Wearing my Unbound Merino leggings on a hike in San Francisco, in front of the Golden Gate Bridge. ©KettiWilhelm2022

Unbound Merino Review: Travel-Testing a Merino Wool Wardrobe [2023 UPDATE]

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This is my detailed review of Unbound Merino’s new line of women’s merino wool travel clothing (plus one of their men’s merino t-shirts). Do they stand up to their claim of being practically all you need to pack for travel? And do they really look and smell good for weeks without washing? Here’s what I’ve found after months of wear.

If you’re planning to buy half a dozen t-shirts or wool sweaters this season, I’m pretty sure the founders of Unbound Merino would expect you to take your business elsewhere. But if you’re interested in just buying one high-quality merino t-shirt or sweater in the next several years, you’re probably the customer they’re looking for.

Of course, that’s just my opinion, but it’s based on meeting the brand’s co-founder, Dima, at a travel conference this spring. After a few conversations, I think his disdain for excessive consumerism might just be the most sustainable thing about Unbound Merino.

What was a merino clothing brand doing at a travel conference?

Well, Dima said they consider themselves a travel company at heart, because they want to encourage people to travel more minimally, pack less, wash less often – and then take those eco-friendly ideas back home with them.

[Related: Here’s my entire guide to packing lighter, including the mindset tips to make it actually happen this time.]

And they really mean wash a lot less often. A blog post on their site describes one of the founders wearing the same merino t-shirt for 46 days on the road. Really?

At the conference, Dima was dressed from head to toe in the brand’s best-selling color: Black. Specifically, he was wearing a neat, cozy looking merino wool hoodie, and their new men’s merino travel pants.

That outfit, as it turned out, is about a quarter of his entire wardrobe.

He told me Unbound Merino’s goal is to encourage people to buy higher quality pieces of clothing and fewer of them – which is really the most sustainable possible approach to fashion.

I asked if that meant they had fewer seasons than most clothing brands, and he one-upped me. “We’re season-less.”

[Related: This review of Unbound Merino’s wool travel clothing is now part of my series on sustainable clothing brands – find more brands here.]

You can use the discount code TILTEDMAP for 10% off your Unbound Merino order. (They make clothing in small lots that usually sell out within a few months, so they don’t often do additional sales beyond this discount.)

Note: 2023 Review Update

I published the first version of this review October 26, 2022. Unbound Merino has since made significant updates to their women’s line – so I fully updated this review in July, 2023. I’ve now been wearing their original collection for about a year, and the new items for 4 months. That’s given me enough time for a realistic test, and what you’ll hopefully find to be a genuinely useful review of Unbound Merino’s travel clothing!


Unbound Merino’s Philosophy: Style without the push of Fashion

Traditional fashion companies have two annual seasons – spring/summer and fall/winter, so they market new designs twice a year. But now, many brands have four seasons. And fast-fashion companies come out with new designs every week. Yep, that’s 52 new seasons a year, to encourage us to drop by their stores continuously, buying as many cheap clothes as possible.

Unbound Merino does pretty much the opposite of that. They’re a very small, independent clothing company, founded and led by three friends in Toronto, Canada.

Don’t get me wrong – yes, they’re a clothing company that exists to sell things. But their ethos is based on discouraging overconsumption.

And when you look at their clothes, it’s obvious that’s not just marketing fluff. They update their designs when something needs to be fixed – not based on a fashion calendar.

I asked Dima about this later by email. Here’s what he said:

The way we think about design is how our clothing solves problems in our customers lives, or what purpose the clothing would serve when traveling. We are seasonless, but we still think about releases in terms of practicality – warmer layers in colder months, etc.”

The three founders of Unbound Merino, a small business that makes sustainably-produced wool clothing.
Unbound Merino founders.

Unbound Merino is the first clothing brand I’ve reviewed on this blog. Here’s why:

Instead of focusing on sustainable clothing brands, I’ve always chosen to stick with products we use up and repurchase every couple of months – like shampoo (and shampoo bars), refillable skincare, and toothpaste.

[Related: Find all of my reviews of those and other sustainable essentials here.]

And I’m extremely picky with those products. But for clothing – something we certainly don’t need to buy more of every few months – I feel like my standards have to be even higher.

That’s because I don’t want to encourage buying extra stuff for no reason. Why? Because the fashion industry – especially fast fashion and excessive consumption of clothing – is a major contributor to climate change and other environmental problems.

Fashion causes more annual carbon emissions than all international flights and maritime shipping combined, according to Princeton University.

So moderation is key. We have to start buying less new stuff, including new clothing. Still, I’m not a saint who gets all her clothes second hand.

Yes, I went through a pandemic-induced Marie Kondo phase. I’ve moved to new cities five times in the past five years, so I do try to keep my possessions limited. And I’ve embraced the idea of quality over quantity, and become very picky about my clothing purchases.

