Differences in Merino Wool
Wool or Merino wool, what’s the difference? Whether in combat situations or civilian, it’s important to have a rugged, durable uniform. Wool compared to synthetic layers tends to be odor resistant and helps repel moisture while wicking it away from skin, but Merino wool is unique.
What is Merino wool?
Merino wool comes directly from Merino sheep from Australia and New Zealand. These sheep are one of the world’s oldest breeds of sheep and the toughest. Merino sheep thrived where other sheep would succumb to the elements, making them one of the hardiest breeds of sheep.
Merino wool is uncommon because it is naturally finer and smaller than regular wool and can be made into ultra-finely woven materials.
Insulating and breathable
You don’t want clothing to make you sweat more than usual. Merino wool is breathable in the summer and during winter it will insulate. Merino can transport moisture in vapor state from an area of higher humidity to an area of lower humidity. The more breathable a wool is, the better it is at removing moisture from a microclimate—that space between your skin and your clothing. Essentially, as your body heats, sweat will be absorbed by Merino wool and released into a drier area outside the clothing. This keeps you dry and more comfortable.
When the temperature drops, Merino wool can use moisture absorbed from your environment to generate heat thanks to millions of crimped fibers that contain air pockets that can conserve your body heat and keep you warm. This is excellent in preventing overheating in the cold which can lead to hypothermia. Merino wool can absorb up to 30% of dry weight before starting to feel damp. Most synthetic fibers only absorb 7%, making this a wonderful choice for an outdoor adventure.
This wool is made from interlocking protein molecules called keratin, (which is also in our own skin and hair) which makes individual fibers bend, flex, as well as stretch in any direction 30,000 times more without damage. Since wool is a natural fiber it also has a natural curl, called “fiber crimp,” which improves the stretch and resilience. Merino wool is tougher than standard sheep’s wool because Merino sheep had to adapt to extreme temperatures.
Standard wool clothing tends to be coarse and can cause the sensation of itching or scratching against skin. That’s the last thing you need when you’ve got better things to worry about. Merino wool can stay itch-free due to its super fine fiber micron count. Merino wool that is 17.5 to 15.5 microns is the absolute softest and most comfortable. Compare that to average wool, which can be 18.5 to 25 microns which can cause the itchiness and irritation as well as chaffing.
Merino wool is unyielding when it encounters the odor-causing bacteria ammonia. Moist environments are the number one reason odor occurs. Material that keeps sweat and dampness helps the bacteria to thrive which causes the reaction that breaks down the bacteria that lives on our skin turning into acids, and thus, odor. Merino wool is constant in drawing moisture away from the body which prevents sweat molecules from forming then bonding to the surface of clothing.
Natural wool versus synthetic fibers/p>
While synthetic fibers such as polyester tends to be more durable than Merino wool, synthetic materials aren’t odor resistant. Synthetic fibers aren’t as breathable either, holding your body heat in and making you feel hotter than natural wool. You’ll find yourself sweating faster and more in fabrics made from polypropylene, polyester, spandex, or Lycra to name a few.
Manufactured materials or clothing may dry faster than wool yet lack any of the anti-microbial or moisture vapor wicking advantages of Merino. Activewear made from fabricated materials and clothing tends to pick up smells and hold them. There are some synthetic fiber materials that can be purchased which are anti-odor treated, but this treatment can’t last forever between multiple washings. Eventually man-made material begins to smell musty and that smell will no longer wash out.
If the sensation of fabric is important to you, Merino wool will most definitely feel softer and more natural compared to other synthetics which may feel almost plastic.
Untreated polyester clothing is a more affordable option if price point is important to you. The higher quality the wool, especially Merino, the more it costs. But the benefits of Merino wool may far outweigh the price of polyester depending on what you want and need out of a good piece of clothing or gear.
- Odor resistant
- Fire resistant, does not melt or stick to skin.
- Anti-static and wrinkle resistant.
- Can be an Ultraviolet Protection Factor of 50+ depending on the weave.
Busting the wool myth
There’s a common belief that wool in general, even Merino wool, is a warmer material than polyester. That’s, unfortunately, an incorrect and inaccurate statement. For example, polyester doesn’t allow any exchange of air—it doesn’t have airflow. When you work hard or play hard in polyester your sweat gets trapped in the air the material keeps close to your body, making you damp. Merino wool’s porous nature allows that sweat to vaporize and flow through the material, both cooling and drying sweat.
Is Merino Wool worth it?
Yes and no. It entirely depends. As a hunter on extended trips you’ll need to consider how long the trip is as well as what environs you’ll be experiencing on that trip. Will you be undergoing constant rain or facing water? How much will you need to carry and what is your weight limit? If you’re a hiking fanatic or stuck in rocky terrain Merino wool doesn’t have the same surface durability that synthetics do. Constant friction, snags, and jagged surfaces will wear down the wool. These factors will all influence whether Merino wool is right for you.
Merino wool is the best choice for layering, requiring breathability, comfort, and extreme conditions. It exceeds at regulating body temperature or when you need layers. When you need to pack light and be mobile Merino wool clothing is the best choice as it can be worn several times without building odor.
The choice is ultimately up to you. There’s a tool for every job. Merino wool may just be the right tool to keep you warm, comfortable or cool wherever you are, whatever you do.