Once upon a time we only had natural fibres… fast forward to today and maybe it’s now all about synthetic materials? Well, it appears more people than ever now choose merino wool products for outdoor activities. So let’s take a look at the material, what it’s good for and check out some useful examples.
Merino is the wool from Merino sheep, first raised in Spain then exported to Australia, where most of it now comes from (why did I think they were from New Zealand?). For some real detail on this take a look at Woolmark and the history of merino wool.
What’s really interesting about merino wool is how it works in both hot and cold climates. For outdoors people its trump card is how it performs when its wet. Apparently individual fibres can take on up to 30% of their weight in moisture.
Merino has excellent wicking properties, meaning it can take moisture off your skin. Sweat stuck close to your body – soaked to a cotton t-shirt – will not dry quick. Worse still it will drop your body temperature fast (really dangerous if you’re outdoors in cold changeable weather.)
It’s also a great insulator. Because of the fine fibres merino traps heat really well.
It doesn’t smell. Somehow you can get several days wear out of merino without it taking on your stink. Ever noticed how much your synthetic base layer honks at the end of a day? Sold with lots of ‘technology’ and innovations, but without a stink warning. It’s anti-microbial, hypoallergenic and can have really high UPF ratings: all valid reasons to choose merino for outdoor activities over other materials.
Some people don’t like merino clothing*: as far as I can tell this is because they claim it’s itchy, expensive and difficult to look after. Let’s explore some of these concerns.
Some people find merino itchy, at least the first time they wear it. For me, there was a slight itch but then nothing, and I’ve not been bothered by it since. Wool is fibrous, but get good stuff and you’ll probably not have an issue.
Well, they can be depending what you are comparing them to. Yes, you’ll generally pay more than for synthetic products but increasingly there are more reasonably priced products coming through. The EDZ products featured here start from £39 for a 135g t-shirt to £69.99 for the 260g mid-lay zip neck. That’s not much more expensive than quality cotton and close to many synthetic options.
No, not really. Merino clothing isn’t hard to look after, you just need to wash it with your woollens between 30 and 40 degrees, use wool detergents, don’t use fabric softners and don’t use a tumble dryer.
*(I thought I should be straight up about this – not everyone gets on with merino wool in outdoor clothing. Personally, having worn it for several years, I’m a total fan.)
No, merino is not all the same, there are different weights and grades. Weights you might be familiar with (measured in g or gsm) and graded by the size of the fibre: this is measured in microns and smaller fibres are better (merino wool thicker than 24 microns is used for blankets and insulation). T-shirts and the lightest layers will be around 100g.
How long a list do you want? I’d say they are useful for pretty much every outdoor activity where you are exercising at a high rate or need close-fitting insulation layers. Because of its anti-microbial properties, merino is good for pretty much any layer that is in direct contact with your skin.
Merino is most used as a base layer – for all the reasons we’ve discussed. However, choose heavier grades and you’ll find it’s ideal as a light /mid-layer in Spring/ Summer.
On colder days I like to double up, using the 135g t-shirt as a base layer and have a thicker 260g long-sleeve on top. Walking in Spring you’ll always need a quick layer to throw on when you stop – choose a half-zip and stash it under the lid of your day sack.
And… (yes, there’s more) merino wool is great in socks for hiking, snowboarding and a range of outdoor activities. Wool socks were always traditional choices especially in cold climates but a modern mix of materials will give you better shape and fit.
I really like how small the t-shirts can stash. Pack a couple for longer travels or holidays where you’ll not have much chance to wash gear.
They are also ideal as a sleeping layer: been on the go all day and want something clean to sleep in? Perfect.
I’m already seeing merino wool getting used much more across outdoor clothing. It’s getting cheaper and I think we’ll start to see it introduced in more ‘merino-mix’ and hybrid type garments.
As I explained, there’s a few reasons why some people don’t get on with this material. Me, I love it and rarely wear anything else when outdoors. So, yes you should – or at least try, and find out for yourselves.
Hope you enjoyed this look at merino clothing – if you want to see more of the outdoor merino clothing reviewed here, take a look at EDZ merino.
I’m preparing for a Balkan Trek this summer. All money raised will be for a fantastic small charity called Link to Hope who do work in tiny villages in the Balkans and support refugee efforts in Ukraine. Follow my journey via #BacktotheBalkans or help me raise some much needed funds via JustGiving, here. Thanks! Mp Balkan Trek 2022