Merino wool

6:53 p.m. on November 9, 2009 (EST)
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Curious what you all think of Merino wool as a hiking/outdoor outfit. I have a jacket that is 100% MWool and am thinking of using that for my hikes. It is light not too bulky.

The reason I ask is that I see a lot of "new" tough materials out there and not much of the good ole tried and tested stuff like wool. Case in point, I was out the other day in pouring rain and all my gloves gave way except for one old all wool gloves, which even when wet, provided warmth.

Would love to hear your thoughts/experiences around wool as an insulated material and how it holds sweat/moisture.

6:42 a.m. on November 10, 2009 (EST)
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I grow up using only synthetics garments when on the trail but last winter I got few merino baselayers and start using them. There are few big companies that are "Merino" brands - Icebreaker, SmartWook and Ibex, and I'm sure you can find some more (I'm using Patagonia, Arcteryx make some and so on).
Wool and synthetic fibers (like polyester) are similar but different. Wool is hollow and trap air for insulation and polyester try to do the same but also work on the way it's woven together into a make long story short - wool is very warm but will take longer to dry when it's wet. Synthetics baselayers will be better with getting the sweet away. They work as fine for most people in most type of use. I don't have an experience using wool tops such as the Ibex jacket you got but I think that the way the industry is going into right now will be more and more human made fibers for the outer layer.

10:09 a.m. on November 10, 2009 (EST)
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I got 3 merino wool sweaters in a thrift shop for 5$ each (made in Italy, crazy what people throw away!) , they are awesome for hiking because they don't stink and don't melt. They also somehow keep you warmer during those first few minutes when you stop moving, something to do with wool absorbing some of the moisture before drying it. You know that instant chill you get when you stop that lasts untill your baselayer is fully dry? Doesn't happen with wool.

I use the sweaters mostly in the winter over a very light baselayer for long trips or if i expect to make a lot of campfires. But the stuff they sell for 100$ is overated, it's good but doesn't last that long IMO.

10:35 a.m. on November 10, 2009 (EST)
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None of the really expensive outdoor clothing is worth the retail price. Once you have a general idea of what you are looking for, the item (or something very similar) will show up at a steep discount (at least 50% off) somewhere on the web. I really like merino wool base layers, but I'd opt for synthetics in hot weather.

10:42 a.m. on November 10, 2009 (EST)
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When i was a young lad starting my adventures in the mountains there were no synthetics just wool.Wool socks,knickers,shirts and dont forget daschstien mitts!I still use wool in some areas but never on my head,itches way to much.All and all wool is great.Just like the diff between down and syn thetic bag fills the natural stuff lasts much longer.One major issue with wool is moths.Pack your woolens in plastic bags and maybe even use moth balls,they stink.

2:26 p.m. on November 10, 2009 (EST)
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My profile pic shows me in two Icebreaker tops with the zip necks and I gotta say they're like a second skin in the winter. Here's an opinion: I think Smartwool makes better long john bottoms than Icebreaker, and so I have a pair of midweight Smartwools on my legs.

This fotog shows the full outfit with another merino item which, excuse me, all winter backpackers should carry: the midweight Icebreaker balaclava. Here's the downside of merino: it's heavier than, say , heavyweight silk tops or regular polypro.

12:57 p.m. on November 19, 2009 (EST)
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All and all wool is great.Just like the diff between down and syn thetic bag fills the natural stuff lasts much longer.One major issue with wool is moths.Pack your woolens in plastic bags and maybe even use moth balls,they stink.


small problem with this suggestion. wool is basically no different than hair (stop and think about it). if you store it in plastic it can't "breathe", and will start to rot and stink way faster. the better suggestion is to use some cedar around all of your natural fibers.

cedar hangers, closets, blocks of wood, little round balls, etc. something in the smell of the cedar aggrevates most insects. and they will leave your stuff alone.

something about wool, the better the grade (the more expensive) it is, the more appealing it is a a meal for a moth. if you are buying the good stuff, store it with some cedar around it.

sorry to argue with ya' skiman......

3:00 p.m. on November 19, 2009 (EST)
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No problem caryernst!Not taken as argument and it is true about the cedar it has just been a long time since i had or used lots of wollen goods.Never hurts to have many different opinions on any matter.

10:10 a.m. on November 24, 2009 (EST)
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more and more i have been going to a synthetic base layer with a wool mid-layer. that seems to keep me plenty warm in pretty cold conditions. i camp 1 weekend a month year-round, but do not like to wear many layers. if i can get away with it. a lot of the "good" woolens have a tendancy to be thicker than the synthetics, but for the thickness they seem warmer......

7:24 a.m. on November 30, 2009 (EST)
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Wool is not hair; it is wool, with scales and lanolin. Wool that is too hairlike is called "kempy": it's frowned upon as a lesser thing. Wool is still, I think, the best fiber for insulating when wet. It does dry more slowly than poly fleece. I think it stinks less than synthetics.

