Wool, Wool, Wool

A big, big buyer’s guide to all the wool apparel you can handle.

By Brian Litz

The roots of today’s wool renaissance lie in primarily in merino socks and base layers. Certainly in North America much credit for this resurgence goes to SmartWool’s original line of merino ski socks, which debuted in the early mid 1990s. While down under, IceBreaker, at roughly the same time, envisioned a merino-based, layered clothing system. Since those early days, merino based products of all sorts have proliferated. The rise of merino has had the added benefit of increasing interest in more standard lamb’s wool.

Ibex Shak Full Zip ($150.00; www.ibexwear.com)

All merino, the Shak’s 390gms/meter fabric is knit to yield a light, dense fabric with a softly rugged outer face. Shaks, a family of styles within the Ibex herd, straddle the fence-line separating pure outdoor clothing and adventurous urban wear. Shaks are supremely versatile and would be a welcome addition to any wardrobe. I own several Shaks and I live in them (I have even been known to sleep in them). The Full Zip model is my new favorite model and features a zip chest pocket.

Ibex El Fito ¾ Bike Knickers ($125; www.ibexwear.com)

Whether you’re peddling over asphalt or up an all-terrain ascent, the El Fito is an antidote for the over-logo’d synthetics worn by most riders. A ¾ length tight, El Fitos are fabricated out of 13 individual fabric pieces for a 4-way stretch, supportive, high performance fit. Several fabrics are used too: merino/nylon/lycra body, polyester/spandex seat and rear legs, and, Ibex’s Climawool, wool-backed softshell over the knees.

Ortovox SuperSoft ($72; www.ortovox.com)

Available for both men and women, Supersoft is just that—a blended next-to-skin fabric with the feel of the softest cotton. The garments—and fabric’s—secret ingredient is Swiss-based Lenzing’s Modal fiber. Derived from beech tree wood, once blended into the wool, Modal gives Supersoft a virtual cotton-like hand. While merino is relatively itch free, Supersoft is great for those with hypersensitive skin, or, for anyone looking for a high performance, absorbing shirt with zero itch.

Ortovox Men130 ($64; www.ortovox.com)

At 130 grams per square meter, the fabric used in this breezy, featherweight shirt is the lightest pure merino available. If you’re looking for wool suitable for aerobic activities and warm-weather usage, Ortovox 130 rules. The long-sleeved, crew neck is my go-to base layer for spring ski-touring when the sun is blazing—it’s breathable and great for protecting your skin against the sun’s rays. You will need to exercise a bit of caution when using this gossamer fabric—you’ll want to avoid off-width cracks at Vedauwoo and cactus-bashing through canyon country without wearing some type of protective out layer.

Ortovox Hut Slippers ($79; www.ortovox.com)

The embodiment of old school Alpine chic, these hut slippers are a holdover from Dachstein, the storied Austrian wool manufacturer purchased by Ortovox years ago, Dachstein built the “boiled” wool mittens and socks preferred by Himalayan climbers throughout the 1960s and 70s. This classic, simple slippers are warm and lightweight, and are a perfect companion for padding around the hut (or house) after a long day in the boots.

Patagonia W’s Merino 1 Crew ($90; www.patagonia.com)

Patagonia’s spin on next-to-skin wool winds—or wraps—merino wool around a linear polyester core making for a light yet tough base layer. One of the dominant players in the synthetic base layer world Patagonia created this blended fiber as a way to bring together the best performance attributes of both worlds. Holding true to Patagonia’s commitment to the environment, the Merino 1 Crew not only is recyclable through their “common threads” program but also features chlorine-free wool.

Patagonia M’s Felton Wool Hoody ($160; www.patagonia.com)

Recycled synthetics are common. Recycled wool is not. Add the two together and you arrive at the Felton Hoody, a relaxed hoody fabricated out of 100% recycled fibers. Despite the garment’s low-key, Baja demeanor, the Felton Hoody is fully technical enough and tough enough for the most demanding backcountry duty. Features include a large kangaroo pocket and a big ol’ hood.

