I’m a massive fan of merino wool. After being introduced to this magical fabric a few years ago, you’ll hardly find me wearing any other material out on the trails. The benefits of merino are pretty conclusive, and I’ll go into them briefly below, but not all merino t-shirts are created equally.
I’ve used a few different brands over the last few years, but when Paul from Ottie Merino asked me to give his Australian owned and made merino t-shirt’s a spin, I was pretty curious to see how it would match up.
His tees are made from 100% Australian merino and made in Melbourne at an ethically accredited manufacturer. He’s also a hiker himself, so they’re ideally designed to be made for hikers by hikers. It definitely ticked a lot of boxes for me before I’d even received it, but now I’ve used it for a few weeks travelling and hiking around South Australia and, well, you’ll have to keep reading to find out how it performed.
Why merino wool?
If you’re a newbie to merino wool, allow me to change your life by introducing you to the best fabric there is for any outdoor adventure. So, what’s the big deal?
Merino wool is a natural fibre that is one of the finest you can find in nature. This makes it softer and lighter than traditional wool. It’s also quick drying, moisture wicking and provides a nice insulating effect, keeping you warm when it’s cold and cool when it’s hot. Basically, it’s the ultimate base layer option for all seasons.
Perhaps the best benefit of merino, however, is that the sheep also produce lanolin, which is a natural anti-bacterial and basically makes merino wool odour resistant. In other words, you can wear merino day after day, sweating it out on a trail and it won’t smell. Try it for yourself, it’s magic.
And when it comes to sustainability, obviously wool is a natural fibre compared to other hiking t-shirts which are often made from synthetic materials. This means merino is actually biodegradable, which is a win for the environment.
How I tested it
When Paul asked me to test and review one of his merino t-shirt’s, I was very close to leaving in my van for South Australia. This was perfect, as I was able to test it out in a number of different ways. From lazy van days on the coast to day hikes in Deep Creek Conservation Park, Onkaparinga River National Park and Mt Remarkable National Park, I wore the t-shirt for quite a few days (without washing it) to put it to the test.
You can read below about how it performed.
Basic overview of Ottie Merino Tees
|Women’s sizes||XS – XL|
|Men’s sizes||S – XXL|
|Colours||Black, Otway Fern, Plum, Indigo and Whisky|
|Weight/gsm*||160 – 170 gsm|
|Shipping||Australian + New Zealand $9, or free if you buy two or more|
|Returns||Exchange, credit or refund offered|
*Merino wool is measured in grams per square metre as a standardised rule
At present, Ottie Merino only produce t-shirts in these five colours, with plans to expand the range eventually. I’ve heard long sleeve options are in the pipeline!
Comfort, fit and style
There are a few things to know about Ottie Merino’s style and fit which are quite unique. First, they are made purposely with a relaxed fit, for comfort in all activities. Second, they’re longer than normal t-shirts, which is designed to prevent it from creeping up while wearing a backpack. Third, they come in one standard design, which is plain, round neck, and with decent sleeves. This is all important to know before purchasing!
I have been testing out a women’s small in black, which is what I usually am in pretty much all outdoor brands. However, it’s definitely a “larger” small than other merino tees I’ve worn, which I wasn’t sure I would like at first. I usually prefer to wear relatively fitted clothing while hiking, but I have to say, I was pretty impressed by how it felt when I was out on the trail.
It’s definitely a comfortable fit and it’s probably the first and only t-shirt I’ve worn that doesn’t ride up my back while wearing a backpack. I usually have a lot of problems with this, so it was a welcome change.
I also liked the design as I often opt for rounded crew necklines and decent sleeves for hiking anyway, as this provides the most comfort in my opinion. While some women might prefer V-neck style or something different, I find this is the most practical and sun-smart option for the outdoors. In terms of colours, you’ve also got some nice choices that are a little different to your usual colours, especially in women’s outdoor clothing. From fern green to mustard yellow, you can check out the colours here.
The final thing I have to say about the style is that the fabric is literally the softest merino I’ve ever worn. While some heavier weighted and blended wool t-shirts are harsher to the skin, this is definitely a very nice t-shirt to wear comparatively.