But I still own far more shoes and clothing than anyone at Unbound Merino, would likely consider “minimal.” And that’s okay. It’s a process.

Less but Better

Since I still want to enjoy fashion, my compromise with the environment is seeking out good quality, long-lasting pieces from sustainable and socially responsible companies.

These are steps in the right direction:

  1. Buy fewer items.
  2. Shop second-hand before shopping new.
  3. Focus on finding items you will truly enjoy, and be excited to wear (which makes #4 easier).
  4. Repeat outfits more. Wear items for more days without a wash.
  5. Take good care of your clothes, so that they will look good for longer.
  6. Avoid buying synthetic materials, which cause microplastic pollution (and stink after minimal use), and go for natural fibers instead. (This also makes #4 easier.)
  7. Buy new items from more sustainable and ethical clothing brands.

There’s a world of difference between the good brands and the bad ones out there. That’s why Unbound Merino caught my eye at that travel conference, with their stylish, practical merino wool basics.


What I Packed for a 3-week Trip

When Unbound Merino launched its original women’s line in June of 2022, I thought I’d check the hype by travel-testing four staples from the women’s collection: The Merino Travel Dress, the women’s V-Neck T-Shirt, the Merino Muscle Tank, and the Merino Leggings.

(I also ordered a men’s merino t-shirt for my husband. If he can wear a t-shirt for weeks without it stinking, it would be quite the accomplishment. More on that below.)

I packed those four items – and not much else – on a couple of trips. The first was a week in Miami in August, and the second was three weeks traveling up the West Coast of the US and Canada. These clothes have now also survived – and frankly done an amazing job – on a bike trip in Italy, too!

A travel wardrobe spread out on a bed, mostly comprised of merino wool items from this review of Unbound Merino. ©KettiWilhelm2022

My wardrobe for three weeks on the West Coast in October: Black merino wool leggings, 1 pair of DL1961 jeans, black merino travel dress, green linen t-shirt, navy blue merino t-shirt, pink merino tank top, white pajama top, green hoodie made of recycled cashmere (from Everlane), organic cotton short-sleeved sweater (from the Spanish sustainable clothing brand SKFK), 10 pairs of underwear (in the packing cube), 2 belts.

Not pictured: Formal dress for a wedding, 3 pairs of shoes (black ankle boots, running shoes, and recycled, leopard-print sneakers), 3 pairs of socks, lightweight down jacket.

These are my notes on how my merino travel clothes performed during those initial 4 weeks on the road, plus everything I’ve learned after another year of wearing more and more Unbound Merino.


Intro: Unbound Merino Women’s Clothing Line

While most merino clothing brands, like Icebreaker and Smartwool, are designed as outdoor wear (and heavy on logos), Unbound Merino goes for a more elegant look. (Without any logos at all, except stamped inside the tag-less collars.)

That design makes Unbound Merino pieces a lot more multi-functional. And, after a lot of testing, it’s part of what’s made Unbound my favorite merino wool travel clothing brand.

Although I have worn Unbound Merino clothes for lots of outdoor sports (hiking in the Adirondacks and biking in Italy, to name a few). They transition from city to trail without a problem as far as performance and comfort, but I don’t want to travel looking like I’m always dressed for a hike.

[Related: Some of these items also made my Baja California packing list – the final version, after I tested it on my UnCruise Baja trip. They were perfectly multi-purpose, from cocktail hours to desert trails.]

Review: The Merino Travel Dress

The merino wool travel dress was my favorite item from Unbound Merino right out of the box. (And shortly after I ordered mine, it was sold out for months, so I guess I’m not the only one who likes it!)

It’s back in stock now, and is their only women’s item that’s the same as last year, as described below.

The Merino Travel Dress the only dress Unbound Merino makes so far. It’s a simple, straight, loosely hanging, mid-length dress with a slit on the left side.

The slit comes to about mid-thigh, which is not as high as I thought it looked from the photos on the website. The dress is 44 inches long (112 cm) in all sizes, and the slit comes up 12 inches (30.5 cm) from the bottom hem.

It’s very easy to wear and looks great with a belt at the waist.

The blogger/reviewer, a white woman with short blond hair, wearing a sleeveless, black merino wool travel dress on a balcony in front of a mountain view on Vancouver Island. ©KettiWIlhelm2022
Vancouver Island views in my merino travel dress.

This dress isn’t all wool – it’s 84% merino, 12% nylon and 4% spandex, which gives it a little stretch and, in my experience, keeps it looking fresh even after traveling in it for 5 days straight – from travel days, to walks around Seattle and Vancouver, to dinners out at upscale restaurants.

Downside: I wish it had pockets. Other than that, I haven’t found much to complain about.

