On a recent trip in the Adirondacks, I got to talking with a fellow peak-bagger about our favorite clothes for days when the weather gets temperamental (ie: every damn day). When I mentioned that I always wear a merino t-shirt, no matter the weather, he quipped that merino stuff seemed nice, but that it could never be nice enough to justify the price tag you see often times. While I’m all about thrift, there are times to spend a more to get a lot more; to quote a wise woman I know: “I’m too poor to buy cheap things.” So, let’s break down why, exactly, you may want to look into merino wool clothes.
What is Merino Wool?
Originating from mountainous areas, merino sheep have grown coats that can deal with extreme weather and temperatures. When sheared, these fibers can be spun into a fine, soft yarn that feels more like soft cotton than itchy Army-Surplus blankets.
Pros of Merino Wool
(1) Soft and Warm: some people who are really sensitive might find merino to be a little itchy (try it on before you buy!) but for most people it feels just like cotton. Obviously, if you’re allergic to wool, it won’t be a good option for you
(2) Warm When Wet: No matter how good your shell is, your probably going to get damp when your outside. Unlike poly and synthetic layers, merino wool keeps the chill away when you get wet
(3) Dries Fast: Synthetic layers dry faster than merino, but your wool layers will still dry way faster than any cotton layer will.
(4) Odor Resistant: Ever take a whiff from your synthetic tops, even after you washed it? You probably don’t have to try hard–you can probably smell the stuff in your closet right now. Synthetic fiber’s quick-drying structure is a double edged sword, because it also stores sweat and secreted bio-matter, meaning it becomes a hotbed for bacteria. However, the lanolin in merino wool is a natural anti-microbial, which helps cut the funk. Of course, you’ll still smell while you’re sweating, but if you let the piece air out and dry, you’ll notice it goes back to smelling normal.
(5) Natural Resource: Merino wool is naturally produced and sourced, and while any agro-industrial system leaves an impact, it certainly seems that naturally occurring, re-growing fibers are a better option to exclusively wearing petroleum based clothes. Of course, this discounts merino as an option for folks who will not use any animal products.
(6) Fire Resistant: There’s a certain irony to the fact that outdoors folks love both campfires and petroleum based garments. While merino wool doesn’t make you full-on fire-proof, you won’t get crispy singe holes like you would wearing a synthetic shirt or jacket when you’re getting all cozy.
Cons for Merino
(1) Expensive: There’s no denying it, this stuff can be expensive. I’m not sure if its because it comes from a limited resource, or if because it’s just a higher-end sought-after item (or just general supply and demand), but the cost can be a real turn off. There are two ways to get around this: (1) Try and buy used layers (we sell them $25-45 in our shop), (2) Re-purpose non-outdoor sweaters (think Gap and H&M) for outdoor use–they don’t hold up as well, and the fit feels funny, but they do the trick, (3) Browse for sales and sale venues.