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Base layers: merino v silk v synthetics
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Peter Atkinson
(sewing_machine) - MLife

Locale: Yorkshire, England
Base layers: merino v silk v synthetics on 09/05/2008 13:39:58 MDT Print View

I'm allergic to wool and am concerned that I am missing out with not being able to wear merino? I guess in terms of odours, and 'warm when wet' (say when you take your rucksack off and have a drenched back).

Would silk do the job as well as wool? Are there any synthetic materials that are as good? Or should I just get used to constant itching and wear merino?

Edited by sewing_machine on 09/05/2008 13:41:32 MDT.

Mark Verber
(verber) - MLife

Locale: San Francisco Bay Area
Re: Base layers: merino v silk v synthetics on 09/05/2008 13:52:52 MDT Print View

My experience is that silk isn't as good as wool or the better synthetics. I think that there are several synthetics which have excellent performance characteristics. There are two things you raised: odor resistance and "warm when wet". In my experience, synthetics with sufficent X-static or VisaEndurance (basically putting silver into the material) is as odor resistant as wool. There was a thread here about odor resistance which you might find useful.

As to "warm when wet"... I have found that several synthetic base layers work very well at moving moisture away from the skin. They have an advantage over wool in that they tend not absorb less water, so they will completely dry more quickly. The best material I have found is Powerdry. Marmot Driclim seems to perform well (better than several other materials I have used) but I haven't used it enough to say how close to Powerdry it it.


Edited by verber on 09/05/2008 13:53:24 MDT.

Roger Caffin
(rcaffin) - BPL Staff - MLife

Locale: Wollemi & Kosciusko NPs, Europe
Re: Base layers: merino v silk v synthetics on 09/05/2008 16:07:22 MDT Print View

> I am missing out with not being able to wear merino

Australia - land of the Merino sheep...
Me, I wear synthetics. last longer, dry faster, warmer imho.

Roger from Australia

Diplomatic Mike

Locale: Under a bush in Scotland
Base layers on 09/05/2008 16:17:48 MDT Print View

Australia, land of the merino sheep and Roger.
One of them keeps you very comfortable as a base layer, and the other.....? :)

Jay Wilkerson
(Creachen) - MLife

Locale: East Bay
Base layers on 09/05/2008 16:48:15 MDT Print View

Don't leave out the mighty Patagonia Capilene. Highly breathable, drys easy, feels great on the skin and you can go quite a few days before you stink. Mens large 5.5 oz.

Peter Macfarlane
(ptc) - F

Locale: The Scottish Highlands
Synthetic on 09/06/2008 02:29:00 MDT Print View

I'd rather wear merino, but there are synthetics out there that don't feel like clingfilm on your skin.
X-Statc fabric is the one to look for, it repels odour very well. I've had a Paramo Cambia baselayer on test and it's a very good fabric in use but after a long day it stinks when it dries.
The lightest weight of Polartec Powerdry is good, the heavier versions feel immediately clammy to me.
As said above Capeline is great against the skin, but Patagonia don't design for tall skinny Euros.
Haglofs, Mammut and Gore Bike Wear use a similar silky smooth synthetic on base layers that is very nice in use, it might be the same fabric rebranded, I should find out. Whatever, it's very good.
I don't use silk becasue nobody makes it to fit me!

Edited by ptc on 09/06/2008 02:33:56 MDT.

Nick Chen
(fleetparadox) - F

Locale: Socal
Performance wise? on 09/06/2008 02:57:42 MDT Print View

Recently I tried out wool and it seems to breathe sooo much better than synthetics.

However, I've found that for similar (mid-weight) products, wool weighs more (while synthetics can be warmer at less weight) AND they don't pack down as easily as a synthetic baselayer can. Synthetics really do seem warmer for the weight and size... but wool just breathes so much better, probably better for sleeping.

Pamela Wyant
(RiverRunner) - F - M
Wool versus synthetic on 09/08/2008 20:59:02 MDT Print View

I love the stench resistance of wool and the 'warm when wet' aspect, which I find better than synthetics, but if I were allergic I would definitely go with an odor-resistant synthetic. They are lighter, but in my experience not as warm when wet.

Silk has always seemed cool to me when wet - personally I avoid it for colder conditions, except for activities of short duration where the risk of getting wet is minimal.

Lynn Tramper
(retropump) - F

Locale: The Antipodes of La Coruna
Re: Base layers: merino v silk v synthetics on 09/09/2008 16:52:02 MDT Print View

I do find the merino gets a lot more 'humid' than synthetics. So, yes, warm when wet but as others have pointed out this means it also absorbs more moisture.

Edited by retropump on 09/10/2008 13:09:00 MDT.

Dan Healy

Locale: Queensland
Wonderful wool on 09/10/2008 04:25:10 MDT Print View

It is actually the size of the wool fibre that gives Icebreaker etc their silky feel and non-itchy property. At 17 microns or less wool stops being itchy to humans. Merino happens to be the main breed of sheep involved. I love garments and use them the t-shirts during the day and at the end of a long day I change into long sleeved t-shirts with wool long johns and thin wool beanie at night. It is warm, it is nice to get out of my walking clothes, it keeps my bag cleaner but the best thing is - no smell!

Lynn Tramper
(retropump) - F

Locale: The Antipodes of La Coruna
Re: Wonderful wool on 09/10/2008 13:05:57 MDT Print View

Dan, those of us that are sensitive to wool can't even wear Ice Breaker UltraFine!

