The 8 Best Merino Wool Leggings

Posted by
Lucie Hanes
March 24, 2024
Updated March 26, 2024

best merino wool leggings outdoors

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Merino wool is known for its antibacterial and sweat-wicking properties, making it a great choice for baselayers. These are our favorite merino wool leggings. 

It’s high time to ditch fast fashion. That’s not just a note for the trendsetters out there; it goes for those of us who don’t necessarily keep up with the latest fads too.. Keep in mind, though: cheap prices come by way of cheap materials. The $20 pants that you bought just to “get the job done” will likely wind up in the landfill much faster than the $120 pair that hurts more up front but saves both you and Mother Earth a pretty penny in the long run. 

There’s a way to dress more sustainably, no matter whether you prioritize fashion or function. The answer lies in merino wool. If the idea of wool makes you think of your grandmother’s old scratchy sweaters, don’t balk just yet. This game-changing material deserves a different perspective. It ticks all the boxes for outdoor adventure: durable, comfortable, biodegradable, low-profile, sweat-wicking, odor-defying, temperature-regulating, and versatile enough to suit any activity you have in mind. 

Yep, you read that right: any activity. You’d be doing yourself a disservice to save merino for the winter. Wool can be used in everything from  blankets to underwear because it’s that superior to other fabrics. Merino wool both outperforms and outlasts plain ol’ polyester all year round, even in the height of summer. The fabric is made up of permeable, malleable fibers that adjust to the environment. That’s how merino earned such a good reputation for winter layering; the fibers naturally tighten in response to cold temperatures. But in response to warm air, it does the exact opposite to release moisture and facilitate air flow. One item, endless applications. And at the end of its long life—if that day ever comes—merino decomposes back into the soil within a year. 

Everybody wins with merino. Feel the effects firsthand in a pair of our favorite merino wool leggings that’ll take you from the tent to the bar without a hitch. 


Our Top Picks: Merino Wool Leggings


Best Overall Merino Wool Leggings

Kari Traa Smekkar Baselayer Pants

Kari Traa leggings
Photo Courtesy of Kari Traa

Anything made by Kari Traa is frankly too cute to bury under layers of clothing, and the Smekker’s are no exception. The loud, unique patterns make me wish that they weren’t relegated to baselayer status…so I don’t treat them as such. They’re opaque enough to wear as casual leggings when you’re in the mood to let your freak flag fly (or at least make a statement). And even when they’re hidden underneath other layers, knowing that you have these quirky creations next-to-skin will give you an energy boost. 

Looks aside, the Smekker Pants were made for high octane adventure. Their namesake won medals for Norway in the 1998, 2002, and 2006 Olympics as a freestyle skier. Kari Traa wore her own knitted and crocheted beanies while competing. Once her Olympic career began to wind down, she dove deeper into her creative pursuits in order to create an entire line of wool clothing for female athletes. 

The Smekkar is the latest addition to that lineup. They’re mega lightweight to keep from adding annoying bulk beneath ski shells or hiking pants. Plus, the paneling isn’t just attractive; it contributes to freedom of movement and allows for more flexibility in the fabric. This design feature also makes the Smekker’s more durable, since they’re less likely to rip from stretching themselves too thin. Feel free to dip, dive, and dodge your way down the mountain or along the trails without ruining your leggings in the process (and exposing a little too much skin by the time the après celebration comes around). 

The Smekker Pants are Kari Traa’s lighter baselayer option. Chilly gals may want to opt for the Rose Baselayer Pants instead, but I found the Smekker’s offered more versatility. They work well under insulated pants on the coldest days or with just a shell overtop for fast laps and sweaty backcountry tours. They’d even function fine on their own when the sun shines especially bright, because they’re not so thin that they become practically translucent under pressure. I’ve also worn them on early morning jogs in sub 10 degree weather under a flexible pair of running pants. Less is more here, at least in terms of how often you get to wear your Kari Traa’s—and that’s a pretty powerful motivator. 

