There are some classic base layer models for cool-to-cold weather conditions and undoubtedly HH LIFA Merino Half-Zip is one of them. This baselayer by the Norwegian outdoor gear manufacturer – Helly Hansen employs a nice blend of merino wool and LIFA Stay Warm Technology for a lightweight, odorless, and comfortable experience on and off the trail. This 2-layer construction combines the best of both worlds – the soft, comfortable, breathable, and antibacterial experience associated with merino wool and the lightweight, moisture-wicking, and quick-drying properties offered by man-made materials engineered to meet the performance needs and requirements of the user (such as LIFA – Helly Hansen’s own proprietary fiber or basically a modified polypropylene fiber).
Interested to read more reviews like this? Check out our Gear Reviews section where you will find in-depth reviews of all sorts of outdoor clothing and equipment. But let’s get back to the topic.
Quick specs: Helly Hansen HH LIFA Merino ½ Zip
Weight: 285 g (10.1 oz)
Material: 57% Merino wool, 43% polypropylene
Where to get it: Amazon
- Two-layer construction combining the benefits of the LIFA technology and merino wool: the exterior is made of 100% merino wool, whereas the interior is made of lightweight, moisture-wicking, and quick-drying LIFA fabric
- This model comes with a half-length zipper with chin protection for extra comfort and efficient customized ventilation on the go
- Smooth and thick with flatlock seams for added comfort by reducing friction and chafing
- Looks amazing, fits well, and feels very comfortable without restricting your movement.
- High-quality material and craftsmanship: the material is soft, warm, and thanks to the antibacterial properties of the merino wool, the smell will be far from the typical smell of all synthetic base layers even after heavy use.
- Great weight-to-warmth ratio – it isn’t too light or too heavy and will keep you warm without feeling too hot during all your outdoor pursuits.
- Excellent breathability and moisture-wicking abilities as well as reasonably good dry speed; you may not even feel it when your garment gets wet because of the merino wool (wool and specifically merino wool does not feel clammy but feels a kind of warm even when wet).
- Versatile – suitable for layering in cold weather but can also be used in cool conditions usually as a single layer; the half-zip helps regulate the airflow, which is key for medium and high-intensity pursuits.
- The neck is a bit tight when the zipper is pulled to the top, plus we don’t like the collar very much.
- Can be slightly itchy especially in the beginning before being washed for the first time.
- The material holds up well yet we recommend that you hand wash this base layer in cool water because proper care could make miracles (see the ‘Care and maintenance’ section below for more info).
Women’s Version: Available -> Amazon
We’ve tested both* of this technical multisport base layer (HH LIFA Merino Half-Zip and HH LIFA Merino Crew) for cold weather in a multitude of conditions and environments including during hiking trips in various settings (mountains, forests), as well as casual wear in town. To summarize, this merino-polypropylene construction has a lot to offer… If this sounds a bit vague, we guess you should read on to get our verdict on the HH LIFA Merino Half-Zip.
Crafted from a blend of 57% merino wool and 43% LIFA, the Helly Hansen HH LIFA Merino is engineered to deliver all the great benefits of these two excellent fibers. So, it’s a good combination of technical properties, functionality, warmth, and comfort. It’s great that it doesn’t sacrifice durability for comfort as most 100% merino wool baselayers do. It’s worth noting that the interior of this 2-in-1 base layer is made from polypropylene (LIFA) because of its excellent moisture-wicking properties whereas the wool exterior is soft and does not irritate the skin.
The material is of high quality and we like it a lot but we also like the length and the overall design of this garment. Each of these plays an important role in the general impression. This brings us to the next section.
Design, fit & comfort
Due to its nice and stylish design, the HH LIFA Merino top definitely stands out among the base layers with similar characteristics made by other outdoor gear manufacturers such as Icebreaker, Fjallraven, Black Diamond, Odlo or Patagonia.
The right fit is of prime importance in having a pleasant experience on and off the trail. While it’s valid for all pieces of equipment, it’s even more important for a cold-weather base layer as its main functions include providing enough warmth and moisture management.
