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One of any ultralight hikers favourite pieces of gear, a merino neckwarmer is truly game-changing. There are many brands out there now which offer a similar product – but which is best?
While Buff is known as one of the originals, the Icebreaker Flexi Chute, Arc’Teryx RHO neck gaiter, Decathlon Forclaz Trek 500, and other brands all compete as merino neck warmers. This simple comparison will go over the details of which is best for which use case.
While there are many different material types that tubulars are made of, we’re going to focus on the merino wool ones.
Table of Contents
Buff – Original merino neckwarmer
A Spanish company, Buff was one of the first companies to popularise the multifunctional seamless tubular about 25 years ago.
In particular, the lightweight merino Buff is the most popular. At 125g/m² with a good amount of elastic stretch, this 100% merino wool tubular in my opinion sets the standard for construction, comfort, and materials. No seam, great quality wool, and perfect stretch.
Buff promotes the use of ethically sourced merino wool and sustainable business practices.
The Buff with the good amount of stretch does very well at conforming to the face and head without being too restrictive or too loose. This means when cycling, running, hiking, or other activities you’re unlikely to encounter issues with it falling off or being uncomfortable. zz
In my opinion Buff sets the absolute standard for a high-quality merino neck gaiter. However they’re among the most expensive often between $20-$30 and even over $40 in Canada!
After 2 years of near daily use. I finally reached the point with my buff where it had too many holes to be used further and the stretch wouldn’t rebound, making it too loose and falling off or getting in my eyes when cycling.
Icebreaker Flexi Chute
Icebreaker is a US-based company which specialises in merino wool clothing as a whole. I’ll cover their unisex Merino Flexi Chute – their version of a merino tubular.
The lightweight Flexi Chute is made of 100%, 200g/m² very fine merino wool fibres. They are definitely tighter knit than that of other brands and as a result quite a bit tighter. In fact, the elasticity is very mild in comparison to that of the Buff neck gatiers. The beautiful vibrant blue also faded after ~6 months (washed regular cycle w/regular detergents).
Also the Flexi Chute is not seamless as there is a pretty noticeable and somewhat irritating seam running through the length of the neckwarmer.
Icebreaker also promotes the use of ethically sourced merino wool and has a whole section on their sustainability philosophy.
As it’s a finer and tightly knit merino, I found the Flexi Chute to be less comfortable from the get go, however better in certain use-cases than the Buff. While cycling at high speeds or trail running I found the snugness to be reassuring that it won’t blow off with the wind and highly preferable.
Too, with this tightness I found wearing it like a balaclava (only eyes showing) to be difficult and the worst of the neckwarmers compared and it’s too tight to use as an eye mask when sleeping as it puts too much pressure on the eyes.
If you’re going to be doing high-output activity and need that snug and tight feeling, the Icebreaker Flexi Chute is by far the best choice of the bunch. However you will sacrifice some comfort and elasticity as a result.
After 6 months of very frequent use, I’ve only had small holes pop up and the elasticity is still strong. The Flexi Chute is also a high-price option at aprox. $20-$30. Overall I think it’s great but I prefer the Buff unless I’m biking or in super high winds.
Decathlon – Forclaz Trek 500 merino neck gaiter
A French mega-retailer taking the world by storm, Decathlon focuses on offering outdoor gear at a substantially lower cost.
The Forclaz Trek 500 is a composite of 89% merino and 11% polyamide. This blend promises more strength and durability than pure merino neck gaiters. The density is unknown but it’s somewhere between the Buff and Icebreaker tubulars.
Decathlon is a brand which offers the lowest price possible and their sustainability/business ethics have been subject of question – the source of their merino wool is not quite clear and assumed to come from a sad source.
The Forclaz Trek 500 in terms of comfort lies somewhere in between the Buff brand and Icebreaker. The merino wasn’t as soft feeling as either brand but in terms of elasticity and practicality, it was right in between, which is great!
At only about $10-$15 for this tubular, it’s about half the price of comparable products. If you’re on a tight budget and don’t think about sustainability/ethics, then the Forclaz Trek 500 merino neck warmer is a solid choice for all activities.
For some reason though they’re a massive $25 USD on the American shop but around 10 euros in the European shops. At $25 USD you may as well get a Buff brand neckwarmer instead!
Generic neck warmers
A generic neck tubular I got for $15 under the brand ‘Chaos‘ at MEC is what I use a point of comparison. At less than half the price of the brand name Buff right beside it, I just had to test and try it.
Also 100% merino wool with an unknown density and made in China, I quickly found out it was much lower in quality in terms of softness of the merino and elasticity.
Made in China with a non-traceable supply chain, we can only assume the origins of this cheap product are not ethically sound.
After a few washes it became apparent that this low-quality merino was even a bit scratchy and the elasticity was nothing like that from any of the other brands tested. I cannot use this tubular while cycling, running, or anything more intense than light walking/hiking.
This is because it became so loose that it would fall over my eyes, off my head, or out of position with slight movement.
After only 6 months of use, this merino tubular has been relegated to being used strictly as an eye mask when sleeping. I definitely cannot recommend this tubular or similar generic ones as the difference was really shocking compared to a good tubular.
Arc’Teryx, Smartwool, and many other high-quality outdoor brands now carry their own merino-wool tubulars. While it’s possible to have a bad experience with any of these companies, I would imagine you’re in good hands due to the huge R&D put into these products from these high-budget companies.
I hope to expand this article with more reviews of merino neck gaiters from other brands.
In my truthful opinion, the Buff is the absolute best all-around merino tubular and I got 2 years of heavy use out of one. The Icebreaker Flexi Chute is even better for high-output activities where you need that snug and secure fit, while the Decathlon one is a good in-between for those on a tight budget.
I would avoid no-name and budget brands due to the significant differences I’ve experienced with mine as it’s nearly useless aside from use as a sleeping mask.
I hope this helped and do check out the related articles below! Any questions please feel free to ask here or on my socials as I love to help! Peace 🙂
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