You’ve no doubt come across the name ‘merino wool’ at some point. Maybe it was on the tag of a base layer when checking out some fancy new outdoor kit, maybe it was the weird ‘tech guy’ in your cycling group chatting excessively about its benefits at the cafe. Perhaps though, you’re not exactly sure to the relevance of the Merino bit – what does it mean and why is it so highly regarded? Grab a cuppa and take five minutes to find out everything you could need to know about this wonder-material in our guide below.
So, what really is Merino wool and why should I invest?
Simply put, Merino wool is wool that comes from Merino sheep. Duh. Back in the 1700’s the prized breed was developed in Spain and they’ve since established in Australia and New Zealand where – by and large - they’re now exclusively farmed. What makes these guys unique is that they live in climates of extreme cold/rain, and extreme heat/dryness. To regulate these distinctions, their thick coats must be extremely adaptable.
A fairly rudimentary fabric, then? In a world of cycling clothing which is becoming jammed full of more tech than your car's dashboard, why should you invest in something as basic as that? Well, instead of giving you one good reason, here's six:
- It’s really, really comfortable
Pull on a radiator-warmed Merino base layer on a chilly November morning and you’ll wonder what on earth took you so long. Each Merino wool fibre is less than half the size of a 'normal' wool fibre - that's why we don't feel that itchiness that you associate with wool. It's also a lot more flexible fibre with more elasticity, helping it move with your body better than other fabrics.
- It doesn’t smell
[Basic science mode] When we sweat, our body produces a mix of fats and salts which are expelled in the sweat released from our body and absorbed by our clothing. Bacteria then feeds on this which in turn creates body odour.
The magic of Merino wool is that it has natural anti-bacterial properties within each fibre that stops the growth of bacteria – so, this means we can wear merino wool products for a huge length of time before people start getting awkward around us, and long after a synthetic option would be honking.
The simpler breakdown of these claims of freshness is just mother nature doing its thing:
- As Merino wool fibres are super breathable, you’re less likely to over-heat in the first place so sweat is reduced.
- When you do sweat, there is far less sweat collecting and producing odour as it’s such a great moisture manager.
- Lanolin (a waxy, natural substance covering the wool fibres) is the last line of defence – it has antibacterial properties that discourage the odour-causing bacteria.
- Moisture management
When we ride, we sweat – there’s no getting around it. Some of us more, some less, but we sweat... Luckily for you, Merino wool can absorb up to a third of its weight in moisture while still feeling dry. Other materials would be feeling clingy and uncomfortable.
More importantly, the natural fibres in wool will transport the moisture being absorbed away from your sweaty old body, where it can continue to evaporate – wicking. Simply put, you'll stay drier and more comfortable for longer than with an alternative material.
- It keeps your temperature stable
Unlike a synthetic fabric, merino reacts to changes in your body temperature. So, it helps you stay warm when the weather is cool, and cool when the weather's hot. When you're cold, Merino acts as an insulator, trapping the heat inside millions of tiny air pockets, keeping you warm even when it's wet.
With synthetics, the only place heat and vapour created by your body have to escape is through microscopic holes between the fibre. That trapped vapour condenses on the fabric and creates a general feeling of clamminess. With Merino wool, your body heat is able to escape not only through the holes between fibres but through the actual fibres themselves.
- Your wallet will thank you
Okay, so Merino wool products are usually at the upper end of the price range - but hear us out. Much of the cycling kit, technical clothing or simple day-to-day casuals we buy begin to deteriorate after just a few wears; often rendered bin-worthy after a couple of years. Merino wool variants, however, prove their value over time. Ignoring even the financial sensibilities of making the Merino choice, there's the human and environmental reasons for choosing it. This material offers us all a great way to increase the sustainability of our wardrobes and generally help us to look after ourselves and the planet better.
For those of us who don’t like to dedicate too much time to thinking about life’s ‘unnecessary’ little details that detract from time spent on the bike, Merino wool garments are a godsend:
They're crease-free: choose to wear it as a casual garment and there’s one less shirt on the ironing pile.
Lightweight and extremely compressible: perfect for travellers - stuff a merino top in your bag and it’ll take up no room but give a lot back.
Machine washable: when the time comes that you actually need to wash it, your Merino tops can be chucked into the wash with the rest of your clothes.
Multi-talented: we’ve been known to roll out of bed after a cosy night in our Merino base layer and head straight out of the door for a run in the same top. Call it a life partner.
If you like the sound of Merino wool, give one of our Base Layers or pair of socks a try and feel the benefits for yourself. They all come with the peace of mind of our 30-Day Ride Guarantee, so if you're not impressed, simply return for a full refund.