Every time I consider buying a new piece from Patagonia, I cringe at the price. Then I remember that I’ve had an R1 and an R2 that I’ve worn every single day in the fall and winter for the last decade and the price is instantly justified- Patagonia makes some of the best backpacking clothing, despite its appeal to suburban moms and frat boys nationwide.

The Patagonia Merino Air is the single best layer I’ve ever owned. It’s so good that after finding an XL on sale for 50% off, I returned it and paid full price for my actual size after experiencing how amazing it is! There’s nothing more lightweight or versatile on the market- it’s as warm as an R1 and breathes as well as a Capiline 1, all with the benefits of premium Merino wool. It’s breathable enough to hike up even the steepest of climbs, and warm enough not to shiver when the cold winds blow in.

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Since it’s made of merino wool, it still feels warm when it’s wet and never gets the dreaded synthetic stench. In fact, I wore my merino air for 43 days before its first wash on my 2016 thru hike. Although I was admittedly noseblind at that point, it didn’t smell as bad as other things I was carrying and people didn’t flee when I showed up to camp.

At only 7.7 ounces in a men’s size large with a hood, you’ll find a tough time finding an excuse not to carry it. The hood fits well, has a high collar capable of covering up to your nose and works wonders in shaking off the cold sweaty chill atop the last summit you just smashed.

My primary reason for picking up the Merino Air was for thru hikes during long periods of cold rain. You know- the week-long spells of 40 degree temps with rain that you often find on the east coast. I found that after multiple days of wetting or sweating out my hiking shirt, either by hiking in the rain or sweating out my rain shell, that my down jacket was de-lofting and was retaining dampness, compromising my warmth. The merino air provides the perfect solution to this issue, and can be hiked in even under a light rain shell to avoid the cold damp clinginess of a wetted out rain shell.

Admittedly, since the PCT is much drier than the AT, I’ll be leaving the Merino Air at home to save weight since an ExOfficio sun shirt is effectively taking its place for the opposite purpose, although it will provide extra warmth, and since it’s woven it’ll provide bug protection up north. I’ll likely have the Merino Air shipped out for the Sierra and for any potential freezing rain up north.

The Patagonia Merino Air easily could have been called the “Enigma”, as it’s truly in a class of its own. There’s nothing out there like it, and it’s worth every penny of its $150 price tag. Check out the Merino Air here.