Packing Lists for Travel,  Reviews

Unbound Merino Review: Your New Essential Travel Layers?

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Over the years, I’ve gotten worse at packing. When I first started this site, the whole premise was packing light and using a valise (a weekend bag) to explore the world – hence the name of “Valerie & Valise.” I was young (and dumb), with a strong back and loads of energy; now I’m a bit more mature, with back pain and a rolling carry-on, like so many others.

Nevertheless, I always want to pack lighter and smarter, which is why I love trying out different products and clothing items for travel. You won’t catch me doing crazy challenges (wear the same dress for 100 days!!!) anymore, but I will challenge myself to improve my travel style, reduce my footprint, and still be comfortable – while looking good because I know y’all need good photos of me to prove I was there and you can trust my travel advice.

Unbound Merino Hero

Also, I always recommend packing layers when you travel. Maybe it’s from growing up in Alaska where layers were an essential part of my daily wardrobe, but wearing layers ensures you’re always comfortable no matter what the weather and temperature do next.

In this post, I’m writing a dedicated review of a new clothing company I’ve found, which has since replaced my previous items for both base layers and general layers whenever I travel. Whether you’ve just heard of Unbound Merino for the first time or are about to click ‘Buy,’ this review will cover all the basics and why I think these items are essential for any traveler – no matter the destination.

What is Unbound Merino & Merino Wool?

Unbound Merino is a clothing company that creates merino wool items for men and women. I’ve heard about merino wool for years; it’s a natural fiber that has been increasingly popular for clothing. It has some great attributes, like being odor-resistant, moisture-wicking, wrinkle-resistant, and quick-dry. All of these are great if you want to pack fewer items but still look nice (and be comfortable) while traveling – whether it’s the wilderness in Alaska or the urban jungle of London (my other favorite destination).

When I learned that Unbound Merino was launching a line of women’s items, I knew I had to try it. I received them in mid-summer 2022, and decided to put them to a real test: a 12-day Alaska rafting trip with limited packing space, followed by an 8-day journey around other parts of Alaska. Show me what you got, Unbound Merino, after almost two weeks of rafting and rain and living in a tent!

After that trip, packing my Unbound Merino items became part of my routine – and I’ve started wearing them at home too. Now that it’s been a few months, I thought it might help to share my thoughts in a review, especially as there aren’t any good reviews of the new women’s collection. Throughout this post, you’ll see photos of me IN Unbound Merino gear on my travels since I received the items. I’m also happy to answer any questions you have in the comments below.

Unbound Merino Items I Own

Unbound Merino Review - Maldives

I thought it might help to start by explaining which Unbound Merino items I own, so you can see that I have a wide variety of data points – usefulness, experience wearing, etc. – from which to draw my final conclusions.

Muscle Tank

To be honest, the muscle tank is the item in my collection of Unbound Merino items that I wear the least; I knew that would be the caes when I got the bundle of women’s essentials they offered at the time of launching the women’s line. I also chose a color I don’t really love (which is totally on me!).

I don’t wear tanks very often on their own; I usually wear a cheap tank top daily as a base layer/undershirt. I have packed it for a few trips, especially my long Alaskan rafting adventure this summer, as I knew my standard cheap tanks would get gross too quickly. As a base layer, this is a great item for taking advantage of merino wool’s best properties: odor resistance, breathability, and resistance to stretching.

Crew Neck & V-Neck T-Shirts

I also have two Unbound Merino tees: one crew neck (blue) and one v-neck (grey). After traveling with them a few times, they’re not only my go-to tops for traveling, but hang in my closet to be worn at home.

Unlike the muscle tank that I typically only wear underneath other items, I often wear my tees on their own – such as hiking among the fireweed in Canada – or under a light outer layer – such as among the Bristlecone Pines in Nevada’s Great Basin National Park. (Both pictured above!)

Long Sleeve Merino Crew

Noshing on Irish toast at Slattery’s in Dublin

There’s no competition: my Unbound Merino long-sleeve shirt is my favorite item.

This might be blasphemous, but I actually wear it as my sleeping shirt with a pair of shorts at home; I know this is going to cause more wear on the shirt, but it’s the perfect light layer to help me manage my body temperature overnight (something I struggle with).

While traveling, it’s an essential item, and has replaced the UNIQLO Heattech long-sleeve tees I used to pack and recommend.

Merino Leggings

Throughout this post – and in the sidebar where you see my face smiling and a glacier in the background –, you’ll notice some photos where I’m not wearing an Unbound Merino top – instead, I have a pair of innocuous black leggings on. They might look innocuous but the Merino leggings are seriously so comfortable that they’ve become part of my travel wardrobe, especially for long plane rides, for several reasons:

  1. They’re comfortable and don’t get smelly on long flights. So essential on trips like my …*counts*… 40-hour journey back from the Maldives.
  2. They have a nice high and tall waistband that’s super flattering…
  3. …and that waistband has a pocket built in, which is great for storing your phone on your person during travel so it can’t get nicked.

I don’t wear these leggings as often at home because my cats love to climb up on me and I’m trying hard to keep any of my Unbound Merino items from getting snags (more on that later).

Travel Dress

Last but not least, Unbound Merino offers a travel dress; it’s the first dress I’ve had in a long time that makes me understand why ladies love wearing dresses at all. It’s so soft and comfortable – and really quite flattering thanks to the long lines of the cut.

