A Merino Primer

A Merino Primer

If you’re a regular reader (or a regular wearer) of Olivers, then you’re likely familiar with merino wool. It’s been called “nature’s performance fabric,” it has been referred to as the “original technical material” and for good reason. Essentially every new advancement in activewear achieved by science is already available in this natural and adaptable fiber. Which makes it not only technically superior but also sustainable. So what’s not to like? Not only is it supremely soft, it’s lightweight and hard-wearing, long-lasting and naturally stink-free. Let’s break down the facts.

Where Does Merino Come From? 

Simply put, it comes from the wool fibers grown by Merino sheep. Originally from Spain, the merino breed can now be found in New Zealand, Australia, Argentina, Chile, Uruguay and South Africa. Once a year, the sheep gets a haircut (otherwise known as getting shorn). Once sheared, the wool is typically sorted by quality and micron, which is the diameter of a single fiber of wool. We knit our 100% merino active jersey fabric from a superfine 18.5 micron merino. This means that it’s much softer and lighter yet densely knit than, say, a merino wool with a standard micron count of 24 (used for a sweater).

What Makes It So Special?

Merino wool fibers have a natural crimp to them. This creates thousands of small insulating air pockets, which is how it helps keep you warm in cold conditions (and cool in hot conditions). What’s more, the density of the fibers means that there’s a high warmth-to-weight ratio. This means a wool shirt will keep you significantly warmer than a synthetic shirt of the same weight, allowing you to feel less bogged down with bulky layers. 

It’s also got a natural elasticity that helps it move with your body. The structure of the fibers provides an easy stretch which helps wool garments retain its shape after years of stretch, wear and repeated washing. Whether you wear your merino running, skiing, rock-climbing, or playing touch football (or all of the above), your merino will stretch as needed in the heat of the moment and then bounce back into shape. In short, there’s no activity too intense for this wool.

Why Do You Want It Now?

The complex structure of the wool is also what makes it so efficient at soaking up sweat. You see, synthetic fabrics are not very porous. They tend to wick sweat only when it’s already a liquid, sitting on your skin. Then your body has to heat it up to evaporate it, which makes you feel clammy in colder weather. Merino wool fibers, on the other hand, can absorb large quantities of moisture vapor from your skin and transport it away from the body for evaporation and then release it into the air around you—leaving you dryer and a whole lot more comfortable, no matter how hard you push yourself. What’s more, this wool is able to absorb 35% of its own weight in water before ever feeling wet. That far outperforms your average synthetic technical fabric

Can It Really Repel Smells?

It’s not really your perspiration that starts reeking, but the build-up of bacteria. It’s those little critters, trapped in the fibers that create an unpleasant smell. But unlike synthetic fibers, merino wool naturally resists bacteria. Its anti-microbial properties mean you can wear Merino wool odor-resistant clothing for longer without having to worry about smelling. It also means that merino wool is great for traveling or longer treks when you may not have as much room to pack.

How Do You Care for It?

We’re going to tell you right now, go ahead and wash your merino wool garments. The reason some people are cautious about washing wool is their fear of shrinking the garment. But water by itself does not shrink wool, the culprit is excessive heat and friction in the washing process. But the good news is that thanks to wool's natural properties you don’t need to wash it as often as synthetic fibers. Airing your merino overnight will usually freshen it for the following day. In fact, you may be surprised how far you can push it.

When you’re ready to wash, hand washing is the best way to go. But it’s not as tedious as you might think. Soak your clothing for 15-20 minutes in lukewarm water with just a few drops of detergent. Then, gently agitate your clothing with your hands before rinsing thoroughly under clean water. Squeeze your garment dry, but don’t wring it out too tightly. Simply lay it out on a towel or drying rack to dry overnight. 

*  Did You Know? Merino wool is biodegradable. Meaning that it disappears after about 12 months in the ground—releasing carbon and nutrients back into the soil.

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