Why Merino Wool is so Revolutionary and Good for Base Layers

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Merino sheep wool from New Zealand, Australia and South America are leading a new wool revolution. Merino wool’s capabilities of absorption, breathability, and impact on the environment compared to the synthetic market’s alternatives are exciting.

Great for Sensitive Skin

When most of us hear “wool,” we probably begin to think of an old sweater we used to have, or a thick pair of scratchy, uncomfortable socks. Your skin may even begin to itch in memory. Merino wool laying against skin won’t irritate your skin. It’s softer and smoother than other wool making it much more comfortable to have as a base layer.

If you aren’t explicitly allergic to wool, those with skin conditions or sensitive skin may find that not only does Merino wool not irritate it, but possibly could help in certain situations.

Clinical studies of the effects of superfine Merino wool on children with atopic dermatitis found that the superfine wool reduced severity of the dermatitis. Eczema affected areas were found statistically improved and skin dryness was not changed. Wearing Merino wool didn’t appear to produce any negative effects compared to standard clothing.

Like any other wool, Merino wool contains lanolin. Lanolin is a pale-yellow natural oil found in sheep’s fleece. Not only does that help in waterproofing the wool, but lanolin is widely used in pharmaceutical industries. Since lanolin is chemically like the oils secreted by human skin, it can be softening to the skin and help prevent drying or cracking.

You need materials that won’t rub, chafe or cause a reaction to be able to tackle any situation you may find yourself in. Merino wool is the best choice for preventing that.

Traps heat, keeps dry even during extreme chill

When you need to survive negative temperatures regardless of where you are or what you are doing, you need two things: material that traps a layer of still air against your skin and a layer that doesn’t keep moisture trapped on your body. Base layers that keep in excessive sweat and can’t wick away moisture cause it to stay in contact with your skin, creating that clammy feeling as well as losing precious body heat. In such climates like this, you need every bit of body heat as well as keeping dry to fight hypothermia. Merino wool base layers do exactly that, turning surplus moisture into vapor by allowing it to easily pass through fibers, yet are so well woven together as to keep that body-heated air trapped.

Cool down in Summer

That layer of trapped air that can keep you warm in winter can do the opposite during the highest temps in summer, too. Merino wool activewear can be woven incredibly light. As it wicked away moisture in the winter, it’ll do the exact same thing in the heat. As you sweat, moisture evaporates. Wearing synthetically made fabrics are often not breathable, meaning they trap the moisture next to your skin—which can not only cause a rash, chafing, and odor—it means that the sweat can’t evaporate, thus losing that cooling down that Merino wool offers.

Protection from the Sun

Wool can absorb radiation even when completely untreated and Merino wool is no different. Depending on the weave, thickness, and type of wool fabric, you can find an assortment of UPF protection. Some UPF ratings for Merino wool run from 1/25th (4%) of UV radiation allowed to pass through it, to 1/50th (2%) of UV permitted.

Factors that can increase Merino Wool UPF Rating:

  • Density. Thick, tightly woven wool will minimize the amount of UV light reaching your skin.
  • Dye. What color the Merino wool you wear is important as well. Darker colors absorb more rays. Vibrant colors tend to outperform pale colors.
  • Treatments. Chemically treated Merino wool or wool dyes can be added to enhance the UPF even further.
  • Style. Merino wool clothing with sun collars, extended cuffs, broad brim hats, and neck capes reduce the areas in which UV can radiate.
  • Fast dry. Damp or wet clothing can cause a serious drop in a garments UPF rating. Since Merino wool is naturally water repellent, there’s a greater chance you and your gear stay dry.

Waterproof

No matter what nature throws at you, snow or rain, the need to be able to keep dry is critical. Lanolin within Merino wool is also a completely organic water repellent. The superfine weave of Merino wool also keeps a layer of air next to the skin, but because of that weave it makes it able to absorb 30% of its weight in water before it starts to leak through. A second layer of base made of Merino wool would only add to its water-resistant capabilities.

Mold, mildew, and odor resistant

Whether you’re out camping, on an extended hunt, or in the middle of nowhere, a washer and dryer are pretty much nonexistent. You may find yourself having to wash your Merino wool base layers wherever you can find a place to. The lanolin in Merino Wool that keeps it waterproof and soft against the skin is also antimicrobial, killing the bacteria in sweat, mold or mildew that creates unwanted odors. This is especially important for your own comfort and health when you simply cannot afford to waste water on hand.

Extreme adaptability

Merino wool is 100% natural. It is adaptable in any climate. Merino wool will keep you warm even when wet and is a healthier product that doesn’t release any toxins. Wool doesn’t include any microfiber plastics, unlike man-made textiles. A significant portion of the plastic pollution affecting our environment right now is our synthetic clothing, which makes you wonder just what all that microfiber plastic might be doing to our skin. You don’t have to worry about that with Merino wool and you can wear it anywhere, any time.

Durable

Fire resistance is a plus when you don’t know what you will face. It is notoriously difficult to ignite Merino wool. If it does burn, it will self-extinguish forming a disappearing soft ash residue. Synthetic fibers if ignited create molten hot, hard beads with the melt-drip behavior. That behavior puts your health and skin in even greater danger, and it will adhere to skin causing severe burns.

The cellular structure of Merino wool makes it extremely flexible. Cortical cells have a complex interior structure making the smallest component in these cells into a spring-like format. This shape gives wool its flexibility, elasticity, resilience and wrinkle resistance. It is this matrix which also creates the wool’s fire resistant, anti-static properties.

Not only is Merino wool environmentally friendly it can keep your body dry in whatever weather you encounter, can keep you warm, cool, and dry. Its natural anti-microbial factors along with the absorption of the elements make this fabric as rugged as any situation you could find yourself facing. Merino wool’s wealth of usefulness appears specifically made to make it the best choice for base layers when you really need them.

Sources:

https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1111/bjd.15376

https://www.sciencelearn.org.nz/resources/875-wool-fibre-properties

https://journals.lww.com/dermatitis/Fulltext/2019/05000/Effects_of_Merino_Wool_on_Atopic_Dermatitis_Using.4.aspx#

http://www.chemistryexplained.com/Di-Fa/Fats-and-Fatty-Acids.html

https://www.skincancer.org/prevention/sun-protection/clothing/protection



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