Merino wool has become a trendy term for anyone who spends a moderate amount of time in the outdoors. It has what seems like magical properties that only exist in this specific fabric and it is becoming the go-to outdoor attire.
Fabric technology in the last 10 years has grown leaps and bounds. Outdoor clothing is getting lighter, more durable, cheaper, and more stain, sweat, and dirt resistant. Merino Wool is at the tip of the spear when it comes to outdoor fabric technology.
When it comes time to decide on what type of material to use for your next outdoor adventure there are what seems like a million choices these days. To help you make the best decision we are going to take a deep dive into what the benefits of Merino wool are, and the best practices to care for it.
What is Merino Wool?
Humans relationship with wool dates back over 10,000 years. It spans the realm of human history from primitive human tribes, to the Romans and Greeks, through the middle ages, all the way to modern-day adventurers (source).
Merino wool, in particular, has separated itself from the pack of wool contenders. It was first developed in Spain and Merino sheep quickly became prized for their impeccable quality of this fine wool.
Around 1797, the very first Merino sheep were introduced into Australia. Through generations of selective breeding, the quality of the wool slowly improved. Australian farmers have made the production of Merino wool a booming industry with 50,000 people involved in all aspects of development and production of the wool (source).
Benefits of Merino wool
Merino wool is the Ferrari of woolen fabrics. If you have ever had the opportunity to put on this soft, warm, and not itchy fabric you will understand how it has become a favorite in the outdoor scene.
Aside from being a functional piece of clothing, it has the uncanny ability to not stink when you sweat for days in it. It fights odor, wicks away moisture, keeps you warm, and keeps you cool when wearing the correct thickness.
There is science behind the magical properties that live in Merino wool lore, don’t take our word for it.
1. Body odor resistant
One of the worst parts about using a base layer of any type is the smell that eventually permeates throughout your clothing. The most common places that body odor occurs are…
- Anywhere you have hair
Contrary to popular belief the sweat from our bodies is not the smelly part. The smell comes from bacteria on the body breaking down protein into certain acids (source).
This is where Merino wool steps in and fights the good fight. Each and every fiber contains antimicrobial properties derived from Lanolin. Lanolin is a waxy material that prevents the growth of the bacteria which give our sweat that funky smell.
2. UV resistant
It has protective qualities from harmful UV rays that cotton and other synthetic materials simply don’t possess. It is going to protect you from harmful UV rays that could otherwise cause damage to your skin.
Along with the antimicrobial properties that are contained within each and every fiber, it has the ability to wick away moisture. Wicking moisture is simply the act of pulling the sweat away from your body as it is produced, similar to the way candle wax works (source).
Merino wool will absorb up to a third of its weight in water, while still feeling comfortable and dry against your body.
The one big downside to the moisture wicking capabilities is the fact that it doesn’t dry as quickly as some synthetic materials.
It’s a warm fabric that is responsive to your body’s temperature. This means that it will keep you warm in cold environments, as well as, not get too hot when the sun comes out.
5. Elastic properties
Each and every one of the fibers resembles a spring under a microscope. That makes it stretchy by nature, meaning that it won’t restrict your body movement in high pace activities. If you love climbing, hiking, snowshoeing, and other outdoor activities this wool is for you.
6. Soft and lightweight
The first thing that comes to mind when most people think of wool is one word, “itchy”. The reason for this is that traditional wool has thick and coarse fibers. The itchy feeling that you get is the ends of the fibers poking your skin.
The fibers in Merino wool are the finest of any wool available. Through generations of selective breeding, the fibers have become soft, flexible, and gentle against the skin.
The idea of breathability brings back images of those mesh football shirts from the 80’s. You know the type, cut short with a bunch of holes that let as much air out as they let in. That wasn’t a good look then and it’s a worse look now, those shirts served little to no purpose.
With Merino wool, the air is able to escape through the microscopic holes in the fibers, as well as, through the fibers themselves. That means that even in warm weather if you have a thin Merino wool shirt your body will stay cool and not overheat.
The amount of waste that is produced by humans is nearly unfathomable. Each year 21.2 billion tons of waste is produced by humanity and 99% of what we buy is thrown away within a year (source).
Every little bit counts, or better yet, every bit counts drastically. Merino wool is composed of a material similar to human hair. What that means is that it decomposes back into the soil in a matter of years releasing nitrogen-based nutrients back into the soil like a fertilizer (source).
Lose your shirt while hiking? Have no fears, after a few years, your old shirt will enrich the soil that was its final resting place.
