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Reviews > Clothing > Hats, Caps and Visors > Buff Headgear Natural Merino Wool > Test Report by Rebecca Sowards-Emmerd

Wool BuffMerino Wool Buff
Test Series by Rebecca Sowards-Emmerd
Initial Report:  October 24, 2009
Field Report: January 5, 2010
Long Term Report: March 16, 2010

Tester Information

Name: Rebecca Sowards-Emmerd

Age: 31

Gender: Female

Height: 5'5" (1.65 m)

Weight: 135 lb (61 kg)


Location: Sunnyvale, California

Backpacking Background

I spend most weekends, and many full weeks a year, exploring the variety of scenery and terrain that California has to offer. My favorite area is the Sierra Nevada, and I spend several weeks backpacking there each summer. I follow lightweight, but not ultralight, backpacking techniques and am known to carry a few luxury items from time to time. In addition to traditional backpacking I enjoy snowshoeing, skiing, and snowcamping, as well as long day hikes, geocaching, peak bagging, and running. I also enjoy writing and maintain a blog of trip reports at

Product Information

Manufacturer:  Original Buff

Item:  Wool Buff    

Size:  One-Size

Listed weight:  none

Measured weight:  1.73 oz (49 g)

Year:  2009

MSRP: $27.00  

Initial Report: October 24, 2009

About the Wool Buff

Wool BuffGear doesn't get much simpler than this! The 100% Merino Wool Buff is a seamless tube of merino wool measuring 9.5 x 27 in (24 x 69 cm) (approximate) when unstretched. It stretches quite a bit on the shorter axis, but there isn't much stretch along the longer axis. That's it! 

So why is a tube of merino wool a useful piece of gear?  Well, according to the fine folks at Buff, that single, seamless tube of wool is a versatile, comfortable, and unique piece of gear that has a seemingly endless list of functions. This list includes using the Buff as a scarf, cap, headscarf, facemask, balaclava, headband, wristband... etc. The website clearly describes these uses as well as illustrates them with little cartoon heads. It would be a bit more informative if they were real pictures, or even videos about the multiple ways to wear the Buff.

Wool BuffJust to let the cat out of the bag - I'm no stranger to Buff. I have been a very happy user of the lightweight Coolmax® Buffs for years, and if there is one thing I can already tell you it is that the list that Buff provides is only the tip of the iceberg. Buff fits perfectly into the lightweight backpacking ethos of multiple use, and I really look forward to exploring how the merino wool is able to handle all of the use cases I can throw at it. I've slowly transformed my outdoor wardrobe from synthetics to wool and really appreciate the features that wool has to offer. I use Buffs as far more than just a piece of wearable gear - my Buff is also part of my sleep system, sun protection, and kitchen routine.  I am very tough on my Buffs and have gone through several of them in the past. 

What does merino wool have to offer? Buff lists many features of the wool material, including moisture management, odor resistance, UV protection, natural stretch, flame retardant, machine washable, and water repellent.  All of these (well, with the exception of its ability to survive flames) will be tested out quite thoroughly. I'm especially curious about the 'moisture management' and 'water repellent' claims - I like to wear a Buff around my neck as both sun protection and a sweat rag. I need something that can suck up as much sweat as possible and dry quickly so that it can move on to be used for its next purpose.

Wool Buff as Neck GaiterInitial Impressions

The Buff comes around a cardboard card in the shape of a ram's head (clever). There is nothing to attach it to the card so there is no risk of damaging the Buff with ties/clips/glue, although there is danger of the Buff itself falling off the card.  The Buff is simple, and the only seams are on the ends of the tubes where  the wool is folded over and stitched, presumably to prevent fraying.

I most often use a Buff as a neck gaiter, so that was my first test. The Buff slid over my big head easily. The material is soft and feels nice against the skin. I can definitely feel a sense of warmth with it around my neck - much more so than the lighter weight versions I've used in the past - so I'm really looking forward to getting it out in colder weather.


The Merino Wool Buff is an incredibly uncomplicated piece of gear, but extraordinarily versatile and multi-function. I'm no stranger to the world of Buff and I have a whole arsenal of use cases to try out on this Merino Wool version.  I can't wait to get it out and put it to work. Please check back in approximately two months for the Field Report.

Field Report: January 5, 2010

During the Field Testing period the Buff has been a constant companion on all of my hikes.

While Hiking:
I typically wear it around my neck (as pictured above) while hiking, where it provides several functions depending on the conditions:
  •     Warm neck gaiter: great in cold and windy conditions
  •     Sweat rag: it's convenient to dab the sweat from my nose and forehead
  •     Sun protection: I don't like wearing collared shirts, so I need some kind of neck protection from the sun
In camp:
In camp I use the Buff in place of a bandanna where it fills in nicely for several functions. It makes a useful kitchen device, functioning as both a pot holder and a dinner cozy. The nice thing is that the wool dries quickly, so if the Buff is all dirty from a hot day on the trail, I can rinse it out and have it fresh and dry by the time dinner rolls around. When I crawl into my tent, the Buff is with me as well. I stuff it with my jacket and/or any extra clothes and use it as a pillow at night.

