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Going Wool? share your knowledge
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Brett .
(Brett1234) - F

Locale: CA
Going Wool? share your knowledge on 11/24/2006 04:48:39 MST Print View

I would like to hear posters success/failure stories about using wool garments, or re-discovering their benefits after a hiatus..

Thanks to what I read here at BPL I have recently been replacing synthetic layers with wool, and testing them in this winter weather. So far I am impressed, and glad I made the change. I replaced my synthetic watch cap, sock liners, and shirt all with merino wool. Most recently was the change to 1oz (28g) icebreaker glove liners with 4% nylon stretch.

Another poster (chime in if you want credit) summarized the choice by saying "Do i want more absorption, heavier weight and slower drying, hence warmer? Or, do i want lighter, faster drying, hence more chilling?"

Instead of my usually-stinky capilene, now I use a 1/4 zip long sleeve lightweight wool top. I can pull the arms up above my elbows and unzip when I am hot and dry, or zip up to stay remarkably warm for such a thin garment. My three layer system is wool, Montbell Thermawrap jacket, and TNF DIAD (or heavier goretex).

Walking around the trailhead town after a hike, I can simply leave the wool on because it really does not retain odors, and put on my down belay jacket. Not too out of place..

Based on current results, I'd wear short or long arm wool during the coldest 9 months, and capilene during the hottest 3 months when it's chilling effect and rapid drying is appreciated.

Another combination I like is wool against the skin, with a polyester zip top layer ($10 from Uniqulo) above. It breathes well, moves like one garment, and is a light weight combo.

As an aside, these wool garments seem to usually be quite expensive, so I buy it all from or at steep discount.

Your comments please? For example, anyone tried a poly/merino blend? Does it retain the best features of each?.. or the worst of each?
thanks for the wool, guys

paul johnson
(pj) - F

Locale: LazyBoy in my Den - miss the forest
Re: Going Wool? share your knowledge on 11/24/2006 05:03:43 MST Print View

Credit where credit is due:

My summarization, as you called it from another Thread (and i took no credit for the words there), was a slight condensing of words from a very recent Post by DrJ.

In that Post DrJ, quite succinctly, listed the pros and cons of each mat'l, viz. wool and synths, and explained why wool is warmer than synths when drying. He was slightly technical in that Post (which i think we all greatly appreciate) in explaining why wet synths chill us more than wet wool (albeit for a shorter period of time) due the wet synth's higher rate of evaporation since ADSORPTION occurs with synths, but ABSORBTION occurs with wool (hence more water initially retained by wool) and wool wants to "hang on" to that water a bit more, hence a lower rate of evaporation and less chilling, though wool will remain wet longer - all other factors being equal.

I sure do learn a lot from him.

Give DrJ the credit. I stole it from him.

Brett .
(Brett1234) - F

Locale: CA
re:Going Wool? Props to Dr. J on 11/24/2006 05:25:17 MST Print View

p j., My apologies to you, and proper credit to Dr.J. I have also learned a lot from him.
I hadn't heard that word Adsorption since chemistry class, now I can work it into a conversation on my next hike; ha ha..

Jonathan Ryan
(Jkrew81) - F - M

Locale: White Mtns
Great for winter use on 11/24/2006 05:51:42 MST Print View

About 2 years ago I became a wool convert as well. Not only was it more comfortable, but you can run in the stuff all week (yes I know that is gross) and it will not smell up the whole apartment. Not to mention the feeling of actual warmth when wet. I have found wearing a lightweight wool base under a bicomponent windshirt almost completely eliminates evaporative cooling come winter.
Last winter I also purchased a pair of Ibex Solitude softshell pants which are made of a wool softshell material. On my first hike I quickly realized that my legs have never been so comfortable on a hike. I never broke a sweat nor was I cold.
The only downside I have found is that for me personally I do find even the lightest wool too warm for summer use.

Channing Sze
(eeyore) - F
a few thoughts on wool on 11/24/2006 06:31:50 MST Print View

wool is the only fabric a lot of my friends who live up north will wear -- from shirts and sweaters to socks and pants. i first read about wearing wool from these guys.

actually, the authors of "snow walker's companion" recommend a fine egyptian COTTON windbreaker. and continuing with the "natural" route, perhaps we will be wearing fur soon! i read this article two days ago. :),9171,861159,00.html

my personal experience with wool is that it is tough, stinkless, comfortable over many days. it is a bit heavier, isn't as warm (imo), doesn't dry as fast, but doesn't get wet as fast either.

Edited by eeyore on 11/24/2006 06:33:42 MST.