Sensitive skin and wool often times are not a comfortable combination. With the hypoallergenic properties of Merino wool, skin irritation is not a concern. If you have eczema or otherwise sensitive skin this wool is your best option.
10. Wrinkle resistant
Merino wool is wrinkle resistant. Yup, we said it, but not just because we felt like saying some crazy shit.
Merino wool has natural elasticity and the fibers make for a wrinkle-resistant experience. The fibers have a spring-like structure which makes wrinkles a thing of the past.
Throw it into your backpack and no wrinkle problems, it’s basically the perfect material for adventurers and travelers. No wrinkle, no cry.
11. It keeps you cool
Being that it is responsive to your bodies temperature and adapts accordingly you will stay cool in warm weather. A lightweight Merino wool t-shirt in the summer will keep the sweat at bay while also staying breathable. It’s the perfect material for any intense activity in warm and cool weather.
How to take care of merino wool
Wool is considered to be a high maintenance fabric that takes a little tender loving care to maintain. While it does take special care the juice is definitely worth the squeeze.
How to hand wash Merino wool
Not all Merino wool is created equal and certain types do require hand washing. It will say on the tag of the clothing whether or not you have to hand wash or machine wash.
1. Use wool specific soap
Merino wool is made of fine fibers that will bleed and damage easily. Use a wool specific soap so you don’t damage the fibers that make up the clothing.
2. Fill a basin with warm soapy water
Look at the packaging on the soap to find the correct amount to add to the water. The water should be warm, anywhere from 85° to 100° Fahrenheit. Any hotter than that and you’re going to risk shrinkage and nobody likes shrinkage.
3. Soak the clothing in warm water
Next step is to completely submerge the clothing and letting it rest for 5 minutes. After it has sat in the water use your hands to run the water out of the garment gently. Don’t let it soak anymore than 5-minutes.
4. Rinse using warm water
Rinse it a bunch of times with warm water to eliminate any soap that is remaining in the clothing. You want the water to be warm, close to the temperature that you soaked it in.
5. Rinse the soapy water out
Gently ring out the water using two hands. You want to get as much of the water as you can out before you dry it out. Don’t twist or ring the clothing to get the water out, this can damage the fine fibers that Merino wool is made of.
6. Dry on a flat surface
Merino wool can be heavy when wet and hanging it to dry may cause it to lose its shape. Drying it on a flat surface will maintain the integrity of the original shape. Keep in mind that due to the amount of water that Merino wool absorbs it takes longer to completely dry out.
How to machine wash Merino wool
You always want to machine wash on a cold cycle or use the delicates option on the washing machine when washing wool. Take a look at the tag for specific temperature requirements of your Merino wool. Some is a blend of synthetic materials with different washing requirements.
1. Wash with similar colors
You don’t want any bleeding of colors from one garment to another. Washing with similar colors will prevent any bleeding from one shirt to another. To be 100% sure that you don’t get any damage wash only Merino wool products together.
2. Turn it inside out
Make sure you turn it inside out, especially if you have any printing on it. This will prevent fading or damage to anything cool that you have printed on the Merino wool clothing.
3. Use a wool specific or mild detergent
Due to the fine fiber that Merino wool is made of and their many beneficial properties, it’s important to use a mild soap. The best is a gentle wool specific soap with absolutely no bleach in the formula.
4. Never use fabric softeners with Merino wool
Fabric softener is going to leave a residue on the fibers that make up Merino wool. This is, in turn, going to limit the moisture wicking and antimicrobial properties that make Merino wool special.
5. Wash on a low temp
Take a look at the tag and see if there are any special temperature requirements. A good practice is to wash at no more than 85° Fahrenheit on a gentle washing cycle. This will prevent any damage to the clothing.
6. Remove the clothing immediately
You never want to let merino wool sit while wet, the weight of the water can stretch the fibers and change the shape.
7. Dry on a flat surface
Never use a drying machine with Merino wool to dry it out. It will damage the fibers and remove the beneficial properties. Best practice is always to dry Merino wool on a flat surface while resting on a towel.
Merino wool has become the premium outdoor fabric for anyone who loves the outdoors. When you invest in top of the line clothing your investing in comfort and quality in your future outdoor endeavors. If Merino wool is something you have been considering now you have more than one reason to give it a spin.
Merino base layers are super comfortable and soft against the skin. They lock in your body heat while letting your skin breath along with having antimicrobial properties. It doesn’t get smelly and can last for days without being washed, kinda gross, but you gotta do what you gotta do.
Keep calm and hike on, and try out some merino wool.