It’s that time of year when the sun starts to hang a little higher in the sky, temperatures are on the up and pasty-looking arms and legs start to become a more regular appearance on our footpaths and roads whilst tights and jackets are safely stowed away.
Finding the right base layer is important at any time of year as it can make a huge difference to your comfort levels but the vast range of materials and designs that are out there can make choosing one a bit of a headache at times. More often that not, styling and cut is slick and performance-focused, especially with the upsurge in interest in compression clothing over the last few years and I often find that I feel a bit uncomfortable with this approach as it may give the impression that you are taking your chosen activity (and yourself) rather too seriously.
Fortunately, there are a few companies out there who produce designs which accommodate those who prefer a more casual look whilst still using high-tech materials which will keep you comfortable when exercising and Derbyshire-based Embers Merino are a great example of this so I thought I’d give their T-Shirts a try.
I could write a whole post about the pro’s and con’s of Merino clothing so I’ll try and keep this short. For me, the things I really like about merino base layers are the comfort levels, temperature regulation and antibacterial properties. I much prefer the feel of natural fabrics on my skin in comparison to synthetic materials and merino is particularly soft and comfortable to wear. Merino also a natural resistance to bacteria which means that it is much more resistant to getting smelly during or after exercise, meaning that a lot of people (me included) wear their base layers more than once before washing them. Obviously you still need to hang them out to dry of any perspiration in between but it’s quite remarkable how effective the stink-resistant properties are. Oh, and in case you’re wondering it isn’t itchy either!
For me, the most significant down side to merino is that although the material tends to breathe well, it hangs on to moisture more than a typical synthetic base layer. This means that it can stay wet and a bit heavy for quite a long time and this can get a bit uncomfortable if you are carrying a bag next to your base layer or inconvenient if you are wild camping for example and you don’t have an opportunity to dry it. For this reason, I tend to pick and choose when I wear a merino top and probably wouldn’t use it when it’s particularly warm or if I’m going to be out for a longer period of time. In spite of this, I probably still do 75% of my running in merino and have done for several years.
The Embers T-Shirts are available in 4 different designs and I chose to opt for the ‘Badger’ and ‘Stag’ versions, both of which I really like. Upon close inspection, it’s clear that they are well made and high quality with unobtrusive, chafe-free seams and construction which generally exudes quality.
Embers describe the fit of the shirts as an ‘Ergonomic sports fit’. Whilst broadly athletic in cut, my experience has been that they are relatively snug but more-or-less in keeping with a ‘normal’ T-Shirt. I suspect that they will work fine for the majority of body shapes and certainly be more forgiving than a lot of the more skin-tight base layers that are out there. I would have not hesitation in wearing them casually for example. I have a 37-38″ chest and opted for a size small which worked out perfectly.
So, are the Embers Merino T-Shirts actually any good? In short, the answer is a resounding yes. I’ve generally been very happy with the quality and performance of the product, having used them for almost every run over the past month or so. The weight of the fabric is relatively light by merino standards and this provides a nice level of comfort in mild-warm temperatures. Sweat-wicking properties are good by merino standards but the material does hang onto moisture a bit more than a high quality synthetic as I mentioned above. Odour resistance is excellent, as is the general quality of the garment and mine are still looking as good as new despite lots of wear and a few washes. The cut allows a good degree of freedom of movement and whilst being fairly relaxed, there is not so much excess material that it flaps around in the wind.
I’ve been very happy with the Embers shirts and they are certainly well worth considering if you are looking for a merino base layer. At £45 each, the pricing is pretty much on par with most competitor products and I can see little reason not to give them a try over some of the more established brands.
This product was purchased for testing by the author. See here for my gear review policy.
The base layers I tested (and many more) are available direct from the Embers Merino Website
Please feel free to leave any comments or questions in the section below