It’s super packable, doesn’t show wrinkles, and didn’t have any lingering smell even after many uses without washing it. (The five days in a row was part of that, but at that point, I’d already had it in my suitcase for two weeks, and had worn it a couple of times. It still looked perfectly good without a wash.)

Travel Styling Ideas for the Merino Dress

For the way I travel – packing as light as I can, but still wanting to look stylish – this is a really versatile cut for a travel dress.

Add a belt at the waist to dress it up. (It would also work well with a low-slung hip belt.) Add a sweatshirt to dress it down during the day. For cool evenings, I used a waist belt and cropped sweater (my recycled cashmere hoodie that I bought from Everlane last year).

The length makes it work with ankle boots or taller boots, as well as sandals or flats. You can throw leggings on under it, and it’s just very soft and comfortable.

The blogger at an organic winery in Napa Valley, wearing the Unbound Merino travel dress and Rothy's sneakers made of recycled materials. ©KettiWilhelm2022
Poking around the vineyards of Napa Valley in my merino dress.

Review: Women’s Unbound Merino T-Shirts

I ordered Unbound Merino’s v-neck t-shirt in navy blue in a size small and found the fit just right. The cut widens out a bit at the hips, so I’d call it a pretty traditional fit. It’s not straight or boxy, but not super slim.

(If you’re looking for a cut that’s looser all over, check out the new Boxy Pocket T.)

It’s a perfect, good quality basic t-shirt. The merino fabric is extremely soft, and it really does stay smelling fresh a lot longer than any other t-shirt I’ve worn.

I did notice one small snag in the fabric pretty soon after I started wearing it. (This was in the original, lighter material from 2022.) I’m not sure where it came from, and I always wash my clothes in laundry bags for protection, so I doubt it was a laundry issue.

(More about how to wash merino wool below.)

UPDATE – Spring 2023:

The womens’ v-neck and crew neck t-shirts, as well as the long sleeve merino tops, are now back in stock with updated fabric and fits. The new fabric is slightly heavier than last year, at 190 GSM. It’s still 100% merino wool. (It’s now the same as the men’s t-shirt fabric.)

It still feels soft, light and comfortable, not thick at all, but it’s just a bit sturdier and resists snags better.

They’ve also added a new boxy-cut womens’ t-shirt, which I reviewed below.

And now, after also continuing to wear that first t-shirt for an entire year, the snag hasn’t grown into a hole or anything bigger – which is a testament to the quality. (And I haven’t found any other snags on any of our other pieces.) The t-shirt has also so far resisted pilling really well (same goes for the men’s t-shirt).

The underarm of the women's merino t-shirt from Unbound Merino with a small snag in the fabric. ©KettiWilhelm2022
The small snag in the lower right showed up immediately – but hasn’t gotten worse.

How to Keep Your Merino Smelling & Looking Fresh

To get these smell-test results from your merino travel clothing, there’s basically just one rule to follow. Hang them neatly on a hanger or over a chair at night. This way your clothes air out, and stay smelling fresh for much longer. (Avoid hooks, as the material is so soft a hook could easily leave a mark, if not the beginning of a hole.)

To keep everything wrinkle-free, there are a couple of options. You can roll each individual piece of clothing, but I prefer using packing cubes to keep things organized and neatly folded. (Even after I dig around in my bag.) They really do work wonders. And I go carry-on only even when I’m traveling for several weeks, so I’ve really put them to the test!

Women’s Boxy Cut Merino T-Shirt

Along with the Unbound Active line, this t-shirt is the main addition to the Unbound Merino women’s line for 2023. Like their other merino t-shirts, this one is 100% merino wool. (Except for the bright white color, which is 56% merino, and 44% polyester. More on that below.)

The boxy t has a cute chest pocket, which means it looks identical to my favorite plain white travel t-shirt from Everlane. (In organic cotton.) It’s a little shorter than the other t shirts, but definitely far from a crop-top look. 

And I really put this shirt through the wringer this year. I packed mostly Unbound Merino on another three-week summer trip in to Europe. And I used the boxy t-shirt for everything from browsing museums in Milan, to mountain biking.

After wearing it for 4 days of a bike tour in Italy, it looked and smelled significantly better than the linen t-shirt I wore for just one day of biking.

Honestly, I couldn’t even make this kind of thing up, because even now that I’ve been wearing these clothes for more than a year, I was still shocked that it performed that well.

The review author wearing a navy blue Unbound Merino wool t-shirt while traveling in Italy, standing next to a medieval knight cutout in Fabriano, Italy. ©KettiWilhelm2023
In Fabriano, Italy, at the beginning of a week of biking in this t-shirt.

Q: Why are the white T’s a merino-blend?

