Merino Wool: Naturally Technical

Nerd out with us on the remarkable capability of Merino wool — one of nature's true marvels
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Oct 16, 2014 | By Liv Combe

s the days get shorter and the air colder, staying warm in the wild is about more than just adding on layers (or drinking whiskey ciders). We're huge fans of Merino wool at Huckberry — and for good reason: these hard-working fibers are remarkably soft to the touch, and get to work when you do, putting in overtime to keep you cool and dry, or conversely — warm and dry, depending on the climate and how you choose to layer.

Merino is the finest wool you can find, known for its soft texture, warmth, and level of comfort against the skin. Merino sheep are bred mainly in Spain (where they originated), Vermont, Australia and New Zealand, which produce the vast majority of the world's Merino wool. Consider the climates in which these sheep thrive, from freezing winters in New England to the sweltering Outback — Merino sheep themselves are a testament to how well this wool insulates the wearer in different climates and heats.

This ability to work in different climates makes Merino even better than any top-of-the-line manmade sports fabrics out there — it breathes and wicks away sweat when you’re too hot and insulates you when you’re too cold, all thanks to the natural porous nature of the Merino fibers. Unlike synthetic materials, the natural, microporous properties of Merino have the innate ability to work with your body’s heating and cooling systems. Say you’re out on a long hike or mountain bike ride; you’re sure to have periods of exertion, like on a particularly long climb, followed by moments of downtime as you wait for your buddies to catch up or you stop to capture an Instagram. As your body naturally heats up and cools down, Merino wool adapts right along with it like a second skin — just softer, since the diameter of Merino wool is about one-third to one-tenth the thickness of a strand of human hair. The smaller the diameter, the finer and less scratchy the fabric will be. 

This natural heating and cooling ability of natural fabrics is not just hearsay — it’s science. What puts Merino wool at the head of the game is the proportion of how much moisture the fibers can absorb relative to their body weight (and then release back into the air to keep the fabric from getting soaked with your sweat). To wit: polyester can absorb just one percent; nylon can absorb five percent; cotton absorbs 24% of its weight, and Merino wool absorbs a whopping 35 percent — ideal for keeping you dry and cool or, alternatively, dry and warm. Merino wool senses the humidity in different environments and easily transfers moisture from one to the other — if your skin is warm and the air is cool, it will absorb moisture from your skin and sends it out into the air. Conversely, if your skin is cool, Merino will take in the moisture from the air and release that energy as heat against your body.

Another perk? Merino wool has longevity. Not only are the wool fibers covered in microscopic scales, which naturally repel bacteria, but trace amounts of lanolin in Merino wool naturally repels water and dirt. This means that your Merino can more than keep up with you until you make it back to the trailhead, and you won’t smell like you’ve been sitting at the bottom of your gear bag if you can’t do wash it right away.

From the comfort of layering with Merino next to your skin, to the supreme functionality added to high style, there are few things Merino can't do. Get the most out of it, and find the right piece for your next expedition in our Fall Guide to Merino Wool here

Images via KUIU, icebreaker, and Duckworth

Liv Combe is a freelance writer in San Francisco who still feels a thrill every time she bikes over the Golden Gate Bridge. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram