Merino wool is the basis of all our items. Why? Simply because it is wonderful and it works exactly as you need no matter whether you are out exploring the mountains, travelling or strolling the city. You can rely on its peformance under all circumstances so nothing limits your adventures. Merino wool fibre has no competitor – neither of natural nor synthetic origin. So what is the secret?
Sheep wool has been used in clothing for ages, and traditional wool has very similar qualities. Norwegian sweaters have been worn for centuries and there is a reason they still belong among the most practical pieces of clothing up in the North. Traditional wool has a disadvantage, though – it works great, but it is itchy, too. Merino wool overcomes this issue – its fibre is much softer and nicer to the skin, that is why it is much more comfortable to wear compared with traditional woolen clothes. But let's take it step by step.
Where does merino wool come from?
Merino wool comes from a specially bred merino sheep, originally from Spain, but it quickly became home in the southern hemisphere, especially in Australia and New Zealand. The sheep are extraordinarily resistant because in the mountains where they live, they have to face all kinds of hardships. Whether in the summer heat or frosty windy winter, the sheep needs to be comfortable - thanks to its wool coat. These though mountain landscapes are certainly the best testing and production centre that cannot be replaced by any lab conditions.
Merino sheep have soft wool and are pretty resistant to though wheather conditions.
It is all in details
Let's a bit of science explain it all. Merino wool is soft – its fibres are up to 24 micrometers thick (or rather thin), while the softest fibres reach only 11 micrometers. Just to compare, the thickness of a human hair ranges from 50 to 100 micrometers. Thanks to this quality, merino fibre is more flexible and when in touch with your skin, it bends and adjusts much better than traditional fibre, which is thicker and thus might feel itchy instead. Even though the fibre is very soft, it is also very complex and complicated in structure. Unlike polyester, cotton, silk, or any other fibre, wool fibre is not smooth. On contrary, its surface is composed of overlapping microscales. These are behind wool's amazing thermoregulation qualities, but they also contribute to moisture management ability and antibacterial quality. The fibre is covered in lanolin - a wax-like layer, which makes the fibre durable, naturally water-repellent and protects it from dirt and stains. Inside, on the other hand, the fibre contains supersoft helix structure, which makes the fibre flexible, elastic and wrinkle-resistant. All superpower of merino wool is hidden in the tiniest details! And nature has done some really detailed work here ;)
Merino wool's superpowers are hidden in its microscopic structure. (Source)
What does it mean in practice and what superpowers does merino wool have?
- It's an expert on thermoregulation
In translation: merino wool works as your personal air conditioning unit. Thanks to its structure, it is an excellent insulant – it retains heat and keeps you warm when needed, but also it lets out excessive heat your body produces during extreme performance. In summer, on the other hand, the wool creates a temperature barrier and keeps the heat outside. Merino wool can thus be worn all year round and there is no reason to avoid it in summer either (we recommend lighter merino wool fabrics though). In winter, layering of merino wool items is an unbeatable combination for staying warm even when it is freezing. Merino wool consistently keeps a comfortable body temperature no matter whether it is hot or cold outside - just like it works on sheep, remember?
- It breathes with you and draws moisture away
The complex uneven structure of the fibre makes sheep wool highly breathable. It draws sweat and moisture away from your body and lets it evaporate outside. Of course, no fancy fiber will stop you from sweating when you are performing, but thanks to wool's superpowers, your skin will quickly get dry wihout feeling wet and clammy. When your body produces more sweat than wool is able to draw away instantly (for instance when you are wearing another non-breathable layer), it simply absorbs excessive moisture and keeps you comfortable anyway - sheep wool is able to absorb up to 30% of its volume. That's what makes merino wool excellent for extreme performance, as well.
- Merino wool does not stink and it is hypoallergenic
Exactly. You can wear merino wool clothing repeatedly without being stinky. The secret is hidden (again) in its structure, which does not provide bacteria with a friendly environment. Moreover, lanolin covering the fibre has antibacterial and antifungal qualities. What does it have to do with bad odour? Sweat itself does not stink, the smell is caused by bacteria decomposing it. As merino wool prevents bacteria from reproduction, it prevents your clothes from gettink stinky, too. Just try to compare it with a synthetic t-shirt, which gets a pretty bad smell after only a couple of hours. Merino clothes can be worn even for a week in a row without people around you fainting (unless you tell them about this superpower!). Merino wool is therefore a brilliant choice for long treks, camping or travelling, when you really have no time to do laundry. Also, you will need fewer clothes which considerably saves space in your backpack!
- Merino wool is soft, elastic and pleasant to skin
We have already mentioned this before. Compared with traditional wool, soft merino wool fibres do not itch and are comfortable to wear even as a next-to-skin layer (just pick the softest fabric). The fibres are naturally elastic and do not limit your movement so it gives you freedom in all kinds of activities.
Merino wool is truly a superb material: extremely functional in all kinds of conditions and in every season.
- It is easy to maintain
Yes, it is wool and it requires gentle washing, but this needs to be done less frequently. Unlike regular clothing, merino wool items need much less maintenance. Since it does not smell and it is resistant to dirt and stains, usually it is enough to air it and you are good to go. Once in a while, you may want to rejuvenate the fibres outside when it is misty or drizzly. And thanks to its elasticity, you can roll it in your backpack without getting crinkled.
- It protects you from UV, water and fire
Now it may sound we are already exaggerating, but merino wool truly can do this. Wool has a natural SPF between 25 and 50 which makes it ideal for mountains, where the sun is really more intense. Besides, lanolin makes it water-repellent and so it works well as the outter layer in snow or drizzle. And when relaxing by an evening campfire, it will protect you too! Wool and lanolin are naturally flame-retardant - it supresses fire so your clothes do not get burned easily. Even if you set it on fire, the fibres do not melt or get stuck to your skin like synthetic fibres do. Besides a fire-proof suit it might be the next safest thing to wear by campfire :)
- It is environmentally friendly and made by nature itself
And let's be honest – noone could do it better than Mother Nature. Wool is a 100% natural and sustainable material. Its environmental impact can hardly be compared to that of synthetic fibres (just picture the sheep on pastures and oil towers in oceans). When it is done serving its purpose, it has a superpower to disappear without a trace! It can be composted and thus it creates no waste – because it is fully biodegradable (just don't forget to remove the zipper before burying it).
So what does it all mean?
In a nutshell: merino wool is a supermaterial. Its qualities make it our first choice whenever we head for the mountains, go for a walk, do sports, hit the road or simply live our everyday life. In Black Hill Outdoor we aim to provide you with all its advantages via functional models and precise production, so that you can enjoy all your activities to the fullest. For us it is an obvious choice.
Intrigued? Check our models and equip yourself with the supermaterial for your next adventure!