Score: 8.5 / 10
If I haven’t already convinced you that merino wool is the MVP of all materials, let me explain the performance of the Ottie Merino. It’s pretty difficult to fault it really.
While it was comfortable wearing it around town and in the van, the real test was the walks I did in Deep Creek Conservation Park, Onkaparinga National Park and Mt Remarkable National Park. I wore it as a base layer under a fleece jacket when it was cooler and on its own when I was sweating it out up the steep inclines on the trails. Either way, it kept me warm when it needed to and cool when the sun came out.
It also dried relatively quickly when drenched in sweat. Although it probably took a bit longer than expected with the cool autumn air and it was still damp by the time I rolled back into camp. While some synthetic materials will often dry a bit quicker than merino, I don’t see this as a huge downfall as it still kept me warm even when it was a bit damp.
I didn’t wash it (actually I still haven’t) after more than a week of wear, with around half of those days being hiking days and it doesn’t smell. Just a bit of airing out overnight and it still looks and feels fresh in the morning. This is where merino wool is unbeatable, especially if you’re doing multi-day activities or live in a van and don’t wash very often (i.e. me).
Score: 9 / 10
Sustainability and ethics
I’m no fan of fast fashion so sustainability and ethics is really important to me. Ottie definitely does a good job in this category, and in fact, better than pretty much most other outdoor brands in my opinion.
Here are the facts (straight from the Ottie website if you want to read more).
Ottie Merino T-shirts are made from 100% Australian merino wool. It’s sourced from around the country but is traceable and 100% mulesing-free. Now the processing and spinning is the only part of the manufacturing process that occurs overseas, which is because there’s just no industry for processing here anymore. In saying that, it’s then knitted and dyed back here in Melbourne.
The t-shirts are made in the northern suburbs of Melbourne at an ethically accredited manufacturing factory. No sweatshops and top quality guaranteed.
All of that, plus the t-shirts are biodegradable and will actually compost over time because they’re made from natural fibres. You also don’t really need to wash it very often because, well, merino just doesn’t smell.
My only small improvement in this area is that it came in regular postal packaging, rather than biodegradable and compostable mail bags that I’ve received other goods in before. While the t-shirt wasn’t wrapped in plastic itself, there are more environmentally friendly mail bags around. Minor point but still important.
Score: 9.5 / 10
Just a note on durability. Merino wool is a delicate fibre that is not as durable as other materials. It also ideally should be handwashed or washed in a protective bag in the washing machine to avoid wear and tear. However, the benefit of not needing to wash it often means that it should still last a long time.
Occasionally small holes appear in merino hiking t-shirts, it’s happened to me before. While I haven’t had the Ottie Merino t-shirt long enough just yet, it doesn’t mean you couldn’t still wear it on the trail, with holes, rips and all.
Alright, I have to touch on the money side of things. While you might think, “Wow, $85 is a large chunk of cash for a t-shirt.” Let me explain.
You can’t put a price on premium, high quality, ethically made clothing. While you might be able to get a merino t-shirt from Kathmandu or even Aldi for less, it’s likely manufactured overseas, and the quality of the wool might not be the same.
This is also a small Aussie business, which means you can’t expect them to sell the product for less than it costs to make (hopefully that’s obvious) and they don’t throw sales every other week.
And if you compare prices with a brand like Icebreaker (long been considered the leader in merino products), $85 ain’t too bad.
If you’ve scrolled right down to here because you just wanted a quick summary, well here it is!
9 / 10
What I really liked
- One of the softest and comfiest merino t-shirts I’ve ever worn
- Odourless even after days of wearing it
- Practical design and fit for hiking (or other outdoor activities)
- Massive tick in the sustainability and ethical category
Possible areas for improvements
- The relaxed fit is perhaps too “relaxed”, although you can always get a size down if you prefer (use the measurement guide on the website for accuracy)
- Remains a bit damp in cooler climates after a lot of sweating
- Removing single use postal packaging would give it a 10/10 in sustainability
Disclaimer: I was provided an Ottie Merino T-shirt for this review and I’m still wearing it around, but all opinions here are my own.