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durability of wool brands
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Mark Handy
durability of wool brands on 04/22/2009 08:22:32 MDT Print View

Any data on durability of Icebreaker, Smartwool, and Ibex wool tops? I haven't had any problems with bottoms and accessories, and I take the lower durability of wool socks (versus synthetic) as part of the deal. But I have found big differences in durability of shirts.

My experience, best to worst: Smartwool (five-year-old stuff), Icebreaker, Ibex single-color, Smartwool (recent), Ibex stripes (didn't last two seasons!).

Maybe I'm just expecting too much, but my older Smartwool is going strong, with no pilling or holes despite regular use. My Ibex striped shirts have lots of holes.

Related science question: Anybody know what design/construction factors affect durability of wool?


Chris Morgan
(ChrisMorgan) - F

Locale: Southern Oregon
Smartwool on 04/22/2009 08:24:36 MDT Print View

I have recent Smartwool socks (2 pairs) that all have irreparable holes in them after about 150 miles! I have switched to an Icebreaker Bike/Run sock and have been nothing but happy.

Michael Febbo
(febbom) - F
variable on 04/22/2009 11:11:27 MDT Print View

My experience with Smartwool has been inconsistent. My wife and I have numerous Smartwool mid and lightweight tops and bottoms. Some of them have a dozen holes, others wear like iron. Durability seems to be a case-by-case issue with them.

I have an Ibex lightweight wool T-shirt that fits like it was custom made, is very soft, and would get worn every day but for the small holes that showed up after a month of light use (always washed on delicate cycle in a front loader). The same occurred with a lightweight wool hat from them.

My Patagonia Wool 2 top has been very, very durable. The bottoms, however, have a few holes by the waistband after one ice climbing season.

Unblended wool in these light weights appears to be variable so far as durability goes.

Best wearing socks = Darn Tough, hands down

James Loy
(jimbluz) - M

Locale: Pacific NW
Durability of wool brands on 04/22/2009 13:27:47 MDT Print View

Another vote for Icebreaker and Ibex. My experience with Smartwool was really disappointing - holes in my microweight t-shirts after one wearing. I haven't tried any other brands.

Tad Englund
(bestbuilder) - F - MLife

Locale: Pacific Northwest
Re: durability of wool brands on 04/22/2009 18:22:02 MDT Print View

I have a pair of Icebreaker thin liner gloves and after about 10 uses the right one developed a hole in the wrist on the palm side about the size of a nickel. I sewed it up but thought it should have lasted longer then that!

Ed Tyanich
(runsmtns) - F - M
Durability on 04/22/2009 21:51:36 MDT Print View

Interesting comments and experiences.

I have had good durability with all Merino except Patagonia. It pilled badly and lost its shape.

Some of the early Ibex developed small holes at the logo on the back-neck area but they never went further.

Smart Wool has been very durable for me, all weights.

I have a couple of their prototype tops that are close to 10 years old. For several years, I ran in one or the other of those tops every morning when it was cool enough for a LS top.

Icebreaker has been excellent.


Michael Febbo
(febbom) - F
Arcteryx on 04/22/2009 22:24:42 MDT Print View

Given all the responses, durability does seem variable.

However, the toughest wool baselayer I have ever used is my Arcteryx Rho zip-neck thingy. Mine is a 90/10 wool and lycra blend, and it is much, much tougher than the current all wool version. I love its stretch and fit for the skinny,long-armed type.

A bit of synthetic mixed with wool seems to really increase durability.

Courtney Waal
(d0rqums) - F
Re: "durability of wool brands" on 04/22/2009 23:16:09 MDT Print View

I'm nastily allergic to wool, but as a knitter and spinner I know a fair bit about the stuff. Sock yarns that are available tend to be 80% wool and 20% synthetic. This is essential to prevent wear at the toe and heel- if using a 100% wool yarn we often use a stronger (more abrasion-resistant) holding yarn along with the wool at the toe and heel. Wool makes elastic, springy socks that are very tolerant to fit issues but it can be worn down very easily. This is why historically stockings were made with replaceable toes and heels in a different color to aid picking up the stitches again.

A huge amount of the durability you see in yarns depends on how they're spun. Fibers are strongest when plied, though if the plies are any thicker than hair-thin this can make a thicker garment. This isn't so much an issue in socks (which always use as many plies as possible) but is an issue in shirts. Generally, the more plies and the more twist a yarn has in it the more durable it is. The downside of this is that it feels much stiffer and harder. Softness and fluffiness are qualities that move a ball of yarn off the shelves but that generally make garments that shred very quickly when worn. Fibers come loose from the yarn very easily when there isn't much twist to hold them in.

When you're giving a shirt or sweater the rub test in the store, think less about softness and more about checking the rubbed area for any fiber ends that spring loose. Merino is one of the least durable varieties of wool, given that it's bred for extremely fine fibers along with the fact that Merino wool has very short staple length so there are a lot more ends to pop out and come loose. Merino is used because there's a glut of it available cheaply from Australia and because you can wear it next to the skin.

Better breed choices for making high-performance wool clothing are down breeds like Dorset and Shetland. Down sheep have fiber with a spiral crimp that produces ridiculously high loft, springiness, and warmth. Down wool also is nearly impossible to felt, which can be ridiculously easy in soft Merino unless you chemically strip the fibers to make superwash wool. If anyone out there wants to start a push to use down breeds for technical clothing, knitters will back you up. Merino is a scam.

Matt Lutz
(citystuckhiker) - F

Locale: Midwest
Re: Re: "durability of wool brands" on 04/23/2009 06:27:37 MDT Print View

I avoid smartwool light hikers. I have killed every pair of those very quickly. However, the smartwool mini adrenaline crews. , expedition trekking heavy cushion socks and their mountaineering socks have been bombproof for me. Two pairs of my adrenaline crews have survived three long distance running seasons and a thru hike. Also smartwpol liner socks fall apart for me too quick.

Chris Townsend
(Christownsend) - MLife

Locale: Cairngorms National Park
durability of wool brands on 04/23/2009 06:37:16 MDT Print View

"Merino is used ..... because you can wear it next to the skin."

That's the key and why merino isn't a scam. Before merino I tried various wool base layers and hats and they all itched. Merino doesn't.

I've found merino quite durable - certainly as durable as thin synthetic base layers, which lose their wicking properties after a while. They look fine, they just don't work well. I have Smartwool and Icebreaker tops that are several years old and have been worn regularly that are in good condition.

Oddly, with socks I've found Smartwool Light Hikers more durable than other Smartwool socks, especially the Adrenaline!

Jon Rhoderick
(hotrhoddudeguy) - F - M

Locale: New England
Re: durability of wool brands on 04/23/2009 12:47:19 MDT Print View

Smartwool rules, my midweight top has a snag or two, not serious, socks are 100%, especially the heavy and extra heavy. Those socks are so cush, I bring them every time I know my feet will sweat, the X heavys are the best sleeping socks i know, and im wearing them right now. LJs are in great shape as is my beanie

Have some BD woolweight liners, first pair tore by taking htem off via teeth, now I got a warranty replacement and they are perfect and I hope they will last much longer.

Michael Febbo
(febbom) - F
. on 04/23/2009 13:33:23 MDT Print View

Courtney- very informative. It helps explain why I have a pair of will mittens (non-Merino) and old wool work shirts that are impossible to wear out. Also, the fact that many people here have had both posistive and negative experiences with Merino appears to support your analysis.