Not being an expert on dresses – as you might have guessed from the lack of them literally anywhere in my photos – I think it’s best to describe the cut as either midi or tea-length, with a small slit on one side. This gives you freedom of movement while still looking nice enough for dinner in any European capital city. I wore mine a ton in the Maldives, where it got hot and sticky each day but I still needed to look nice for work.

Unbound Merino calls it the Travel Dress though I wouldn’t personally wear it on the plane, it’s definitely got cozy nightgown vibes enough for any overnight flight without looking completely casual.

What About Men’s Items?

Obviously, this Unbound Merino review is primarily focused on the items in their women’s collection since I’m a woman typically wear women’s items. However Unbound Merino actually has a better, more extensive, and more versatile men’s collection. Each time I see one of their newsletters, I hope it’s for a new women’s item, and then have to debate which size in men’s I might be when I invest in another piece.

The men’s collection includes the following items:

  • Tees: Crew Neck, V-Neck, and the Pocket Tee, as well as a Polo
  • Long Sleeves: Standard Crew Neck, Waffle Crew Neck, and Henley
  • Button-Ups: Short- and Long-Sleeve
  • Outer Layers: Light Pullover, Merino Cardigan, Travel Hoodie, Sweatshirt, and Knit Sweater
  • Bottoms: Shorts, Sweatpants, and Travel Pants
  • Essentials: Underwear, Socks, Hats, Scarves, and more

(It’s also worth noting that the women’s collection also includes hats and scarves in addition to the items I already have.)

As you can see, men can literally build an entire wardrobe – sans perhaps dress pants – from Unbound Merino. Here’s hoping they add more women’s items soon!

Caring for Unbound Merino Items

Unbound Merino Review - Tee in Taos

One of the most important aspects of investing in clothing items like those from Unbound Merino is caring for them properly – there’s no point spending as much as these items cost if you’re going to ignore the care instructions and give them a shorter life. Additionally, as many travelers care about sustainability, ensuring that the clothing you purchase lives its full life is better for the environment!

In any case, Unbound Merino items are quite easy to care for: I put mine all in one washer load on gentle with standard detergent. I lay them flat to air dry in my dining room; Mr. V is not the biggest fan since it takes 1-2 days for everything to dry (especially the waistband on the travel leggings, which has multiple layers of fabric), but as with so many things in our marriage, he endures. 😂

On the road – even on my rafting trip – I was able to hand-wash the items in a sink and hang them to dry overnight. Hanging isn’t optimal for drying but it was the best option I had when camping and it worked.

Lastly, one important aspect of care is preventing snags. Unbound Merino’s items are quite easy to snag, and the weave of the fabric is super fine and tight. This makes fixing snags almost impossible. I say almost because I actually saved my crew neck tee, which got a huge snag right in the front under the collar. (I love our cats but their snaggy nails are too much!) I used a needle to very carefully pull the excess snag back inside the shirt and was able to smooth the snag so that it’s almost invisible. It’s not perfect – but it’s at least wearable.

Snagging is just something to keep in mind if you own high-quality knit items of any kind; if you’ve got a snag let me know and I can provide better instructions on how I fixed mine.

Unbound Merino Price vs Quality

Unbound Merino Review - Bandelier

If you’ve taken a look at the items on the Unbound Merino site, you might balk at the price: these are not cheap items. They are investment pieces that you’ll need to care for to get the true value of each one.

That said, a couple of things make me confident recommending these generally higher price point items:

  1. They are incredibly versatile – you can wear them for travel and at home
  2. Each item is exceptional quality – it’s up to you to care for them and keep them that way, but they’ll look great and last if you do
  3. Merino wool is a natural fiber – it’s better for the environment, but usually comes at a higher cost
  4. You won’t wash them as often, so they’ll last longer – I wash my Unbound Merino items once every 10-20 loads of regular laundry
  5. Unbound Merino often offers items bundled with a discount

As I’ve said already, I’m sold on Unbound Merino being worth the price, as I’ve put them to the test and see how well they work for the kind of travel I enjoy doing (“Adventure Light” is how I describe it). I’m confident I’ll purchase future items, especially if they do some new women’s items like the cardigan or knit sweater.

Unbound Merino Review: Final Thoughts

Unbound Merino Review - Nevada

So you probably don’t need this section to know that I recommend Unbound Merino and will continue to use their items as an essential part of my own travel wardrobe. It still helps to have a recap though, in case you just want the basics:

Pros:

  • Comfortable for traveling, professional-looking for whatever you do after arrival
  • Versatile to mix and match and reduce how much you pack
  • Lives up to the merino wool promise (anti-odor, wrinkle-resistant, breathable, etc.)
  • Sustainable

Cons:

  • Higher cost per item than most of us usually spend
  • Easy to snag
  • Require more care to keep nice (but not unreasonable)

I’m happy to answer any questions you have about Unbound Merino in the comments below; be sure to keep an eye out in blog posts published after summer 2022 as you’ll spot me wearing these items on almost all of my travels!

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I was born on the East Coast and currently live in the Midwest – but my heart will always be out West. I lived for 15 years in Alaska, as well as four years each in California and Washington. I share travel resources and stories based on my personal experience and knowledge.

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