Tech Specs:

  • 100% merino wool
  • Pockets: no
  • Gender: women’s
  • Fit: snug

Pros and Cons:

  • Pro: fun patterns that you want to show off
  • Pro: flexible material for a wide range of motion
  • Pro: high warmth-to-weight ratio
  • Con: thin and a bit delicate

Buy at Amazon

Buy at Kari Traa


Best Merino Leggings on a Budget

REI Merino 185 Baselayer Bottoms

REI leggings
Photo courtesy of REI

Just because quality often comes at a cost doesn’t mean you need to wince while handing over your credit card. These REI brand merino leggings cover the bases at a reasonable price. They’re basic, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Not every item of clothing has to have all the bells and whistles. These serve their purpose without trying to be something they’re not—and I respect that.

The REI Merino 185 Baselayer Bottoms remind me of kids pajama pants. I don’t mean that negatively by any means; I frequent the little boy’s department of Target more often than I should probably admit. Just don’t expect them to be flattering, per se. You won’t find any semblance of a fashion-forward fit in these leggings. Save them for snuggling up in your sleeping bag or under an outer layer. 

But in those settings, these leggings don’t skimp. The superfine knit makes them thin and breathable yet functional against a chill. They’re not completely opaque, but enough so to keep your private parts private. Flat seams and crotch gusseting minimize chafing in all your most vulnerable nooks and crannies. The waistband doesn’t try to compete with that of your outer layer, either; it’s purposefully slim to lighten the load around your hips as the layers add up. 

REI’s budget-friendly take on merino won’t disappoint. Still, keep their price point in mind. They’re suitable for moderately cold climates, but consider something more substantial for single-digit temperatures or below. Refrain from scrambling around or kneeling on exposed ground in these too, as they’re liable to tear in high-wear areas. With a little care, though, they’ll do the trick without making your bank account cry. 

Tech Specs:

  • 100% merino wool
  • Pockets: no
  • Gender: men’s and women’s
  • Fit: relaxed

Pros and Cons:

  • Pro: affordable
  • Pro: wide color and design range
  • Pro: versatile
  • Con: runs large
  • Con: prone to holes

Buy at REI


Best Merino Leggings for Running

Smartwool Run Legging

smartwool legging
Smartwool legging – Photo: Lucie Hanes

First off, I absolutely hate running in leggings. Give me shorts or give me death. But when the temps drop to the teens, death by frostbite becomes a real possibility…so leggings it is. 

Smartwool’s Run Legging, however, might be the one to change my mind. I’ve worn these in everything from 12 degrees to 35 without regretting my decision once. They don’t get clammy like typical polyester running tights, which has always been my biggest gripe. The soft, form-fitting merino stays in place much better than polyester too. Pure polyester tends to either slide around on the skin or stick to it like a wet plastic bag, with no middle ground to speak of. These move with your body instead of setting their own agenda. 

Another problem with typical running leggings is the dichotomy between comfortable and durable. If they’re comfortable, they won’t usually last long before pilling eats away at the fabric. If they’re durable, they feel so ruthlessly tight and harsh on the skin that they’re the last thing I want to put on at six in the morning before the sun comes up. Smartwool’s Run Legging is the first I’ve found to break the pattern. They’re cozy enough to slip into first thing in the morning without a rude awakening (or even to wear to bed the night before). But that softness doesn’t lead to pilling, in part because they don’t have to go through the wash very often—no matter how hard you work while wearing them. Merino’s natural odor-defying properties repel smells while its breathability reduces sweat accumulation in the first place. 

If you’re prone to chafing (and what runner isn’t) be aware of the thick seams running down the inner and outer legs. They’re part of what helps secure these leggings in place while you move, and weave in reflective material for peace of mind on pre-dawn jogs, but they may contribute to some chub rub. Don’t be afraid to lube up a bit underneath for the best experience. 