I/O Bio Women’s Contact Top ($29; www.io-bio.com)

I/O Bio is the offspring of Michelle. Never heard of them? Neither had I. For the uninitiated actuality is the largest processor of merino wool globally. Not only do they the produce wools of the highest standard for fashion companies like Prada and Armani, but they also have a patented “low-torque” spinning process that allows them to create some of the softest merino wool available. A standout, and one of their best selling styles—the contact top is a 100% merino wool sports bra.

I/O Bio Women’s Tupa Hoody ($130; www.io-bio.com)

When in hand, the Tupa Hoody continued to turn heads with its cotton sweatshirt-like hand—or “feel”. The Tupa uses a boucle merino fabric. Their boucle has a luscious, ultra soft fleece face set against the skin. The more tight-woven outer face, while still being very soft, is more meant to ward of the effects of play. A fun, yet gorgeous piece, the Tupa was one of the standouts in the round up. Thumb loops, a kangaroo pocket, and generous hood come standard.

I/O Bio Men’s Track Jacket ($130; www.io-bio.com)

The light yet tightly knit, and aptly named, Track jacket is a four-season workhorse and a mid-layer as utilitarian as a cast-iron skillet. Wear it to warm-up or warm down when running, nordic skiing, or stretching. Use it as a light jacket cruising around town on foot or bike. When downhill or backcountry skiing, wear it as light sweater over base layers.

Arcteryx Gothic Cardigan ($225; www.arcteryx.com)

The Gothic Cardigan’s gorgeous, street-savvy wool outer hides its highly technical, softshell heart. What you see outside is a handsome, cleanly street designed wool jacket perfect for a night out on the town. Hidden underneath however is a robust, fully technical softshell nearly impenetrable to weather and wind. At home in the city or the slopes, the Gothic’s weather resistance  is nearly impenetrable.

Arcteryx Rho LTW Zip ($99: www.arcteryx.com)

From the most cutting-edged hardshell to staples such as long underwear, everything Arcteryx makes is smarly-made, stripped of unnecessary bells & whistles, and finished with fanatic attention to detail. A great example is their wool offering: Rho LTW pants and tops are made with a beautiful, moderately thick wool. Wool enhanced with just a touch of Lycra for added structure and stretch.

Smartwool Training Glove ($40: www.smartwool.com)

SmartWool Training Glove

While there are many wool and wool-line gloves on the market, few rival the octopus-like grip afforded by Smartwool Training Glove. Sporting silicone gripper dots across the palm and fingers these gloves will keep you positively attached to cold, slippery things such steering wheels, frosty stoves winter camping, ice axes, and skating poles.

Smartwool M’s Ramazing L/S Jersey ($160: www.smartwool.com)

Smartwool’s Ramazing biking jersey is an ideal top for a cool fall day riding Independence Pass or the Monarch Crest Trail.  Although the Ramazing is full-zip, it is still more shirt than jacket. Layer it over a thin base layer or under a wind shell for colder temps. Great looking and replete with all of the features you’ll need for a day in the saddle, wear the Ramazing and you’ll never wear a synthetic bike top again.

Smartwool M’s Microlight Boxer ($45; www.smartwool.com)

SmartWool Microlight Boxer

Spend enough days out in the field and you’ll soon come to appreciate the natural anti-odor benefits of wool. These wool boxers are a Godsend in particular when worn skiing, boating, hiking, anything.

Powderhorn Buffalo Bill jacket ($195; www.powderhornworld.com)

Recently reborn, Powderhorn’s Buffalo Jacket pays homage to the original alpine-cowpoke chic this Wyoming company pioneered in the 1970s. With a thick, fleece fabric blended from four fibers—wool, cotton, acrylic, and nylon—the aptly-named Buffalo Bill jacket is as at home out riding fences across the high-plains as it is riding rails inbounds at Jackson Hole. Described by one female tester as having a “slimming cut”, bucolic utility is assured with the Buffalo’s metal-snap cuffs and shirt pockets, large zippered hand-warmer pockets, and tall collar.

Powderhorn Bob Hunter Zip T-neck ($109; www.powderhornworld.com)

Less “western” than many of Powderhorn’s more western-inspired duds, the Bob Hunter is a sporty, contemporary take on the classic lighter mid-weight merino zip-t. Clean lines with contrasting stitching give a personality that is as at home alpine skiing or going for a cross-country run through autumn aspen.