We’d like to begin with the size of the Helly Hansen HH LIFA Merino. It looks and feels true to size. The garment pictured is XL and the person wearing it is 186 cm (6’1″) and weighs approximately 100 kg (220 lbs). This size fits like a glove and we recommend it for people of similar height and weight. It should fit well even someone who’s an inch or two taller. The sleeves are long enough, have tight cuffs to keep warmth in and facilitate layering and fit just right so that they don’t slide up your forearms. Note that the sleeves are a bit tighter than the sleeves of synthetic base layers by Helly Hansen. The reason is obvious – synthetic tops can hold their shape better than items crafted from wool or wool blends. The torso is also the perfect length.
The quality of the construction is top-notch as it:
- comes with flatlock seams for reduced friction
- doesn’t add bulk
- has a front zipper with a semi-automatic lock slider and a zip garage
The comfort is incredible. The HH LIFA Merino feels good against the skin and fits well without restricting movements. Moreover, it is comfortable on its own or under another layer.
Warmth and layering
Talking about layering, this base layer is a great layering piece that works best when layered under another garment, plus it’s easy to combine with other garments for colder days. The relatively tight-fitting cut and the tight cuffs definitely work nicely for layering. The combination with a lightweight fleece mid-layer and an outer layer is a classic for most kinds of outdoor sports and pursuits. And it works fine in cool-to-cold weather. In sub-zero temperatures, you’d need to add a layer or two. That’s why we’ve experimented with another underlayer (lightweight synthetic such as the Helly Hansen HH LIFA Crew) underneath in temps below -5°C (23°F) to increase the thermal resistance. And this combo of a lightweight synthetic base layer, heavier merino wool base layer and fleece mid-layer (and lightweight wind-resistant jacket) worked perfectly in temps down to -11°C (12°F). Of course, adding another mid-layer is also a viable option. Adapting clothing insulation properly is critical to maintaining heat balance when hiking or walking in the cold. For more on layering, see our in-depth guide to hiking clothing and layering.
While HH LIFA Merino can be used for all sorts of indoor and outdoor activities, don’t forget that it is a technical baselayer designed for aerobic activities. So it should surprise you that it won’t keep you warm on its own in the cold. No base layer will. But it insulates well and provides sufficient next-to-skin warmth when staying active, plus the heat-regulating performance of the Helly Hansen LIFA Merino base layer is fantastic.
Moisture management and breathability
This under layer is engineered to provide a nice experience under a mid-layer in cold weather so it shouldn’t surprise you that it breathes well in cooler temperatures and not so well in warmer conditions especially in the sun. Thus we strongly recommend that you wear it in cold or chilly weather. We don’t recommend wearing this merino baselayer in temps higher than 10-15°C (50-59°F) especially if it is sunny and/or during high-intensity scenarios. You will get uncomfortably hot in no time unless shade is available. Even the possibility to provide extra ventilation by unzipping the zipper (which works great most of the time) isn’t very efficient in the sun.
Now let’s talk a bit about the moisture management properties of the HH LIFA Merino as proper thermoregulation is a key factor in having a more pleasant experience on the trail. Merino is famous for keeping the user warm even when wet. While this isn’t always true, it is the case with the LIFA Merino under layer. It not only transports away moisture and sweat but does it in such a way that you never really feel the consequences of the moisture evaporation while moving. This is extremely important in cold environments because excessive sweating and heat release usually lead to a cold, clammy feeling. You will never feel this unpleasant sensation while wearing the Helly Hansen HH LIFA Merino during aerobic sports and activities, which is amazing. Additionally, it doesn’t pick up body odors easily meaning that you can wear it again and again without the need to clean or wash it.
It is a fact that polypropylene dries lightning fast. If it sounds dubious to you, see our review of the Helly Hansen HH LIFA Crew. While merino needs more time to dry, it dries faster than most other natural fibers used by clothing manufacturers. So, all other things being equal, the combination of modified polypropylene and merino should dry faster than all-wool garments and the drying time should be longer than all-synthetic baselayers. True. While without lightning-fast drying properties, the overall drying time of this garment rarely exceeds several hours when fully wet. If you want to reduce it, dry the top under direct sunlight. Although we don’t really recommend you to do something like that, we’ve done this on numerous occasions and we’ve never had a problem (note that drying a woolen item under direct sunlight could alter the original shade).
