Human Factors Blog Entry #9 – Merino Wool

Wool has always been considered that itchy material that keeps you warm. However, merino wool is considered to be good for both hot and cold climates, but why?

The merino is one of the world’s most ancient breeds of sheep. The merino has smaller hair follicles than regular sheep, allowing them to grow finer, softer wool. It is a tough breed of sheep that can survive in harsh conditions that regular sheep cannot. The merino that Icebreaker uses in their apparel come from New Zealand’s Southern Alps, where temperatures are cold enough for regular sheep to freeze to death. It gets as hot as 35 °C (+95 °F) in the summer and as cold as –20 °C (-4 °F) in the winter.

Other features of merino wool is that is is lightweight and easy to clean. Since all wool is antimicrobial, it can be worn for multiple days and will not smell. This makes it very ideal for those who travel often or go on multi-day hikes because it allows them to pack a lighter load with less clothes.

 

Does merino wool keep you warm when it gets wet?

According to this video below, the reviewer states that merino wool can hold up to 35% of its weight in moisture before losing its insulating characteristics. This happens because merino wool fibres are hydrophobic (moisture repellent) on the exterior and hydrophilic (moisture absorbing) in the interior. When water is introduced to a merino garment, the water is carried and transported through the centre of the garment. This makes the user not feel the wet fabric against their skin and the fabric remains insulating.

 

Personal Experience – Does it work? 

I live by an Icebreaker Merino store and spoke to the store rep there. The clerk explained that their base layers are their best selling product. Because it pulls moisture away from the body, it is applicable for any activity that causes you to sweat – eliminating that wet feeling while keeping you warm. The climate in Vancouver allows for a variety of sports and outdoor activities, and their products work for everything but aquatic sports.

I went to the Icebreaker sample sale and got a merino wool toque. Normally I don’t wear toques because of problems I have encountered. Standard wool is too itchy and acrylic causes acne breakouts. However, I have had no issues with the merino wool toque – there is no itch so I can wear it all day comfortably. Icebreaker offers a 1-year warranty on all their apparel, and lifetime warranty on their socks.  With that kind of guarantee, I look forward to trying out more of their merino products.

However, that doesn’t mean I am going to replace all my clothes with merino wool. I have survived many winters and summers without merino wool by simply bringing a a towel and a change of clothes when exercising.

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