Overview of Merino Wool
Merino wool clothing has rapidly become a favorite of lightweight backpackers because it provides a high degree of utility over a wide temperature range, it has excellent moisture transfer, and doesn’t "stink" like synthetics.
Merino wool also has safety advantages. It is fire resistant, maintains its warmth even when wet, and provides high UV protection.
Because of the numerous performance advantages merino wool has over polyester and polypropylene synthetics it provides better comfort when worn next to skin.
Merino wool provides superior temperature regulation. Millions of tiny air pockets in the fabric trap air and lock in body heat. In a warm environment merino wool keeps the body cool through the process of "cooling by evaporation."
Merino is much finer than traditional wool, and is technically more complex than synthetics.
Tiny overlapping scales case the fiber. They are hydrophobic(water resistant), like tiles on a roof. Inside it is a different story – the fiber is highly absorbent.
Merino is the most hydrophillic of all fibers and can absorb and release 10X more moisture than synthetics. Each fiber can absorb up to one third of its own weight in moisture into the atmosphere to keep you feeling warm and dry.
Merino wool shares the same building blocks as human skin – keratin. This is one of the reasons why merino wool feels so good against your skin. It is the keratin in merino that also makes it naturally fire resistant.
No itch – the fine merino fibers do not have the "barbs" that traditional wool has. That is why merino wool does not itch.
No odor – the natural and anti-microbial properties of merino wool clothing prevent the build-up of bacteria that cause other clothing to smell.
Breathable – merino clothing pulls moisture away from your body. Synthetic fibers do not breathe – they are made from petrochemicals which are impermeable to water so the only escape route for body heat is through the fabric structure.
Annually Renewable and Biodegradable
Each merino sheep creates about 5 merino sweaters a year. Once a year the animal is shorn and returned unharmed to the hills where it begins growing its wool coat again.
Because merino wool is 100% natural it is biodegradable and will return over time to its constituent properties.
Merino Clothing As A Layering System
Layer 2 or 3 pieces, and you have a lightweight system. The layers work together as one, rather than against each other. Each individual layer is highly breathable, and together the combined layers remain highly breathable. The fibers lock together, creating one wind resistant garment.
Cotton is a poor choice for a base layer. Cotton gets wet and stays wet. Polypropylene is typically the least expensive and dries fast. However, polypropylene tends to "smell" very bad, very quickly. Producers of polypropylene base layers have attempted to control the "smell" problem using numerous different techniques, all of which don’t work, or don’t work very well in our opinion.
We believe that base layers made from merino wool provide superior performance. Merino wool base layers wick well, provide good thermal regulation, resist fire, and don’t stink like polypropylene base layers. Merino wool base layers are being made out of lightweight fabric. We really like fabric that weighs 200 grams per meter for cool weather, and the newer 150 gram, and 140 gram "super fine" material for warmer temperatures.
Super fine Merinos are regarded as having the finest and softest wool of any sheep. Superfine fibers are fibers that are less than 18 microns in diameter.