Construction and durability
In spite of its relatively low weight (less than 300 g or 11 oz), the Helly Hansen LIFA Merino Half-Zip is fairly durable. Most base layers are not very durable and knowing that we didn’t have any expectations regarding the robustness of the HH LIFA Merino top. It allowed us to test it in various environments and conditions. And the extensive use of this garment in different settings without any prior expectations about its durability lead us to the following conclusions:
- The construction is well-made thanks to the premium materials (including the HH zipper), the quality of the stitching, and the overall design. Yes, you’d probably be able to say that even without testing it but still it’s difficult to judge without any relevant information (appearances are often very deceptive) and we have tons of relevant info.
- Whether the HH LIFA Merino Half-Zip survives a couple of trips or a couple of years of regular use depends on how you want to use it (as an undergarment or as a single layer). Both are viable options. Note that wearing it beneath another layer/s will prolong its lifespan significantly.
- The garment isn’t abrasion-resistant (not a surprise!) so you don’t want to bushwhack as it will literally destroy this merino-LIFA construction.
- You don’t want to roll the sleeves above your elbows regularly as it will widen them. The good news is that if you select the proper size, it will be difficult to do that. Moreover, you won’t feel very comfortable when the sleeves are rolled above your elbows.
- It can last wash after wash but if you want to make sure it serves you long term, make sure you wash it properly. With proper care, this baselayer should last for years.
This brings us to the next section:
Care and maintenance
Wool care and maintenance are specific but if you follow all or should we say most good practices, it could prolong the life of your HH LIFA Merino Half-Zip considerably. Yes, proper care takes time and some effort but it’s worth it in the long run. So, what’s really important when taking care of a wool garment?
Firstly, don’t wash it too frequently. Our advice is to air the garment instead (whenever possible). When you feel it is time to wash it, you have two good options:
- Hand washing in cool water using some sort of mild detergent is preferable. There are also detergents for merino wool base layers such as Nikwax Wool Wash. This specialized cleaner is much better than regular detergents and works great with premium merino items. Also, make sure that there’s no rubbing, twisting or wringing (if possible).
- If hand washing is not your thing, machine washing on a wool cycle is another viable option (using shorter washing cycles, lower washing temperatures, and mild detergents is essential).
Secondly, air-dry. For a wool garment to retain its original size and shape, it should be air-dried flat. Obviously, you can also hang it but do it carefully to minimize stretching.
And thirdly, store folded in a drawer or dry container. If using mothballs, avoid direct contact with the garment as the smell can impregnate the wool.
You can find more good practices for wool care and maintenance in our article about the best wool gloves and mitts.
Not among the cheapest base layers out there, but quite affordable for a premium merino base layer. Its usual price is around $100 but you can often find it at half of that when on a sale. A price of around $50 or so is a real bargain given the characteristics, features, and properties of the HH LIFA Merino Half-Zip top.
When looking for a warm, comfortable, and reliable base layer for cool-to-cold weather, consider HH LIFA Merino Half-Zip or HH LIFA Merino Crew. In our book, both of these base layer options by Helly Hansen are among the best options available on the market today. What’s really cool about them is that they are so versatile that you can use them for all kinds of outdoor and indoor activities – virtually anything. While they are more or less the same and work similarly in most situations, we prefer the Half-Zip version better for when a change in temperature is expected.
As to our final verdict: the HH LIFA Merino Half-Zip/Crew top is a real gem. It works extremely well for any type of activity in cold weather and is an excellent buy beyond doubt.
* In this review we’ve used photos of both the HH LIFA Merino Half-Zip and HH LIFA Merino Crew. The biggest difference between these two is the presence/absence of a 1/2 zip. There’s also a noticeable difference in the placement of the flatlock seams.
For more popular Camotrek content, you can check out one or more of the following links: