Honest Review: Smartwool Base Layers

We asked our online editor to wear Smartwool base layers for an entire week while on a backcountry ski trip. He was instructed never to remove them. This is his review.

Before embarking on a recent ski trip to the Lequereux Outpost to take my AST 2 course I was handed a pair of Smartwool base layers consisting of a long-sleeved shirt and long bottoms and told to wear them the entire time I was there. I said “Sure,” even though there was no way in hell I’d have them on in the sauna. But I was interested to see how they’d perform in variable weather. As it turned out it was a great test because temperatures ranged from -15°C with fierce winds and blowing snow to 0°C and sunny. Meanwhile, inside the cabin it was a balmy +15°C except for my top bunk, which was at least double that.

Snapshot: Smartwool Base layers

  1. Pros: Super comfortable, breathable and warm.
  2. Cons: As with all merino products, you have to treat them delicately. (See hack below.)
  3. Price: Bottoms = $90 Cdn / Crew Top = $90 Cdn
  4. Who Should Buy: Active outdoorsy people who like to be comfortable and hate the stink of polypro.
  5. Who Shouldn’t Buy: Fat-assed couch potatoes. Also, people who suffer from the cold – get the Smartwool 200 or 250 layers instead.
  6. Helpful Hack: Launder your Smartwool base layers in a mesh bag – that’ll cut down on the wear and tear.
  7. Author’s overall rating: 9.5/10

The Test

As mentioned above I wore the Smartwool base layers for an entire week during a backcountry ski trip. I had them on while skinning up mountains, skiing down them and lounging in the hut before and after. However, I was unable to wear them in the sauna (for obvious reasons) as well as when sleeping because my top bunk in the cabin was also a sauna. Since that trip a month ago I’ve also worn them rock climbing and couch potatoing.

smartwool base layers in use

The author gets comfy while shredding pow in Smartwool base layers. Valkyr mountain range. Photo by Will Slater.

The Verdict

Despite being asked to wear Smartwool base layers 24/7 during a week-long backcountry ski trip, I couldn’t do it. The fact is, even the 150 Merino was too warm. (Merino 150 means there are 150 grams of merino wool for every square metre of fabric.) That said, I’m originally from Manitoba so I’m used to the cold and my body tends to run warm, which means others may find the 150 too cold for skiing and other winter sports. (If that’s the case, consider the 200 or 250 Merino.) The reason I couldn’t wear the base layers the entire time was because the upper bunk I was sleeping in was like a sauna – I had to strip naked and pant to get through the first hours of the night.

Nor did I wear the base layers in the real sauna. But I did wear them at all other times. I sweat in them on the long skin tracks up and was impressed with how much they wicked the moisture away from my skin. I never once felt clammy like I do when I’m wearing polypro or some other synthetic. And I stayed comfortably warm on the way down. Never too hot. Never too cold.

Inside I wore the Smartwool base layers while eating, stretching, lounging and pouring over topos. Never, not once, did I feel uncomfortable. (As mentioned above though, I had to take them off to sleep.)

Smartwool athlete Austin Smith lived in his base layers after setting up base camp in the RV parking lot of Mt. Bachelor, Oregon, this past winter.

Not only was the Smartwool products warm, I’m also impressed that they’re an ethical company. I won’t go into the details as this is strictly a product review, but to learn more about the New Zealand-based business, I recommend reading their supply chain information. Aside from the comfort and warmth my favourite part about wearing the base layers for a week was that they didn’t stink. Not even a little! I must have sweat litres into the things and they smelled like flowers. Ok, not that fragrant. More like wool.

Since that trip I’ve worn them multi-pitch rock climbing on a particular chilly day and stayed perfectly warm and comfortable. Also, I’ve only washed them once! And, honestly, they still don’t stink. You may think that’s gross but this is the thing you need to know about merino wool – it doesn’t have the same longevity as polypro or other synthetics. Which makes sense – it’s only hair after all! But there are ways to extend a garment’s life span and one way is to put it in a mesh bag before placing into the washing machine and using the delicate cycle. And never ever put it in the dryer. Smartwool claims you can with their products because of its “Core Spun” technology, which wraps merino around a nylon core for durability but, in my opinion it’s not worth it. Washing in a mesh bag and drying on a laundry line will ensure you don’t chew through the fabric super fast.

Overall, I love my Smartwool base layers. Now if only they made the bottoms in a colour other than black.

Smartwool base layer – Merino 150 Crew shirt

The Deets

  • MSRP of the 150 long-sleeved crew shirt: $90 Cdn
  • Slim Fit
  • Raglan sleeve design removes shoulder seams
  • Flatlock seam construction is designed to eliminate chafing
  • Core Spun technology wraps merino fibers around a nylon core for added durability
  • Merino 150 means there are 150 grams of merino wool for every square metre of fabric. (If you suffer from the cold you’ll want more wool per square metre.)
  • 87% Merino Wool, 13% Nylon Core
  • Colours: Fire Red, Black, Bright Blue and Light Loden (green)
  • Available in sizes S – XL

Smartwool base layer – Merino 150 Bottoms

The Deets

    • MSRP of the 150 long bottoms: $90 Cdn
    • Slim Fit; Mid Rise
    • Wide elastic waistband (40 mm) designed for comfort
    • Functional fly
    • Flatlock seam construction is designed to eliminate chafing
    • Size Medium has an inseam of 78.5 cm (31″)
    • Core Spun technology wraps merino fibers around a nylon core for added durability
    • Merino 150 means there are 150 grams of merino wool for every square metre of fabric. (If you suffer from the cold you’ll want more wool per square metre.)
    • 87% Merino Wool, 13% Nylon Core
    • Colours: Black
    • Available in sizes S – XL

The above garments are also available in women-specific sizing.

Author / Contributor

Vince Hempsall

Vince Hempsall lives in the beautiful mountain town of Nelson, British Columbia, where he spends his time rock climbing, backcountry skiing and mountain biking (when not working). He is the online editor for Mountain Culture Group and the managing editor of Kootenay Mountain Culture Magazine.


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