Around my neck, the Buff is hardly noticeable. In fact, there have been many times when I have forgotten I had it on until I get home and get ready to shower. The merino wool is soft and doesn't itch at all, even when used as a pillow case. It is loose and not restricting in the way I wear it. On hotter days the Buff provides sun protection for my neck and also functions as a sweat rag - it is easy to pull it up and wipe the sweat and trail dust off of my nose or forehead. It isn't very absorbent but it gets the job done. On colder days the Buff provides a nice amount of warmth and wind protection between my hat and jacket. I can easily pull it up over my ears and/or nose in a balaclava style if it gets very cold. The material is thin enough that I can breathe through it when it is pulled up and over my nose.

There were a few hikes where it was simply too hot to keep the merino wool Buff around my neck. I found this limit to be around 75 degrees F (24 C) with sun. I should note that I have been able to wear my other Coolmax Buffs in very hot temperatures without discomfort, but they have not been as warm in colder temperatures. After this test, I will stick with the wool Buff for winter use and the Coolmax Buff for summer use.

The first three times I used the Buff I forgot to throw it in the wash when I got home. It had approximately 30 miles (48 km) of sweaty, dirty hiking on it before its first wash. This is where the merino wool shines. It didn't stink. Twice I found it in the bottom of my pack, under tons of stinky clothing and gear, and didn't notice any smell at all the next time I used it (without washing it in between). Washing it is as simple as throwing it in the laundry with the rest of my clothes. I haven't noticed any shrinking or bleeding of the bright red color.


The Buff is a versatile and useful piece of gear that comes along on all of my dayhikes and backpacking trips. I find uses for it throughout the entire day and it has functioned admirably for each use.

  •     Comfortable, non-itchy wool
  •     Dries quickly
  •     Doesn't stink like a synthetic

  •     Isn't super absorbent
  •     A bit too warm for hot weather use

Check back in approximately two months for my long term report.

Long Term Report: March 16, 2010

During the Long Term Testing period I have continued to use the Buff in a similar manner. I have continued to wear it as a neck gaiter while hiking, and use it around camp while cooking and sleeping. Over the past two months my hikes were much wetter than during the Field Report period, so I had the opportunity to get the Buff soaked on the trail when hiking during torrential downpours. My results are consistent with what I reported in the Field Report, with a few added notes.

The Long Term testing period included many, many miles of hiking in the San Francisco Bay Area. At this time of year, my hikes are typically long and strenuous dayhikes or simple overnighters. We've experienced a wetter and colder winter than the past several years so I've gotten used to getting wet and hiking in the mud.

Use as a Hat
I arrived at a trailhead early one morning and stepped out of the car. Brrrrr it was so cold! I dug into my pack for my hat but couldn't find it. Oh no! I left it at home! But then I noticed something that I DID have in my pack - the merino wool Buff.  I took it out and wrapped it around my head as described in the packaging - luckily I remembered how. I pulled one end of the tube over my head then made a twist in the middle, and pulled the other half (inverted) over my head as a second layer. It kept me toasty warm, although I did think it looked a bit silly when I glanced at my reflection in the car windows. But I don't go outdoors to look good, so I didn't much care.

Wearing in the Rain
On a few of my hikes I found myself hiking during light drizzles to torrential downpours. In many cases I would put on my waterproof layers, but there were a couple of quick outings where I didn't bother and the Buff, around my neck as a gaiter, got soaked. If I kept it bunched up on my neck it took a while to dry once the rain stopped, but if I took it off and strapped it to the outside of my pack, for example, it dried quickly. 

Using as a Pot Grip
The downfall of all of my Buffs in the past has been their use as a pot grip and cozy. They were all synthetic and inevitably I would accidentally melt holes in them when picking up a hot pot (when the material swung too close to the hot stove). This is one great advantage of the merino wool Buff - it's not made of meltable material! I've probably been just as wreckless with this task as I have been in the past, but the Buff shows no scarring at all.

My pros and cons remain the same as they were in my Field Report. I will definitely continue to use the merino wool Buff, but as it gets warmer out it will be put away in favor of lighter materials. I consider this my 'winter' Buff.  

Thanks to Buff and BackpackGearTest for the opportunity to play with the newest version of one of my favorite simple yet versatile products!

Read more gear reviews by Rebecca Sowards-Emmerd

Reviews > Clothing > Hats, Caps and Visors > Buff Headgear Natural Merino Wool > Test Report by Rebecca Sowards-Emmerd

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