Last fall I tested several merino wool base layers for Elk hunting. I really liked a pair of Merino Wool long Johns I bought locally and looked the company up, it was called Minus 33. I contacted them this spring and received some “skin garments” for my spring bear hunting and summer mountain work. I wanted to test these items to try and resolve an age-old problem, that swampy feeling under your backpack and in your crotch.
$30 For A Pair of Underwear?!
Now like a lot of folks I had switched to merino wool long Johns and shirts as part of my general base layering system, however, I owned no tee shirts or briefs in merino wool. I decided it was time to start right at that base, what goes against your skin. I related the problem to my better half she rolled her eyes. “Seriously? You want to spend 50 bucks on a pair underwear?” Of course not, I needed at least four pairs to get me through a camp. It turns out the Minus 33 brand was a mid-thirties price tag for the briefs. By any self-respecting redneck male standard, anything more than ten bucks for a five pack of grundies was absurd. I decided to hunker down and give them a shot. Compared to five similar high-end brands and specifications, Minus 33 was more than reasonable. After comparing their mid 30’s price tag, I found the other five brands collectively ranged from 40-60/pair.
Construction and Customer Service
The Minus 33 rep I talked to was very pleasant and forthcoming. I do not typically email women I do not know about underwear selections but the customer service was, in fact, excellent and professional. After discussing some options I ordered four pairs of the Acadian Boxer brief men’s lightweight in various colors and the Algonquin S/S Crew men’s lightweight tee. They arrived in quick order and with zero issues. My wife had to have a look at them dismayed that any husband of hers would spend more than three bucks on underwear. The boxers weigh in at just 3.5oz and for those of us who spend many miles hiking through the mountains, every ounce shaved off is a good thing. They boast 100% merino wool 17.5 micron wool at 170g/m2 Jersey knit. I was excited to dump the moisture collecting cotton briefs and tees and move into these merino wool layers.
Trial By Fire
Minus 33 was about to get a serious initiation. My first scheduled foray was a backpack bear hunt into the Sapphire Range here in Western Montana. After gearing up I pulled as close to the closed logging road as the snow would allow. At 7,000 feet there was plenty of snow on the ground still and after a half mile hike with my 50-pound pack I turned down the gated logging road and hiked another 4 miles into my first bivy camp area. When I pulled my pack my Algonquin tee shirt was soaked in the back but still warm. I pulled the tee shirt and set up camp, the tee was bone dry by the time I was halfway through the camp setup. I was already impressed with the performance. The merino layers kept me warm when wet and dried very fast, something cotton would never do. I smelled the back of the shirt and there was zero odor. My briefs were absolutely awesome. Usually, I would switch briefs at this time but I literally had no swamp butt despite a 4.5-mile hike in from the truck. The next day and a half I logged 18.5 miles through the mountains in search of a huge boar I had seen days before. Daytime temps reached mid 80’s to low 90’s with night temps dumping into the mid-thirties. Springtime in the Rockies includes wild storms and huge temperature swings. A perfect environment for testing Minus 33.
The next week I logged 90 miles in five days on the ATV, and another 30+ hiking in all kinds of weather from high heat, to snow. Again, the Minus 33 performed brilliantly. To date, they have even been tested on the brutal humid coast of Florida on a fishing trip, and all summer scouting and setting game cameras in the mountains of Montana. Whether it is humid heat on the Florida coastline, or backpacking the wilds of Montana, they kept me dry and cool in the heat, dry and warm in cold. The two huge advantages for me is in the backpack area and crotch. Chaffing is a big problem when hiking several miles, and moisture is a leading cause of this. Seriously reducing the odor and wetness in the crotch area alone makes the Acadian Briefs worth the money. The ability of the Algonquin to wick moisture and quick dry is a fantastic feature for those who carry backpacks. Both pieces are comfortable with no itching and no odor retention.
Durability and Care
From a durability standpoint, proper care and handling of any Merino wool garment pays dividends. Minus 33 recommends first turning garments inside out to minimize any possibility of pilling, and then it’s as easy as machine wash on cold, tumble dry on low heat. Standard household detergent works great, but many customers prefer a wool-specific detergent instead, especially if you have a larger collection of wool. Never use any bleach (or any detergents containing bleach) as it will destroy wool. They also do not recommend fabric softener because it can inhibit wool’s natural wicking properties.
They also had this additional information: “The other great benefit of wool is that it does not need to be washed after each wear because anti-microbial properties help minimize bacteria and smells. So if you are out on a trip and don’t have access to a washing machine, our garments can be worn more than once between washes and then hand washed/lied flat to dry as needed. Many of our customers reserve their heavier weight Minus33 for winter use, so we also recommend giving all your wool a good machine wash and dry before storing it away for the long term to help prevent any possibility of moth/insect damage. Store clean wool in an airtight plastic box or bag in the offseason and you are good to go.”
The downside to any merino wool product is the price, and Minus33 is no exception. At $35.95 for a pair of briefs, it is a tough cost point. However, as I stated earlier, compared to competitors of similar quality, they are a bargain. I’m not saying merino wool is for everybody, but I am saying it is hard to go wrong with this product. Consider their lightweight, moisture wicking, temperature regulating, quiet soft fabric with nearly zero odor retention, the price point is tempered greatly. When I’m in elk camp guiding clients for weeks at a time, they don’t need me smelling like I climbed out of the swamp. For those looking to get out of cotton and into merino wool skin garments, I highly recommend Minus 33 merino wool.