Mammut Men’s Warm Quality Zip-T ($95; www.mammut.com)

Founded in 1862, Mammut began life building premium quality climbing ropes, climbing gear, and technically advanced mountaineering and ski clothing. Following suit, their new Warm Quality Zip-T is built out of a trio of Symbios fabrics, each made of a unique knit and wool/synthetic blend. Then, utilizing “body mapping” patterning, the fabrics are built into the garment in such a way as to maximize their performance. Warmer, higher wool content materials go into the kidney and lower back areas, Higher synthetic percentage fabrics—with their greater wicking capabilities—go into the pits and other areas of maximum sweat. Reasonably priced and yet very capable, Mammut new “wool” offerings are a welcome addition to the flock.

Mammut Men’s Pants 3/4 All-Year ($55; www.mammut.com)

Lighter in weight overall, All-Year Mammut long johns are best for warmer condition, including summer usage, as well as for faster-paced, aerobic activities. I like their ¾ length “boot” cut bottoms for use with today’s high-top backcountry and alpine ski boots. Especially for those of use with big calves, boot cut pants eliminate the bunching that can occur at calf height between socks and long underwear.

Outdoor Research M’s Manifesto jacket ($140; www.outdoorresearch.com)

Outdoor Research’s take on the sporty hoody, the Manifesto jacket uses a plush 35% wool/65% synthetic blend fabric (EpicWool- trademarked) suitable as a mid-layer sweater or as a lighter fleece jacket.  While still providing great insulation and warmth, the Manifetso synthetic fibers allow it to dry more quickly relative to straight wool while also providing superb breathability while you’re in motion.

Outdoor Research W’s Reva Sweater ($99; www.outdoorresearch.com)

Like the manifesto, OR’s eye-catching Reva full-zip sweater features a blended fabric called Alpin-Wool  (trademarked). Smoother faced and with a tighter knit, the Reva is a really versatile jacket that can be worn year-round as a mid-layer or an insulating jacket with moderate wind protection. The Reva is also lighter making it better for whenever you need a little additional warmth in a tougher, more streamlined unobtrusive package. Ideal worn over a t-shirt or light base layers and better for more abusive conditions like rock climbing on a cool day.

Outdoor Research M’s Fervor L/S Tee ($60; www.outdoorresearch.com)

In contrast to most merino wool base layer blends, which generally add a bit of synthetic fibers to a mostly wool fabric, the Fervor T inverts that formula using a trademarked wool/synthetic blend built primarily of synthetics with 12% wool. Dri-release also incorporates Freshguard odor neutralization. The Fervor feels very soft and cotton-like yet moves moisture very effectively. Fervors are excellent all-day, do anything shirts. While I feel the Fervor can be worn year-round, especially in the alpine world, several OR staff felt the added wool could add a bit too much warmth for some people for summer usage.

Outdoor Research ExtraVert Glove ($59; www.outdoorresearch.com)

I love not only this glove. Gorgeous goatskin leather palms, a stretchy softshell top, a blended EpicWool lining, and, a clean design add up to a classic glove that anyone would enjoy and use. I’ve lived in these gloves, as well as the non-insulated version called the Vert, and can’t wear ‘em out. Highly recommended.

Mountain Hardwear Pumari Cardigan ($160; www.mountainhardwear.com)

This unique sweater was the spark for this entire round up. The Pumari uses a yarn spun from merino wool and Primaloft. Primaloft is a synthetic insulation more commonly known for its use in jackets, gloves, and sleeping bags where is cut from sheets or bats. In this case, the Primaloft material is spun together with wool to create a yarn that is then knit into a sweater. In addition to adding great warmth, while reducing weight, Primaloft also helps the Pumari to rid itself of water, when wet. The Pumari is a lovely sweater that is deceptively technical. If there is one sweater that can go straight for the slopes to an evening in town, this is it.

Mountain Hardwear Cliffer ($55; www.mountainhardwear.com)

Mountain Hardwear’s take on a breezy, high-performance T, utilizing Dri-release wool/synthetic blended fabric. I do find synthetic blends “cooler” to the touch with a very slinky, shimmer-y feel to them. Dri-release is very comfortable against the skin and works well layered as a buffer between heavier, and scratchier, sweaters—allowing mid and out layers to move easily over your skin. Rich colors and nice Hardwear details make for a very appealing shirt.

