Better than merino? The Royal Robbins MerinoLux 1/4 Zip Review
The elusive perfect merino shirt. Does it exist? Or do they all fall apart after wearing them hard?
After finding out about merino working in a gear shop nearly 10 years ago, I’ve been infatuated with it’s amazing abilities. No smell, regulates your temperature, keeps some heat when wet. It seems like the perfect fabric for all outdoor clothing.
There’s one problem though.
It’s not very durable. Wear a piece of merino a lot and you’ll see holes in less than a year. After wearing many brands of merino for some travel, work and all my outdoor adventures I concluded that merino wool is amazing but it just doesn’t last that long.
Today we review the MerinoLux 1/4 zip, a base or mid layer from Royal Robbins designed to be the perfect merino piece that will last longer. Will it stand up to the abuse? Let’s have a look.
But first we need a little backstory.
Who’s Royal Robbins?
Royal Robbins, the company, was created by Royal Robbins, the climber, and his wife Liz after climbing Half Dome in Yosemite. Noticing their ragged and ripped cut-off jean shorts after climbing, they realized they needed something better. Liz put together the Billy Goat, a simple, rugged short built for climbing and the apparel company was born.
Both the climbers and the company are run by a deep respect for the natural world. Royal and his friends pushed clean climbing for the first time in the late 60s, a new technique of climbing with no permanent bolts or pitons in the rock. Royals ascent of the Nutcracker in 1967 with nothing but temporary climbing protection ushered in a new era in climbing, and continued his legacy of respecting the natural world. Royal Robbins, the company, continues with that ethos today, swapping out fabrics that use less energy to make, and striving to be a more eco-friendly outdoor apparel company.
Instead of sticking with the standard polyesters used these days, they’ve upgraded to something better.
A quick note before we look at Sorona. I apologize in advance for any misspellings of Sorona as Corona. Auto-correct was insistent that I was trying to say Corona. I wasn’t drinking while writing this (well maybe a bit of wine), just over-active auto-correct. Back to Sorona.
In their efforts to be produce performance but eco-friendly garments, Royal Robbins have included Sorona, a corn-based polyester from DuPont, to their line.
Most often combined with other materials like merino, Sorona dries and wicks like a nylon polyester but requires less energy and greenhouse gases to produce. It’s lower dying temperature requires less energy to colour and its washable in cold water. It dries fast and also lasts longer so you’re buying fewer shirts.
MerinoLux which is the fabric in the 1/4 base or mid-layer we’re looking at today is Sorona polyester combined with fine merino wool.
The combination gives you the stink free benefits of merino but still wicks and dries like polyester. The merino regulates the temperature while the Sorona adds a soft, smooth feel to the fabric as well as some durability. It’s wrinkle resistant and UPF 50 for travelling in the sun.
Merino can sag when it’s wet or pulled. The Sorona prevents the sag with a slim fit to the long sleeves and body and a comfy 4 way stretch.
It still has the downside of not being machine dryable because of the merin but if you’re looking to save some energy or travelling, you’ll probably be hanging some of your gear anyways.
No matter how fine the merino, I find there is still a bit of a wool feel there. It’s hardly noticeable in most of the superfine wool garments these days but it would be nice to be as soft as polyester or fleece.
With the combination of wool and Sorona in the MerinoLux, Royal Robbins has created a very soft combination. It’s not got quite the smooth feel as straight polyester but it’s close. And still has most of the benefits of the merino wool.
Merino but durable
The whole reason merino is so popular is because of the temperature regulation and the lack of smell with sustained use. Being able to sweat in the same shirt for a week and be able to stand yourself is wondrous. The downside is lack of durability. I can’t wear my merino too much where it rubs against other gear because it just wears out.
By adding the strong but more eco-conscious Sorona polyester too the mix you get a more durable shirt with the benefits of merino. You also get better 4 way stretch than a typical merino shirt too. I have yet to hit the smelling point on this one which is impressive. Often as soon as there’s polyester in there, the smell factor goes up.
Merino can get saggy and lose it’s shape over time. MerinoLux fabric maintains it’s shape a bit better than standard merino and has good 4 way stretch. I have a medium in the MerinoLux 1/4 and it’s fairly fitted but not constricting. I usually have a merino base layer t-shirt on underneath and it fits well. It fits close enough to be it’s on base layer as well if it was cooler. The 1/4 zip makes it easy to regulate the temperature without having to take it off. Thumb loops have become my favourite thing lately. I wish it had some.
Recent runs and hikes I’ve kept my jacket and long sleeves of the 1/4 zip on much longer than I would normally. This results in a lot more sweat than usual. It’s been a sweaty test.
But that’s the point with merino and other fabrics. It has to deal with sweat well or else why would you wear it. I’ve worn the 1/4 zip for days straight now before washing and it’s yet to smell. I assumed it was going to start to smell a bit right away from the polyester but so far so good. Future testing will include a head to head with a 100% merino 1/4 zip, wearing them for as many days as it takes to smell (I will show in between!).
Though not as fast-drying as straight polyester, I’ll take a bit of a slower dry any day just so that it won’t stink. It seems to dry a bit faster than 100% merino but is still slower than polyester. I won’t say I love the feel of wet wool against my skin but it’s not a terrible thing. I don’t mind hiking in it for long periods of time.
Having travelled for months through Australia and New Zealand for 4 months in merino, it’s my go to for any sustained adventure. Even just wearing on planes and tour buses, you won’t get more comfortable, especially when it’s warm.
You can wear the MerinoLux 1/4 zip out for a hike and then dinner than night. UPF 50 will keep you out of the sun during the day and you won’t need to do any ironing with it.
This might be the ultimate fabric for adventure. No stink temperature regulation from the merino. Faster drying and durability from the polyester. I’ll be continuing to test this as much as possible in the coming year to see what long-term durability is like but so far I’m giving it 2 thumbs up. 100% merino is amazing but it’s just not holding up to hard use. I think the blends will come out on top as the most popular in the end.
The Royal Robbins MerinoLux 1/4 Zip is a great piece for every adventure and a good one to get into for your first piece or if your merino just isn’t lasting as long as you’d like. This versatile piece can be a base or second layer over a wide range of conditions, thumb loops being one thing that would take it up one more notch for me.