Ridge Merino is a brand inspired by the beauty of its location in Mammoth Lakes, California, a ski destination and PCT trail town in the Eastern Sierra. The small family-owned business focuses on making outdoor apparel out of merino wool. I sat down with Paz, head of marketing at Ridge Merino, to learn more about the brand, and the work-hard/ play-hard ethos of its people.
“The mountains are a part of daily living up here,” Paz Mendelevitch tells me. “We’re pretty stoked to be able to go five minutes down the road to the trailhead or go skiing or go ride at the resort, and see what works and what we need to make tweaks to.”
The result is merino layers that are constantly being refined to be more comfortable, functional, and stylish to wear — touting the soft, anti-odor, moisture-wicking properties merino is so well known for.
Ridge Merino started in 2014 with the goal of designing breathable functional sustainable clothing for anyone who gets outdoors. In keeping with the brand’s mission, they became the first brand in Mammoth Lakes to achieve Certified California Green Business status for their commitment to sustainability.
Now Ridge Merino has five employees and a small A-frame space at the Ridge Collective in Mammoth Lakes where hikers and skiers can stop by and try on layers and learn about other brands that are also part of the 1% For The Planet program.
Part of the fun of being based in a PCT and JMT trail town for Ridge Merino is the ability to meet with thru-hikers. Paz sets up a trail magic station near a trailhead and has even surprised a few hikers by gifting them socks. “I was getting messages on Instagram from those hikers way later on,” Paz said.
Thru-hikers tell him, “‘I'm still rocking the socks, it works great.’ That's a solid test [for us] that this thing really works.”
Early on, Ridge Merino started with base layers and underwear, focusing on simple and comfortable designs. The brand soon expanded to joggers, dresses, and everyday layers. All of their clothing is made of the same soft, temperature-regulating fabric as their more technical layers. For some lifestyle layers that want to drape nicely for a casual look, Ridge Merino weaves in tencel, which is a buttery-soft plant-based fiber that is also biodegradable.
Ridge Merino focuses on a clean look without the flashy colors or logos found in clothes by other brands. Paz says, “We took a look at what we would use personally on the mountain.” Of the five employees, “every one of us gets after it,” a term frequently used in the outdoor world to refer to consistently taking on challenging outdoor activities.
“We’re always having conversations [about] what works? What do we need? What's the next product that we would actually use ourselves?”
These conversations led to their popular Solstice Sun Hoody made of lightweight merino wool.
When it comes to the thru-hiker favorite, their Solstice Sun Hoodie, it’s got a few legs up over other brands. Paz is quick to explain: “The oversized hood is really nice to go over [a sun] hat or a climbing helmet.”
Another distinguishing feature is sun protection that covers the tops and sides of the hands. “When you're walking that many miles, extra coverage on the sides [of the hands and] the thumb holes are always great. The sleeves actually stay at full length. We put holes on almost everything we make.”
But the big difference is the merino fabric, rare among sun hoodies.
Paz says, “The breathability, the moisture wicking, and the temperature regulating are the biggest advantages [of merino] for summer.” The anti-odor features are another real benefit of merino over other fabrics, especially when it comes to next-to-the-skin layers like boxers.
Merino has natural sun protection too — UPF 30 in lightweight weaves, higher in heavier weaves and darker colors. “We are pretty proud of the fact that we don't add chemically added sun protection,” Paz says. In addition to the environmental footprint, chemical additives can wash out over time.
When it comes to choosing sun protective clothing, Paz has a few tips. “The darker the color, the higher the UPF. The common myth and misconception is with darker colors, your skin will get too warm. But actually [dark colors] cool you really well. It absorbs the ultraviolet rays and keeps you cool.”
As far as being a smaller brand goes, Paz says “I like to think of us as eternally being ski bum owned, because we're all ski bums at heart.” If it's a powder day, they’ll put the “gone skiing” sign on the office door.
“It’s a small town. We all live two minutes away from each other. We literally run into each other walking the dogs,” he says.
Being a smaller brand based in a small mountain town means they’ve run into challenges. Still, as with everything they do, they’re growing sustainably, spreading the word about merino, and having fun.
“We’re proud to make good looking sustainable products that people are stoked about and that function well in the mountains and daily life,” Paz says.
Liz “Snorkel” Thomas is a thru-hiker with 20+ long trails on her feet, including the PCT, CDT, and AT, for which she held an FKT. Her trail experiences led her to co-found Treeline Review, an outdoor gear review space dedicated to buying right the first time to reduce waste on the planet. She authored their guide to sun hoodies, for which the Solstice Hoody is one of her favs.