Wool Worth

The best superfabric out there is just as effective pure or blended.

Synthetics have never been able to fully replicate wool’s unique, multi-faceted performance. It insulates. It absorbs moisture. It’s highly breathable, yet, when tightly knit, it wards off the wind. Wool resists body odor. It’s also inherently flame resistant, as well as a renewable resource.

A “purist,” Smartwool’s NTS Microweight Zip T
A “purist,” Smartwool’s NTS Microweight Zip T

What really sets wool apart, though, is born out in university studies supporting claims that wool next-to-skin garments actually help the body work more efficiently—across a range of temps—when compared head-to-head with garments made from synthetic polyesters. In these studies, athletes wearing wool base layers maintained lower heart rates while walking and running. Wool garments delayed the onset of sweating and helped lower core temperatures once activity ceased. Interesting stuff.

Wool certainly is not perfect. We all know it can be itchy and thicker, insulating wool mid-layers are often heavier than their “fleece” counterparts. While the fiber is a good absorber, it is not as efficient at wicking moisture away as polyesters. Wool moves sweat, rain, melted snow and river water, away from the body mostly through absorption. Since that water is now inside the fiber it is harder for heat and air movement to rid the garment of it. Polyester doesn’t absorb moisture into the fiber itself, allowing heat and air movement to dry the garment faster than wool. But roughly fifteen years ago, wool began a comeback thanks to merino, a wool noted for its long, fine fibers (generally sub-24 micron) which make them less irritating to the skin..

When it comes to actually designing and building merino fabrics and garments, there are some purists who don’t want to adulterate this beautiful, naturally capable fiber with synthetics. But many manufacturers are going for it, blending, weaving and spinning wool and polyesters together into ultra modern and, dare I say, fun designs suited for the most demanding and abusive athletes and theoretically fusing the benefits of many fibers into one. Both paths, I think, are valid and both work. The bottom line? If you haven’t strutted your stuff yet in today’s wool and wool “blends,” you need to. They wear well, they look great and they perform. Most importantly though, wool-based garments deliver a “feel,” a quality, a lasting, home-spun aesthetic that just can’t be matched by garments that share more in common with plastic bottles than they do a “Baaaaaaa.” •

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