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Merino Wool 101

Merino Wool 101

It doesn’t matter if you’re a kayaker paddling the Prince William Sound, a backpacker in the Ocala National Forest, or simply a commuter in the rain: if you’re an individual dealing with the elements, you need to introduce Merino wool into your wardrobe.

 

WHAT IS IT, AND HOW DOES IT WORK?

 

In simplest terms, it is the wool of a Merino sheep. It’s a finely crimped, soft fiber with some pretty cool characteristics, such as temperature regulation, warmth retention, and antibacterial properties.

The wool wicks away moisture to keep you from feeling damp in warm or cold weather. Unlike cotton, wool retains warmth, even when wet, to help stave off hypothermia on cold, damp treks. The fibers also have tiny pockets of “dead air,” which provide phenomenal insulation. But this insulation isn’t a one-way street: You can beat the heat and stay cool in wool, even in the summer. Just choose a thinner piece that’s looser fitting.

Even when warm and damp, however, you won’t have to worry about nasty bacteria causing odor. The wool contains lanolin, a natural wax with antibacterial properties. On a sheep, it helps shed water (similar to a Durable Water Repellent on your favorite rain gear) and prevents skin infections. Much of the lanolin is removed during processing, of course, but enough remains on the finished product to protect against mildew and bacteria. With bacteria unable to flourish, the fabric doesn’t smell, meaning one article of clothing can go days at a time without being washed.

Merino is also one of the softest varieties of wool available because of its fine fibers. These tiny fibers, some as small as 11.5 microns in diameter, make wool as soft and comfortable as your favorite cotton clothes, but with all the benefits of Merino.

 

WHAT ABOUT IMPACT AND FOOTPRINT?

 

For the environmentally conscious shopper, Merino is also a top choice. Wool is a sustainable, natural, biodegradable, and compostable fiber, so even after it’s time to retire a favorite piece, wearers will feel good knowing it has a low environmental impact. Two of our top-selling brands, Icebreaker and Smartwool, are dedicated to the fair, ethical treatment of both employees and sheep, and both are committed to sustainable practices to minimize impact on the environment. You can even look on the companies’ websites and see their manufacturing and supply chains.