Michael’s been reviewing the 100% merino wool hiking T-shirt from new Aussie company Ottie Merino. So how does the Aussie owned, grown ‘n’ sewn tee peform?
I know merino wool is the GOAT fabric for hiking – it’s odour resistant, moisture-wicking and biodegradable.
Yet, despite knowing this, I’ve always been seduced by inferior merino products in the past.
Whether it be from the random hiking sales at ALDI, or the never-random sales at Kathmandu, the merino products I’ve owned have been of the cheaper core-spun variety – aka a blend of merino and nylon. Part of my hesitation in splurging for a 100% merino tee is the price tag that accompanies them.
So when I received a merino tee to review from Ottie Merino, I was finally able to test whether a premium merino tee is worth the outlay ($85 in this case).
Ottie hasn’t been around for long – having fine-tuned the design of their product during the lengthy COVID-19 lockdown in Melbourne during 2020. What came out of the lockdown was a new Australian owned and made merino wool clothing company, with their singular product targeted at hikers and other adventure goers.
Over the course of daily use and a couple of weekend microadventures, I got a great idea of the tee’s capabilities and whether it’s worth the cash.
Ottie keeps things very simple by offering just one product: a plain crew neck tee in mens and womens fits, available in five colours and five sizes.
As their website and size chart states, the tees are a relaxed, slightly longer fit. The rationale behind this fit is so that the shirts don’t ride up while hiking with a backpack, and so that the style doesn’t scream ‘activewear’ the second you step off the trail.
My plum-coloured tee was a size large (I’m 185cm and 80kg). The fit was exactly as the website described, which I found a welcome change from athletic-fit tees which need to be peeled off after a long day’s hiking.
If you’re normally between two sizes and prefer a tighter fit, or to use it as a base layer, I would recommend going for the smaller size.
While Ottie markets their tees for hikers, the reserved styling and casual fit means it’s more than suitable for pretty much any endeavour you like, whether that’s a casual Friday in the office or a post-adventure pub feed.
The merino tees I’ve owned in the past have always felt thick, heavy and seemed to absorb and hold onto sweat like a sponge.
The Ottie tee was a refreshing change from this. It’s very light and supple, made of 160-170gsm (grams per square metre) of Australian merino wool. This places it in the light category – perfect for the majority of Australian conditions. As a comparison, major competitor Icebreaker offers most of its summer tees with 150 gsm of merino.
A criticism I’ve had of merino tees in the past is that the wool has a scratchy feel to it which irritates my nipples to no end. Over the course of testing, there was no itchiness to complain about with the Ottie tee. Aside from that, no further hyperbole is needed. It’s a comfortable tee that feels durable and high-quality.
To test out the tee I pushed the rest of my exercise shirts to the back of the cupboard and committed to it becoming my one and only.
It was my only shirt for a four-day camping and hiking trip in the Yuraygir National Park below Yamba in NSW.
I had no complaints with it during a couple of day hikes along the coastline. It’s an easy piece of gear. You put it on and then don’t have to worry. Like most gearheads, I have a collection of trusted gear, pieces of clothing or equipment that I rely on. It’s a compliment to the Ottie tee that it slipped into this category very quickly.
Off the trail, it was just like a normal shirt around the campsite or on trips into town, with the exception that it was the only shirt I had. But here’s the kicker; by the end of four days, it still smelt divine and showed no signs of needing a wash.
Back in Brisbane, the real sweat test came during my daily cycle commute to work. I normally arrive at work after the half-hour ride with sweat cascading off my back like Purling Brooks Falls in full flow (thanks, Brisbane summer).
Compared to a normal synthetic cheapy, the Ottie tee was marginally better but it was still drenched in sweat by the end of the ride. It dried a bit quicker during the day, but was still damp to put back on for the ride home.
It wasn’t quite the game-changing difference I’d hoped for, although, I was misguided in thinking that any fabric could be a match for my pores.
Where the Ottie tee did shine was in backing up day-to-day. I normally have to chuck on a fresh tee for the commute every day, but with a little bit of airing out the Ottie tee was good to go by the next day.
Apart from wearing it into the shower with me after getting a soaking from mother nature while riding, the tee is nearly at a month without a proper wash and still looks primo.
That’s a win for the environment and my washing machine.
There are plenty of tees on the market cheaper than what Ottie offers. At $85 a pop, it’s similar in price to more established companies.
What shouldn’t be overlooked though, is that Ottie sources its merino exclusively from Australia and has it all put together by an ethical clothing Australia manufacturer in the northern suburbs of Melbourne. There’s no fast fashion here, or a globetrotting supply train.
Competitor companies like Icebreaker and Kathmandu primarily source their merino from New Zealand, but it’s processed overseas.
So what Ottie is doing is great for local jobs and helps justify the price tag.
Merino itself is also biodegradable, unlike synthetic fibres. So once your merino tee reaches the end of its lifespan, chuck it in the compost and in as little as nine months, it will be gone.
While my testing regime didn’t reach the heights of Tim Ashelford’s wild Icebreaker Challenge from a few years back, I still sunk a lot of activity and bodily fluids into the fibres of my Ottie merino tee.
A merino tee isn’t a magical piece of gear that will evaporate sweat and climate-control your body temperature, but it is extremely versatile and comfortable. The more you use it, especially on say, a multi-day hike where you’re restricted for space in your backpack, the more you appreciate the benefits of going with merino.
And if you do decide to look at a merino tee, supporting a new small business that’s born and bred in Australia has a feel-good factor to it that’s hard to beat.
Michael was provided with the Ottie Merino tee to review and got to keep it. The views are entirely his own.