I asked Unbound why their white t-shirts are a merino blend fabric, and they explained that’s it’s very difficult to get merino wool to that crisp, white-cotton-t-shirt kind of white, because that requires harsh chemical bleaching. (And if you bleached merino wool, it would strip the fabric of its natural performance.)

They said the polyester in their blend also adds additional strength and quick-drying capabilities to the fabric, which is a nice bonus.

My Merino-poly T-shirt Wear Test:

Okay, after testing my merino blend t-shirt for several weeks, I can’t say it lasts quite long between washes as the original, 100% merino shirts, but honestly it’s pretty darn close.

I still get at least five or more wears out of mine before I start noticing smelly pits. (The women’s v-neck in ivory is the white one I have.) It’s not the amazing three weeks of wear that I get out of the 100% merino tops, but it’s still much better than any other fabric!

The fabric also recovers really well. In Europe this summer, I was wearing my ivory v-neck almost every day, and eating a lot of gelato. Two days in row, I dribbled gelato down the front of my t-shirt, and two days in a row, I went to the backroom and blotted it out with a wet paper towel. It dried quickly and look absolutely fine after. 

In my ivory white Unbound Merino wool t-shirt in Prague, after a week of wearing the same travel t-shirt. ©KettiWilhelm2023
Cruising Prague in my merino-blend v-neck, after a week of wear and two spilled gelatos.

Review: Women’s Long-sleeve Merino Tops

I was really surprised by how much I love this top. It seemed so basic online, but I think it’s just perfect.

It’s so very soft and comfortable – it’s become all what I want to wear for every season besides mid-summer heat waves.

And of course, I literally did wear it for weeks at a time when I first got it this spring. (When I’m not traveling for work, I work from home so even extreme outfit repeating is easy to pull off.) Yet again, I managed to get at least 20 wears before it seemed borderline, and I decided it was time for a wash.

Sizes & Colors:

The sizing is a tiny bit more snug than short-sleeved T-shirts. 

Plus, the color: I have it in Moonlight Blue, and it’s a really beautiful shade. Bright enough to add some light to a dark day, but almost still feels like a neutral that could go with anything. Not overpowering, but definitely not boring. A perfect mix-and-match color for my travel wardrobe. 

Update: They’re not making the long-sleeve top in this color anymore, but it’s back in the V-neck version! (They had it for a few months in the Merino Muscle Tank, but these colors change often.)

Long-Sleeve V-Neck – Important Sizing Notes!

Speaking of that lovely blue in the V-neck option, watch out for the sizing on this one! The women’s long-sleeve v-neck is a “slim fit,” while the crew neck is a “straight cut.” The difference is huge!

I just ordered the slim v-neck, and luckily I carefully compared the product dimensions (Unbound Merino makes this easy – just click “size guide”). I ended up ordering the v-neck in a large, which had the most similar dimensions to my crew neck in a size small.

Reviews: Women’s Merino Wool Tank Tops

At first I was concerned that the fabric of the original (2022) merino muscle tank developed a bit of pilling very quickly – after just the first wash. But surprisingly, after using it for about four months, it actually improved.

(And their updates to the fabric for 2023 seem to have put a stop to it. Still, I’ll share what I learned about merino wool pilling when I started noticing it.)

Q: Why does Merino wool pill?

I asked Unbound Merino about the pilling. Here’s what they said:

Pilling is a natural process that’s somewhat inherent in Merino wool fabric due to the fact that it’s a staple fibre. Generally, if pilling occurs, it’s because the shorter fibres are working their way to the surface of the fabric. Sometimes washing Merino with a coarser fabric like denim/jeans can help to remove some of those shorter fibres, so maybe that was the case with your tank.”

As I described below, I’m very careful with how I wash merino clothing, but I guess it was still enough to buff off some of the roughness.

And I still (after more than a year) haven’t found any pilling on my t-shirt or my husband’s – and they are slightly heavier fabrics from the original women’s muscle tank. (The men’s t-shirts are ultra-fine 17.5 micron, 190GSM, 100% merino wool. The updated women’s t-shirts for 2023 are the same. For more on what that means, see the end of of this article.)

Continuing the Smell Test:

While I was testing to see if any extra pilling would appear on my tank top, I wore this baby every single day for so long I lost track of how many days it had been. But we’re talking at least three or four weeks – in July and August, in Boston humidity, in an apartment with no air-conditioning.

Now it’s nearly November, and I’ve been wearing it under my sweaters almost daily – I think I’ve washed it twice since the summer. (I’m literally wearing the tank as I type this.)

Amazingly, it’s always started to look in need of a wash (a little tired and maybe dirty) before it started smelling at all. I’m really quite impressed.

(Again, following the tips above and letting things air out at night makes this possible.)

UPDATE – Spring 2023:

After months out of stock, the womens’ merino muscle tanks have been freshly restocked in new colors as of March, 2023.