Lawrence Vito
(winefood) - F

Locale: Northern California
Smartwool on 11/24/2006 10:53:38 MST Print View

Just before my last trip, I purchased a Smartwool shortsleeved T shirt. It is by far the most comfortable hiking shirt I have ever owned. It wicks superbly, dries quicly, is warm under another layer and does not stink. What more could you want?
Everyone should own one.

Shawn Basil
(Bearpaw) - F

Locale: Southeast
wool reflections on 11/24/2006 10:54:21 MST Print View

I'm one of those "whiners", as Vlad Putin describes us, who is not a fan of traditional ragg wool clothing because it itches. However, I've become a tremendous fan of merino wool.

The difference in coarser wool and finer merino wool is the thickness of the strands or fibers of wool. This is measured in microns of thickness. Traditional wool socks (ragg wool) are made from relatively thick fibers of wool (25+ microns). When a thread breaks and fibers stick out, thicker fibers poke into the skin and create an itchy sensation. The level of sensitivity varies, but for most people, the thinner fibers (< 23 microns) curl down rather than poking into the flesh. Thus, merino wool socks are incredibly comfortable to me and they are my preferred winter wear socks. They also wick better than any other fabrics I know. The Merino label generally is applied if memory serves to wool of about 22 microns or narrower.

However, this still leaves a great deal of leeway in quality of merino wool. Stuff at the 22 micron end may still cause some irritation to the more sensitive areas of the skin, such as the chest. Finer merino in the 19 micron range might not.

This link may help give more technical information:

I've enjoyed tremendous performance from merino wool socks, though they are far too warm for me to be comfortable in summer heat, when I switch to coolmax Thorlo light hikers.

But in terms of base layers, my experience is more limited and disappointing. Last year I eagerly tried REI's new merino wool lightweight top and bottoms. (I work for REI and got a great deal on them.) But I was very disappointed. As soon as I tried them, my chest and back began to itch substantially. I tried washing them as I've heard this usually alleviates the problem. I washed them four times and the itch only marginally dropped. In the end, I got rid of these. However, the REI merino wool clothing line was discontinued last year, which leads me to think that perhaps the company was using an inferior grade of merino wool (22 microns) and I will be much happier with a higher end version. So I am currently ordering a Smartwool merino wool microweight crew, and I'll try it in the Smokies over Christmas vacation.

As for poly/merino wool blends, I can report my absolutely favorite sock is of such a type. The Bridgedale Ascent sock is a mix of Merino (68% roughly), (Coolmax 28%), with the rest a blend of Lycra for fitting. This sock is as close to a year-round sock as I have found. The wicking of merino is still there, with the faster drying time of a synthetic. I wore them last year down into the teens and while hiking, I was warm-footed. I did notice a chill if I sat still for more than 20-30 minutes. In the summer, I have worn it in temps above 100 (on the Colorado Trail this summer in Waterton Canyon) and found them as tolerable as one could hope for in the circumstances. On this same through-hike, they remained comfortable in temps down into the 30's. It combines much of the best of the two styles IMO.

Edited by Bearpaw on 11/24/2006 10:58:09 MST.

Ron Bell
(mountainlaureldesigns) - F - M

Locale: USA
wool/synthetic/silk on 11/24/2006 13:56:19 MST Print View

I'm not avocating anything, but was wondering if the same +'s for wool vs synthetic apply in any degree for silk? There certainly are a range of companies making silk LW base layers.

Shawn Basil
(Bearpaw) - F

Locale: Southeast
wool vs synthetic vs silk base layers on 11/24/2006 14:28:40 MST Print View

Silk was the base layer of choice for years, if you look into mountaineers on Everest for example through both Mallory and Hillary's day. Silk wicks well and is very comfortable. Nowadays, however, silk is usually a blend with synthetics for the sake of better fit.

The biggest issue for silk is durablity. It is very possible to use silk that will last a tremendous amount of time, but you cannot wash and dry it the way you would with synthetics or even with the new crop of merino wool base layers. They typically require a woolite style hand wash and hang dry to ensure long-term durability. This is the biggest downside.

David Wills
(willspower3) - F
Re: wool/synthetic/silk on 11/24/2006 14:29:48 MST Print View

Not much of a scientist, but I have terramar thermasilks as my thin base layers, and use silk for hammocks, bag liner, the lining in my 40* quilt, and a tank top made from scraps, and I have been more than impressed. The silk is by no means wind proof or resistant, but it seems to be very thermal, and dries very quickly, mostly due to its low mass i would imagine. Its high tensile strength to weight ratio helps lower weights of gear items. Silk definatley losses every battle vs. velcro though :(

On a particularly wet day on Clingmans Dome during a 40 mile day hike some friends and I did, my thermasilk got soaked and performed poorly compared to my synthethics and never got the chance to dry out. I found it warmer to have them off than on, so continued for much of the next 18 hours in 55* rain in swim trunks, a SS walmart underarmour knock off and a WP/NB jacket.

