If you've avoided merino because you don't like the typically looser fit, but you don't like the feel (or smell) of some synthetic baselayers, the Altura Merino Wool Base Layer could be what you are looking for.
I don't like to start with a complaint, but I will. Nowhere on the packaging is it made clear that this top, although named 'Merino Wool Base Layer' is only 50% merino. The rest is polyester, as you will learn from one of the garment label (not the one in the neck, though – that also says 'Merino Wool'), and the website. On the side of the box it describes the properties of merino wool ('excellent at regulating body temperature and naturally wicking away moisture') but then refers mysteriously to 'Altura Dry Technology' achieving 'enhanced breathability through technical yarn'. What is this technical yarn of which it speaks? No clues.
This aside, Altura has achieved pretty much what it has set out to do, which is to 'use the natural function of wool in a sport fit styling'. I like merino, in certain applications. I find it best when worn without anything over the top, such as on bright winter days or even in the summer. Once it's trapped under a waterproof or windproof I find it soon becomes clammy and, in cold conditions, that can be quite unpleasant.
Altura has sought to remedy this by combining wool with synthetics to improve the breathability. In use, I found this still felt more like wool than synthetic when it came to shifting the moisture under a windproof, but it was noticeably better than 100% wool.
The fit is undoubtedly better than any merino baselayers I've tried. In fact, I don't use merino baselayers under road tops because of their tendency to be a sloppy fit. This fabric blend incorporates plenty of stretch and the cut is tight, so you can wear it under anything. I tended to pull a short-sleeved jersey over it, using the long sleeves like arm warmers and this worked similarly well, though a bit cooler on the arms. The low-cut neck also makes for a less insulated fit at the collar, which you may or may not like. In a cold wind I might want something I could zip up. It's not been cold enough yet to pull out my heavyweight winter jerseys but I imagine this will pair very nicely with them, especially on low-pace rides where sweat isn't an issue.
The panelling is simple, the stitching flat and tidy, so this garment was comfortable to wear, though not as soft as any 100% merino top I've worn. Wool doesn't smell like some synthetics can (I once wore the same merino top for nine days between washes, in the furthest flung reaches of the Scandinavian Arctic). Altura has added silver 'microparticles' and this seems to help prevent any lingering build-up of bacteria, which can be hard to deal with in clothes that can only be given a cool wash.
The sizing was wayward, to say the least. Altura has listed this in three 'unisex' sizes: XS-S, M-L and XL-XXL. While my test top came in M-L, it was definitely more medium than large, especially in the sleeve length where I really needed an extra inch. Men in particular will most likely want to size up.
All in all though, this is a well-considered and well-made piece, which combines some of the advantages – and drawbacks – of both wool and man-made fibres.
Sheepswool without the sag, synthetics without the smell. Watch out for the small sizing
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road.cc test report
Make and model: Altura Merino Long Sleeve Baselayer
Size tested: M/L
Tell us what the product is for, and who it's aimed at. What do the manufacturers say about it? How does that compare to your own feelings about it?
Using the natural function of wool in a fitted styling, our Merino Wool base layers help you regulate temperature and delivering superior breathability.
* Altura Dry™ technology is engineered to move excess moisture away from the skin, keeping you dry and comfortable
* 50% Merino/50% Polyester for natural warmth and thermoregulation
* Antibacterial properties
Tell us some more about the technical aspects of the product?
Altura incorporates its trademarked Dry technology and Thermo technology.
The first refers to the fabric's wicking properties; the second to its insulation.
This product comes in three "Unisex" sizes: XS-S; M-L; XL-XXL
Flatlock stitching throughout. Panelling is very simple but does all it needs to. The fabric also seems high quality.
Neither as warm nor as soft as an out-and-out merino but better than some synthetics, and the fit is better. Wicking is okay.
No issues with this; unlike some lighter-weight merinos I am not expecting this to droop, sag, shrink or develop little holes.
Lots of stretch means this fits closely like a good sporty baselayer – much better than any 100% merino tops I've tried. It needs more length in the sleeves but I think this is a sizing issue rather than a problem with fit per se.
Altura describes this as "Unisex M-L" and it was definitely more medium than large. Size up, especially if you are a man.
A little lighter than a merino; a little heavier than some superfine synthetics or silk. About right for spring or autumn riding.
Once on you don't really notice it, but it is a little coarser than a true merino.
Very good for both merino and high-quality synthetic.
How easy is the product to care for? How did it respond to being washed?
I just threw this in on a regular sports wash at 30 degrees; I never use conditioner or biological powders. All is well – no shrinkage or fading.
Tell us how the product performed overall when used for its designed purpose
The snug fit makes it comfortable under any top layer, loose or baggy. I didn't find it as warm as an out-and-out merino, and a bit scratchier too. Wicking was OK but not as good as my control Helly Hansen. Overall, though, versatile and useful.
Tell us what you particularly liked about the product
Close fit, quality of construction, non-wiffy.
Tell us what you particularly disliked about the product
Wayward sizing, Altura's coyness about the synthetic content.
Did you enjoy using the product? Yes
Would you consider buying the product? Yes
Would you recommend the product to a friend? Yes
Use this box to explain your score
If you've steered clear of merino baselayers because of the jersey-like fit, this offers some of the advantages of merino with better fit. It's also very well made, at a very good price, and doesn't smell like some synthetics. Overall, very good, so an 8.
About the tester
I usually ride: Cannondale CAAD10 My best bike is:
I've been riding for: Over 20 years I ride: A few times a week I would class myself as: Experienced
I regularly do the following types of riding: touring, sportives, general fitness riding, mountain biking