Just like the t-shirts, they made some small improvements from last year. The fabric is slightly heavier than before (at 175 GSM instead of 150), but still lighter than the t-shirt fabric, and still 100% merino wool. I’ve been wearing the new version of the tank for months now, and I haven’t seen any pilling. So I think the slightly thicker fabric is a big improvement.

They’ve also added a new Active Merino Tank Top. It’s still 100% merino, but even lighter fabric at 165 GSM. (There’s a men’s version, also.) Details on that below.

Women’s Muscle Tank Sizing:

I ordered the merino tank top in a medium, and debated exchanging it for a small. It was a little on the loose side in the body, but surprisingly, it still fit well at the shoulder and arm holes without any gaping.

I think that’s a general feature of Unbound’s style: The shapes err on the side of loose and comfortable, as opposed to form-fitting.

(Details about Unbound Merino’s sizing are below.)

I ended up keeping the size medium and it works perfectly well. It keeps its shape, without stretching out between washes, so I’m happy with the size medium.

The merino tank top also makes a great base layer under other clothes, although if I were using it only for that purpose, I would have sized-down.

Colors:

I also noticed from the 2022 “desert rose” tank top color that Unbound Merino’s lighter colors are a bit see-through. (And the rose color is very close to my exact skin tone. So I debated exchanging it for something darker, but the nude look actually really grew on me. I love it tucked into bright, patterned pants.)

The new muscle tank colors for 2023 are darker, so I don’t think there’ll be any risk of them being see-through.

Active Merino Tank Top Review

As I mentioned above, Unbound Merino launched a new Unbound Active Merino line (both men’s and women’s) for 2023. I’ve been testing the women’s tank top and the updated leggings (below) for 4 months now, including through lots of travel. My thoughts:

The Fit:

The active tank has just a slightly snugger fit than the original Merino Muscle Tank (for the same size). Otherwise, the fit is very classic – it’s a nice sporty racerback. 

Details on the “Active Merino” Fabric:

The fabric is what’s really unique about the Active Merino collection, though: It’s still 100% merino wool, and slightly lighter than the other t-shirts and tanks, at 165 GSM. But it has a “cooling performance finish,” which they say makes it cool to the touch (and helps to cool you down during workouts). 

I’m not sure if I can say I really notice it cooling me down, but it definitely doesn’t heat me up! (And I would notice that.)

What I do notice that’s different: Even more wrinkle resistance. If it’s possible, I think the Active Merino pieces are even better for travel than everything else Unbound Merino makes. (Or just better for keeping your clothes looking sharper for longer.)

I’ve been wearing my Active Merino Tank out and about for summer travel in Europe, not just as workout wear, and it’s been perfect.

The finish also means you can tumble dry the Active Merino items, which is a big change. (Normally the dryer is a huge no-no for merino wool, as I explained below along with a couple of other notes about how to wash merino.)

Colors:

Right now, the Active Tank comes in two colors: Unbound’s classic black, or course, and a very pretty shade that they call mauve, which I think is a bit tragic. I would call it more of a lilac, and it’s really lovely! 

I think Unbound excels at choosing colors that really flatter everyone. “Mauve,” for example is a color I would never order online – with my fair skin tone, I’d expect it to make me look washed out. But I actually find this shade really surprisingly beautiful and flattering.

Testing my Unbound Merino Active Merino wool tank top as part of my light-packing travel wardrobe in Europe. ©KettiWilhelm2023
My Active Merino tank top – far from the gym, in Prague!

Review: Unbound Merino Leggings

These high-waisted, merino wool leggings with a hidden pocket are my other favorite item from Unbound that’s been sold-out for months.

They definitely have a different feel from your average synthetic leggings. First, the material is extremely soft and flexible. To me, that makes them more comfortable than most leggings.

UPDATE – Spring 2023:

Like several other products above, Unbound Merino made significant updates to their leggings for 2023. The fabric is now 68% merino wool, 22% nylon, and 10% spandex. (Instead of 96% merino wool and 4% spandex in the original design.)

I’m surprised I’m saying this, because I loved the original version, but Unbound Merino’s updated leggings are definitely an improvement. Because it contains a bit more polyester, the fabric is much more supportive, and it holds its shape better

The extra merino made their original merino leggings particularly soft and comfortable, and I liked that they used such a small amount of synthetic fiber. But I do think the update makes them more useful, and probably means you’ll need to wash them less. (There’s no saggy butt to be seen, even after I’ve been wearing the same yoga pants for weeks.)

Ketti Wilhelm, the travel blogger and author of this guide to buying train tickets in Europe, riding a train in Milan, Italy. ©KettiWilhelm2023
The new Unbound Merino leggings, after 24 hours of travel (falling asleep on a train in Italy).

