keep you warm while you tackle high peaks or descend snowy slopes. The 100% Merino wool construct is comfortable and warm providing a wide range of thermoregulation in temperatures ranging from the double negatives to the sunny 70s. We wore it while hiking, biking, running, and skiing. In all situations it did great, drying quickly and keeping us relatively dry even when we sweat hard.

While the Smartwool Merino 1/4 Zip features the same materials as the Smartwool Merino 250 Crew, our Top Pick for everyday wear, it proved to be more versatile with better overall performance. The crew cut collar of the Smartwool Merino 250 Base Layer doesn't provide as much warmth nor as much versatility when adventuring into the backcountry. Our testers typically chose the Smartwool ¼ Zip during the winter adventures because of its added protection, warmth, and venting capabilities. The crew-neck was typically preferred for hiking and wearing out around town.

If you're in search of a single base layer that can be used for a plethora of activities, the Smartwool Merino ¼ Zip is our best recommendation. While it's not as durable as the Arc'teryx Rho LT or other synthetic layers, it most certainly provides better thermoregulation and warmth overall. A perfect year-round base layer for any outdoor adventure.



RELATED REVIEW: The Best Long Underwear and Base Layers for Women


Our Analysis and Test Results

Review by:
Amber King

Last Updated:
Tuesday
March 27, 2018

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The Smartwool Merino ¼ Zip baselayer is our go-to for outdoor play. The fabric is super cozy and warm, providing a wide range of thermoregulation through all four seasons. This Editor's Choice winner is our top recommendation for its versatility and bomber performance while skiing the bumps and hiking up majestic mountains.

Performance Comparison


A look at the fit of our Editors' Choice award winner.
A look at the fit of our Editors' Choice award winner.

Warmth


Scoring an eight out of ten, this is one of warmest base layers tested. Constructed of 100% Merino wool, this midweight layer features a wide range of thermoregulation. We tested in temperatures ranging from the mid-70s to the double negatives. In all situations, we found applicable uses! In Northern Ontario, the soft wool insulated and generated heat under a mid-layer and jacket, keeping us toasty while skating and lake hiking. In Colorado, we ran and hiked, noting the cozy wool did a great job wicking away sweat. When caught in a rainstorm, this layer insulated and still kept us warm. As a result, it thrives in all conditions, making it perfect as a wear alone piece in warm months and a base layer in the colder part of the year.


The Smartwool Merino 250 Crew features 100% wool and offers terrific warmth; however, it isn't as warm as the Smartwool ¼ Zip, simply because it doesn't cover the neck. This lead to more heat loss during cold months. The ¼ zip also allows more venting then the 250 Crew which provides a broader range of thermoregulation.

If you seek the warmest wool base layers tested, the Icebreaker Tech 260 Midweight is a more substantial weight layer that will keep you warm on the coldest days around. If you want a base layer with a similar range of thermoregulation, be sure to check out the super warm WoolX Hannah featuring a longer fit. If a synthetic base layer is what you want, the Arc'teryx Rho LT Zip Neck is the warmest tested and our Top Pick for Versatility. That said, it doesn't have as wide a range of thermoregulation as the Smartwool ¼ Zip, but it is a little more wind resistant.

If you prefer Smartwool products, they have a plethora of different weight options using similar fabric. Simply check out the different weights if you prefer more or less warmth overall.

Breathability


In addition to being warm, this layer is ultra-breathable. When considering all the different layers on an afternoon run in the winter, our go-to was typically this layer amongst some other synthetic competitors. Its tighter fit facilitates better wicking ability, and sweat does not hang around in the fabric. Also, the zip neck provides better venting then the Smartwool Crew and other Merino wool contenders. As a result, it scores a nine out of ten for breathability.


Of the merino wool base layers, this is the most breathable. A close second is the Kari Traa Rose Half Zip, featuring breathable panels under the arms and a zip neck collar. While it's breathable, we found the fabric to be more tightly knit keeping moisture locked in. Moisture doesn't evaporate as well as the Smartwool ¼ Zip during backcountry ski tours and late afternoon runs, resulting in a lower score than the Smartwool.

Trail running during an after-work run. The Smartwool 1/4 Zip sufficed on this trip providing great thermoregulation.
Trail running during an after-work run. The Smartwool 1/4 Zip sufficed on this trip providing great thermoregulation.

If a breathable synthetic is what you seek, the Patagonia Midweight Capilene Crew is our top recommendation. While this has a crew collar that doesn't offer as much venting, the fleece-lined interior provides more airflow then any base layer tested. While it's not as warm as Merino wool contenders, it certainly is best for aerobic activities where you're going to be breaking a sweat. That said, it holds a little more moisture (and smell) then the Smartwool Merino ¼ zip effectively making it a cooler base layer.

Comfort & Fit


Oh boy…can we gloat about the coziness of this fabric for a second? Earning a perfect score for comfort and fit, this Smartwool ¼ Zip is our go-to for everyday adventures. We like to wear it everywhere, though its best place is in the backcountry. The Merino Wool that Smartwool uses is super comfortable and soft. It doesn't itch, even when wearing it against the skin for days on end. It doesn't get smelly and seems to dry super quickly. Also, it stretches just enough for a fit that every one of our testers loves.


We tested fit with a variety of testers from short to tall. This particular piece features a medium fit, with the hem coming down just past the hips. The arms are long enough for all body types, and the size is true to fit. Since the fabric stretches, it doesn't confine through the shoulders or the bust, similar to the Smartwool 250 Crew. That said, it's not as skin tight as the ultra-cozy Arc'teryx Rho LT, nor is it as baggy and loose as the Patagonia Midweight Crew.

One of the most comfortable base layers in this review!
One of the most comfortable base layers in this review!