Tech Specs:

  • 53% merino wool, 47% Lyocell
  • Pockets: yes
  • Gender: women’s
  • Fit: snug

Pros and Cons:

  • Pro: stay in place
  • Pro: breathable and sweat-wicking
  • Pro: reflective safety features
  • Con: seams may cause some chafing

Buy at Smartwool


Best Merino Wool Leggings for Everyday Wear

Wool & Summit Legging

Photo courtesy of Wool&

You couldn’t peel the Wool & Summit Leggings off of me if you tried. I’ve worn them every single day since they arrived without fail, and I’m not exaggerating. Good thing the merino slashes odors or we’d have a real problem. But without that to ward me off, you’ll probably never find me wearing real pants again. 

These leggings feel more like high-quality cotton than what I would expect from merino. By that, I mean that they have more texture and grit than most merino. Think of it like a matte fabric. The design gives them a refreshing amount of structure compared to other leggings. You can rock them all day long without feeling like you just rolled out of bed and into your morning meeting. Somehow, though, the Summit Leggings don’t sacrifice any stretch for it. They present like pants but move like leggings. If that’s not the ideal combo for everyday wear, I don’t know what is. 

The structure doesn’t render them awkwardly thick, either. That would be a shame, because the whole point of exchanging pants for leggings is to free up some space down there. No one likes feeling trapped in their own clothing. Their relative thinness of the Summit Legging, while remaining opaque, is a testament to the quality. These don’t need additional thickness to give them substance. Any more would be overkill. A thicker, more supportive waist balances out the contoured legs for functionality , but otherwise, the Summit Legging errs on the side of simplicity.

I’d wear these on a hike or a run, but they’re best suited for nicer occasions in my mind. It’s not often that I find leggings that don’t look like an excuse to wear pajamas all day. Wear these to work and you’ll never go back to slacks again. 

Tech Specs:

  • 68% merino wool, 22% Nylon, 10% Spandex
  • Pockets: yes
  • Gender: women’s
  • Fit: snug

Pros and Cons:

  • Pro: presentable
  • Pro: resist stains and pet hair
  • Pro: retain their form-fit and shape
  • Con: slightly thin
  • Con: some bagginess in the crotch

Buy at Wool&


Best Merino Wool Leggings for Cozying Up

Woolx McKenna Legging

Wool x legging
Wool x legging – Photo: Lucie Hanes

Where the previous option brought strength and structure, the McKenna Legging from Woolx opts for the opposite. Sometimes you just need a pair of leggings so soft that you don’t want to change into something “presentable”, and these are just the ticket. Warning: don’t wriggle into these  unless you’re planning on staying in them for a while. Good luck convincing yourself to change.

But for those times when nothing will refill your cup like some extended R&R, this is what you want to be wearing. That’s not to say they wouldn’t serve you well on more active endeavors—I just have a hard time summoning the motivation to get my heart rate up when I have the McKenna’s on. And frankly, I don’t care to fight that urge. We could all use a bit more downtime in our lives. Let these leggings give you permission to stop hustling for a hot sec. 

Woolx markets the McKenna as their “all-season” legging. I had a hard time believing that at first. They seemed more like deep-winter apparel than something I’d pick for a sunny day in June. While I still might not include them in my midsummer wardrobe, I’ve taken the McKenna’s for a spin or two in warmer weather just to see if I’d end up wringing buckets of sweat out of them by the end…and I now stand corrected. Merino’s temperature regulating properties shined through despite the relative thickness of these leggings, overpowering my first impressions. The fabric felt cool against my skin up to about a 70 degree threshold. I wouldn’t normally wear anything past my knees at that temperature, so that’s pretty high praise for a full-length legging—let alone one this plush. 

For the most part, though, save the McKenna Leggings for trips to lounge town in cuddle weather. They’re completely opaque and pack down much smaller than their loft would suggest, so take them anywhere that warrants the comfort: long drives, plane rides, slow Sunday morning coffee dates, easy evening strolls, late night ice cream runs…or no further than your own couch. 