The New Fit & Feel:

Just like most of their products, the sizing for Unbound Merino’s leggings is pretty standard. The updated design for 2023 is true to size, or maybe just slightly looser than most leggings or yoga pants I’ve worn.

The original inseam length made these the longest pair of leggings I’d ever tried. (At least for regular, not tall, sizing.) With the 2023 update, Unbound has shortened the inseam by one inch (2.5 cm), which makes sense. I’m 5’8” (1.73 m) with long legs and a short torso, and the new leggings are still plenty long for me. 

The original design definitely didn’t have that compressive, “holds you in“ feeling, but the new version is a little more compressive. For me, the update is a happy medium between the really stomach-flattening effect that so many yoga pants seem to be aiming for, and the much softer feel.

Merino leggings wear test

This section is just as true for the original leggings as for the redesign:

Surprisingly, even though the material is very soft, these yoga pants hold their shape for a very long time – I’d estimate at least a dozen wears, and that’s after a lot of testing:

First, I wore them 4 days in a row, including through a few yoga classes, and didn’t notice any sagging. (Even more impressively, there was hardly any smell even at the crotch.)

The next phase was the travel test. I had my husband on Saggy Butt Monitoring duty, and it was only after three weeks wearing them for travel, hikes, and kayaking (totally about 12 wears), that he finally said they were starting to look a little droopy.

After wearing my leggings kayaking in San Francisco, there were obvious white marks all over them from the splashes of salt water. So I just rinsed out the legs in the sink without any soap. That took care of the salt water marks, and they were dry in the morning, but the waistband would have taken a bit longer to dry.

Being made of a natural fiber also makes these leggings much more breathable than normal synthetic ones. (The fact that I’ve been able to wear them to multiple yoga classes and that many days in a row without them starting to stink is pretty good evidence of what a difference that makes.)

Wearing my Unbound Merino leggings on a hike in San Francisco, in front of the Golden Gate Bridge. ©KettiWilhelm2022
Taking my original merino leggings and v-neck t-shirt on an iconic San Francisco hike!

The secret pocket

These merino leggings have one more interesting feature: A hidden pocket in the waistband, with a very well-hidden zipper.

It’s a generous size pocket, too. (The zipper opening is 4 inches (10 cm), but inside, the pocket widens out to about 5.5 inches (14 cm), and it’s 7 inches long (17 cm). It fits my iPhone 13 Pro in its sturdy case, which is not a small phone.) 

So I could use the pocket for my phone when going for a run or something like that, but it’s a little awkward for other uses given that the pocket is positioned at the back of the right hip. So it wouldn’t be comfortable to sit down with anything as large or bulky as a phone or keys in the pocket.

But if you’re using these leggings as travel pants, the pocket would be perfect for stashing some cash or a credit card.

The invisible zipper pocket on the Unbound Merino women's wool leggings. ©KettiWilhelm2022
The pretty invisible, and very comfortable pocket, on the Unbound Merino women’s leggings. This is the pair from 2022, but the pocket hasn’t changed with the update.

Unbound Merino Sizing

I found the sizing to be pretty true-to-size, compared with other brands, or maybe just slightly oversized.

Unbound Merino recommends sizing down if you’re between sizes, and I’d definitely agree with that. Same goes if you want your clothes tight-fitting – you’ll probably want to go down a size or even two.

The cuts are very forgiving, and the fabric has a good amount of stretch. I also found that, while some merino wool clothing sort of softens up and gets looser between washes, the Unbound Merino pieces keep their shape quite well.

They also provide the actual dimensions of the garments, which I found very accurate and helpful for ordering the right size. (Just click “sizing guide” on any Unbound Merino product page.)

I just measured similar items in my closet that I like the fit of, and compared the measurements with Unbound’s dimensions. (I wish more brands would offer this information, so we could all avoid ordering and sending back the wrong sizes – such an unnecessary waste.)

And I ended up ordering everything in the sizes I would normally choose (smalls and mediums), which means they are quite true to size. (And I didn’t feel the need to order multiple sizes of any items.)

I was happy with the fits, but I think I could have easily sized down for most items and still been just fine. Even for the merino dress, which I ordered in a small, I could probably get away with an extra small without it being too tight.

(For reference, I have wider shoulders and pretty slim hips. And I generally like my clothes slim fitting, but not super tight.)

Men’s Sizing

From what we can tell, Unbound Merino’s men’s sizing also seems to run true-to-size. (My husband has only tested the men’s v-neck t-shirt so far, and the size medium fits as expected.) They’re definitely not oversized, in the way that many US brands are for men’s styles.

And just like on the women’s side, the fact that Unbound shares the exact garment dimensions makes it easy to measure, compare, and order the right size the first time.

The reviewer's husband in an Unbound Merino t-shirt on Miami Beach in August. ©KettiWilhelm2022
His merino wool t-shirt in Miami in August worked surprisingly well. (Even the wrinkles from the rolled up sleeve shook out easily.)