No science or evidence, but thats my experience with silk. Despite the one experience, I still use silk everywhere I possibly can get away with it.

Greg Vaillancourt
(GSV45) - F

Locale: Utah
I still use both synthetics and wool. on 11/24/2006 16:23:54 MST Print View

My normal baselayer usage for the last couple of years has been synthetics (Capiliene and MH) for day trips to overnighters and Wool for longer hauls.

My rational has been that wool stinks less so I saved it for the long trips. Synthetics are also easier to wash and dry and I have a bunch of them so I need to use them.

Recently I've had a couple of experiences where I wore wool on a short trip and I couldn't help but notice that it provides a much better comfort range. As an example I was racing the oncoming darkness to get back to my truck. The air temp was chilly (my nose and ears were feeling cool) yet I felt warm and dry wearing only an icebreaker zipneck shirt.

I'm sure I would have needed another layer had I been wearing a synthetic shirt. I've been in the same situation many times and was not as comfortable.

The one area that comes to mind where I think synthetics hold a big edge is durability. I have some Capiliene LU that is 6-7 years old that looks like new. Some of my wool LU is getting thin in the elbows and shoulders after only 2 years.

I suspect as the synth gear wears out I'll replace it with wool.

David Couch
(Davidc) - F

Locale: England
Is merino better than cheaper wools? on 11/24/2006 17:03:52 MST Print View

I understand that merino wool is finer than other wools in that its fibres are in the range 19-22 microns thick, and therefore it does not irritate when worn next to the skin like ordinary wools do. This is obviously a great advantage for garments worn next to the skin. Are there any other advantages over ordinary wool?

The point of this query is that merino wool pullovers cost far more than ordinary wool pullovers (the kind sold for normal daytime wear rather than backpacking). For mid-layer garments NOT worn next to the skin has merino any advantages to compensate for the extra cost? Does merino last longer, dry faster, smell less or keep you warmer for a given weight?

Reginald Donaldson
(worth) - MLife

Locale: Wind River Range
Dirty rag wool on 11/24/2006 17:27:20 MST Print View

I discovered years ago that rag wool stops itching after several days of wearing it as long as you do not wash it or change into clean rag wool. I assume the dirt, moisture and body oils must un-kink the fibers.

Nathan Moody
(atomick) - MLife

Locale: San Francisco Bay Area
Re: Is merino better than cheaper wools? on 11/24/2006 18:50:18 MST Print View

I just got a black Patagonia Wool 2 longsleeve 1/4-zip shirt. It's really fantastic, and if the specs are to be believed, it's lighter than Icebreaker's lightest shirts (145 vs 190g/sq. m). (Size L drapes comfortably loose with nice lengths on this 5'11", 165lb frame.)

Relative to the last question raised, in my experience it's not like "old school" wool. It's like a new fabric, in terms of weight, hand, versatility, and comfort. But it's not for everyone or every situation.

What's the reality for how such a piece of clothing feels and performs? Even that thin, I overheat in it at moderate exertion levels in temperatures above, say, 65 degrees (note: I was hiking at 1200' climb per hour (3mph or so) in 45-degree weather this weekend and was still sweating in a synthetic tee, so YMMV). It doesn't really cut any wind due to its thin material. But as a thin, 6-ounce layer for colder temps, or even warmer temps while sitting in camp, it's totally wonderful. Has a nice styling that extends its use beyond the trail as well.

Given all this and its anti-odor properties, I think it was totally worth the money and I plan to use this in my standard, 3-season torso clothing setup:
1. Sleeveless lightweight Capilene tee
2. Wool 2 longsleeve 1/4-zip shirt
3. WM Flight Jacket (MicroPuff vest in summer)
4. ID eVent Rain Jacket (doubles as windshirt)

I'm going to be keeping wool and synthetics in my clothing arsenal for many years to come...too many benefits and drawbacks to each for me to decide to dedicate to just one or the other.

Edited by atomick on 11/24/2006 18:51:44 MST.

Mark Hurd
(markhurd) - M

Locale: South Texas
Best Wool Baselayer Brand? on 11/24/2006 23:41:55 MST Print View

I've been using the lightest weight merino wool longsleeve Tee's for a baselayer for a couple of years. Here in south Texas it gets pretty hot and humid, but I find I sweat less and stay more comfortable in these than anything else I've tried. So I wear them for hiking year round. "Wool" and "South Texas" are not often seen together in the same paragraph as my wife has pointed out.

I have used both Ibex and Smartwool products (what ever is on sale.) I haven't tried the Patagonia or the Icebreaker shirts, but I think all these companies make good stuff. Does anyone have a particular preference? And if so, why?

Oh, and the possum-wool gloves I got from this site are really exceptional. I have found them amazingly warm and light weight.

