As I’ve written before, the task of baselayers fabrics made from merino-polyester blends is to unite the moisture management and funk resistance of wool with the quick wicking/drying and durability of polyester. Numerous variations have made good strides towards this end, but all have come up short in one way or another. Kuiu’s ultra merino (125 g/meter, 85/15 wool/nylon) has a nice wool feel, but is not so durable, and remarkably not resistant to stink now that I’ve been wearing and washing it for 6 months. Rab’s Meco 120 (120 g/meter, 65/35 wool/poly) is acceptably tough and quick to dry, but lacks a bit insofar as the luxurious, good day-after-day wool feel is concerned. Patagonia’s Merino 2 is identical to Meco 120 in performance and composition, just inferior in fit.
The latest entry in this genre is First Lite’s Aerowool, a ~140ish g/meter 65/35 merino/poly blend. Based on the past four months of use, Aerowool is to date by far the best such blend.
Back in February First Lite co-founder Kenton Carruth reached out and asked me to give him a call. We had an interesting conversation about fabric, and he sent me a Minaret crew and Dobson boxers to try.
First Lite’s standard merino pieces are 170 g/meter, and renowned for their quality. Carruth told me they’ve refrained from making anything lighter due to durability concerns, and that going to a blended fabric was the solution to that problem. He also said that they’ve used, admired, and to a certain extent copied Rab’s Meco, especially in that the polyester component is from 37.5 (formerly Cocona), who treats their fabrics with activated carbon in order to increase surface area and thus speed moisture transfer. The difference between Aerowool and Meco, according to Carruth, is that the former uses a substantially finer wool, and is blended with particular attention to a uniform distribution of both materials throughout.
The boxers immediately became my all-time favorite pair of cool-weather undies. The long legs add warmth, and the waist is cut exceptionally well, and don’t sag no matter how heavy the pack and egregious the contortions. They don’t dry as fast as a thinner pure poly, but they feel great against the skin and moderate moisture transport and resist stank every bit as well as pure merino. If you gave an Aerowool garment to someone who was ignorant of the details, I reckon they’d think it pure wool.
The shirt is a large, rather than the medium I’d need, and the baggy torso has dampened my enthusiasm for the piece. The sleeves and torso are nice and long, with great thumb loops, and elaborate paneling under the arms to make sure that high reaches don’t expose the hem. The most outstanding characteristic of the shirt is how well it moderates moisture transfer, especially in the cold. While nordic skiing, for instance, poly baselayers can chill you because they don’t slow convection enough, and merino shirts can do the same by absorbing and holding onto too much moisture for too long. For me, the Aerowool hits a point between the two in a way nothing else every has.
Historically hunting has not been the place to find technically advanced layers, especially ones specifically tuned for aerobic use. Aerowool is an example, along with Sitka’s lightest pure poly, of how hunting clothing is in a few cases leading the way when it comes to innovation. 140 g/meter is still a bit heavy, in my book, for summer use, but when fall temps come around and it’s hunting season I anticipate having Aerowool on my back.