Q: Is wool sustainable?

Whether you consider wool a sustainable material at all might depend on whether you consider any animal products sustainable. (Obviously, wool isn’t vegan – but vegan doesn’t necessarily mean sustainable, and vice-versa. It’s a lot more complex than that.)

There are several factors to understand when it comes to sustainable and ethical wool production – and there’s more to sustainable fashion than just the fabrics.

For starters, all of the factories producing Unbound Merino clothing are certified by WRAP (Worldwide Responsible Accredited Production).

That certification isn’t perfect, but it’s a start. What’s probably more meaningful is that I asked Unbound Merino about this, and they told me they personally visit their factories as often as twice a year.

Yes, Unbound Merino uses mulesing-free wool.

Unbound Merino sources all of its wool from independent farms in Australia that don’t practice mulesing, and are RWS-certified (Responsible Wool Standard).

Mulesing is basically cutting a bunch of skin off the backsides of sheep, theoretically to prevent health issues. But evidence shows mulesing isn’t even effective at that, as it leaves the poor animals with bloody, open wounds that can become infected. It’s quite barbaric, it’s obviously painful for the animals, and it’s the kind of thing that makes me understand why so many people look for vegan clothing.

The RWS certification also isn’t perfect, but at least it means that mulesing isn’t happening.

This is part of the reason that Unbound Merino isn’t cheap, and it’s a great example of why cheap isn’t always good.

Practices like mulesing are part of the race to the bottom – when unscrupulous companies just aim to produce as much as possible for the cheapest price, while squeezing everyone involved. (The planet, employees, and in this case, animals.)

That’s the material side.

And sustainable clothing is also about quality and quantity.

Perhaps the biggest factor in making clothing sustainable is how long you wear your items – and how few you buy. And everything about Unbound Merino is aimed at making a few pieces last a long time.

Synthetic vs. Natural Fibers

The other point that makes any kind of merino clothing inherently more sustainable is the fact that it’s a natural fiber.

Synthetic fabrics – polyester, nylon, etc. – are a major cause of marine microplastic pollution. Washing synthetic fabrics (especially in hot water) causes them to gradually break down and shed microfibers, which cause plastic pollution in waterways.

Merino wool, linen, and cotton also lose fibers in the wash, but they aren’t plastic fibers. (Polyester, and most other synthetic fabrics, are made of plastic.)

That’s one of the reasons I’m trying to only buy new clothing made of natural fibers. They also feel better on my skin and, as I’ve been saying throughout this review, smell better for longer, so they require less washing.


How to wash merino clothing (so it doesn’t shrink)

Be warned – like all wool fabrics, including merino and cashmere, Unbound Merino clothing can definitely shrink in hot water or in the dryer.

Wash in cold or cool, and dry naturally (no dryer at all!) and you should be able to keep your merino in shape and unshrunk.

And just like with any clothing, washing Unbound Merino items as little as possible, will keep them in good shape – and save water and energy.

I also wash most of my clothes in these laundry bags, which keep items from getting pulled around and stretched out in the washing machine. They’re great for keeping dirty clothes separate for travel, too, but…

Laundry Bags, Microfibers & Microplastics

…But unfortunately, those laundry bags are a synthetic material, which, again, means they’ll lose microfibers in the wash. That’s another reason to always wash with cool or cold water, as it minimizes the breakdown of fabrics, and the subsequent water pollution.

And that’s why I no longer buy new clothing made of synthetic fibers.

As for the synthetics I already own, I try to wash everything in this microplastic-filtering laundry bag.

(More about that in this section of my sustainable laundry review.)

I also found these zippered, organic cotton laundry bags, but they’re quite expensive. (Other washing bags I’ve found that are made of natural fibers usually have a drawstring closure, which is a pain to get open after washing.)

If you feel like you’ve read this before, that’s because those are the same laundry tips I always give for washing any clothing more sustainably. Not only do they save energy, but they keep any clothing in better shape for longer, allowing us to buy less. (Which is the biggest sustainability tip of all, and the thing that first drew me to the brand.)

(See more laundry tips from Unbound Merino here, along with some history on where merino wool actually comes from.)


Bottom Line

After wearing Unbound Merino for four months an entire year, the clothes definitely live up to their first promise – that they won’t stink after multiple wears, so you won’t need to wash them often.

I did find that our merino t-shirts (and my dress and leggings) stayed fresher for several days longer than other materials. But I couldn’t quite imagine going as many weeks as Unbound Merino claims without a wash.

For their second promise – that if you treat their clothes well, they won’t fall apart, so you won’t need to replace them often – I need at least another year to really be sure. (And you can expect an update here later.) But so far, I haven’t seen any red flags, and the quality of the materials and the sewing is obvious.

