If you’ve ever had the privilege of getting inside the soft and reassuringly warm cosiness of a Merino wool garment, you will understand why it’s such a favourite in the outdoor scene. Aside from all the comforting qualities provided by our woolly friends, Merino wool clothing has the incredible ability to be sweated in for days and still not take on the unwanted stench of our hard working bodies. Sounds a little like magic, right? Well, it’s no coincidence that merino is referred to as the miracle wool, and I was a little sceptical too before I jumped on the bandwagon of active wool wearers. But don’t take my word for it, there’s science behind this witchcraft, so before you go following the herd take a read of the hard facts:
One of the most notable features of merino wool fabric is it’s ability to stay odour free for much longer than synthetic fibres. Sweat doesn’t come out of our bodies smelling bad; the stench comes from the opportunistic bacteria that feast on the fats and salts in our sweat. This is where merino wool really steps up… every fibre of the wool contains natural antimicrobial properties which inhibit the growth of those hungry bacteria, leaving us odour-free for days or even weeks at a time – ideal for long camping and trekking trips.
The natural crimp of merino wool creates loads of miniature pockets of air between it’s fibres. These air pockets are great at providing extra insulation in the cold. But it’s not just the winter wanderers who turn to merino for protection against the elements; the miracle wool also has the ability to keep you cool in hot conditions. Merino fabric can hold moisture in its fibres that evaporates as your body heats up. This evaporation cools the air between the fabric and your body, thus cooling you! Pretty technical, so check this out for a more in depth and scientific explanation.
The idea that fabric is ‘breathable’ conjures up images in my brain of a holey meshy heap of threads that lets as much air in as out. So for those who hold a similar image of the process, picture your clothes exhaling, rather than breathing. The ‘exhalation’ of your garment takes with it excess moisture from the air between it and you, and moves it to the outside air. The smartness of merino wool doesn’t stop there; the fibres also have the ability to absorb and store up to 30% of their weight in moisture before your clothes start feeling wet. Now my mind is completely blown!
Compared with normal sheep wool, the fibres of merino wool are much finer – around half as thick. Such fineness means that they flex much more easily when in contact with your skin, reducing impact, and thus minimising the itch factor. Ideal to wear directly on your skin without having to endure the irritation that we usually associate with woolly clothing. That said, merino clothing doesn’t suit everyone, so for those with more sensitive skin, it’s worth testing the ‘non-itch’ claims before committing to your purchase.
As well as the ability to move moisture vapour away from your body, merino fibres can also wick away moisture in its liquid state, and as we know, it holds water well within the fibres. The only downside to this is that merino garments don’t dry as quickly as synthetic garments of the same weight.
To top it all off, merino wool is made from keratin, a natural protein that is also in our hair and skin. So not only do merino wool fabrics excel in protecting our active bodies from the elements in a non-smelly way, they are also biodegradable, from a renewable source and recyclable! Really, what’s not to like about this wonder wool?
Magic merino clothing
Now that you’re in the know, here are a few of our favourite items that we can’t live without:
Long-sleeved Icebreaker thermal top
You can’t beat the snug fit of a simple long-sleeved base layer. Stick a windbreaker over the top for hiking or add on multiple layers in colder conditions. This item is a must for almost all outdoor scenarios – if you’re going to start your love affair with merino clothing somewhere, then make it here.
Howies merino underpants
Now I’m not condoning over-wearing underwear, but if you’re really trying to limit the load of your backpack, then you’ll definitely get away with wearing these bad boys for more than a couple of days without the need to wash them. The idea of it will probably seem more dirty than you actually are, and if you keep on top of your personal hygiene, you can enjoy laundry fresh undies after each body wash.
If the multifunctionality of this clever tube of cloth isn’t enough to feature on your outdoor gear list, then Buff’s merino range might make you think again. The non-itch properties of the fabric are essential in providing unrivalled comfort when hugging tightly to your neck, face and head, and the temperature controlling capabilities of the wool make the merino Buff an obvious choice above synthetic or cotton Buffs.
Howies merino t-shirt
If it’s too cool for a vest but warm enough to expose your forearms to the elements, it’s likely you’ll be doing a fair amount of sweating in a merino wool t-shirt. Where the stink of synthetic fitted t-shirts leave you constantly conscious of overly exuberant arm gestures, this Howies thermal base layer will have you gesticulating your heart out without a care for odour sharing.
Icebreaker merino hooded zip up
This hooded merino Icebreaker zip up can be worn as a super versatile mid-layer with underarm ventilation, or as a slim fitting outer layer over a long-sleeved thermal top. The hood can be worn under helmets, or if it’s really cold, as a second layer under a hat or another hood.
Merino People Socks
Now if there’s one thing that can make or break a hiking trip, it’s your footwear. Sure, having great boots is important, but even the most expensive, well-fitting boots will be rendered useless if your socks aren’t up to scratch. For the sweaty footed hiker, the moisture wicking properties of merino socks will help prevent unwanted blistering and chafing between the toes, and of course they step up to the challenge of stench control too.
Although merino clothing is the go to choice for outdoor active wear, it most certainly has it’s place in the post adventure wardrobes of the outdoor obsessed. So glam it up your with the practical warmth and comfort of a colourful merino fashion accessory.
Merino beanie hat
Even worse than the incessant itch of a thick woolly jumper, is an itchy woolly hat. Just when you need cosy comfort the most, the irritation can leave you taking the hit of cold air to the head over dealing with the persistent prickliness. Queue the merino beanie hat; it solves the itch problem without compromising on warmth, as with many hats made from man-made fibres.
Merino kids trousers
Not just for grown ups, merino clothing is also an ideal choice for active kids to hand down through the family. Tough and hard wearing, these super long merino trousers by Love My Smalls, are designed to fit your little ones for up to two years of growth, going from trouser to legging. Yet more merino magic!