If you know me you knew this blog post was coming, Merino Wool. Spring and summer are not the seasons to pack your wool away in a box or leave it hanging up in the closet on your next camping trip. Merino wool is an amazing material. Like everything it has its pros and cons. On a summer backpacking trip in a slot canyon brought together some chilly situations. I was wearing a cotton shirt, we nicknamed a tomb of death, my dad wore a synthetic shirt you could smell a 100 yards out, (sorry dad) and my friend Jim had a Merino wool shirt. I was freezing cold as we were in and out of cold pools of water with no sun reaching the bottom of the canyon. I was freezing cold in my cotton shirt, it was like wearing a swamp cooler in the shade while trying to fight the cold off. This was the first time I had heard of Merino wool. I was shocked at how lightweight it was, it looked like a normal shirt you would wear on a summer day. Here are some of the advantages you get with Merino wool.
The merino’s fleece is built for extremes, it is breathable in summer, insulating in winter, yet soft and light. In New Zealand the merino sheep live in warm to hot summers and very cold winters.
In summer, the merino’s thin, light, super-breathable coat keeps him cool in temperatures that hit 95 °F
In winter, he grows an extra layer of wool over his base coat as protection against temperatures that plummet to -4 °F
The merino's wool is well designed for the wide range of temperatures they live through.
It is also not the typical wool you are thinking of as itchy. It measures between 17 and 19 microns and is flexible, that to say it is soft and not itchy. Merino wool is very breathable and and dries quickly, not quite as quick as a synthetic but quick non the less. It will keep some of its thermal properties even when wet, unlike the cotton shirt I was wearing. The other benefit I like and those hiking with me is it does not retain much smell. I took a three day backpacking trip in the summer and wore only one shirt. I tossed it to my wife (nick name, super nose), after taking it off the first time and she claimed it did not smell bad at all. I have heard claims of people not washing them until they have worn them over 90 days, I don't think I will go that far, but not hording that smell like a synthetic does is a plus. The biggest drawback it has is cost. For a T shirt, the price can range from $50 dollars to $150. Over all I have to say I am very pleased with my Icebreaker Merino wool clothing. I try to take the best care of it as I can and save them for my backpacking trips. My advise is take time to build up the layer system, they work well when you use them together in a layer system as temps drop into the night.