Icebreaker ASCENT ZIP ($200; www.icebreaker.com)

Icebreaker is one of the companies that really stoked the recent wool revival fires. Headquartered in the heart of merino wool country (New Zealand), means they also know a thing or two about wool. Their Ascent Zip is a modern zip sweater with a dash of old school race sweater built in. Bold colors; bright reds, blues, grays—as well as black—create a fast-forward visual look. The Ascent’s 320-weight fabric lay on warmer end of the base layer spectrum placing it in the light sweater/expedition weight long underwear category. Whether out etching lines into the corduroy or kick-and-gliding on the Nordic trails, the Ascent Zip is a first-rate garment.

Icebreaker  L/S VELOCITY ZIP ($90; www.icebreaker.com)

The Velocity is Icebreaker’s lightest base layer and one that with its body-hugging silhouette and superior venting is their best next-to-skin piece for hard workouts and high intensity sports. The body-hugging Velocity is built out of numerous pieces of pure merino wool fitted together with precision. Merino panels, made more breathable with a more porous weave; placed along your sides and under the forearms, increase air movement. Other key features included a deep front zip and a clever little hidden pocket for keys or a small mp3 player.

Marmot Corvara ($250; www.marmot.com)

Marmot Corvara

Marmot’s Corvara is another softshell-type outerwear hybrid. The bulk of the Corvara is built from a laminated wool softshell. More traditional softshell materials are spliced into key areas for added stretch and durability—such as in the forearms and shoulders. Overall, the Corvara is more than tough enough for the most rigorous and destructive activities. Think ice climbing. Reasonably breathable, the Corvara, on the Marmot scale, is classified as one of their most weather-resistant softshells. Rounding out this already multifaceted jacket are a stretch drop liner, two-zippered handwarmer pockets, one chest pocket and internal security pocket.

Bridgedale Control Fit ($22; www.bridgedale.com)

Having built socks for Irish soldiers fighting in the trenches during World War 1, Bridgedale understands the hellish things we do to our feet. Still knit in Ireland, using the most advanced machinery available, Bridgedale’s Control Fit alpine ski sock boasts maximum needle-count per inch, WoolFusion yarns featuring a synthetic yarn wound around a merino wool core, “friction free zones”, as well a differential knitting capable of three different density zones. Created for comfort as well as a seamless performance interface between foot and boot liner, Control Fits are unsurpassed ski equipment for the feet.

Bridgedale Control Fit

Bridgedale Ultra Fit ($25; www.bridgedale.com)

Bridgedale Ultra Fit, with their sheer construction, are one of my favorites general purpose ski touring socks. Under normal Rocky Mountain conditions and when using plastic alpine touring or tele boots, I just don’t need that thick of a sock. Rather, I prefer one that is thin. This is because I just don’t need that much warmth (especially in spring) and I find that a thinner sock helps “lubricate” the moving foot. Also, because boot liners, through usage, gain volume as the foam packs out, I like to start with as thin of a sock as possible when getting molding done. Bridgedale Ultra Fits, which were formally a pure synthetic sock, now blended from 38% merino, 38% Enduraphyl polypro, 22% nylon, and 2% Lycra. A bit pricey yes, but worth every dime.

Nau Merino2 Wool Dress ($136; www.nau.com)

What’s a wool dress doing in a round up of adventure clothing you might ask? According to Nau, a wool dress is adventure clothing. Clothing for the adventure of life be that a night out in a foreign city or as something to thrown on after a late afternoon autumn blundering session. While you won’t be catching me wearing a dress anytime soon, I get their point. We need to think beyond the frump when envisioning clothing for sport. Their Merino2 dress features soft mid-weight wool that drapes easily in the hand and across the moving body. Guys take note: if your looking for a really sweet gift for your gal, consider the Merino2 Wool dress. They’ll love it. Trust me.

Nau Merino2 Long Sleeve Scoop Neck Stripe ($120; www.nau.com)

A long name, but, a lot of shirt. I thought this shirt was a nice addition due to its unique look—for a base layer— and great colors. Pure, ultra fine merino keeps the skin cool when on the move yet warm when the temps drop. The Scoop neck blends a true crew neck together with a Henley-type top into a jaunty, yet practical top for any activity.

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