It feels odd to write a review of a shirt; especially a shirt that doesn’t have any “bells and whistles”. It doesn’t have pockets. It isn’t made of a space-aged, scientifically-discovered, cutting-edge, NASA-tested, super-synthetic. It is a shirt. Just a shirt.
In the last few years, wool has gone from being know as “that stuff my grandpa used to wear” to the “must have” material for the outdoors individual. Wool isn’t about itchy sweaters anymore, it is about the best next-to-skin layers you can find. Walk into a Cabela’s or REI (your choice) and you will find merino wool being touted as the item to have for everything from socks, to underwear, to base layers. Merino wool has many benefits, but for me it comes to three things: comfort, fast-drying, and odor (or, rather the lack thereof).
Merino wool is ridiculously soft, itch-free, and comfortable; especially in lighter weights, such as KUIU’s 185 layer. Merino wool is also incredibly fast drying. While the latest and greatest synthetics also dry fast, merino wool still wins in moisture management for two reasons. 1) When both materials are damp, merino feels much less “clamy” in comparison to synthetics. 2) Again, when both materials are damp, merino seems to remain much warmer than synthetics – especially when you combine dampness and a breeze.
Odor. As a bowhunter, I am constantly trying to manage my scent to avoid spooking wary game. That said, hunter or not, no one likes to stink. Have you ever been out for days at a time in the same set of synthetic base layers? I have, and it doesn’t smell like roses. Merino wool is odorless. Yes, odorless. I have worn this base layer for at least 15 full days of hard activity (hiking 30+ miles, hunting 7+ days, cutting the grass, working through rain, you name it) and I have not washed it once. There is no odor on the shirt whatsoever. Trust me, if there is a stench, my wife will find it. She can’t smell a thing on this shirt.
Thus far I have mention a bit about merino wool in general, but not about KUIU’s base layers in particular. What sets KUIU’s merino wool apart from the others? Let’s take a look…
KUIU’s merino wool base layers are made of 100% natural merino wool, sourced directly from one of the top merino suppliers in the world, The Merino Company (TMC). While this isn’t unique to KUIU, it also isn’t the standard. There are many merino wool base layers out there that are blended with synthetics, and there are also other 100% merino layers that aren’t up to the quality that can be achieved with the strict quality standards of merino wool from TMC. When it comes to getting merino wool, make sure you are getting the real deal.
Another area that KUIU excels in is fit. If there is one item that I have a hard time finding to fit perfectly, it is a base layer top. There are just so many variables in sleeve length, stretch, sizing (something form fitting, but not circulation inhibiting), etc. KUIU nails the fit on their base layers. The sleeves are actually long enough for someone like me me, who has longer than average arms. Also, the tail length of the shirt is extended, and thus stays tucked. I can’t tell you how many layers I have tried that will not stay tucked over the course of an active day, but I can tell you how many will – one. (This one!)
As breathable as merino is, there are times when even the light weight 185 layer needs to be ventilated, and that is where the generous 13″ zipper comes in handy. I had never really used the zipper much until my last trip where it proved its value during a grueling steep climb in 85+ degree heat. Being able to open the shirt up so much really helped keep me cool on the climb.
Another area that KUIUs base layer excels in is construction. The flatlock stitching seems like it will hold up very well. That said, you must be aware that the lighter weight merino wools (such as the 185), are more prone to wear and abrasion than the heavier weights. This shouldn’t be a huge concern since this base layer will primarily be used under an additional layer, which will protect it from wear and abrasion. I have word this shirt several times as my only layer, and even after some hard days of wearing it under my pack in the thick stuff, it still looks new. We will see how it holds up come this fall, but again most of its wear will be under an additional layer.
On the note of wearing this layer as a stand-alone garment, I should mention that KUIU also offers their base layers in their Vias camouflage pattern. I opted to go for the solid color for several reasons, but most notably for the fact that I don’t intend to hunt in this layer alone. In warm weather, using this shirt as a next-to-skin layer followed up by a very light weight camo layer is an ideal solution.
Another factor to consider with the KUIU layers is price. A good merino wool garment isn’t cheap, and KUIU’s offerings are no exception. However, at $69 dollars KUIU’s 185 Base Layer is competitive with other quality merino providers.
If you are new to, or considering merino wool, I can’t recommend it enough. Whether you go with KUIU or someone else, merino has enormous benefits for the active outdoorsmen (and women). If you are shopping for merino wool, KUIU is a defnitely worthy of your consideration. Check out their whole line of merino wool garments at shop.kuiu.com