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Wool is not the itchy hot sweater your mom made you wear when you were young. In actuality, the natural features of wool make it an excellent choice for outdoor apparel.
Let’s break it down.
Wool at its foundation, was created for keeping our furry friends warm, making the perfect fiber for outdoor apparel. Many synthetics attempt to duplicate the properties but fall short of creating the strength, resilience and odor resistance inherent in wool.
Starting with its structure, wool has an outer layer of overlapping scales. These scales are made of protein and allow for the fiber’s most unique features. On the animal, the scales facilitate the movement of foreign matter away from the body so it works its way out of the fleece, keeping the animal clean. When the fibers are spun into yarn these same scales create a unique property which enables the fibers to lock with one another, creating a stronger more durable yarn. This is the key to wool’s strength and the reason why wool is the only fiber that can be felted.
The natural fibers are irregular and non-cylindrical in shape, encouraging them to stick together. Along each individual fiber are “crimps” or curves that occur naturally. This natural waviness not only allows the wool fiber to have high resilience, the ability to bounce back, but it creates little pockets where air is held. This increases the warmth and add a level of temperature regulation that is needed when going from warm to cold temperatures.
Wool is the original wicking fiber. The surface of the fiber repels water allowing wool fabric to feel dry even when in a wet environment. Hollow tubes in the center of the fiber absorb moisture pulling it away from the skin and holding it to keep skin from feeling damp. Due to the presence of lanolin, a natural wax produced by wool animals, the fibers are water repellent. The moisture stored inside the fiber can be released in either a warming or cooling manner, protecting against sudden temperature changes. This allows wool to become the natural temperature control fiber.
One of the great features of wool is that it doesn’t stink. This is due to the surface of the fiber. The overlapping scales and the natural presence of lanolin, means that it is resistant to dirt and mildew. Since moisture is repelled from the surface of the fiber, sweat and bacteria cannot sit and grow. Allowing wool garments to air out lets water vapor pass through the fibers, removing bacteria and odors. Garments made from wool need far less washing than synthetic or other natural fibers.
To this day, wool is nature’s most technical fiber. Don’t believe in wool’s natural ability to protect you from the elements? Just ask him.