Smartwool vs Icebreaker: Battle of Merino Wool Underwear

Never in a million years did I think that I would pay $40 for a pair of underwear. But here I am, the proud owner of three pairs of merino wool underwear:

I have not yet fully switched over from cotton underwear to merino wool underwear because of how expensive merino wool products are. I hope to gradually phase out cotton underwear from my underwear drawer as I purchase additional pairs of merino wool underwear in the future.

If you’ve never worn a pair of merino wool underwear, you don’t know what you’re missing. My claim probably sounds insane. Like, how good could a stinkin’ pair of underwear be? Let me explain.

What is Merino Wool?

In order to appreciate merino wool underwear or any merino wool article of clothing for that matter, one must understand the benefits that merino wool provides.

Where Does Merino Wool Come From?

Merino wool comes from Merino sheep. Merino sheep are renowned for their ability to thrive in the large seasonal temperature swings of Australia and New Zealand.  Summers can be as hot as 95°F and winters can get down to 5°F. The Merino sheep are able to survive in this volatile  climate thanks to their fine fleece of Merino wool.

Merino sheep in the summer heat and winter cold
Merino wool underwear is made out of wool from Merino sheep

Is Merino Wool Itchy?

Merino wool is not itchy or scratchy like traditional wool. Merino wool fibers are much thinner than the wool of other breeds of sheep.  Consequently, merino wool is really soft.

Is Merino Wool Warm?

Merino wool will keep you warm in cold weather. Merino wool will also keep you cool in warm weather. As a result, merino wool naturally regulates your body temperature in the heat or cold.

What Are The Benefits of Merino Wool?

The benefits of Merino wool clothing are:

  • Breathability: Moisture vapor easily escapes through the Merino wool fibers.
  • Temperature regulating: Sheep don’t change clothes based on the temperature, do they?
  • Moisture wicking: Merino wool can absorb up to 30% its weight before feeling wet.
  • Strong and elastic: Like human skin, Merino wool is is made of keratin, giving it strength and flexibility.
  • Odor resistance: Odor-causing bacteria cannot easily survive in a dry environment.
  • Not itchy: Merino wool fibers are thin and flexible unlike traditional wool.
  • Quick drying: Fine Merino wool fibers dry fast as they don’t have the capacity to retain moisture.

What Is The Best Merino Wool Underwear?

I purchased my first pairs of Merino wool underwear before I decided to travel around Italy and India for 50 days.  I only packed three pairs of Merino wool underwear and two pairs of traditional cotton underwear for the entire trip.

It might sound gross, but I was able to wear my Merino wool underwear for up to three days before I needed to change into a new pair. The moisture wicking and odor resistance of the Merino wool really lived up to its promise. I wasn’t able to go more than a day at a time with my cotton underwear.

Based on my experience with Smartwool underwear and Icebreaker underwear, I will happily recommend both Merino wool apparel companies. But which company has the best Merino wool underwear?

Icebreaker Underwear Review

Icebreaker has a large presence in the Merino wool underwear market.  Headquartered in Auckland, New Zealand, Icebreaker’s apparel line is manufactured in China.

Icebreaker underwear is made up of 83% wool, 12% nylon, and 5% elastane.

Relative to Smartwool underwear, I find Icebreaker underwear to be slightly thinner material and a looser fit.  I am not able to conclude that Icebreaker is more breathable than Smartwool because I find Smartwool and Icebreaker to be identical from a performance standpoint.

Furthermore, the Icebreaker waistband is much more elastic than the Smartwool waistband. As a result, I find that my Icebreaker underwear has a looser fit around the waist.

Merino wool underwear - Icebreaker Men's Merino Anatomica Boxers with Fly
Icebreaker Men’s Merino Anatomica Boxers with Fly in kale

Smartwool Underwear Review

Smartwool is another major player in the Merino wool underwear market.  Headquartered in Colorado, USA, Smartwool’s apparel line is manufactured in Vietnam.

Smartwool underwear is made up of 87% Merino wool and 13% nylon.

I find my Smartwool underwear to have a better fit and to be slightly softer than my Icebreaker underwear. Thanks to a thicker waistband, Smartwool underwear sits comfortably around the waist.

Merino wool underwear - Smartwool Men's Merino 150 Pattern Boxer Briefs Sea Blue
Smartwool Men’s Merino 150 Pattern Boxer Briefs in Sea Blue

Smartwool vs Icebreaker Merino Wool Underwear

In general, I find my Smartwool underwear to be slightly more comfortable, better fitting, and more stylish than my Icebreaker underwear.  To reiterate, both Smartwool and Icebreaker definitely live up to the Merino wool promise:  both companies make breathable, moisture wicking, odor resistant, non itchy Merino wool underwear.

The difference is very subtle, but in my opinion, Smartwool underwear is a better choice than Icebreaker underwear.

2 thoughts on “Smartwool vs Icebreaker: Battle of Merino Wool Underwear”

  1. Glad I found your post. Going to be camping in Iceland for two weeks, and wanted to have some unbiased opinions on merino wool clothing. Glad to have found the post, as your other posts are interesting as well. Cheers!


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