Tech Specs:

  • 38% merino wool, 46% polyester, 16% lycra
  • Pockets: yes
  • Gender: women’s
  • Fit: snug

Pros and Cons:

  • Pro: extremely soft
  • Pro: warm in cold weather, cool in moderate weather
  • Pro: thick, wide waistband for support
  • Con: a little too comfortable for high-octane activity
  • Con: runs large

Buy at Woolx


Best Merino Wool Leggings for Frigid Weather

Minus33 Juneau Legging

Minus33 leggings
Minus33 leggings – Photo: Lucie Hanes

Unlike many of the options on this list, the Juneau Leggins are made from 100% merino wool rather than a blend of wool and polyester. Blends exist for a purpose: a bit of polyester mixed in with merino wool makes the fabric stretchier, lighter, and more durable than merino alone. That being said, polyester can’t compete with merino’s natural temperature regulating, moisture wicking, insulating, renewable, and anti-microbial properties…so blending the fabrics involves some sacrifice in those arenas. 

Minus33 wasn’t willing to make those sacrifices with the Juneau Legging. They wanted an “Expedition Weight” option in their lineup that put merino’s best foot forward without any compromises. The result? Leggings that can handle the coldest temperatures, fiercest winds, and most inclement weather you could throw at them, making them a top pick for any winter hiking adventure. Let’s just say there’s a reason they’re called the “Juneau”. 

These won’t make the best choice for getting your down-dog on in yoga class or doing deep squats in the gym. They don’t have that kind of flexibility, and they’re frankly too warm for anything indoors. But their 400 GSM (grams per square meter) rating blows pretty much everything else on the market out of the water. Such a high density of merino makes them both incredibly warm and exceptionally good at managing moisture like sweat and snow. 

The Juneau’s ultimately put any kind of weather on par with a bluebird day. Skiing under cloudy skies, camping in a snow shelter, going ice climbing, heading into the alpine, taking out the trash during a blizzard…all fair game for the Juneau’s. As someone who starts to shiver as soon as the temperature drops below a measly 40, these have already saved my butt (literally) as winter strikes the high mountains of Colorado. Now I can keep up with—and sometimes even outlast—my frustratingly warm-blooded adventure partner. 

Tech Specs:

  • 100% merino wool
  • Pockets: no
  • Gender: women’s (but men get the Katmai)
  • Fit: snug

Pros and Cons:

  • Pro: extremely warm
  • Pro: dries out quickly
  • Pro: powerfully anti-microbial
  • Con: too warm for aerobic activity above freezing (or even above zero)
  • Con: waistband fits a little loosely

Buy at Minus33

Buy at Amazon


Best Merino Wool Leggings for Hiking and Backpacking

Arc’teryx Rho Merino Wool Bottoms

Photo courtesy of Arc’teryx

The Rho Merino Wool Bottoms from Arc’teryx are the slimmest fitting option in this round-up. They surpass snug and go straight to “next-to-skin”, and that’s a very accurate description for the way that they fit. At a mere 6.7 ounces, you might as well be nude…but warmer. All of the benefit, none of the drawback. 

In all seriousness, the Rho’s provide barely-there coverage for when one layer just isn’t enough. Their low-profile design allows them to slide easily under pants for an extra dose of warmth and moisture management. That makes them ideal for chilly hikes and overnight backpacking trips. They won’t add any noticeable weight to your body or your pack, so there’s no excuse not to bring them along. Being so tight, the Rho’s also won’t ride up or move around against your skin and cause uncomfortable hot spots (a.k.a. no chafing). The small amount of elastane gives them just enough stretch to accommodate long strides and big uphill lunges, but not so much that they fall out of place with every step. 

The perk of such minimalist leggings is also their only downfall. They’re so thin and ultralight that they become see-through in higher stretch areas like your butt and thighs. You might think that they cover your ass—but trust me, they don’t. Make sure to add a layer, or at least a tunic, before leaving the house. In the backcountry, though, feel free to strut your stuff. The bears won’t mind. 

I don’t mind it much either, because the next-to-skin fit fills a gap in my winter wardrobe. None of the other options listed here fit nearly as well under slim-cut pants or take up such little space all rolled up. They’ve become my security blanket for cold weather. I bring them anywhere that it might get a bit chilly: in my carry-on, in my climbing pack, even stuffed into my running vest if the skies look a little gloomy. I’ve been that person who’s bailed on valuable endeavors because I got too uncomfortable to be present for them. It seems like a lame excuse, but those of us who don’t do well in low temperatures know that the cold saps your energy and attitude like nothing else. The Rho’s make it so I always have a backup plan in place. 

