Patagonia: Merino Wool Limbo Champ (Outdoor Retailer Summer Market 2006)

Ultralight merino wool garments with an eye on responsible and effective fiber treatment.

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by Ryan Jordan | 2006-08-10 03:00:00-06

Patagonia: Merino Wool Limbo Champ (Outdoor Retailer Summer Market 2006)

In 2001, with Alan Dixon and Jim Nelson, I wrote Clothing and Sleep Systems for Mountain Hiking, which promotes the use of merino wool base layers in lieu of synthetics even in wet conditions as one finds while alpine climbing or springtime backpacking.

Since that time, a lot has changed.

My affinity for merino wool shirts has been further cemented. Not necessarily by advances in product technologies, but by experienced gained with wool shirts in conditions ranging from 90 degree heat in the Wyoming Desert to subzero backcountry skiing in Montana's Beartooths.

But technology has changed, albeit in increments.

In 2001, the lone U.S. player was Smartwool. Their "Trad" weight long sleeve zip-T weighed 11.0 oz in a Men's size Medium.

I wore that shirt so much it became permanently stained (it only came in "natural" cream), full of holes, and stretched beyond its ability to fit me (or anyone I know) ever again. At the time, I really loved that shirt. It was so comfortable. In retrospect, when I compare it to what is available today from Smartwool, Ibex, Icebreaker, and now, Patagonia, it really was a poorly performing garment!

Which brings us to today and Patagonia's introduction of 100% merino wool baselayers to the outdoor market.

Unique (claims Patagonia, although I haven't had the chance to verify it) is the treatment by which Patagonia conditions its wool fibers. It's 100% chlorine free, which is good for the environment, but perhaps of more interest to the performance-minded, it doesn't destroy the performance of the wool fiber.

You see, chlorine, which traditionally, is the treatment of choice to remove scales from the surface of merino wool fibers, also creates magnificent chasms (cracks) in the fiber, which can be viewed by scanning electron microscopy. These cracks are a problem, because they entrap oils and liquid moisture and destroy one of merino wool's key benefits, which is the storage and release of heat into and out of the fiber through moisture vapor exchange.

And so, Patagonia employs a conditioning treatment that is chlorine-free, and is supposed to remove the scales while preserving the structural integrity of the fiber.

Most people will say, "so what"?

While I appreciate the technological difficulties and solutions in wool fiber treatment, I can't say I blame them. After all, if it fits well, feels good, dries fast, and is light in weight, I'm good to go.

And this is why I'm excited about Patagonia's new merino wool garment lines.

Remember the 2001 model of the Smartwool Trad Zip-T? The one that weighed 11 oz, stretched beyond recognition, and dried at the rate of an Amazon prune? Well, it's safe to say that Patagonia has benchmarked that product. Their new Wool 2 Men's Long-Sleeve Zip-T, in the same size (M), weighs a scant 6.35 ounces. Lighter than Lightweight Capilene. The lines between wools and synthetics are getting blurred.

We verified this weight. In fact, Patagonia booth staff had no clue about how much their wool baselayers weighed. In fact, three different marketing documents claimed three different product weights for Wool 2 fabrics, ranging from 111 g/m2 to 148 g/m2. We're guessing it's closer to the latter. So, under the covert protection of Patagonia's Alpine product line manager Jim Trombly, who promised us immunity if we got caught, we snuck a few Wool 2 garments out of the booth over to a digital scale a few rooms away at the Integral Designs' booth, and weighed, and giggled with glee, at the results. We had to sneak back in the booth to rehang the garments (Jim was long gone, interestingly) without being seen. These indeed are exciting times!

We weighed a sleeveless Wool 2 muscle shirt, which would make a great base layer in combination with another shirt, especially during the winter, or it could be used by itself in warmer conditions. It tipped the scales at an astonishing 3.77 ounces in a Men's Medium (see photo).

The long sleeve crew neck weighed 6.63 oz, which interestingly, was slightly heavier than the 6.35 ounces of the L/S Zip-T.

One of the three brochures indicated that the Men's Wool 2 baselayer fabric is 133 g/m2 (3.9 oz/yd2). It's a jersey knit. The women's Wool 2 fabric is a slightly heavier pointelle knit at 144 g/m2 (4.4 oz/yd2). Patagonia also offered two heavier weight wool baselayers, creatively named Wool 3 (230 g/m2, 6.8 oz/yd2), and Wool 4 (265 g/m2, 7.8 oz/yd2). The latter two fabrics are less interesting, and are there to round out the line rather than offer any particular technology breakthroughs. A variety of interesting designs for both men and women will be available.


