Best Base Layer for Backcountry Hunting: Merino Vs Synthetic


Technological innovations have been changing the way human beings hunt since cavemen started sharpening stones and tying them to the end of sticks. But some of the most recent advances have made their way into modern hunting, generating a pronounced debate within the community. How far does better technology improve the experience and how far does it detract from the raw natural experience of man versus nature? 

The jury’s still out on that question, but one technological development hunters have generally accepted is having a warm base layer. A versatile way of maintaining warmth, there’s broad agreement in the community among all but the wildest of hunters, that a base layer is essential to have in your arsenal when setting out for the backcountry.

Merino Wool

The old ways die hard in the hunting community and there is no exception when it comes to base layers. Purists will tell you this is the way to go. Merino wool is still the Rolls Royce of the backcountry hunt. It will regulate your body temperature on any given day, keeping you on an even keel and giving you a hunting advantage. A couple of wool layers can keep you comfortable at an impressive temperature range of 35-80 degrees Fahrenheit.

Although it’s not as breathable as synthetic fibers, merino wool has the advantage of being naturally odor-resistant, especially when of a finer grade. Bacteria is pathologically incapable of growing in merino wool, which is still surprisingly effective at wicking moisture away from the body.

Where merino wool falls down is in very wet weather on long humid hunts. It can take time to dry out, meaning you’re both wet and encumbered by a heavy garment. There’s also a danger of snagging, so it’s worth keeping it covered with a snag-proof outer layer if you’re heading into densely wooded areas and thicket.

Synthetic Fiber

Synthetic fibers dry out much more quickly and offer improved breathability on their more heavy duty natural counterpart, even in the most humid of environments. Manufacturers generally wind the fibers tight to prevent the likelihood of snagged material. Synthetics can also be layered to regulate temperature.

The main issue with synthetic fibers is that they generate odor, making them an unappealing option for any long-term trip.

Adapt to Your Environment

It all comes down to where you’ll be doing most of your hunting. A nice synthetic layer will satisfy any fair weather hunter heading out for a summer afternoon of rabbit trapping in the locality. By contrast, if you’re heading deep into backcountry in the bleak midwinter, it’s worth taking a risk and lugging the slight extra weight of a merino base layer. Not only will it keep the odor away, it will also give you added flexibility if the weather takes an unexpected turn for the worse.

The common-sense answer to this dilemma is to purchase a decent entry-level option for each and use them based on the conditions you’re facing. If only the answer to the question of using technology in hunting was this straightforward.


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