Merino wool is incredible, especially when you compare it to cotton or synthetic fabrics. Made from 100% natural fibers, Merino wool is loaded with game-changing features like odor and wrinkle resistance, lightweight breathability, and superior insulation and moisture-wicking that make Merino the perfect fabric for everyday wear in any climate. There’s a reason why millions of people have made the switch from their old cotton and poly-blend T-shirts to Merino wool for everything from long days at the office to their next big adventure.
If you haven’t taken the plunge into the wonderful world of Merino wool, get excited. Here’s a complete guide to the 7 best features of Merino wool, and why you need (at least!) one Merino wool item in your wardrobe.
When most people think about “wool” they probably remember a coarse, chunky, scratchy Christmas sweater that took up an entire drawer. But this isn’t your grandma’s wool sweater.
The best Merino wool is made from superfine natural fibers (15-25 microns thin) that are less than half the width of a human hair. And it’s these ultrathin, yet incredibly strong, fibers that make Merino feel smooth and light — almost silky — against your skin without sacrificing any of the strength and durability you expect from wool. It’s also why real Merino wool clothing — like the Compact Travel Hoodie — is so thin and easy to pack.
Fun Fact: Merino sheep are some of the most badass animals on the planet. But their wool is surprisingly soft.
Another feature of Merino wool that surprises a lot of people is its versatility in just about any climate. Merino wool is famously a superior insulator. But it’s not just for winter. In fact, Merino wool has quickly become my go-to summer fabric, especially for hiking, biking, or exploring the city thanks to the incredible natural breathability and insulation of this fabric.
Merino wool will keep you cool and dry in the summer heat and snug and warm during winter. I wore a single Merino wool T-shirt for six straight weeks while hiking across Spain a few years ago. And it handled the early morning chill, blazing afternoon heat, sweaty uphill climbs, and chic tapas crawls in the city with equal ease.
Pro Tip: Merino wool is perfect for layering. Create the ultimate natural thermostat with just a few simple lightweight pieces, like a long sleeve Merino shirt, so you can adjust throughout the day
Merino wool is one of the most comfortable and versatile fabrics you can wear. But it’s also one of the most travel-friendly fabrics you can pack thanks to its natural wrinkle-resistance.
Fold it, crease it, crumple it, take a nap in it — Merino wool will always look fresh and wrinkle-free. And the reason for Merino’s superior wrinkle-resistance is thanks (again) to the naturally occurring structure of each fiber.
Up close, Merino wool fibers resemble tightly coiled springs. Stretch or pull on these “crimps” and they will stretch and then snap back into shape again and again. That’s why you can stuff a Merino shirt into your backpack or wear it all day (or multiple days) and no one will ever know that you just got off a 14-hour bus ride.
Elasticity and wrinkle resistance is literally built into every single fiber of Merino wool. But there’s more...
In addition to natural wrinkle-resistance, Merino wool also features antibacterial properties that help repel moisture and mildew which fight odor-causing bacteria. Basically, there’s still a light lanolin coating in the fibers of Merino wool, that prevents bacteria from growing.
Translation: You can wear a 100% Merino wool t-shirt for days — or even weeks — without having to wash it.
Remember that six-week hike across Spain? I only packed one Merino t-shirt for that entire trip. Most days I went from the trail straight to the nearest bar for well-deserved pintxos and beer. And no one said a word.
The ability to shrug off sweat and odor is possibly my favorite feature of Merino wool. It’s also why you can pack fewer items, even for longer trips, if you invest in a few core pieces of Merino wool for your travel wardrobe.
One of the biggest problems with cheap poly-cotton blends and even lightweight synthetic fabrics is that these fabrics trap most of the sweat and moisture your body naturally produces. But with Merino wool, your wet and wild body heat can pass through the fine spaces between the fibers to get the heck away from you. That means no more swamp back...or other places.
What’s even better is that this moisture-wicking is a two-way street. The fibers also let the relatively cooler surrounding air in so you stay nice and cool.
Talk about a breath of fresh air.
But what if you’re someone who really sweats? It happens. Everyone works up at least a little perspiration throughout the day. And when that heat and sweat can’t escape you wind up with sweaty — and smelly! — clothes.
Luckily Merino wool is great at wicking away any excess moisture.
Merino wool is an incredibly absorbent natural fiber. In fact, Merino fibers can absorb up to a third of their weight in moisture while still feeling dry to the touch. This is thanks to a process called heat absorption.
As Merino wool absorbs moisture from the air (or your body) it releases a little heat. In cold weather, those natural crimps in the wool fibers create tiny pockets of warm air near your skin that hold heat next to the body.
In warm weather, it works in reverse. As the wool releases moisture into the air it absorbs heat from your skin the crimps in the fiber trap cool air. Merino wool is constantly working to move moisture away from your skin so you feel cool and dry even on muggy hikes.
This built-in moisture-wicking is also why Merino wool socks, boxer briefs, and even button-down shirts dry so much quicker than cotton clothing.
Merino Wool Benefit #7: Sustainable & Organic
If you need another reason why Merino wool is simply the best fabric of all time, just look at how Merino is made. Merino wool has been around for literally thousands of years, making it one of the most sustainable fabrics in use today. And unlike other traditional industries, the way we make Merino hasn’t changed much in the last few centuries.
Between Australia and New Zealand, there are about 70 million pasture-raised, grass-fed Merino sheep producing this miracle fabric year-round. And Merino sheep can grow more wool year after year, producing a brand-new fleece annually, making the natural harvest of Merino wool completely renewable and sustainable.
To top it off, the fabric itself is also largely biodegradable. Which means if you lose your merino t-shirt (we won’t ask how) it’ll break down into the soil within a few years unlike other synthetic fabrics made of plastic and petroleum.
Merino wool is quite simply the best fabric you can pack for your next big adventure, busy day at the office, or just living your best life. It’s lightweight yet durable, comfortable in summer and winter, packs like a champ, travels even better, and performs day in and day out on your favorite hiking trail or at the office.
Start building your new wardrobe today. You’ll never go back.