It keeps you warm when it is cold. It keeps you cool when it is hot. It dries almost instantly. You can sweat in it all day for weeks at a time without washing and still it won't smell. I remember being horrified when Tara informed me that all her research said these qualities belonged to wool. Wool!?
The only wool I knew was the unbearably scratchy, heat-stroke inducing sweaters I was sometimes forced to wear as a child. I was quickly corrected; it wasn't just any wool, it was the silky soft merino wool from New Zealand that we'd be wearing every day for the next few years.
Here are just a few of the remarkable qualities wool provides:
Wool fibers have tiny pockets of air that provide a buffering layer of natural climate control. This natural buffering capacity helps the body maintain a stable core temperature.
Synthetics don't wick sweat until it turns into a liquid, while wool moves sweat off the skin immediately in its vapor state, keeping you drier and more comfortable over a longer period of time.
Wool is antimicrobial—in other words, because wool is great at wicking, absorbing and evaporating moisture, odor-causing bacteria can't find a home here.
Harvesting wool uses significantly less energy than it takes to manufacture fossil fuel dependent, man-made synthetics. Wool is also recyclable and biodegradable.
Read this and more about merino wool at Smartwool.com
So what about synthetics? There are a dizzying array of options out there, each with their own "high tech" properties. We like technology but almost every article of clothing we have that touts fancy nanotechnology or antimicrobial coatings reeks after a single sweaty outing while our merino wool goes on for weeks smelling like, well, nothing. After seven months on the road it still amazes me!
The only complaint we have to lodge against merino: the lighter weights can be a bit on the delicate side. If you're not careful they'll snag fairly easily. This is a small price to pay, in our view, for a fabric we couldn't imagine doing this trip without. I know Tara is looking forward to having a real wardrobe when we return but I don't think I'll ever go back!
If SmartWool doesn't carry the garment you're looking for there are several other high quality manufacturers to choose from like IceBreaker, Patagonia & Ibex. We have clothing from all of them except Ibex and as far as we can tell the quality is more or less identical.