Let's Talk Merino Wool
Take a look at the history and uses of this very special wool and explore just whats makes it different.
Rather underrated, wool plays a very major part in human history. It has been used as clothing for many millennia, where primitive humans would clothe themselves in the skins of wild sheep before there domestication. It has been keeping us warm since. During Roman times, there were the first signs of selective breeding to make a superior fleece, through to the ascendancy of wool during the Middle Ages in Europe where wool, the central block in the medieval economy, had a major surge in quality. It was during the 12th century when the foundation flocks of merino sheep arrived in Spain. A monopoly was built around them and the Spanish became so protective of this wool, finer and softer than any before it, that it became a crime punishable by death to export the sheep from Spain. This law continued until the 18th century, where in 1788, the first merino sheep arrived in Australia, 70 at first, there are now today over 56.6 million merino sheep down under. The largest amount in the world and double the human population. Merino has been since perfected for strength and softness of fibre. The best Merino is said to come from Australia and New Zealand.
Where does Merino differ from other wool?
All wool in general is a fantastic material, we haven’t ever truly managed to replicate all of its features in anything synthetic. It’s a water-resistant fibre which still maintains a lot of warmth even when soaked through. It’s flame retardant, you can sit by the fire and not worry about stray sparks, synthetic fibres melt. It’s flexibility and durability allow it to withstand great amounts of pressure and use much longer, it’s a very long-lasting material that can be used for years with no issue. Lastly, wool is antimicrobial and does not hold onto body odour nearly as much as synthetic materials do. All of these features are common of all wools, so where does merino differ?
For starters, standard wools are very itchy. To those with sensitive skin, wool can be irritating. Merino is a much finer fibre, incredibly soft and much less itchy making it ideal for next to skin garments like base layers, socks and underwear. Thanks to these thinner fibres, it is quite lightweight and packs tremendous warmth for how little it does weigh. It also however in lighter constructions, performs brilliantly in hot weather as well, keeping you cool and dry due to its excellent ability to efficiently wick away moisture. Again, its finer fibres make it more air permeable than a standard wool, it breathes much better and dries much faster than other wools. Merino wool garments are used as base layers by top mountaineers and skiers. Fun fact: Due to the antimicrobial properties, astronauts use them under space suits to keep their body odour out for as long as possible for long hauls in outer space.
Some Top Merino Brands
This highly sustainable, New Zealand based garment maker is well renowned for making some of the very best, technical, merino base layers. Founded by Jeremy Moon at the age of 24, a chance meeting with a merino sheep farmer installed a passion in him for Merino wool-based materials. Ice breaker is one of the brands creating outstanding technical garments out of pure natural materials. Icebreaker work tirelessly in their design ethos to bring simplicity, longevity, versatility, purpose and sustainability into all of their products. They don’t stop there; Icebreaker keep a very strong eye on the way that all of the sheep providing them with wool are incredibly well treated following a very strict guideline that the call the 5 freedoms. The 5 key freedoms for their flocks mean you can feel happy knowing that the sheep felt just as good making your Icebreaker merino as you will feel wearing it.
They are as follows:
- Freedom from hunger and thirst
- Freedom from Discomfort
- Freedom from injury and disease
- Freedom to roam
- Freedom from distress
If you’re looking for some of the finest outdoor socks money can buy, look no further than Smartwool. They were the first outdoor company to create performance merino wool ski socks – revolutionizing the category and forever changing the way outdoor enthusiasts look at their feet. A brand built on the desire to be comfortable on outdoor adventures. They use a nice, high quality merino woll blended with nylon for durabilty and of course elastance for stretch. Within our range, we carry Smartwool socks to cover everything from Skiing and alpine winter sport to recreational hiking and trail running.
This post was written by Oli who runs the TL Blog. Amongst his many hobbies, he enjoys wild camping, swimming in rivers and collecting seashells, all popular pastimes in his native homeland of Devon. Catch more of Oli's posts on the TL Blog every week.