L.L.Bean Albany Outing Group Message Board › What's the deal with the Merino?

What's the deal with the Merino?

user 23793902
Albany, NY
Post #: 2
Did you know that the Merino is a specific breed of sheep? They have the finest and softest wool of any breed. They live in such extreme climates as Australia, New Zealand, Spain, and even as close to home as Vermont!
Because the Merino lives in extreme climates, natural selection and modern day selective breeding by humans has made their coats the most adaptive of any herd animal, and the most desirable of the textile industry.

Merino wool is common in high-end, performance athletic wear. Typically meant for use in running, hiking, skiing, mountain climbing, cycling, and in other types of outdoor aerobic exercise, these clothes command a premium over synthetic fabrics.
Several properties contribute to merino's popularity for exercise clothing, compared to wool in general and to other types of fabric:

  • Merino is excellent at regulating body temperature, especially when worn against the skin. The wool provides some warmth, without overheating the wearer. It draws moisture (sweat) away from the skin, a phenomenon known as wicking. The fabric is slightly moisture repellent (keratin fibers are hydrophobic at one end and hydrophilic at the other), allowing the user to avoid the feeling of wetness.
  • Like cotton, wool absorbs water (up to 1/3 its weight), but, unlike cotton, wool retains warmth when wet, helping wearers avoid hypothermia after strenuous workouts (climbs) or weather events.
  • Like most wools, merino contains lanolin which has antibacterial properties.
  • Merino is one of the softest types of wool available, due to finer fibers and smaller scales.
  • Merino has an excellent warmth-to-weight ratio compared to other wools, in part because the smaller fibers have microscopic cortices of dead air, trapping body heat similar to the way a sleeping bag warms its occupant
  • DURABLE-Merino Wool fibers can be bent 20,000 times without breaking which explains why merino garments are so long-lasting

    Not only does Merino wool have so many great properties as a performance fabric, it is also a 100% renewable resource. Shear a merino sheep in the morning, and in the afternoon they're happily nibbling their way towards next season's clip. Merino Wool garments are often cherished for decades but ultimately they are biodegradable and return to their natural elements, unlike most synthetics. Polyester and nylon demand unsustainable quantities of energy and water, and cotton accounts for 25% of all pesticides used globally. Merino Wool, though, can be produced with minimal environment impact.
    Also, your purchase of a merino wool garment supports the local farms and families that ultimately produce the wool fabric. Most of the wool garment brands are proud of where their wool products come from and you can find plenty of information about the process on their websites!

    Some wonderful brands of Merino wool clothing and accessories that you can check out and feel great about purchasing are Smartwool, Icebreaker, and Minus33, to name a few!

Jeanne M
user 29106912
Schenectady, NY
Post #: 2
Nice to hear all that good stuff about merino wool!
After hiking for three years, I finally invested in an Ibex merino wool baselayer top instead of my duofold and have greatly noticed the difference.
Eva P.
user 13638424
Albany, NY
Post #: 2
Thanks for the input Kate... now I'm going to challenge your knowledge! If you don't have the answers, that's OK! I'm allergic to lanolin. So, I'm very cautious about using wool clothing. Do you know if Merino wool has more or less lanolin than other types of sheep wool? Do you know if it's treated to be hypoallergenic? Would it be as effective if I layered it over a base layer (to prevent direct contact with my skin) or would it be better to just stick with synthetic types of insulation?
user 23793902
Albany, NY
Post #: 3
Interesting questions Eva!
Lanolin is actually a greasy substance excreted by sheep from their skin, similar to sebum in humans. It makes their coats waterproof. You may be familiar with it as it is in many beauty products as a moisturizer. The Merino's wool fibers are the finest of all sheep, therefore they secrete the MOST lanolin of any breed of sheep!
Most lanolin is removed from the wool fiber in the fabrication process. Wool is a natural product, however, and if you have an allergy I would not take any chances. Lanolin is an excellent emulsifier, which means it bonds well on a molecular level with water. Therefore if you are being active (sweating) with a lanolin bearing wool product on, it could definitely irritate your skin, even through synthetic base layers.
In your situation Eva, I would stick with synthetic base layers. If you prefer a natural material against your skin you may consider silk as a base layer option as well.
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