Tech Specs:

  • 95% merino wool, 5% elastane
  • Pockets: no
  • Gender: women’s
  • Fit: next-to-skin

Pros and Cons:

  • Pro: low-profile fit
  • Pro: stays in place
  • Pro: handy laminated zipper pocket for added security
  • Con: run small
  • Con: see-through

Buy at Arc’teryx

Buy at REI


Best Brands for Merino Wool Leggings

Merino clothing stands apart from the rest of the outdoor industry. Not just any company can produce a high quality merino wool legging, even if they’re at the top of the game in other categories. That’s why you might not immediately recognize some of these brands among the outdoor industry’s biggest brands. Those listed here shine brightest when it comes to merino specifically. 

With that in mind, brands like Wool&, Woolx, and Smartwool put all of their creative energy into wool creations specifically. Kari Traa produces a few other items, but merino wool baselayers remain at the heart of the brand’s work. These highly niche companies opt for depth over breadth when it comes to merino. Other brands like REI, Arc’Teryx, and Patagonia go beyond merino alone, not at the cost of quality but with more of a broad focus rather than a highly specific intention for each garment. 

Pro tip: All of these brands also make Merino wool shirts. If you’re looking to fully outfit yourself in wool, consider a top, too.


What To Consider When Buying Merino Wool Leggings

  • Layering
  • Opaqueness
  • Thickness
  • Pockets
  • Price

Merino wool leggings can serve as either baselayers, sole layers, or both. It’s important to consider what you’ll be using them for and what (if anything) you plan on pairing them with. If you only intend to wear them as baselayers, you can get away with a lighter and less opaque design. You’ll get all the warmth of merino without having to worry about bulk, weight, or style. If you intend to wear them on their own, you’ll want to make sure that they’re not see-through so you don’t accidentally flash your friends. You might also want a legging that’s a bit thicker and more substantial so every breeze won’t cut straight to the bone.

Environment and activity also both play a role in selecting from these features. If you plan on working at a high intensity most of the time or in a more moderate climate, thinner leggings will serve you best. For snowsports, lower intensity activity, or colder environments, thicker leggings are the way to go. That being said, merino boasts powerful temperature regulating properties—so you don’t have to get it right every time. The fabric wicks away excess sweat well if you dress too warm and even thin layers of merino can retain warmth if you play it too cool. 

For leggings that you plan to wear alone, think about pockets. Women’s clothing has lacked sufficient storage capability for too long, and brands are finally starting to get the picture. Many leggings now feature pockets on the side, in the waistband, or both to give wearers a place to store their essentials on the go. That won’t matter if you’re packing layers upon layers, but leggings on their own become much more functional with pockets. 

Lastly, price is worth considering. Remember that merino leggings are built to last. Merino is a highly durable, versatile fabric by nature, so you’re paying for a garment that will carry you through years of hard use. The best merino leggings on the market take the innate prosperities of the material and amplify them via thoughtful, functional design that just can’t happen on a Walmart production line. In short, it’s the kind of quality worth paying for. You’ll ultimately save money in the long run given their lifespan. But if you’re still skeptical, start with the budget pick from REI for a taste.


Why Trust Us

Lucie Hanes is a professional ultrarunner and rock climber as well as a lifelong outdoor enthusiast. She knows how to put a garment through the wringer while sweating buckets and running herself into the ground—literally. Some of Lucie’s proudest athletic accomplishments as an outdoor athlete include podiuming at the Leadville 100 Trail Run and sending 5.14 sport climbs in Colorado’s notoriously challenging Rifle Mountain Park. Even more importantly (within the context of this article, at least) she’s perpetually cold. Her internal temperature gauge must be broken. In fact, the doctor gave a Raynaud’s diagnosis to prove it. So when Lucie says a legging is warm, that’s some seriously high praise.


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