An Oldie But A Goodie.
Cool weather is coming and fall is upon us. As I prepare my gear, unpacking last year’s high-tech, ultra-science clothing made from “super fabrics”, I happen across my trusty wool cap, vest, gloves, and long johns. Neatly packed and cared for before placed in storage for the summer, these low-tech but highly evolved articles of clothing are still among my favorites. Wool has been used throughout the centuries because of its many unique strengths. There is nothing quite like an afternoon “hammock nap” covered with a rugged wool blanket. When preparing for your next cool-weather adventure, don’t overlook the wool.
Being versatile and worn in more parts of the world on more parts of the body than most other fabrics, wool comes in varied weaves and cloths. Wool is found in most every aspect of clothing, socks to neckties, coats to undies. A fine set of wool hunting trousers will set you back a pretty penny, but with wool’s durability and usefulness, they may just be your go to pants. My wool cap makes an excellent “cozy” for holding my filtered and boiled water in my back-country kitchenette. While not quite as heat resistant as my Dutch oven mitts, wool has its uses as an insulator as well, much better than cotton. After all, wool has a few properties other natural fabrics can’t match.
Warmth and water resistance are obvious traits you will appreciate. With an ultralight ability to help the body retain heat, even while damp, the fine hairs in wool garments trap air and keep it close. Wool fibers contain a protein core covered by overlapping scales. The construction and science are interesting when you consider the protein core can absorb 30% of its own weight in water before becoming damp or clammy. The scales are hard and repel water to begin with, quite the match up. Add to the mix, lanolin, another water repellent. The water wicking properties also protect against mildew.
Did you happen to know that wool is hypoallergenic? Dust mites can't stand wool. Did you happen to know that dust mites are the major cause of allergies and asthma? Well, that is what I read on the Internet so it must be true. However, I did find more than one resource to justify this assertion. Dust mites are typically more attracted to synthetic fibers. If you are, as within my family, subject to allergies and asthma, wool may be a good choice for you.
Along the same lines wool diminishes body odor. As with dust mites, bacteria can be attracted to synthetic fibers. Wool tends to help with the evaporation of sweat into the air unlike synthetic fibers which may trap it. Wool has a high concentration of fatty acids which have antibacterial properties. The internal layers of wool fiber can bind with the acidic and sulfurous odors which are prevalent in your sweat and thus reduce them.
Wool is not uniform among all animals, nor is every type right for every occasion. Merino wool is a very long and very fine wool. Merino, named for the sheep from which it comes, can be made very soft and fine. Merino is also commonly treated for use in base-layers and made fully washable and tumble dry-able without losing its most excellent qualities. When twisted into a worsted yarn, Merino wool becomes extremely soft and more “palatable” for wearing next to the skin. Wool also sports wicking properties which are most appreciated after your boots are cinched up and you have been hiking for several miles.
By the way, wool is also fire resistant. Now you may think this is not a big deal, but if you come from a family such as mine where we have turned clumsiness into an art form, you may want to consider wool. Synthetic materials and fibers can burn or melt on your skin should you find yourself tripping on your Dutch oven and laying in your campfire. Don't laugh, it happens. Wool, on the other hand, tends to smolder rather than burst into flames and does not melt, much like my Dutch oven mitts. Advantage wool, I hope you are seeing a pattern here.
Historically used by indigenous peoples, wool still holds weight today in our man-made, over-tech’d world. While I love my balaclava and make no mistake, I do. I also appreciate my cap and on occasion a wool blanket. My wool blend socks are among my favorite items and have performed flawlessly over the years. In many scenarios, the versatile and functional qualities of wool are the stick by which my other outdoor clothing is measured. Don’t overlook wool.