After all my testing so far, I think Unbound Merino is a great choice for merino wool travel clothing. The brand is high-quality, wrinkle-resistant, and has classic style. Are these factors you can only find from one brand? Of course not. You might be able to find them in your own closet, first.

But if you need new clothes, and want to transition to more natural fibers and higher-quality in your wardrobe, I think Unbound Merino is a great starting place. They’ve helped re-inspire me to pack lighter, and buy less in general. If they do the same for you, they’d be worth a try.

Remember, you can use the discount code TILTEDMAP for 10% off your first order from Unbound Merino!

Before you go: If you’ve made it this far, you’d probably be interested in my detailed strategy and mindset hacks for packing lighter (including for weeks at a time). Unbound Merino is definitely part of it, but there’s a lot more to it!

And if you even want to give up the wheeled suitcase, here’s my review and comparison of the best travel backpacks!


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11 Comments

  1. Hi, I found your page looking for reviews of Unbound Merino. I appreciate the apparent honesty that you show in your product reviews. While I like, if not love, Unbound Merino products (I own 8 of their items) I would like to emphasize that their customer service has been stellar. I’ve had problems with their Travel Hoodies in particular and they replaced one hoodie (the arm was sewn slightly crooked) without any questions. I was not even looking to get it replaced, I was just letting them know I was disappointed with the quality. The other issue I’ve had is my other Travel Hoodie (yes, I have two) is showing signs of fading and getting “splotchy” even though I’ve only washed it less than 7 times in 2.5 years. I’m pretty crazy about keeping my high end cloths in good condition by closely following the manufactures care instructions, so this is less than ideal wear considering the cost. I’m not going to stop buying Unbound Merino, but I thought you should have some honest feedback about the products.

    Being a North Bay resident I was instantly drawn in by the GGB in one of your photos. After taking the time to read the article, I can say I appreciate your approach travel blog writing. I’m not a super adherent to “sustainable” anything, but my wife and I are stumbling toward being less of a “burden” and more of an ally of sustainability. Baby steps, as they say.

    1. Hi Shannon,

      Thanks so much for your feedback! I think it’s really important to be transparent with these things, especially when it comes to quality. I’m glad to hear you’ve such a good experience with Unbound’s customer service, and I have to say, I’m not surprised. They’ve been great to work with, and I’ve seen the progress and attention to detail as they’ve evolved their designs and fabrics year after year, so I’m glad that carries over to the customer side, as well.

      And I’m totally with you in terms of “being less of a burden.” I think that’s a more than reasonable approach to sustainability, and it might actually make more people make effort (as opposed to preaching perfection). I’m impressed with your washing schedule, too – 7 times in 2.5 years is some serious re-use! Again, though, not surprised. I just wore one of my Unbound tops every day for 3 weeks before I realized it finally needed a wash. Most people just have a hard time breaking the over-washing habit.

      Thanks for your comment and keep in touch! 🙂
      Ketti

  2. My experience with their products haven’t been great. I got a pack of three t-shirts and only wore them a few times before a hole formed. They’re soft and comfortable, but in my experience, they aren’t made for long-term wear. Not worth the price.

    Customer service offered me a slight discount to buy a new shirt, but it didn’t make sense to pay more for something that wasn’t going to last. It’s a shame, because I followed this company for years waiting for the women’s line to come out thinking it would be my new go-to place for travel clothes.

    1. I’m sorry to hear that, Kristin! And I’m surprised. When did you order from them? Because they’ve definitely made the women’s fabric sturdier since the launch last year. (The fabric is different in 2023, as I described above. And I also had a hole in one of my items from 2022 – again, details above, in case you hadn’t seen it. They told me it took them about 3 years to get their men’s line just right, so they expected some tweaking with the women’s, as well.)

      Thanks for sharing!
      Ketti

      1. It was from their launch. That’s great to hear that they’re getting better, but for as much as they are and if they know the earlier material doesn’t last, I would hope for a replacement in order to test the new version. As it stands, I can’t justify buying more.

        1. They definitely are getting better! But I completely understand. I’ll tell you what, I’ll reach out to them about what you said and see if I have any sway at all. 🙂

          – Ketti

          1. Hey Kristin! Of course, happy to help!

            So I heard back from my contact at Unbound, who’s in charge of PR and marketing. She’s going to set you up with a replacement item. Watch your inbox for an intro email from me, so that you two can work out the details!

            Have a good weekend!
            – Ketti

  3. UPDATE: Your contact was great and kindly sent me a replacement. I haven’t had a chance to wear it yet, but the changes in the material make it feel more durable. I look forward to trying it out! Thanks again for your help.

    1. Ah, that’s wonderful, and you’re so welcome! I’m glad to hear it worked out. Let me know how it goes with the new material!

      – Ketti