Wool: The Fabric of the Past and Present

By Amanda Theobald

Let’s talk about wool; let’s skip the history stuff that would require research and citations about how wool has been used for a very long time, by very many people.  You see, I have already graduated from college and – hallelujah – this is a blog, not a research paper.

So how is wool relevant to athletic apparel? It’s relevant because it is awesome.  You may know some very seasoned veterans who have mentioned they used to train in wool before synthetic materials, and you may have thought, “That sounds awful, thank goodness for improvements in textiles.”  Training in wool is actually not awful, it’s quite nice and it’s kind of the cool thing to do.  We are not talking about the wool that’s itchy, thick and heavy sweaters are made of. We are talking about, pause for effect….merino wool.  There are so many reasons for incorporating a couple pieces of wool into your athletic wardrobe.

Firstly, the difference between merino wool and traditional wool is paramount to the comfort of the garment. Merinos are actually a type of sheep that live in the rugged highlands of New Zealand.  The fibers of their fleece are thinner and softer, more insulating and more breathable.  Bam, take a moment to soak in all those features; read it again if you must.  One reason it is softer is because the scales which make of the fiber are smaller. Furthermore, these scales also help the garment to be antimicrobial, because bacteria cannot latch on to the rough surface.

Secondly, the difference between synthetic and merino fibers might seem like I am destroying any good qualities of synthetic materials, but there is a place for both in our wardrobes. Synthetic materials are made from petrochemicals, or recycled plastic materials. These materials, while wicking moisture, do so through the spaces in between the threads. Wool on the other hand is a natural, sustainable fiber, and not only does it “breath” through the spaces in between the threads, but through the fiber as well.  I don’t need to tell you that synthetics stink (although there is a great detergent called “Sportwash” that can help this); on the other hand, wool you can be used multiple times without the synthetic stink. Although, most people will argue after multiple uses without washing, the garment will smell like a wet animal. Do I really need to say “duh” here? Also wool can absorb up to 1/3 its weight in moisture without losing its thermal properties. Wool also regulates heat naturally, since it is designed to regulate an animal’s body heat that lives in temperatures below freezing in winter, to 80+ in the summer.

Some of you may have experienced wool through some socks, but that is just the beginning of wool options. There are tank tops, shorts, capris, underwear, long sleeve with various weights (all measured and labeled with grams).  These garments look great; merino wool holds dye really well, so the colors are just beautiful, and you can throw them in the washing machine. We carry a merino brand called Icebreaker that uses the finest grade merino fibers. While you may not know all there is to know about merino wool, thanks to me, you know quite a bit. You can thank me for helping you be in the know next time you want to geek out around your friends about athletic apparel.

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