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Merino wool: the unicorn of textiles

I don't know about you, but for me, the idea of wool is associated with scratchy, bulky socks with no shape, and thick, heavy sweaters. I definitely don't think of wool as lightweight, comfy, breathable active wear. So, when base layers made of merino wool hit the outdoor gear scene a few years back, I have to admit, I was skeptical. Seriously? Wool?

Yes, actually. It took a little while, but I'll admit it: the stuff is actually pretty incredible.

Photo by Icebreaker

What exactly is merino wool, and why doesn't it itch like other wool?

Merino wool is derived from a different breed of sheep than traditional wool. For a little perspective, the diameter of wool fibers is measured in microns. Traditional wool strands typically have a diameter of around 40 microns, while merino wool is much finer, measuring a maximum of 24 microns and sometimes even under 15. The finer the wool, the softer the material.

The prickliness of traditional wool is mostly due to its larger diameter. Because merino fibers are much smaller in diameter, they bend, rather than prickle, when the fabric touches the skin. This creates a smoother, softer feel.

Photo by Outer Sports

Merino keeps you warm...and cool

It's no secret that wool in general has great insulation capabilities, even when it gets wet. Merino is no exception: merino base layers provide an excellent layer of warmth in colder temperatures. However, unlike other breeds of sheep, merino sheep have spent centuries adapting to extreme heat as well as extreme cold (5F to 95F) in the mountains of New Zealand. The fibers of merino wool react to body temperature and the surrounding environment, helping to keep you cool when it's hot.

Merino doesn't stink

No, really! Unlike polyester and other synthetic fabrics, merino wool won't smell after a long hike, bike ride, or trip to the gym. When worn next to the skin, merino wool absorbs odor-causing molecules, stopping the odor from leaving its immediate environment and preventing unpleasant body odors. Merino, by nature, is insanely breathable due its ability to absorb and wick away moisture, allowing air to pass through its fibers more freely and thus preventing the odors caused by sweat.

Other benefits of merino wool

In addition to resisting odors and adapting to changes, merino has other benefits over its synthetic alternatives. Merino is biodegradable, and will decompose over the course of nine months or so, whereas synthetic materials take 30-40 years to break down naturally. Wool is also flame resistant and does not melt or stick when exposed to extreme temperatures.

The Final Verdict

Moral of the story? We've extensively product-tested Merino wool, and the general consensus is, it's pretty amazing.

Check out a few of our favorite merino wool products, and visit our shop for many more styles!

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