For socks, thermal layers, liner gloves, and other items I wear out (except shoes), I tend to buy budget items.
I do not get out as often as I’d like, but I do use my gear and clothing regularly.
My favorite fleece became faded from the sun, I go through a few pairs of liner gloves a year, and all the socks will get holes in them at some point.
The exception for budget items the past few years has been merino base layers for winter.
I tried them for the first time about eight years ago. I loved the breathability, how well they adapted to different temperature ranges, and they were just comfortable. I ended up buying the Minus 33 brand out of New Hampshire. Partially because they were from my old neck of the woods, partly because they were not as expensive as other brands. And they are sold on Amazon. (Looking back on my purchase history, I started using my first pair in January 2008).
My initial impressions were that they looked nice, fit well, and were good quality. And made with 100% superfine wool, they were luxury items for the outdoors.
A few short seasons later, the top layer started to get a little thin in the shoulders. The bottom layer became thin inside the thigh area and was starting to develop holes.
I thought, “Well, I do use it. I expect this type of use”.
So, I used an Amazon gift card (Thanks, Dad!) and bought myself another set of thermals.
Here I am, three or four seasons later.
The top has holes in them under the armpits. The shoulders became abraded.
And only after deep winter use mind you.
This review is not so much to complain about Minus 33 (which, again, is good quality) but rather an “AH HA!” moment I had when it comes to merino wool layers.
As comfortable as these wool layers maybe, they aren’t worth the price for me. I need clothing I can depend on overall. Not something that falls apart after a few seasons of hard but short use at a premium price.
(And I am not the only one that thinks this way. Patagonia’s merino layers are a wool-poly 80/20 mix. But, I am not going to spend that much for underwear for three-four months of use).
For three-season+ use, I had made good use of synthetic layers. And they are what I used to use for winter.
My GoLite thermal top, which cost $15 at a warehouse sale ten years ago, is still going strong.
The Terramar bottoms I bought from Sierra Trading Post? About the same vintage as the GoLite top, similar price, and though pilled quite a bit, still works effectively.
I used both these layers in winter when the wool layers were in the wash and for shoulder seasons as well.
In other words, these humble synthetic layers get used a lot.
The synthetic layers don’t breathe quite as well…but, in the end, there is not much difference.
The merino wool layers ARE superior, but not that much, in my opinion. At least for me.
In the end, I value the durability of my simple and inexpensive synthetics. As for breathability, I’ve heard good things about the Polartec based, military issue, midweight grid fleece-style layers (eBay affiliate link) that are inexpensive but good quality. And, I assume, will last a while, too. Maybe when I finally wear out my current synthetic layers…or when the wool layers are genuinely kaput.
In the meantime, I’ll probably call the merino wool layers functional after this season.
And put the $120 towards something more useful rather than buy yet more expensive, but fragile, underwear.
Disclosure: I purchased all the Minus 33 layers with my funds.