During a 25-day September elk bowhunting trip in southwest Colorado, I put the KUIU ULTRA Merino 120 LT LS Crew-T to the test. Rain or shine, I wore it nearly every day during my hunt, and I’m here to offer up an in-depth review.
I’ve always been a minimalist backpacker and count every ounce of gear that goes into my pack. That same principle applies now that I’m also a backcountry hunter. It’s precisely this ultralight mindset that led me to evaluate the KUIU’s ULTRA Merino 120 as a possible must-have outdoors shirt.
KUIU has been steadily building its reputation as a go-to brand for ultralight hunting gear and is well-known for producing some of the industry’s most efficient gear. Their clothing line is focused on keeping hunters comfortable and light on their feet as they stalk elk, deer, and other game animals all day long.
So, will the ULTRA Merino 120 satisfy your hunting needs? How good is its Merino wool at keeping your B.O. at bay? How does it feel against your skin? Will the material and construction survive the beating of an active hunting season? And most important of all, is it worth the money?
To answer these questions, let’s analyze this shirt category by category:
The ULTRA Merino 120 is made of Nuyarn Merino wool, a 70%-30% blend of Merino wool and nylon. KUIU chose Nuyarn wool, a relatively new technology because it’s stronger, stretchier, faster-drying, and more comfortable and durable than traditional Merino wool.
If you want to know all about the different Merino wools out there, click here for a thorough explanation of how Nuyarn is made. Its advanced spinning techniques are slowly replacing traditional methods.
I’ve had issues with Merino wool clothing in the past—I nearly wrote it off as too itchy, swearing never to wear it again. Some Merinos feel less itchy, but many make me want to rip off my shirt and check it for bugs.
That’s not the case with the ULTRA Merino 120. It’s super-soft and silky smooth against my skin. From day one, I experienced zero itchiness and always looked forward to wearing this shirt. The Nuyarn fabric is also quite stretchy, eliminating all constriction no matter how far I extend my reach in any direction.
I mostly wear it as a ‘next-to-skin’ shirt but occasionally put on a traditional t-shirt underneath as an extra layer of insulation. However I choose to wear it, my past experiences with wool itchiness, constriction, or bunching up are gone. Good call on the Nuyarn, KUIU.
Scent control is a crucial component in the world of elk hunting, so I do everything possible to keep my B.O. at bay, to increase my chances of a good harvest.
Cotton clothing is great at letting all those wonderful bodily smells linger in the air, which is why I avoid it at all costs. Polyester does a slightly better job at keeping stink at bay, but no material is quite as effective as wool, Merino in particular.
Merino wool’s odor-resistant qualities are a big reason to consider the KUIU Ultra Merino 120. I knew I’d be in the backcountry, sweaty from exertion and a long way from the nearest laundromat. I needed a fabric that would keep my stench at bay.
Nuyarn performed well at keeping me sweet-smelling, at least by elk standards. My buddies and I spent long run-and-gun days in the backcountry, but my shirt kept me odor-free. When I’d get back to camp, I’d hang up the shirt to air out, and it would be good to go in an hour.
Here’s the proof: I went 11 or 12 days this hunting season without once washing my clothes. Before popping it into the washing machine, I gave the ULTRA a sniff test, which it passed with flying colors.
If you’ve done your homework on Nuyarn, you discovered it’s engineered to be more durable than typical Merino wool. You also know its ‘twist-free’ spinning technique creates a far more robust material than core-spun or ring-spun wool.
Sure, that’s good in theory, but I decided to test its durability in the backcountry while hunting elk. In total, I’ve worn the ULTRA Merino 120 perhaps 30-40 times and washed it several times, always in cold water.
I’m happy to report that all those rigorous days of pushing through the brush resulted in zero holes in the material and no loose or fraying threads. I’ll let you know if anything changes next year, but frankly I don’t expect that. This is one rugged shirt, so long as you care for it properly.
I chose a gray ULTRA Merino 120, so I almost always wore it underneath my camo on cold mornings. For that reason, it was rarely exposed to the sun while hunting, so I can’t really vouch for its 50+ UPF sun protection.
True, I wore it around camp between hunts and in town while resupplying, but that’s not a good test of its sun protection. Maybe next season, I’ll grab one in a camo pattern and see how it does as a top layer in Colorado’s strong September sun.
Warmth & Layering
I used this shirt mainly as a next-to-skin layering piece with my Peloton 97 hoodie and my Guide DCS jacket and found the combination performed well on my fall hunt. On chilly mornings and evenings, I usually got away with wearing the ULTRA Merino 120 underneath my Peloton 97 hoodie while leaving the jacket back at camp.
But when temperatures dropped towards the end of the month, I was happy to have the jacket in my arsenal and wore all three pieces together on several occasions to stay comfortable and warm.
This shirt won’t always keep you warm on its own, but it’s a solid addition to your layering system. By itself, this shirt is sufficient down into the mid-50s, but colder than that and you’ll want to start layering up.
The Nuyarn material also wicks away sweat and breathes quite well, which will help regulate your body temperature and keep you from getting clammy or overheating.
Because I’m an ultralight gear nerd, I weighed the ULTRA Merino 120 immediately after the FedEx guy dropped it off. My size Medium clocked in at 5.2 ounces, which is pretty darn lightweight. In comparison, the cotton long-sleeved shirt I’m wearing as I write this comes in at 9.8 ounces.
Again, every ounce matters to me, regardless of whether I’m wearing it on a hunt or it’s stashed in my backpack. Either way, you’re constantly carrying that weight. And going ultralight means you’ll be more comfortable and able to cover more ground in the backcountry.
Sure, this shirt is a small piece of the puzzle, but it’s a good place to start when shaving the weight off your total hunting system.
If you’ve ever bought Merino wool clothing, you know it doesn’t come cheap. The $89 ULTRA Merino 120 is no exception, so hunters on a budget might find it too spendy.
Nonetheless, this shirt is a solid investment that adds value to your setup. It’s extremely soft, breathable, comfortable, doesn’t hold onto odor, and is durable enough to stand up to the challenges of backcountry hunting. It’s money well spent.
Wrapping Up My KUIU ULTRA Merino 120 LT LS Crew-T Review
I was an ultralight backpacker long before I became a hunter, which is what initially attracted me to the KUIU ULTRA Merino 120 LT LS Crew-T. I know from experience that every bit of weight you carry matters and should have proven utility. That’s why I chose to add this lightweight base layer to my setup.
After spending nearly a month bowhunting and putting many miles on this shirt, I know I pushed it to its limits. Not only did it work out as well as I’d hoped, but there’s nothing I’d change about it. It checks all the boxes on my must-have list.
Is it comfortable? Check. Will it keep your odor at bay? Check. Can it stand up to the abuse of backcountry hunting? Check. Is it a good addition to your layering system? Check. Is it lightweight and efficient? Check. Is it worth the money? Another check, plus two thumbs up.
In terms of high-quality lightweight hunting base layers, I don’t see how the KUIU ULTRA Merino 120 LT LS Crew-T could improve. It’s a welcome addition to my elk hunting gear checklist, and I expect it to get the job done for many seasons to come.
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