New technical Smartwool mid-layer top combines merino wool with Nylon to give merino performance with bonus added shell durability.
Just in is the new Smartwool TML Mid Full-Zip Hoody, a technical hooded jacket that mixes merino wool with Nylon and manages to look ace at the same time, but its main claim to fame, is that it's the first merino mid-layer which should be tough enough to work on its own as an outer layer too – incidentally, the combo was originally dubbed HyFi, but that's not mentioned on the production labelling.
Merino has loads of well-documented positive qualities – its ability to fight odour, decent moisture handling and comfort against the skin in both hot and cold conditions – but durability has always been its achilles heel.
Tough On The Outside...
Wear merino regularly with a pack for example, or drag it up a granite chimney, and it won't last long. To counter that and allow you to use merino wool as an outer layer, almost a soft shell in fact, Smartwool has combined merino on the inside with an outer face of Nylon.
The breakdown overall is 64% merino wool and 36% Nylon, but it's not a uniform mix, the Nylon's on the outside where it's needed, while the wool sits inside, next to your body doing the classic merino thing.
The Mid version we have for review is designed for active use in cold conditions and it's not overly thick as a result. It feels slightly heavier than an equivalent synthetic fleece or soft shell would be, and our medium tips the scales at 650g.
Technical Cut And Design
The other big difference between this and most merino mid-layers we've seen is that it's designed as a technical garment with some slick touches like reversed main zip with a storm flap and some very technical looking 'Durawelt' bonded-in zips on the twin hand-warmer and chest pockets.
The hood's really nicely cut too, fits snugly over your noggin and has a high chin-guard that comes up to just below the OM nose and should work nicely in conjunction with a technical shell jacket in gnarly conditions. The off-set zip which dodges the point of your chin and reduces bulk is a very nice touch. You can fit a helmet over the top too.
The Lycra-bound cuffs feature thumb-loops, which you'll either like or not, but they're there anyway. Overall, fit is quite snug and technical. Out of the box it's on the medium-long side, but Smartwool say this is to cope with any shrinkage from home laundering, so we're about to throw it in the washing machine to see what happens.
Fortuitously, the jacket's arrival coincided with a bit of early autumn chill, so it's already had a quick 20-minute bike-born thrashing. First impressions are that it has characteristic merino wool comfort and good, technical fit despite the lack of hem or cuff adjusters. It's not particularly wind resistant, though a little more so than straight merino wool. It breathes really well and seems to work slickly in combination with a merino base layer.
Of course the big claimed plus is that outside durability and it'll take a while before we know how it stands up to sustained use with a pack, but if it does what it says on the box, it should be spot on for merino wool fans who'd like a merino-based technical mid-layer that'll take a bit of a hammering.
Oh, and it looks lovely too... Price is around £130 and it should be appearing in the shops right about now. There are also Half-Zip Tops (no hood) and a Vest verson in the same fabric if you don't particularly want a hood.
More Smartwool info at www.smartwool.com