The 17 Benefits of Merino Wool for Outdoor Clothing
What is merino wool and where does it come from?
The Benefits of Merino Wool will soon become clear but before we get into that, let’s just understand a few things first. Merino Wool is a type of wool that – no prizes for guessing – comes from merino sheep. Merinos are an ancient breed of sheep that have evolved to survive in very harsh environments through their super insulated coat. If you’ve ever seen a merino sheep you’ll understand why their wool is so warm and versatile! Merino sheep have developed a super thick but light coat that enables them to survive in freezing cold climates without overheating in the hot mid-day sun. This incredible sheep hails from the mountains of New Zealand, Australia, South Africa, Turkey, and Italy, where they need their coat to keep them warm but also be light enough to enable them to move around.
Merino sheep have developed a super thick but light coat that enables them to survive in freezing cold climates without overheating in the hot mid-day sun. This incredible sheep hails from the mountains of New Zealand, Australia, South Africa, Turkey, and Italy, where they need their coat to keep them warm but also be light enough to enable them to move around.
What are the Benefits of Merino Wool and why is it such a special material?
There are many Benefits of Merino Wool for Outdoor Clothing but is it really worth the extra money? When you’re shopping for outdoor gear, merino wool is one of those materials that pops up time and time again in the base layer department. But when we’ve all become accustomed to wearing fleece and technical microfibres, buying something different can be off-putting especially when it is not the cheapest. Why would I want this new-fangled merino stuff when I’ve got my trusty fleece and standard wool jumper right?
Well, if you haven’t invested in some merino wool products yet, you’re really missing out, and this is why. Merino wool is, simply put, one of the best fabrics you can buy for any kind of wilderness travel. In fact, there are so many benefits of merino wool that it’s commonly called a ‘miracle’ fiber. To name a few, it’s warm and cool, soft and stretchy, breathable, sustainable and doesn’t hold any odor. If you’re wondering how all this is possible in one fiber, it’s all thanks to nature.
17 Benefits of Merino Wool for Outdoor Clothing
If the survival skills of merino sheep aren’t enough to convince you of the benefits of merino wool, this is why it makes such good base layers and other clothing:
As highlighted by merino sheep themselves, merino wool is an extremely warm fabric that can keep you protected in cold environments. It’s responsive to your body’s temperature, so it keeps you warm in freezing environments such as mountainsides but doesn’t feel too hot when it’s not that cold or the temperature suddenly rises.
Ever seen a merino sheep looking cold? I thought not!
But also cool
Merino wool is a responsive natural material that adapts to your body’s temperature, unlike synthetic fibers. This means it keeps you cool when you’re hot and warms you up when you’re cold thanks to lots of tiny air pockets. Magic! As a result, your body temperature and heart rate stay better regulated, so it’s actually good for your health. This quality also makes it wonderful for adventures where you’re likely to encounter a range of weather conditions. A lightweight merino wool T-shirt like the Icebreaker Tech Lite Range is perfect for an intense climb up and over mountain tops with a heavy pack because even when you are dripping with sweat, merino keeps going and somehow feels cool.
As well as being warm, merino wool is able to absorb up to 35% of its dry weight from moisture vapor while still feeling dry, known as ‘wicking’. This means you experience less of that wet, sticky feeling you often get with cotton or other fabrics, making it great for outdoor activities where you work up a sweat. It will keep you cooler and drier when exercising or other physical tasks and means fewer sweat droplets on your skin.
Unlike synthetic fabrics, the wicking properties mean that merino wool takes sweat away from your body. It absorbs the sweat and locks away the smell-causing molecules, which neutralizes the smell. This means you’ll smell less like sweat when pursuing strenuous activities and exercise, which let’s be honest is just more pleasant for everyone. It also means your clothes stay fresher for longer. Then you simply wash your clothing and voila, the sweat molecules are gone.
I have personally put this to the test and can testify that the material definitely does not hold odor, however, it still doesn’t mask 8 days of hiking without a shower!
This wicking ability also makes it static-resistant, so your clothes won’t stick to you and cause that annoying fingers in the plug socket hair style. It also means fewer bits of dust and other annoying fibers sticking to your clothes.
Unlike other types of wool such as lambswool, which can be notoriously itchy, merino wool fibers are extremely fine, so they feel delightfully soft and unlike any wool you have worn before. One great tip I learned in New Zealand that if you use raw merino wool in your boot next to your skin, it helps to reduce friction and prevent blisters. You can buy raw merino wool in its natural form for this such purpose or you can also get balls of merino wool so that you can knit your own hats, gloves, and scarfs etc.
As well as being comfortable in terms of softness, merino wool is also very elastic. Each fiber is like a tiny spring, meaning it’s stretchy rather than restrictive like other types of wool. It also returns to its original shape after being stretched, meaning it lasts a long time and retains its shape without wrinkles. This makes it ideal for outdoor pursuits such as climbing, which require a high level of elasticity. (It also means less ironing, woohoo!)
