As a budding adventurer, you quickly learn some fundamental things: what the 10 essentials are, which freeze dried meals are even remotely edible, and that you should never, under any circumstances, wear cotton. The Fabric Of Our Lives™ is wonderfully breathable and comfortable when it’s serving light duty from the office to the couch to the store. However, when you’re out on the trail, or deep off piste in the mountains, the clothes on your back are life-saving shelter, and cotton just can’t hold up.
Enter Minus33’s extensive line of high-performance 100% Merino Wool: it’s practically magical material that will add a layer of comfort and performance to everything you do in them. Minus33 calls it “Nature’s Technology,” and they’re not wrong – if this were an Apple Keynote, I’d have a brag slide up listing all of the incredible new features of my WünderKit:
- Wicks moisture to regulate body temperature
- Odor resistant and anti-microbial
- Naturally elastic
- 25+ UPF rating for sun protection
- And one more thing: It’s fully biodegradable, and a 100% renewable resource
Minus33 has turned this wool into some great wearable pieces, and they sent Modern Hiker a full men’s and full women’s kit to test. We took them out near L.A. and Seattle to determine just how well they stack up to the claims:
Keith: The Men’s Chocorua Midweight Crew top and Kancamagus Midweight Bottom came in a very attractive navy blue, but are available in six other colors and patterns, including a “Mossy Oak Break-Up Infinity” (think woodsy camo). The construction was flawless inside and out – the flat-lock seams are so well done that the only way to tell which side is the inside was by looking for the tag. After a number of cycles through the washer and dryer (cold wash, low-heat dry) there was no sign of pilling of the material, and the wool was as soft as when I first pulled it out of the box.
The Merino Ski and Snowboard Sock was similarly soft and well-constructed, with a seamless toe (important in tight ski boots, seams make blisters quickly!), and held up without complaint through multiple wash cycles.
Shawnté: To break out of my usual neutral color rut, I chose The Franconia Women’s Midweight Bottom and Ossipee Women’s Midweight Crew top in Violet – really, more of a deep pinky-purple color that nearly matched my wind-chapped face during one recent outing on a rather brisk, windblown section of the Pacific Crest Trail. These are impeccably constructed and incredibly high quality – I felt so strangely guilty getting mine dirty that I actually slipped my rain jacket and hiking pants over both layers while sitting around camp at night! The Merino Day Hiker Sock was equally excellent – like the top and bottoms, still plush and pill-free after several washes and a lot of gnarly trail.
Keith: Because this is a base layer, the fit is intended to cling close, but both the top and bottom were fitted without ever feeling tight, thanks in part to the natural elasticity of the Merino Wool. I usually wear a size small top, and I suspect that these fit slightly small because the arm and torso lengths were ever so slightly too short. The neck opening, however, was not constraining, but if you’re between sizes you may want to size up. Minus33 also, helpfully, offers “Big and Tall” sizes in most of their products.
The bottoms were a perfect fit in a medium, and I have large legs – there was no tightness around the calf or thigh, but no loose fabric either; it simply felt like a gentle little hug from 100 adorable sheep. Of particular note was the waistband on the bottoms – it managed to keep the waistline squarely in place without feeling tight, and moved easily as I moved. It was substantial and felt secure without being bulky and getting in the way of outer layers – very impressed with the fit on the bottoms.
The socks have a constructed fit that is perfect for ski boots, and they extend all of the way up just below the knee. The elastic in the upper kept them in place well, again without being tight or constricting blood flow.
Shawnté: My top and bottoms were both a medium and the fit was a refreshing break from some of my other ridiculously clingy base layers – these sat close to my body, but the top had a slight drape and the pants actually covered my butt and belly. Miracles do happen! I especially loved the high neckline, sleeve length (I was able to pull these over my glove edges when the mercury plummeted), and elastic in the pant cuffs (kept my legs draft-free). The socks were snug, but soft, and wrapped my feet in pure woolen happiness.
Keith: I had an opportunity to use the Minus33 as a base layer during a full day of trail work building a new trail with the Washington Trails Association, and a heavy early-season ski day at Whistler/Blackcomb in British Columbia, Canada. Here in the Northwest it’s nearly always wet, but November is the month where things get wet AND cold. The morning of my trail work, it was only just above freezing, but I knew once I got lifting rocks and hacking at stumps that I’d be sweating, so it really put the temperature regulation properties to the test, and they passed with flying colors! As I warmed up and cooled down, the sweat never stayed near my skin and, as a result, I didn’t get the chills. I didn’t have a single chafed spot, and despite a lot of maneuvering around large obstacles and climbing up and down rock walls, never felt constrained by the stretchy pieces. The midweight is a good choice for near-freezing conditions, but would probably be too heavy above about 45 degrees.
My day out skiing was similar – getting down the mountain works up a sweat, but then you have to sit on a windy, cold lift chair for 10 minutes, and these helped stave off the shivers. This was my first day wearing the socks, and my feet stayed warm and blister-free all day. They have padding going all of the way up the shin, which softened the blow of the moguls on my first day back to the slopes this year.
Shawnté: I used my top and bottoms as camp clothes during several recent backpacking trips, including one where nighttime temps hovered around 20 bone-chilling degrees, causing any exposed skin to immediately morph into an immovable block of ice (man, if I’ve ever wished to be a sheep before, this was the time). Although these are slightly heavier weight-wise than the base layers I normally carry, they seemed to keep me significantly warmer and were worth a few extra ounces. Considering I tested the midweight layers, I would opt lighter if you usually hang out in milder temps. The socks lived up to their promise of “guaranteed comfort,” stayed put, and kept me blister free.
Keith: I couldn’t complain about the Minus33 products if I tried – these are a dream to wear, and you’d forget that you have them on except that it just keeps occurring to you how comfortable you are when it’s so uncomfortable outside. From the first time I put them on, they’ve been soft and warm, and maintained that through multiple washes. I even started wearing these to the office under my work clothes because the HVAC guys haven’t figured out that it’s winter (and those cute sheep hugs make long meetings much more bearable). If you’re looking for a way to keep safe and comfortable while you take your adventures to the next level, these are the perfect way to do it.
Shawnté: With apologies to my other base layers, I have a feeling the Minus33 set is going to become my go-to set for backpacking, snowshoeing, and winter mountaineering trips…and probably for around the house, because they are just that soft and snuggly.