Monty Montana
(TarasBulba) - MLife

Locale: Rocky Mountains
Re: Base layers: merino v silk v synthetics on 09/10/2008 16:45:38 MDT Print View

Allison, I didn't know there was an actual allergic reaction to wool...thought it was just a result of pre Merino, scratchy, old school wool. My comisserations.

Silk should not be considered in this day and age, as it loses its structure when wet (sags), holds water much like cotton, and is slow to dry. Hypothermia city in the cold but very comfy in the heat. It was standard fare in the kits of 19th and early 20th century mountaineers (Mallory wore lots of silk). For a long time I used Terramar silk longjohns mostly to keep my sleeping bag clean, but now use SUL merino from BPL, both for this reason and as a base layer.

It seems I alternate between synthetic and merino depending on the length of the trip in order to manage the stink factor. I haven't yet tried capilene, so I still might become a convert to synthetic.

Lynn Tramper
(retropump) - F

Locale: The Antipodes of La Coruna
Re: Re: Base layers: merino v silk v synthetics on 09/10/2008 16:56:41 MDT Print View

Monty, you are correct RE: allergic vs sensitive. Most people are sensitive to varying degrees. Some of us are Ultra Sensitive...!

Damien Tougas
(dtougas) - BPL Staff - F

Locale: Gaspé Peninsula
Base layers and silver ions on 09/11/2008 11:08:14 MDT Print View

If you are concerned about the environment (and human health), you might want to think twice about base layers that are treated with silver. Patagonia has a little bit of info regarding the issues here:

Both wool and Capilene synthetics have odor protection that is more environmentally friendly. Perhaps other synthetics manufacturers as well?

Lynn Tramper
(retropump) - F

Locale: The Antipodes of La Coruna
Re: Base layers and the environment on 09/11/2008 13:18:23 MDT Print View

Environmentally friendly seems a difficult thing to quanititate. When I think about the habitat destruction and methane (carbon) emmissions from merino farming, as well as all the pollution and water wasted in obtaining and processing the wool, then add on the shipping etc...I would suspect merino would not be a good choice either!

Damien Tougas
(dtougas) - BPL Staff - F

Locale: Gaspé Peninsula
Re: Re: Base layers and the environment on 09/11/2008 13:37:40 MDT Print View

I agree. My point was that the environmental impact of odor protection on outdoor clothing is often something that people are not aware of.

At risk of sounding like a Patagonia salesman or employee (I have no ties to them whatsoever other than being a devoted customer), I love the transparency of Patagonia. If you haven't already seen it you should check out their footprint chronicles where they track the environmental impact of a number of their different products:

Lynn Tramper
(retropump) - F

Locale: The Antipodes of La Coruna
Re: Re: Re: Base layers and the environment on 09/11/2008 13:53:56 MDT Print View

Nice. Thanks for the link and tip Damien.

Jeremy Greene
(tippymcstagger) - F

Locale: North Texas
textiles and environment on 09/11/2008 13:58:28 MDT Print View


Merino v synthetic base is a good question. Even organic cellulose is less than stellar. A similar question has been floating unanswered in my head for years: Down v Polyfill?

CO2 equivalent is fairly easy, but I don't know of a way to weigh this against other values (water use, toxicity, lifecycle, habitat pressure, etc.) I'd think an outdoors-enthusiast group would be very concerned with these other values.

My personal choice (without claim to superior information) is to buy very few cellulose textiles and fewer animal fibers. My synthetic garments last much longer and I am less tempted to put them in the dryer. Now if I could just get them without dyes...

Moderators: if this triggers another discussion on scientific method (or worldview), please delete or edit my post quickly.

Stephen Parmenter
(parmens) - F - MLife

Locale: OH
Re: Base layers and the environment on 09/11/2008 14:00:27 MDT Print View

Personal body chemistry maybe, but I do sweat a lot. I've tried Patagonia Capilene, and by the end of a warm day, I can smell myself. By the second day, I can't stand my smell. With Ice Breaker/Ibex/Smartwool, I can go for days and have no offensive smell. It does take longer to dry, as mentioned. But that's a small trade off I can live with. And for me, the wool is much warmer then the synthetics when it begins to cool off.

Lynn Tramper
(retropump) - F

Locale: The Antipodes of La Coruna
Re: Re: Base layers and the environment on 09/11/2008 14:10:50 MDT Print View

I agree Patagonia is making an attempt to be more transparent, but looking just at their wool2 product, I see that even there they are stretching or bending the real environmental costs. To imply that New Zealand's high country merino farmers keep "ratio of head to hectare" low for environmental reasons is just plain wrong. They keep them low because that is all the depleted land can sustain. And most of that land has historically been "reclaimed" from native forests and tussocks lands, displacing native plants and animals. Then there is the carbon emmission from the sheep. A classic illustration of this is the sheep farmer who has sheep on the back of his truck to harness the methane they produce as fuel to run the truck! That's a lot of flatulence!!!! They actually considered charging sheep and cattle farmers a "flatulence tax" at one stage. The farmers were not amused, but it illustrates that it is not a trivial environmental issue.

I am not picking solely on wool, as I know that it is difficult to truly count the environmental costs of most things we make and buy. It's just that I know more about merino manufacture than I do about most synthetics.

Edited by retropump on 09/11/2008 14:11:21 MDT.