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6 Reasons Bamboo’s Better than Merino

Bamboo top in Patagonia

Like most people with an interest in sport and the outdoors, I have a wardrobe filled with a variety of different base layers in various states of disrepair. From my faithful Helly Hansen, 15 years old and still as good as the day I bought it; through an indulgent selection of merino wool garments; and now to the latest addition: bamboo.

For performance, you cannot beat synthetic. For long trips, most people swear by merino. But I would like to present the case for bamboo-based clothes.

I have written a detailed comparison of base layer materials elsewhere but here a few reasons why I think bamboo wins when compared to merino.

[UPDATE: I’ve since found that there is a wide variety in the performance of bamboo tops. For example, my TrekMates bamboo top is excellent. BAM’s bamboo products, however, are very slow to dry. For more details, read this comparison]

Bamboo vs Merino

  1. It’s tougher. The sleeves on my Icebreaker top frayed and ripped within a couple of years’ occasional use. My TrekMates top (pictured above) has no such issues.
  2. It’s softer. Merino feels much nicer than synthetic tops but it can be itchy and it’s just not as soft and comfortable as bamboo.
  3. It wicks better. Merino is better than cotton for wicking but it’s not very good for intensive exercise and/or under less breathable outer layers. Other disagree but, from my experience, bamboo seems to be better (nothing beats the good old Helly Hansen Lifa though).
  4. It’s closer fitting. Bamboo garments tend to be mixed with elastane which means they are stretchy. That results in a closer fit and thus better warmth and wicking performance. In contrast, the woolen merino tops I’ve had don’t hold their shape as well.
  5. It still smells good. OK, perhaps not quite as miraculous as merino but still very good.
  6. It’s cheaper. Merino tends to cost a fortune (Icebreaker merino t-shirt = £49) but bamboo’s not much more than synthetics (TrekMates t-shirt = £23).

(My experience is based on using TrekMates long sleeved bamboo baselayer tops, BAM bamboo underwear, Smartwool bamboo socks, Icebreaker Merino Wool longsleeve baselayers, a Quechua merino t-shirt and Smartwool merino tops, fleeces, hats and socks. I have no association with bamboo clothing, manufacturers or fields. Critique and counter arguments welcome).

You can get bamboo clothing from BAM and Highlander and on Amazon.

About the Author

Tim Moss has supported over 100 expeditions across all seven continents. He has climbed new mountains, crossed a desert and recently cycled 13,000 miles around the world. He is a Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society London and a Guinness World Record Holder. He aims to encourage more people to live adventurously. Read more...

Comments (6)

  • Lizzy


    Interesting post! I have been a convert to merino after wearing my helly’s for everything I’ve done since Norway to about 3 months ago. They did loose the elastic in Norway but I blame that on the sea salt more than the tops themselves. But got the everyday ice breakers to try and save money and they loose their shape massively between washes – was given a 260 top by my old work as uniform – and wore it nearly everyday the air con was cold! and it never lost its shape was lovely! Ice breaker say this is due to the stitching they have changed it since bringing out red ram and now everyday in their 150,200, and 260 weights stuff, so was just wondering what ice breaker it was you had. As thinking about getting another proper one – had to return my uniform when I left :(

  • Tim Moss

    Hi Lizzy, my Icebreaker’s a bit warn now so I can’t read the label properly. It’s Icebreaker 200 and looks, from their website, just like a Mondo Long Sleeve Half Zip.

    It’s less that it’s lost its shape over time though and more than it’s just not as stretchy, close fitting and figure hugging as my bamboo top or Helly (and I think that’s the material rather than the cut).

  • Dean

    Hi Tim,

    In reference to your comments on bamboo vs. Merino:

    Could you please advise if this also applies to ‘socks’ as well as tops??

    I’m wanting to find socks that not only pull moisture away from the skin, but also keep your feet cooler when enclosed in footwear. I.e. Leather shoes, boots etc.

    Thanks kindly,

    Dean, NZ.

    • Tim Moss

      Hi Dean,

      Good question. I’ve used a few different types of bamboo socks now, they’re pretty common even in menswear departments these days, but they really vary from brand to brand.

      I reckon they’d definitely be worth a try. They’ll almost certainly be tougher and cheaper than merino. My Bridgedale bamboo hiking socks have been good, for example, but, for what you’re describing, I’d probably not recommend BAM’s bamboo socks. Sticking with regular looking hiking socks that just happen to include some bamboo is probably your best bet.

      Do let me know how you get on or fire away with any more specifics.


  • Zoe McCardle

    Hi Tim,
    Very interesting blog, I work for a clothing/underwear company that sells bamboo, silk and cashmere products. I have tried out our bamboo thermals when I go into the mountains to snowboard and walk. I find them excellent, they seem to regulate your temperature and like you say they feel much softer and more comfortable. If its ok by you I would like to use your article on our facebook page ? We are called silkyboo and you can find us at
    thank you


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