A buff among other essential gear
This thin merino-wool number is the one to rule them all. (Photo: Kevin Zansler)

Why a Neck Tube Is as Important as Underwear

Our gear director explains what makes the Lightweight Merino Buff a critical part of his daily kit

A buff among other essential gear

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The most critical items in any adventure kit are rarely the flashiest. These are the essentials, and they serve as the foundation of comfort and performance in every season. Think: underwear, socks, beanies, base layers. To that esteemed pantheon, I nominate the humble but affordable Merino Lightweight neckwear ($29) from Buff, the versatility of which is nearly unmatched.

That’s right: a neck tube. But not just any neck tube. I’ve tried many of them, from many different purveyors, and reader, I can assure you that this thin merino-wool number is the one to rule them all.

For starters, the top and bottom seams are flat, which eliminates chafing. Then there’s the 3.7-ounce, stink-resistant fabric, providing sufficient warmth in winter but still thin enough for sweaty temperatures and high-output pursuits. I use it as a running headband when it’s cold, a gaiter while skinning laps, a mouth covering on dusty gravel rides, a sweat cloth wrapped around my wrist during summer trail runs, and a nose rag for my children when we’re out biking (mucous is an ever present feature of the parenting world). I recently pulled it up over my nose and mouth on a shoulder-season backpacking trip when temperatures unexpectedly dipped into the single digits, with sideways gusts and snow flurries, and received jealous looks from those among my co-hikers who were less prepared. If neck tubes had existed when TV action-adventure hero MacGyver was on the air, this is assuredly the one he would have worn.

And this Buff just seems to get softer the more persistently you use it (provided you don’t get too much snot on it). I have worn it four or five days in a row on backcountry trips and completely forgotten I had it on.

Bonus: the simple sleeve of fabric is only available in muted earth tones—I’m partial to the mustard yellow—which means it blends in outdoors no matter where you are. Personally, I wouldn’t want to wear a neck tube adorned with flamingoes in a restaurant; this one, on the other hand, looks like a minimalist scarf and thus enhances, rather than detracts from, my in-town style.

When you find something that delivers this reliably, you may want several. I keep an assortment of them stashed everywhere, in the event I forget to pack one before an outing: at home by the front door, in my car, at the office, and stuffed into various bike bags. This is one piece of gear I make sure I have with me wherever I go. In fact, it’s probably the only one I put on as often as underwear.

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From January/February 2023 Lead Photo: Kevin Zansler

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