Citation

"Patagonia: Merino Wool Limbo Champ (Outdoor Retailer Summer Market 2006)," by Ryan Jordan. BackpackingLight.com (ISSN 1537-0364).
http://backpackinglight.com/cgi-bin/backpackinglight/patagonia_merino_wool_orsm06.html, 2006-08-10 03:00:00-06.

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Patagonia: Merino Wool Limbo Champ (Outdoor Retailer Summer Market 2006)
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Ryan Jordan
(ryan) - BPL Staff - MLife

Locale: Greater Yellowstone
Patagonia: Merino Wool Limbo Champ (Outdoor Retailer Summer Market 2006) on 08/11/2006 00:28:40 MDT Print View

Companion forum thread to:

Patagonia: Merino Wool Limbo Champ (Outdoor Retailer Summer Market 2006)

Bill Fornshell
(bfornshell) - MLife

Locale: Southern Texas
Patagonia: Merino Wool #2 LS - Crew on 08/11/2006 05:24:16 MDT Print View

The Patagonia web site has the #2 wool listed as 145g/sq meter.

I have a size large on order with a UPS delievery date of 16 Aug. It will be on my scale within a minute after coming out of the package. I hope the real weigh is on the lower side of 6 ounces.

I am hoping they get the #1 wool out soon.

R K
(oiboyroi)

Locale: South West US
Re: Patagonia: Merino Wool Limbo Champ (Outdoor Retailer Summer Market 2006) on 08/11/2006 16:23:30 MDT Print View

Are these 100% wool or a nylon blend?

Edited by oiboyroi on 08/11/2006 17:23:44 MDT.

Sam Haraldson
(sharalds) - MLife

Locale: Gallatin Range
Wool on 08/11/2006 17:12:26 MDT Print View

I was glad to see wool starting to make a comeback into the outdoor market. When I first heard about Icebreaker products a few years ago I was a strictly synthetic person who swore by it.

I recently purchased the Merino offering by Arc'Teryx in the form of a t-shirt. I haven't brought it down to the post office yet for a weigh-in but it feels heavier than my Capilene.

Bill (or anyone) are you familiar with the weight of the Arc'Teryx material? The new Patagonia offerings are nice to see. After having read the BPL comparison of wool to synthetic I was very pleased to learn how much less wool will smell on me after I've been wearing it for a long time. The smell doesn't bother me personally, but I feel for those who work in trail town post offices and restaurants ; )

Bill Fornshell
(bfornshell) - MLife

Locale: Southern Texas
Patagonia: Merino Wool on 08/11/2006 18:28:39 MDT Print View

Roy, The Patagonia #2 Wool Crew is 100% wool.

Sam, The Arc'Teryx "Emissary" is 195gr/sq meter wool. The CS guy at Arc'Teryx said their Merino comes from the same place Icebreaker gets their wool. The CS guy also said a medium would weigh 6.8 ounces. REI has these on sale for 31% off at this time.

I have used Patagonia Capilene for maybe 15 or so years and it does not smell on me. Who knows why. I also never dry it in a cloths dryer I only hang dry it. I don't use a cloths dryer for anything.

I have several Icebreaker items that I like a lot but they are heavy compaired to my Capilene. I am really glad to see Patagonia bring out this light wool stuff.

Sam Haraldson
(sharalds) - MLife

Locale: Gallatin Range
145gr/m on 08/11/2006 18:43:14 MDT Print View

Bill,
Thanks for that info. I had my Emissary down on my gear spreadsheet (size L) as 7.00 oz. and if a M weighs 6.8 my estimate probably isn't too off.

145gr/m sounds enticing. And coming from a company with such a positive attitude towards environmental and social issues such as Patagonia is great.

Do you suppose that not drying your capilene has had an effect on it's smell-resitance? I washed it and dryed it with my normal loads (mostly polyester with a couple pairs of Carhartts) for the first few years of it's life. The past two years however I stopped drying clothes in a dryer (tree hugger, what can I say). I predict this will lengthen the lifespan of my clothing if nothing else.

Bill Fornshell
(bfornshell) - MLife

Locale: Southern Texas
Patagonia: Merino Wool on 08/11/2006 20:27:49 MDT Print View

Sam, Patagonia says not to dry Capilene in a dryer.

When I ordered my #2 wool stuff, crew and pants, I asked about how to wash them. Machine wash is OK but they said to block dry them. This is laying the things flat like many people dry wool sweaters. That way the weight of the water doesn't stretch them. That is how I dry my wool stuff anyway. I think my mother taught me that.

