Merino Wool VS Cotton Comparison Guide


If you are an outdoors person and you love being in the backcountry or the snowy slopes with your skis or snowboard, then one of the most important gear to have is the right clothing. It should be able to provide you with some great benefits to keep your body well protected. These include moisture-wicking, merino wool warmth, comfortable on the skin, and great insulation.

Another great skill is how to layer for skiing.

Cotton and merino wool are two of the most popular materials used in performance base layers. This merino vs cotton comparison guide explores why this is so. Let’s dive in, shall we?

Merino wool, what is it?

Merino wool is a type of wool obtained from the merino sheep breed. This breed originates from Spain but the popularity of the wool means that it is farmed in other parts of the world including New Zealand, Australia, the United States, South Africa, and others.

What makes this type of wool so special is the diameter of the individual strands. Wool is measured in microns and regular wool is 40 microns or more in diameter. However, with merino wool, this goes down to 24 microns and sometimes as thin as 15 microns.

It is incredibly thin and has some amazing moisture-wicking and merino wool warmth properties. Compared to other thicker wools that can be scratchy due to being too thick and stiff, merino wool is highly comfortable.

Merino wool and comfort

Merino wool fibers are super soft on the skin. It is hard to compare them with other types of wool as these can be a bit hard and scratchy. This makes merino wool excellent next-to-skin clothing. This should in your skiing checklist.

Its moisture-wicking, comfort, and temperature regulation properties are superb. Even much better than cotton. Sports clothing will usually be made from this type of wool. Compared to most other types of material, merino wool is unsurpassed.

Warmth and temperature

When comparing merino vs cotton, one of the reasons why merino wool is so popular as a base layer material is its temperature regulation properties. The fine hairs can trap heat close to your body during cold temperatures thus ensuring you are well insulated.

When the temperatures rise, the heat will easily dissipate through the strands leaving you cool. Even better is that when you begin to work up a sweat, the merino wool will not trap the cold from the sweat and you will remain comfortable. Other materials absorb sweat which starts to cool your body.

Because of these features, the wool is used in hiking, mountaineering, and backcountry clothing. As it can be used both when the temperature is low and when the temperatures rise, this makes it a great all-rounder option.

Moisture-wicking and breathability

Merino wool has moisture-wicking properties. This means that it absorbs moisture very quickly from your body which then evaporates leaving you dry and comfortable. Feel free to include when deciding what to wear cross-country skiing.

Other materials will become muggy but not merino wool. The light fibers are capable of holding high levels of moisture relative to weight compared to cotton. Some materials cannot hold much moisture and will thus leave you feeling damp. Because of this, you will remain dry even when working up a sweat.

What’s more, is that they are more breathable. When the clothing such as that t-shirt made from merino wool is thin, air can easily pass through the individual strands. This not only allows great air circulation but also makes it comfortable as well.

Preventing stink

Since merino wool will absorb moisture and then allow it to evaporate quickly, there will not be any buildup of bacteria that causes a smell. This is not to say that anything made from merino wool will not stink. It surely will. That said, it will take far longer for this to happen compared to say, synthetic or wool.

Simply put, clothing made from merino can be worn for days before it starts to smell. This is what makes it so ideal for outdoor clothing. Whether you plan on going skiing, snowboarding, backpacking, or climbing, merino is the ideal clothing for many.


Durability is not the merino wool’s strongest feature. You can consider it it’s Achilles heel. If you say you were to wear clothing made from this type of wool regularly, chances are it will not last you through multiple seasons.

Knowing this you will be better able to decide what to wear skiing.

The socks, however, are different. Since they feature high-density knitting, they are more capable of lasting a long time. Better yet is that they will usually have nylon incorporated in their knitting.

If you want to boost the durability and the life of your merino wool products, it is recommended that you wash them in cold water and that you line dry them. This is so even if they come with a sticker that says you can machine wash and machine dry them.

Merino wool cost

Merino wool is expensive compared to other materials. Coupled with the fact that it may not last very long, many people prefer to avoid the material altogether.

You can find hiking and skiing socks made from the material retailing at $20 to $30. For a T-shirt, this can be as high as $100.

That said when deciding on how to dress your kids in winter and you have a large budget the merino wool is worth checking out.


This is by far the most common fiber used in clothes. When you go to your closet, most of the clothes will be made from this material. This includes the best ski glove liners. There are some great advantages to this natural material that makes it so popular. However, like everything else, it does come with its fair share of disadvantages as well.

Natural, soft, and breathable

These are the main features of cotton. It is a comfortable material to wear and like some types of wool that will feel scratchy and hard, cotton does not. It is therefore ideal for skin that is sensitive or allergic.

Clothing made from cotton is weaved tightly which also means that it will not cause static electricity. This is why most clothing that you will wear close to your bodies such as underwear, T-shirts, and vests will be made from cotton.

Some of the best snowboard pants will feature this material as a base layer.

The fact that cotton is natural means that there are ample spaces between the fibers for good breathability. When you are outside in the sun, your body will remain cool.

Cotton also has great moisture-wicking properties which means that it draws moisture from your skin where it then evaporates on the air thanks also to the fact that it has great breathability. This is not something that you will find with most synthetic materials that tend to clamp together limiting both breathability and the ability to absorb moisture from the skin.

These two traits also allow cotton to prevent the build-up of bacteria that thrive in wet humid conditions. They can cause a stinky smell which is often the case when you sweat. It may also result in a myriad of health issues.

Not only will cotton enhance breathability, but it can also draw heat away from your body. This means that on summer days, it is an excellent material to wear. That said it is not the best material when you are in cold temperatures.

Durable and cheap

Unlike merino wool which is not known for its durability, cotton is very durable. It can be worn through multiple seasons and is machine washable and drivable.

It also dries very well which means you can choose your clothing in a multitude of different colors.

Even better is that when comparing merino vs cotton, merino is quite expensive. Cotton is very affordable. Being popular also means that it is very easily accessible. Outdoor gear made from cotton will stand through the rigors of the backcountry.


That said it’s important to note that cotton will damage from mildew mainly because it is a natural substance. The fabric may also peel easily and since the fibers are short in length, it can shrink quite easily.

As much as it is easy for the cotton to absorb the dyes, it is not at all colorfast which means that the dyes can wash off in the washer. Consider this when choosing between mittens vs gloves.

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Merino wool may provide the best features of moisture-wicking, merino wool warmth, and comfort, but clothes made from this material are expensive and less durable. Cotton, on the other hand, will not quite compare some of the benefits of wool but it is more durable.

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My name is David Hamburg. I am an avid water sports fan who enjoys paddle boarding, surfing, scuba diving, and kite surfing. Anything with a board or chance I can get in the water I love! I am such a big fan I decided to start this website to review all my favorite products and some others. Hope you enjoy!