Merino Wool: Our Tester Wore The Same Shirt for Over a Week Without Stinking

While I think we can all agree that this year hasn’t exactly shaped up to be anything fantastic, our super odd physically distant world does make for a great time to do gear testing that might… erm… stink?

After writing up a total nerd article last month about the science of merino wool, it only seemed to make sense to put all those cuticles, cortexes, and matrices to the test. How many days and sweaty activities did it take to make the EMS Merino Wool Crew Neck Base Layer stink?

Fortunately for me, I was already working remotely, my Thanksgiving plans were nonexistent, and my housemates (husband and two dogs) are tolerant of my quests in the name of science. Needless to say, scientific quests are rather common around here and usually involve more than just a potentially smelly shirt. Mud? Random plants? Moss and microscopes? Yep!

To start, I set some ground rules:
• I have to wear the shirt from the time I get up to the time I go to bed.
• There will be no washing, no odorizing sprays, etc. Just lay it out and let it be.
• There will be no avoiding sweaty activities just because I’m stuck in the same shirt for as long as this takes. If I’d workout in a clean shirt, I’d work out in the Merino.

So, how’d it go?

Day 1: Work followed by three hours of the messiest thing I could possibly do on the first day of wearing a shirt: glazing a big batch of pottery in a freezing cold studio. I somehow managed to keep all the glaze off me, which might have been the biggest accomplishment of the week.

Day 2: Errands. Boring.

Day 3: Mountain biking at Musquash (Londonderry, NH) as I chased my husband around the woods on his new fat bike. He’s just plain fast. Also, some wood stacking and around the house chores.

Day 4: Work. Boring.

Day 5: Mountain biking and trail work at Litchfield State Forest. ‘Tis the season for downed trees!

Day 6: Mountain biking at East Hampstead to tackle the long and hilly Skunk Skull. Felt like I was dragging, but eight Strava PRs (entirely fueled by gummy bears) proved otherwise. I promptly sat on my rear the rest of the day.

Day 7: I wanted to bike, but the weather had other ideas. So, I decided to organize the basement. Much sweat and dust were experienced but I made an abundance of food anyways.

Day 8: I ventured to Pine Hills (Plymouth, MA) for a physically distant group ride on an oddly warm day. I somehow managed to bike uphill both ways.

By the end of day eight, the stink was far from a full-blown locker-room smell. But just a faint whiff of “This experiment is over” had me tossing it in the wash.

Credit: Jillian Bejtlich

What did I learn while wearing the same shirt every day for 8 days?

First, merino wool actually does suck up moisture and odor. To help me sort of benchmark the performance, I spent the week prior to the test putting some of my other favorite shirts to the test:

  • Cotton long sleeve shirt: Obviously a terrible idea, but all in the name of science! Needless to say, it was a sweaty and miserable ride almost immediately. The shirt hit the dirty laundry bin right after.
  • Standard mountain biking jersey (all polyester): 1 day and 1 ride. While I didn’t stay too soggy, I had to change after the ride since I couldn’t deal with how I smelled.
  • EMS Active Wool Long Sleeve Shirt (84% Polyester / 11% Wool / 5% Spandex): 2 days and 1 ride. I probably could have pushed it one more ride, but I was starting to get a bit ripe.

Second, layering matters. With the exception of one day, it was a chilly week of testing meaning that the shirt alone wasn’t enough to keep me warm. And while the merino did an excellent job wicking, it can’t get rid of the moisture if trapped by other layers. After trying sweatshirts, vests, jackets, and fleece – I found it was best paired with vests and/or high-quality mid-layers made for moisture management, like the EMS Vortex Midlayer.

And last but not least, I am not one of those women who can work up a sweat and look (or smell) pretty after. Yet, the merino wool actually did pass every single pit sniff test. I just kept smelling like my deodorant, which was an improvement all around.

All in all, I’m super pleased with how the shirt performed. It’s already gone back into rotation for mountain biking, hiking, and more. And I think it will be the ideal shirt to bring on trips when I need to pack light. One shirt to rule them all? Looks like it.