Sam Haraldson
(sharalds) - MLife

Locale: Gallatin Range
Wool and Capilene on 08/12/2006 11:21:34 MDT Print View

Bill,

I know I'm not supposed to dry Capilene but all of mine is old now and I'm not too worried about it's performance anymore.

As far as wool goes, yes I dry it by using the same method you mention (one my mother taught me as well). I have a wool sweater that I've just never washed nor dried, but my new Arc'Teryx shirt will be taken care of with the greatest care as I see it being a staple piece of clothing both front and back country for many years to come.

R K
(oiboyroi)

Locale: South West US
Re: Patagonia: Merino Wool on 08/12/2006 14:24:57 MDT Print View

Bill, thanks for the clarification on the fabric.

I wonder if there will be any durablity issues since there is no nylon.

We just got Capilene #2 and #3 in the store where I work. Both seem thinner that the lightweight and midweight they replace.

Bill Fornshell
(bfornshell) - MLife

Locale: Southern Texas
Patagonia: Merino Wool on 08/12/2006 15:18:46 MDT Print View

Roy, Looking at the new Capilene - #1 on the web site they have the weight listed at 5.5oz.

Looking at an old catalog the Silk Weight (same as the now #1 model) is listed at 5oz.

Maybe the "Gladioder" in the new ones makes it weigh a little more.

I expect to like the new wool stuff but I am not ready to give up my Capilene yet. I have never been disappointed in my Capilene stuff.

Woubeir (from Europe)
(Woubeir) - F - MLife
Merino wool on 08/12/2006 16:23:31 MDT Print View

If I had to make a guess, I would think that the higher weight of Capilene 1 (assuming the weight is correct) has more to do with the fact that part of the fibers are recycled than that Gladiodor has something to do with it. BTW, I wonder how this Gladiodor will perform given the fact that it's not silverbased but works on the basis of amino acids.

Bill Fornshell
(bfornshell) - MLife

Locale: Southern Texas
Patagonia's Merino Wool Line on 08/13/2006 09:38:23 MDT Print View

I just looked at the Patagonia web site. They have corrected the weighs on the Merino Wool items. All weighs are size medium.
#2 Crew 3.5 oz
#2 Bottoms 4 oz
#3 Crew 6 oz
#3 Bottoms 7 oz
#4 Crew 8 oz
#4 Bottoms 8 oz

The Black #2 Crew and Bottoms should go good with and under my Black Watch Plaid hiking Kilt. The #2 Bottoms for those cold days or when I leave my Hummer 1 at home.

I hate those little wimpy Hummer 2's and 3's.

Roleigh Martin
(marti124) - MLife

Locale: Moderator-JohnMuirTrail Yahoo Group
Has Ryan verified things with merino wool vendors yet? on 01/27/2008 23:14:10 MST Print View

Ryan, you wrote "Unique (claims Patagonia, although I haven't had the chance to verify it)" -- have you verified the situation with the others (icebreaker, smartwool, ibex) since then? (re: the chlorine treatment). What I want is a Tshirt that is not itchy, light as a nylon Tshirt, breathable as same, light as same, strong as same (or better in any of the regards). I want to try a wool Tshirt this year on my John Muir Trail hike and want to choose among the top wool Tshirt makers after seeing how they treat wool, etc.

I just emailed Icebreaker, not yet emailed the other two and was curious if you have since your article. I'm also curious which Morino wool Tshirt is the least itchy as of the current lines (for hiking on the JMT in July/August).

Joshua Mitchell
(jdmitch) - F

Locale: Kansas
Re: Merino wool on 01/28/2008 09:53:02 MST Print View

"If I had to make a guess, I would think that the higher weight of Capilene 1 (assuming the weight is correct) has more to do with the fact that part of the fibers are recycled than that Gladiodor has something to do with it."

Yup, recycled fibers tend to have a larger diameter than virgin fibers (if memory serves, recycling [really melting and reforming] reduces individual fiber strength slightly necessitating slightly larger fibers for equivalent strength).

You'll see this with nearly any fibrous recycled source. Climashield Green is slightly higher weight / insulation than it's virgin stuff as is primaloft eco.

Ha! Just realize that comment was from two years ago. Anyhow, I've not heard of anyone else claming a special eco-friendly processing of Merino fibers... except Teko and their eco-wash wool.

Edited by jdmitch on 01/28/2008 09:54:47 MST.

Scott Christy
(scott_christy) - F

Locale: Wydaho.
re: wool. on 01/30/2008 21:14:15 MST Print View

Raleigh,

I've had a Patagonia 2 wool longsleeve for the last year or year and a half and never had the feeling that it was itchy in the slightest. Often I used it as my only base layer which meant that I was hiking in quite often. Hope that helps.