By way I suppose of revealing a possible prejudice, I used to own a couple of Merino sheep. They stayed out in all weather. They smelled like sheep, but then so do the Icelandics I have now. (I seem to have lost my train of thought.)

3:34 p.m. on December 11, 2009 (EST)
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i was trying to make a short version of my comment on letting wool breathe. but Cardigan is correct.

9:27 p.m. on December 11, 2009 (EST)
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As long as the topic is wool, and natural fabrics generally, I haven't seen anyone mention that 2009 was designated by the United Nations as the International Year of Natural Fibres (use the Brit spelling of "fibre", not the American "fiber").

10:57 p.m. on December 11, 2009 (EST)
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By the way forgot to add i love the synthetics because wool always made me itch very badly,i hear a lot of the new merino long johns don't but do not want to spend the money to find out.It has been a very long time since i have used many woolen goods,other than socks.I do love the feathers though.

11:16 p.m. on December 11, 2009 (EST)
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I like Capilene or poly-pro as a base layer, then wool, then if needed I like Microfleece followed by a shell when necessary.

I am wearing a green wool shirt in my avatar photo, pants are a wool lined pair of Columbia pants, I sewed the wool liner in myself.

The photo was taken in March in a river canyon, and I was quite comfortable. Probably around 40 F.

11:39 p.m. on December 11, 2009 (EST)
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Like trout hunter I prefer capilene because it is so (hydrophobic?) It wicks the moisture away from my skin, transforms it into steam that can pass through my goretex. I can be steaming - real steam coming out of my clothes for a long time, yet when I get to camp or back to my car I can put my hand on my leg under it and the leg is dry. With performance like that I'm not really interested in changing. When I was a kid all we had was wool or cotton and I hated both. Now there is different qualities of the stuff and for some reason our discontinued montbell capilene is the very best I have, patagoochie second. why? I suppose there are all kinds of merino wool too. I also prefer fleece jackets.

Now I have 3 pair of merino socks bought last week at bi-rite and I like them in my sorels for short trips and driving the car in the cold, BUT they seem damp to me when I take them off so I put them by the pellet stove to dry. Seems to me that my feet and socks are dryer in polyesther. For years the only organic materials I carried in the winter besides my food was a pair of large wool socks and toilet paper.

I also want to say it was zero degrees out this morning and steam was coming off my truck in the sunlight. It wasn't melting first, it was evaporating (sublimation). Many people think that a molecule of H2O must turn to water if it hits a cold surface, not true. Steam can pass directly through a sleeping bag (or goretx shell) with absolutely no reason to turn to liquid when it reaches the outside of the bag. It takes a bunch of H2O moelcules to get together to for a crystal (ice) or a liquid state, and like wise, lone H2O moecules are by defiition a gas.

p.s. I have Icelandic friends too and they DO smell musty...


1:09 p.m. on December 12, 2009 (EST)
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My experience with wool socks has been that they work well when paired with a wicking sock to draw the moisture away from the foot, worn alone, wool socks keep my foot too moist. Sometimes it's hard to tell the wool sock is damp because they do not feel damp, but worn alone they keep my skin too moist and has caused blisters and split skin between my toes.

I change my wool socks at least twice a day while hiking (every 4 hours) or as needed. I do have synthetic socks that I like also, but I find the wool socks keep my feet warmer, IF I keep them changed.

I am currently re thinking my sock set up, and plan on trying some different brands & materials to see if I can't see an improvement.

10:31 p.m. on February 11, 2010 (EST)
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wool is not hollow......Angora ( from the Rabbit) is though and 8 times warmer then wool. if you can find Angora clothing or mix you have really scored big. Alpaca is 5-7 times warmer then wool and also stronger, and is a more common exotic natural fiber. it is also thinner and softer.

11:24 p.m. on February 11, 2010 (EST)
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I use light weight wool tshirts in the summer and have found that they keep me cooler then all the synthetics I tried, and they dry faster. I use wool socks and have found that they dry faster also. I also wear smartwool boxer briefs.. I use lightweight Smartwool liner socks under heavey weight wool socks for winter and the liners alone in summer. Also I have read that wool when exposed to moister absorbs it, and releses heat in the proscess, but also evaporates it quickly. The only thing cooler and more evaporative is silk which also much lighter then any synthetics. there are more exotic fibers that are even lighter warmer and stronger then wool. Such as, Qiviut which comes from Musk ox, and a more common fiber Alpaca which is 5-7 times warmer then wool, and stronger, and you can find alot of Alpaca garments on the internet. I like Sierra trader.the only problem I have is that I can't find any manufacterers that make longJohns, or more sports oriented clothing in Alpaca, or alpaca blends. I have been considering making my own cloths and have been researching yarns, and patterns. checkout these links for more info on animal finers. I read an article in Backpacker once where they tested the clothing that Sir Edmund Hillary wore when climbed mount Everrest. He wore 8 alternating layers of silk and wool, with the last layer being a Gaberdine wool suit. And the team doing the test said that it far surpassed any manmade clothing.