In regard to silk mentioned above. I love it and use it as a liner for my sleeping bag, but I found, as David did above, that once it gets wet it stays wet and clammy.

Roger Caffin
(rcaffin) - BPL Staff - MLife

Locale: Wollemi & Kosciusko NPs, Europe
Re: wool reflections on 11/25/2006 02:32:07 MST Print View

> The Merino label generally is applied if memory serves to wool of about 22 microns or narrower.
Not correct. Merino wool comes from the Merino breed of sheep. They are those great big fat ones in an earlier posting by Brett. The Merino derives from some sheep bought in Durban, South Africa, by John MacArthur during the very early days of settlement in Australia. They are bred solely for wool - their meat is rathe tough. Other breeds, like Dorset, are bred for lamb chops.

Merino wool can be any diameter from about 14 microns to 28 microns (or larger). The 14 micron stuff is the ultra-superfine stuff sold at mega prices to the Japanese. The first time there was just ONE bale of it. The Japanese buyer was shaking when the bidding at auction stopped - it was a an absolutely astronomical price, and 'completely without commercial justification'. When asked, he said his company was going to make ultra-fine cloth out of it to make a couple of suits for the Emperor. Well, they did this.

Then they sold the rest of the fabric (several hundred kilograms in a whole bale, remember) in short suit lengths for about $1000 a length (or some such price). Naturally, they had NO trouble selling it all, quickly. Turns out they made a decent profit on the exercise ... :-)

Ordinary superfine wool is typically under 18 microns. When the wool is this fine that it stops prickling because the fibres are not stiff enough to stick into your skin. That's why some other fibres don't prickle: they are too fine and soft.

Up to maybe 21 microns is 'ordinary' wool, for which the world market is steadily shrinking. Above that and you have what might be best described as tough carpet wool. The Australian wool industry is dying. The market for buggy-whips is not real great either.

The only country in the world to really run merinos is Australia. Huge numbers. Export of Merino Rams is restricted - monopoly power. Pity the market is dying.

The Australian wool farmers spend a lot of money on research and marketing. The New Zealanders grow a _very_ small amount of Merino wool (but lots of lamb chops). So why did the new wave of superfine Merino wool underwear come from New Zealand? Good question, glad you asked that. It seems to have something to do with some very ancient guys at the Wool Board who were so stuck in their ways that all they could think of was trying to persuade America to buy 'wool jeans' (a totally stupid idea of course). Or to get the Chinese to each buy one pair of wool socks. We still don't have an Australian producer of super-fine thermal underwear ...

Sorry - probably boring - I spent many years in the Australian Wool Research labs as a research scientist. But I learnt a lot about fabrics.

Edited by rcaffin on 11/25/2006 02:35:16 MST.

paul johnson
(pj) - F

Locale: LazyBoy in my Den - miss the forest
Re: Re: wool reflections on 11/25/2006 04:47:30 MST Print View


NOT boring at all. Fascinating, actually.

It seems that whether it's Aerospace or Wool, TPTB ("the powers that be", i.e. "the Execs that run the show") are capable of making the same illogical decisions. I guess they all must be spawned fr/the same gene pool - that's what happens when first cousins marry for so many generations.

Shawn Basil
(Bearpaw) - F

Locale: Southeast
Re: Re: wool reflections on 11/25/2006 08:54:49 MST Print View

"Merino wool can be any diameter from about 14 microns to 28 microns (or larger). The 14 micron stuff is the ultra-superfine stuff sold at mega prices to the Japanese."

True about the sheep being the source, but with the exception of virgin wool from lambs, merino wool is theonly type generally found in the finer thinner grades, isn't it?

And my understanding is that below about 16 microns durability is such an issue that it's not really prectical for outdoor clothing. The bulk of what I know about merino is based on socks, having worked as a bootfitter for about 5 1/2 years.

Dondo .

Locale: Colorado Rockies
Re: Going Wool? share your knowledge on 11/25/2006 17:59:46 MST Print View

I like merino wool for it's relative lack of odor and "flash-off" effect. But I'm moving back to synthetics for value. Synthetics have lower initial cost and last far longer than merino wool. The lighter weight and quicker drying are also appreciated. Having used both merino wool and synthetics extensively, I can't say that I find much difference in function.

Dondo .

Locale: Colorado Rockies
Re: wool/synthetic/silk on 11/25/2006 18:10:15 MST Print View

I have some silk base layers hanging in my gear closet but don't use them much anymore. What initially drew me to them was their very light weight and luxurious feel. But it's a bummer when they get wet; they just take too long to dry. One possible use is as a spare base layer to slip into at night to keep your bag clean.

Edited by Dondo on 11/25/2006 23:47:14 MST.