If are in search of a base layer that is better suited for wearing out to dinner and maybe during a casual day at work, this one is our favorite. However, the Smartwool 250 Crew is our Top Pick for everyday wear because of its cute designs that are more conducive to everyday wear. While the zip option is certainly cute, it looks a little more "techy" (because of the collar). Plus the crew just has better pattern options.

This top comes down just around the hips and features a little stretch for all body types. While it doesn't have the longest arms or torso  it still fit our longer armed testers comfortably.
This top comes down just around the hips and features a little stretch for all body types. While it doesn't have the longest arms or torso, it still fit our longer armed testers comfortably.

Given the relaxed fit, we found that it could easily be worn all day long, for multiple days on end. Put it on underneath a jacket or overtop a tight tank top or t-shirt. Another huge plus? Just like other 100% Merino wool contenders, such as the WoolX Hannah, the fabric doesn't stretch over time. Overall, the Smartwool Merino ¼ Zip is given a perfect score because of its excellent comfort features and "next-to-the-skin" comfort that will have you adventuring for days.

Layering Ability


With a thinner fabric design and longer arms, this contender is easier to layer than most Merino wool options tested. This is because of its thinner design and tighter fit. While the 100% Merino wool face fabric is soft and comfortable, it is not very slippery, grabbing other layers when taking it on and off. In fact, when heading out to go skiing, we typically grabbed a layer with a more slippery face fabric when we needed to wear a mid-layer with a fleece component. That said, the arms are longer than other Merino wool options so they can be used to pull through without bunching. The result? It scores a seven out of ten in this metric. Not bad, but not the greatest either.


Unlike synthetic base layers such as the REI Co-op Midweight Base Layer Crew, our Best Buy award winner, the Smartwool Merino ¼ Zip does not have a slippery face fabric. If you want a base layer that layers the best of all tested, the Arc'teryx Rho LT is it! It features the tightest fit and a slippery face fabric that slides under other sticky layers. Unlike the Smartwool Merino ¼ Zip it also does not ride up when taking it off nor does it stick when putting it on.

Here we wrestle on the Patagonia R1 that has a fleece-lined interior. The grabbier face fabric of the Smartwool 1/4 Zip baselayer makes it a little harder to layer than those with a slipperier face fabric.
Here we wrestle on the Patagonia R1 that has a fleece-lined interior. The grabbier face fabric of the Smartwool 1/4 Zip baselayer makes it a little harder to layer than those with a slipperier face fabric.

Drying Speed


Scoring a seven out of ten, we were pretty impressed by the drying ability of this zip-up top. When getting it wet, it proved to absorb quite a bit of water, making it the second most absorbent. For sure we thought it would be one of the longest to dry; but, we were surprised when it took only 90 minutes to dry, similar to other Merino wool contenders. As a result, it earns an average seven out of ten for drying speed.


If you seek a base layer that will dry super quickly, consider a synthetic option. For example; the Patagonia Capilene proved to be the fastest to dry (only 40 minutes), more then half the time it took for Merino wool contenders. The North Face Warm Crew was a close second, taking only 50 minutes to dry, along with the REI Co-op Midweight Crew.

Durability


Utilizing a 100% Merino wool construction, this contender is not as durable as synthetic options. While we did not observe any serious wear and tear during our testing period, we noted some stitching flyaways and pilling of the fabric after just a few washes. We wouldn't choose it as a wear alone top for high-friction sports like crack climbing or canyoneering. Instead, we would choose it for day hikes or wear underneath other layers. As a result, it scores an average six out of ten in this category.


If you seek an ultra-durable top that will stand up to wiggling through sandstone cracks or backpacking for weeks on end, consider a more durable option like the Arc'teryx Rho LT Zip. This particular baselayer earns a nine out of ten because of its uber durable polyester-blend construction that has stood up in our testing period for over three years. Or consider The North Face Crew that didn't show any pilling or stitching fly-aways in our three month testing period. Of the wool contenders tested, the Icebreaker Tech 260 Midweight seemed to be the most durable. Its tightly-knit construct showed less affinity to get snagged on branches while bushwhacking through the woods.

While this top didn't earn any holes  we noticed some pilling around the wrists and some stitching fly-aways. Although this a great all-around use top  it sure isn't incredibly durable.
While this top didn't earn any holes, we noticed some pilling around the wrists and some stitching fly-aways. Although this a great all-around use top, it sure isn't incredibly durable.

Best Applications


With the largest range of thermoregulation, this versatile base-layer is recommended for outdoor play throughout the four seasons. Wear it out with friends or while hiking in the backcountry; just avoid wearing using it as a stand-alone piece if you plan on shimmying through tight sandstone slots or bushwhacking through the backcountry…the fabric won't hold up to the friction and snags.

Here we take a training winter run after work with the Smartwool 1/4 Zip in a layered system. After the run where we transitioned from hot to cold  we felt comfortable. This Merino wool competitor thermoregulates well!
Here we take a training winter run after work with the Smartwool 1/4 Zip in a layered system. After the run where we transitioned from hot to cold, we felt comfortable. This Merino wool competitor thermoregulates well!

Value


For just $100, you can take home one of the best performing base layers on the market. While it's not the most durable, it certainly holds its value with its wonderful comfort and thermoregulation. If you prefer a synthetic layer, be sure to check out the REI Co-op Crew for just $50 (our Best Buy winner). The North Face Warm Crew is also a great warmer synthetic option for just $50 as well.

Conclusion


This Editor's Choice winner is perfect for all-year-round play. Its wide range of thermoregulation in addition to its cozy fabrics will have you wearing it day to day. Take it with you on your next great adventure.

Amber King

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Most recent review: March 27, 2018
Summary of All Ratings

OutdoorGearLab Editors' Rating:  
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 (5.0)
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