Merino sheep are not clever animals. I should know. Our family has been raising thousands of them in Victoria for generations and I grew up mustering, drenching, crutching, lambing, feeding, watering and standing them back up when they fell over in full wool. They may not be the smartest breed, but they are good at one thing – growing superfine wool which makes some of the best quality garments in the world.
Melbourne based Ottie take quality Australian grown, ethical (cruelty-free), superfine merino wool and turn it into a t-shirt which hikers world over routinely use as a base layer – for good reason.
Design & Durability (Rating: 90%)
The Men’s and Women’s Tees come in Black, Otway Green, Plum, Indigo and Whisky so everyone should be able to find a colour they love. I tested a black tee which as you’ll notice in the pics seems to be a theme for me as a Tasmanian walker (there’s a reason why Tasmanian tiger snakes look almost all black).
The women’s tees, according to Ottie’s website, have ditched the “piddly sleeves” and “gaping neckline” of typical women’s tees to suit what hikers are looking for. All the tees have reinforced seams around the shoulders and back of the neck and come in 160-170 gsm merino. This weight is on the lower end – Icebreaker would label it Ultralight (150-170 gsm) with typical merino base layers starting at around 150gsm and going up to 280gsm (Macpac).
Features of the Ottie Merino include:
- Relaxed fit.
- Available in sizes XS – XL.
- 100% mulesing-free.
- Ethically made in Melbourne.
- odour resistant.
- super soft, biodegradable, and comfortable AF.
Here’s the thing about Merino that you probably already know (but it’s still worth stating) – it’s warm for its weight, feels great against the skin (wool was scratchy when I was a kid but genetic selection has allowed growers to get to superfine levels in commercial quantities), and the best quality of all is that you can wear this for days at it won’t stink – i.e. it has natural antibacterial qualities – not something that cheaper polypropylene or polyester can boast. Wear a synthetic quick-dry tee and it smells like it could use a wash after one day.
The downside of merino that I have found so far compared to synthetics is their durability. You can’t simply chuck them in the wash with everything else – they need to be “hand-washed” according to the care tag which isn’t going to happen in my household so “handwash” setting on the washing machine is selected and the top has to be in a garment bag. If it’s lucky it gets wool wash. I’ve noticed with our other wool base layers that they develop holes over time. I have no idea where these holes come from but I do know it’s rare / virtually impossible for polyester base layers to fall apart.
As far as fitting goes, Ottie describes their tees as having a relaxed fit but I found a Medium tee to be a little too relaxed for me. I like base layers to be body-hugging. The whole point of an insulating base layer is to trap warm air – something that flappiness works against. At 188 cm tall and 78 kg, I’ve been a medium for a few decades now but the Ottie tee in medium is more like a large.
Having said that, their sizing chart is accurate. They recommend grabbing your favourite tee and measuring it and comparing it to their chart. When I do this, I line up with a small. What is going on here? How did I end up being a small? I dislike shopping and measuring myself and looking up size charts at the best of times but I highly recommend going the extra mile if purchasing an Ottie. The tees have fantastic hem length though which is very welcome – no riding up around the midriff with Ottie.
* Note from Ottie: Under normal circumstances, if a customer purchased a t-shirt that wasn’t a good fit they’d be encouraged to exchange it within 30 days for a better size. *
Functionality & Ease of Use (Rating: 75%)
I wore my tee on and off for a few days at home without washing, then took off into the iconic Walls of Jerusalem National Park in Tasmania for a four-day, three-night hike. It was supposed to be five days but a quick check of the weather on top of Mount Jerusalem on day 2 indicated snow down to 1200 metres and persistent rain for day 5 (welcome to summer in Tassie) so we wandered out early.
The Tee was worn as a base layer under a quick-dry shirt during the day and slept in at night. We put in some pretty big days, climbed some pretty big mountains, and there was plenty of sweat generated and by the time I returned home, there was still no smell.
The fabric feels really soft and comfortable with plenty of stretch. On cooler days I walked with the tee under my quick-dry shirt and I slept at night in it without anything else on top and overnight temps were in the low single digits.
I wasn’t a fan of the relaxed fit. I get that Ottie’s tees are designed by hikers for hikers, but in my mind, base layers should be snug and whatever you wear on top of that can be fitted or relaxed. In cold conditions when you’re around camp, you can’t afford to lose that warm trapped air layer around your body that the base layer is there for, so for me that reduces the functionality. Look at the size down from what you usually wear if you’re of the same school of thought.
What I Like
- Soft stretchy fabric.
- It dried surprisingly fast against my body after dumping my backpack.
- Kept me warm at night.
- No stank after four days of heavy use.
- Long hem.
What I Don’t Like
- The fit / sizing.