11:43 p.m. on February 11, 2010 (EST)
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One more thing.....Wool is naturally antimicrobial, I can wear synthetic socks and have them smelling in half a day. same with my T shirts. But I can wear wool for days without any Funk. I use to get rashes around my groin from high tech underwear, But none with wool. Also my feet would get a little bit off foot funk too, but not with wool. And for some reason less blisters. My theory is that you are going to have moister from sweat no matter what you do. But the mixture of Moister and Bacteria causes the rashes and blisters, and so wool keeps the bacteria away. I am seriously astonished at how little problems I have with Blisters, and rashes, and B,O since I've switched to wool. But I do believe that Synthetics are great for outerwear. I like my Nylon hiking shorts ,and Pants.But there are some animal fibers that are very Hydrophobic and strong that would make good outerwear but no manufacturers make anything with them.

6:10 a.m. on February 12, 2010 (EST)
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I found the BBC 2006 story of the Mallory clothing fascinating and saved it. It may be found at

12:15 a.m. on February 13, 2010 (EST)
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I geuss I forgot, it was mallory's clothing they tested,heres another cool link

8:50 a.m. on February 14, 2010 (EST)
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like synthetics, wool retains a good portion of its insulating properties when the fabric is damp. (i don't care what you're wearing - if you end up in a downpour, none of these will keep you warm until you get to a dry place and wring out the moisture). that jacket you linked would probably be a great alternative to a mid or heavyweight polarfleece jacket.

i agree with others that wool doesn't retain odor the same way as synthetics, but that's usually an issue for the layer next to your skin, less so for a mid-layer. wool can smell "wooly" when it's wet.

like synthetics, wool also dries from wearing it. in my personal experience, it takes somewhat longer for wool (eg a merino sweater or jacket) to dry than a similar polarfleece garment because wool absorbs more moisture.

as a lot of other people have noted, there are several types of wool out there. most people lean toward the wools that don't itch as much due to much wider availability recently.

alpaca comes from alpacas (similar to but smaller than llamas), mostly from south america. it doesn't itch, it's kind of similar to icelandic wool, but it normally doesn't have any lanolin. what that means is that it's hypoallergenic, but IT DOES NOT REPEL WATER like regular wool. because of that, it's usually blended with wool, and that's the rub. you have to figure out if the wool blended in may be prickly/uncomfortable, and whether the garment will suit your needs in terms of keeping you warm and dry.

merino comes primarily from sheep, originally from spain, primarily australia and new zealand more recently, but there are some merino sheep in the US now. it's soft and can be milled so it's hydrophobic on the inside and hydrophilic on the outside, so it wicks moisture. that is good for a baselayer, blended with some nylon so it resists stretching, tearing, abrasion better. it's a great material for socks too.

angora is from rabbit wool and yes, it's a hollow fiber (like silk), so it should be a fair bit warmer, pound for pound, than ordinary wool. it's more conventionally in sweaters, but you could find baselayers made from it if you look.

icelandic wool comes from sheep in iceland. there are two different types, coarse and fine. the outer coat is coarse (it's called the "tog") has more lanolin, more water-resistant, more itchy. fine (the inner coat, called "thel") is more like cashmere, very soft, doesn't itch. the wool you find in most icelandic wool sweaters is a combination of both fibers, called Lopi. it's most easily available in sweaters, but if you look around, you can find icelandic wool underwear and socks. (i'm not familiar with this wool except in sweaters. i have a few icelandic wool sweaters that are extremely warm).

cashmere - comes from goats, specifically cashmere goats.i tend to think of this as a fabric used for expensive clothing like suits, or sweaters better suited to a country club than a trail, but don't discount it for hiking. like icelandic wool, cashmere goats have a coarse outer coat. the stuff we associate with cashmere comes from the softer undercoat. it is a very warm, soft wool. just as good as merino for mid-layers, in my experience. it also tends to be expensive, sometimes obscenely so. if i have cashmere sweaters intended for dress use that get holes or other damage, i start using them for hiking, and they are great.

lambswool is also softer than more traditional wool - I think of this in a similar vein to cashmere. not quite as soft, but still very warm, very comfortable.

Aran sweaters - irish wool sweaters are very water-repellent, tend to be woven thick so they are very warm. more of a traditional wool, somewhat more itch. an interesting substitute for a mid-weight fleece.

more than you ever needed to know.

June 18, 2018
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