Ignore the full title, Howies' Men's Classic Merino Base Layer is a very versatile top that works well next to skin or even as a summer outer.
I know baselayers have come on in leaps and bounds aesthetically and no longer look like the string-vest monstrosities favoured by Rab C Nesbitt, but the idea of prancing around with your underwear on show is really only appropriate if you've got tickets for the Rocky Horror Show. Howies, though, might have ignored such thoughts in the case of the Classic Merino Base Layer, which seems equally effective either working underneath other layers or on display.
The Classic Merino Base Layer is made from 180g merino wool and seems a little more substantial than synthetic alternatives, although it's certainly not thick (if you look at the 'on bike' photo below, you'll see the belt loop of my jeans reflecting through the material). Because it's made of wool, it feels just slightly scratchier next to the skin compared to fleece-backed non-natural options. That's also not a problem but it is noticeable in back-to-back tests.
Build quality is excellent. Seams are overlocked for durability and there's a general feeling of simple ruggedness about the whole garment. It's not chunky by any means but it feels just a step sturdier than some more delicate base layers.
In the role for which the Classic was designed – as a baselayer – everything works a treat. Firstly, it's warm and acts as a great barrier to the cold in inclement times. It's also very effective at wicking sweat and keeps you dry even up to fairly intense workouts.
Best of all, it has all those wonderful merino traits, such as being naturally antibacterial, which in turns means wearer-induced ponginess is kept to a minimum. Howies says it's great for everyday wear. As long as you're not getting it really sweat-soggy, that's just about right.
Thoughts about fit, though, might be a little more dependent on individual expectations. Personally, I appreciated its relaxed, much more 'T-shirty' nature rather than it being cling-film close. But I also wouldn't recommend it for wearing under tight jerseys where an under layer's fabric could end up rucking in unfortunate places. Length is good, though, with long enough sleeves and body to keep you well covered.
In fact, because of that more forgiving fit, I think this layer doesn't have to be confined to just base duties. With its long-sleeve design, it actually makes for a decent outer layer with a short sleeve base for extra warmth or wicking, or on its own completely on warmer days. You certainly won't get any funny looks and it's available in four colours to match your ensemble.
In terms of other long-sleeve merino offerings that we've tested, there's the Pactimo High Grade Wool Base Layer, which has a far more performance-orientated nature but costs a whopping £70. Meanwhile, in non-wool options, I've just tested the crazy-coloured £40 Cycology 8 Days, which is also more like a typical athletically tight baselayer but not so sartorially versatile. As long as you understand that the Howies isn't your typical road rider's performance garb but a more relaxed option, £55 seems a fair price for a merino product.
With that in mind, I really like the Howies Classic Merino Base Layer, although I think there's an argument to say it should be classed as a technical T-shirt rather than baselayer. It boasts all the magic of merino for keeping you warm and dealing with sweat, but the fit is too baggy for high-speed mile-rackers. For commuters and serious leisure riders, it's nigh-on perfect.
Very decent relaxed fit baselayer that doubles up as a really good cycling long-sleeve T-shirt
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road.cc test report
Make and model: Howies Men's Classic Merino Base Layer
Size tested: XXL
Tell us what the product is for
It's a merino wool baselayer for cycling or pretty much anything.
Howies says: "Made from Merino wool. For every day life and sport. Naturally brilliant."
Tell us some more about the technical aspects of the product?
180g Merino wool
Fits just like a regular T-shirt
Regulates body temperature
Great for every day
Made in China
Very simple but very sturdy. Well made.
Very good for maintaining warmth and wicking sweat. Breathability is good, too.
Has stood up to everything so far.
I really like the fit – being non-skin-tight it's a little different to typical baselayers. It won't suit serious road riders, though.
Not an ultra-lightweight product.
Although the merino wool is a little scratchier than fleece-backed alternatives, its overall roominess means it's pretty comfy.
Initially, I thought it seemed expensive, but compared to other products it's not actually that bad.
How easy is the product to care for? How did it respond to being washed?
Simple. Machine wash at 30, don't tumble.
Tell us how the product performed overall when used for its designed purpose
As a baselayer it performed as expected, albeit with that slightly untypical fit. It also performed well as an outer layer or even as a sole layer.
Tell us what you particularly liked about the product
The relaxed fit.
Tell us what you particularly disliked about the product
Nothing much. Maybe the price.
How does the price compare to that of similar products in the market, including ones recently tested on road.cc?
There's the Pactimo High Grade Wool Base Layer, which has a far more performance-orientated nature but costs a whopping £70. Meanwhile, in non-wool options, the crazy-coloured £40 Cycology 8 Days is also more like a typical athletically tight baselayer but not so sartorially versatile.
Did you enjoy using the product? Yes
Would you consider buying the product? Yes
Would you recommend the product to a friend? Yes
Use this box to explain your overall score
Howies' Classic Merino Base Layer is really good multi-purpose bit of kit. It's not perfect as a high-performance baselayer, but for day-to-day rides and general use, it makes for a nicely casual option.
About the tester
I usually ride: Islabikes Beinn 29 My best bike is: 25-year-old Dawes Galaxy
I've been riding for: Over 20 years I ride: Most days I would class myself as: Experienced
I regularly do the following types of riding: commuting, touring, sportives, general fitness riding, mountain biking, leisure