As demonstrated by merino sheep and their mountainside environment, merino wool is very lightweight, enabling mobility. Unlike other heavier fabrics, it won’t weigh you down in terms of wearing it or carrying a stack of merino items in your backpack.
The harsh environments that Merino sheep live in mean that merino wool is extremely hard-wearing, which makes it a great fiber for outwear such as coats and jackets. It’s also got water-repelling properties that mean your clothes won’t absorb water if you’re caught in a rain shower while hiking.
One of the unknown benefits of merino wool is that it’s naturally hypoallergenic. This makes it ideal for children or those with sensitive skin as it won’t cause (or irritate existing) allergies, which is great news for those who suffer from eczema. Some research also suggests merino is antibacterial which might also have something to do with its anti-odour capabilities.
Another of the incredible benefits of merino wool is that it is fire-resistant, so should you get too close to the campfire it won’t catch a spark or shrivel up! It’s also flame-retardant, so it won’t stick to your skin should you accidentally put yourself fully into the campfire.
Merino wool has better UV protective properties than cotton or synthetics, so it protects you against the sun’s harmful rays when you’re outdoors. This makes it great for all of the family in combination with sun protection lotion on exposed skin. With New Zealand getting higher than average doses of UV, merino wool is a fantastic choice for clothing that has cleverly evolved from nature and been adapted from the local environment.
Hooray, I hear you say! Wool that’s machine washable! Most modern merino wool items can be washed as normal and tumble dried without shrinking to the size of dolls clothes. Not to mention, the natural outer layer protects the fabric from absorbing stains, so your clothes end up less grubby to start with, especially when climbing mountains or trekking. This makes it great for backpacking as cleaning your clothes while staying in hostels can sometimes be a mission and drying them without heat just takes too long.
As merino sheep naturally grow this fleece each year, it’s a renewable and sustainable fiber. As there plenty of merino sheep (for example, a staggering 70 million in Australia alone!). It’s made of a natural protein similar so is biodegradable. This means it’s good for the environment as it provides nutrients as it decomposes into nitrogen rich soil within a few years after being disposed of, re-fertilising the earth.
As merino wool comes from sheep, it’s a totally natural product. The free-range sheep live on grass and water, and nothing is added to the fiber. This means it’s brilliant for those who are conscious of reducing their environmental footprint.
Unlike other less stylish fabrics, such as fleece, merino wool is so high-quality and hangs so well that it’s actually a fond favorite of high-fashion designers such as Armani and Hugo Boss, as well as being used for outdoor clothing. This means it’s ideal for those travelers and outdoor adventurers who prefer more fashionable choices, rather than traditional outdoor clothing. As it’s colourfast, it can be dyed and won’t leak to other clothes or lose its color, meaning it’s also available in a wide range of colors.
As well as its obvious use for outdoor gear and active wear, the versatility of merino wool means it’s even used for fine Italian suits and top-quality jumpers. It’s brilliant for accessories such as socks, hats, scarves, and gloves. It can be knitted into a range of patterns and weights, providing many more options for clothing than traditional wools.
You can get super thin base layers in thin knits to wear underneath other items, short-sleeved t-shirts that look like cotton and are great for day hikes – all the way up to thick-knit cable-patterned jumpers or cardigans to wear over the top of other layers. Basically, it’s so versatile that you can build almost an entire wardrobe from merino wool clothing!
What to look out for when buying merino wool
The most important thing to look out for when buying merino products is the % of merino wool on the label as it guarantees all of the natural benefits listed. Real merino wool products do tend to be slightly more expensive than synthetic products, but it’s worth paying extra since the benefits really outweigh the costs. There are plenty of merino wool blends that use a variety of other materials, sometimes improving performance but more commonly to reduce cost. 100% merino wool is best in most peoples opinion.
Ok, I’m sold
Short of buying yourself a merino sheep and moving to live on a mountainside, you can also buy balls of merino wool from major wool stockists and knit yourself some items! All in all, merino really is the way to go. Its versatility combined with its temperature responsiveness, wicking properties, and warmth-to-weight ratio make it perfect for those with an active, outdoor lifestyle. Merino sheep, we thank you.
Where to start?
Merino Wool Base Layers are a great way to introduce yourself to the wonders of this natural fiber, but Merino Wool Socks and Merino Wool Underwear are also noticeably beneficial. Base layers are where merino wool showcases it’s capabilities, reminding the user why they bought it, every time they put it on. Merino Wool Hiking Socks are great for blister prevention as well as comfort, weight and moisture wicking abilities. Merino Wool Underwear for both men and women is a fantastic invention – no rubbing, moisture wicking and odorless are all essential for smelly hikers and backpackers.
Check out our guide to hiking socks which also has a section on Merino wool!
Thanks for reading these 17 Benefits of Merino Wool for Outdoor Clothing and hope we have helped convince you to give it a go, stay tuned or subscribe for more merino wool related articles coming soon.