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REI Merino Midweight Review

REI Merino Midweight
Price:   $90 List | $89.50 at REI
Pros:  Solid across the board, good breathability, relatively fast drying speed
Cons:  Moderate durability, did not stand out in any category
Bottom line:  The REI Merino Midweight provided above-average performance across the board without wowing us in any specific areas. It's all you need, without any extras.
Editors' Rating:     
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Manufacturer:   REI
By Ross Robinson
Monday December 19, 2016

Our Verdict

Initially, the REI Merino Midweight didn't stand out as a product of much intrigue. It just looks like a simple base layer, without extra features or any real style. However, as the testing period carried on, our opinion of this versatile base layer continued to improve. Throughout late fall and early winter, this shirt proved to be a most capable garment for a variety of recreational activities. By sticking to the basics, REI produced a solid product with great performance in the field.

If you're interested in even greater performance from a wool product, look no further than our Editors' Choice award winner, the SmartWool Merino 250 Base Layer. This model significantly outscored its competition, and was especially warmer and more comfortable than the REI base layer. If you find wool to be too scratchy, though, The North Face Warm provides awesome durability and comfort, without the itch. It also costs about $30 less! For our full write-up of the field of competitors, head over to our complete Men's Long Underwear Review.


RELATED REVIEW: The Best Long Underwear and Base Layer for Men

Our Analysis and Test Results

The Merino Midweight by REI quietly snagged an overall top five score in our long underwear review. Without dominating any category, this no-frills merino wool model received solid marks on its outdoor report card, and comes at a price of $89.50.

Performance Comparison


Carpe diem! Ross Robinson gets ready to take advantage of the sunny day in the REI base layer and Asolo Jumla GV boots  which won a Top Pick award in our hiking boots review.
Carpe diem! Ross Robinson gets ready to take advantage of the sunny day in the REI base layer and Asolo Jumla GV boots, which won a Top Pick award in our hiking boots review.

Warmth


Featuring a moderately dense merino wool as its fabric, this REI model scored above-average in this metric. Also adding to its insulating ability is its good fit for temperature regulation, neither squeezing the torso, nor hanging baggy off our shoulders. It has a significant drop tail, which helps cover your bum and keep the shirt tucked into your pants when active. We also like the long 12-inch zipper that provides a great amount of ventilation for when things got too toasty. The SmartWool Merino 250 was the warmest merino wool product in our review, whereas the Patagonia Capilene Midweight and Under Armour Base 4.0 were the least warmest contenders, each scoring a 4 out of 10.

When things got warm under the REI model  the 12 inch zipper granted us control to ventilate excess heat.
When things got warm under the REI model, the 12 inch zipper granted us control to ventilate excess heat.

Breathability


This contender scored its highest mark in this category, receiving an eight out of ten for its breathability. As expected from a thin, midweight merino wool product, moisture quickly passes through the fabric and is released into the external air. After working up a sweat during our indoor workout, it only took six minutes before our skin was completely dry again. For the most breathable models in this review, check out the Under Armour Base 4.0 or Helly Hansen Lifa Stripe Crew, which scored 9 out of 10 in this metric. Alternatively, our Top Pick for Light Weight, the Rab Merino+ 160, scored an eight out of ten, as did the Icebreaker Oasis, Patagonia Capilene Midweight, and tasc Base Layer.

Feel free to sweat some in this model  as you can count on it to move moisture away from your body effectively.
Feel free to sweat some in this model, as you can count on it to move moisture away from your body effectively.

Comfort and Fit


The REI base layer reviewed here gave a solid performance in comfort and fit, but didn't sweep us off our feet. It's good enough, with no extras, which is basically this top's mantra. It's not very itchy, and if the longer than average sleeves slid up our raised arms, they generally slid back into place on their own. The top is free of bothersome seams, and underarm gussets allow for sufficient mobility.

This reviewer's best kept secret  a six-pack of hoppy abs  was kept under cover in the REI model  which stayed below the waist with our hands raised overhead.
This reviewer's best kept secret, a six-pack of hoppy abs, was kept under cover in the REI model, which stayed below the waist with our hands raised overhead.

The fit is similar to that of the Rab Merino+ 160, which is snug enough for above-average performance without uncomfortable squeezing in any areas. A minor complaint is that the zipper bubbles out somewhat when zipped up, making it look a little awkward. Overall, the comfort and fit is absolutely enough. We only noticed that things could be better when slipping into something more comfortable, such as the SmartWool 250 or Arc'teryx Rho AR.

Drying Speed


This product dried 23% slower than the fastest drying model, the Helly Hansen Lifa Stripe Crew. Like the other merino wool products, this top was also resistant to absorbing water and had to be agitated under water before becoming fully saturated.

Durability


Being made of wool, we generally don't expect this product to last as long as some of its synthetic counterparts. That said, with the exception of one loose thread at the hem, it didn't show any signs of wear and tear after three months of use. We were impressed by the workmanship of the seams, which were very compact and appeared more durable than many others included in our review. It also didn't pill at all, even after several washes. The top scoring contender for this metric, earning a 9 out of 10, was the Mountain Hardwear Microchill 2.0. Earning an 8 out of 10 was the Arc'teryx Rho, The North Face Warm, and Patagonia Capilene Midweight; nearing the bottom of the pile was the tasc Base Layer, which earned a 3 out of 10.

The densely-sewn under arm and side seams of the REI model.
The densely-sewn under arm and side seams of the REI model.

Layering Ability


The Merino Midweight fit easily over a form-fitting t-shirt, but its mobility suffered somewhat when worn over another base layer. This model doesn't stretch as much some of the other competitors, like the Rab Merino+ 160 or the Minus33 Isolation Midweight Wool. It did fit under jackets and tight mid-layers, though, and maintained its mobility well when worn as a first layer.

When moving around in cold weather  just a thin jacket on top of this functional top from REI was all that was necessary. Of course  as temperatures dropped below freezing  we used an more insulating mid-layer and outer shell on top of this shirt.
When moving around in cold weather, just a thin jacket on top of this functional top from REI was all that was necessary. Of course, as temperatures dropped below freezing, we used an more insulating mid-layer and outer shell on top of this shirt.

Best Applications


As this product runs around all the bases well, we found it to be very useful in a wide variety of cool weather activities when worn on its own, as well as cold weather activities under another layer or two. Feel free to wear it on extended trips, too, as the odor-resistant properties of the wool will keep you from smelling rank in your tent at night.

Value


As this product is moderately priced for a zip-neck 100% merino wool top, ringing in at $90, we find it has good value. It might not be as soft, warm, or durable as other models, but it certainly gets the job done in a variety of applications and conditions.

This merino wool product from REI provided very solid performance in the wide range of settings and activities we put it through. From stoking campfires to more arduous activities  we were stoked to wear this first layer.
This merino wool product from REI provided very solid performance in the wide range of settings and activities we put it through. From stoking campfires to more arduous activities, we were stoked to wear this first layer.

Conclusion


We were pleasantly surprised by the very solid performance of the Merino Midweight by REI throughout our testing period. It didn't stand out as the best in any category, but its above-average performance in nearly every test and metric pushed it into the group of top-tier products. In short, it's all you will likely need for most endeavors in which you would consider using a base layer.

Ross Robinson
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