Wool: The Choice for the Real Backcountry
You’re a long way from the trailhead. It’s getting late, you’ve worked up a sweat, the temps are dropping and you can feel the cold air seeping down the sleeves of your outer layer, the moisture on the inside of your shell is frozen and cracking.
Your insulating mid-layer is a little lighter than you wished it was. You have one defence left against the cold, your base layer, next to your skin. It can keep you comfortable in moderate conditions, but when the conditions are more extreme, it can, in concert with the rest of your clothing system, actually protect you from hypothermia.
Now is the time you will be glad that you made a great choice for your base layer. And yet, many of us consider this item an afterthought simply because we don’t know how to make an informed choice about materials and design.
Choose your Merino Wool Garments Right
There are lots of base layer options available today in a range of synthetic and natural fibres, but one of the newest and most exciting, and also, paradoxically, one of the most ancient fibres used in clothing, is Merino wool.
Wool is often dismissed as old fashioned, itchy or thick, but today’s merino wool garments aren’t your grandmother’s knitted sweater. They are made of fine fibres, are soft, lightweight, feel great next to the skin and super-efficient at regulating body temperature, winter or summer. By creating a micro climate next to skin, superfine merino clothing has been found to reduce symptoms of eczema.
What makes merino wool so great? To start with, unlike synthetics, it’s eco-friendly, renewable and completely biodegradable. It absorbs moisture and wicks it away to evaporate into the atmosphere. It keeps you warm, even when it’s wet and can absorb 30% of its weight in moisture, without feeling clammy.
The crimps in the wool fibre allow it to trap more dead air, making it a superb insulation material, while the evaporating function makes wool a good choice for hot weather as well. The crimps in the wool contribute to wool garments’ capacity both to stretch and to return to their original shape.
The sheep that provide the Merino wool for Devold products (available in Canada from roirecreation.com) comes from farmers in Australia, Argentina and New Zealand. The farmers adhere to a five-point animal welfare code. Their sheep are protected from hunger and thirst, discomfort, pain, injury and disease and fear and distress. They are also allowed to roam freely enough to express their normal, grazing and social behaviour.
What in particular is special about Merino wool? The Merino sheep’s pedigree goes back to 12th century Spain. Even in the middle ages, these grazers were popular with farmers for their very soft wool and talent for foraging their own feed. Their unique wool coat helps them resist extremely high temperatures in summer and protects them from winter storms.
Devold Merino Wool’s Merits
Not all Merino wool is equal, however. Fibre-length plays a major role in durability and its efficiency-to-weight, as does fibre diameter. Devold’s close relationship with farmers and control of every step of the process from sheep to shop means they can make sure that only the most high-quality, long strand merino wool goes into their products, ensuring the highest possible efficiency-to-weight and durability. The fineness of the fibres is measured three times with a laser scanner before it is approved to be spun into wool used in Devold garments.
The fabric is knitted (not woven), right in Devold’s factory in Lithuania, on massive machines with thousands of needles. The cutting and sewing is carried out in-house by artisanal sewers working on individual machines. The result, for climbers and other outdoors enthusiasts, is clothing that is great-looking, environmentally responsible and highly desirable for its performance and versatility.
Merino wool’s fine fibres make it comfortable next to skin and relieve the itchiness associated with regular wool. It also naturally protects from UV rays. It is both breathable and resistant to odours. Bacteria do not survive long on wool’s rough fibres, unlike the smooth fibres of synthetics.
Devold’s experience making clothing for fishermen and outdoorspeople to weather extreme environments goes back to 1853, and Norwegians have embraced their products for use in the outdoors. Eventually, Devold’s goods became so well-known for their high quality and reliability that Norway’s active and pioneering climbers and explorers adopted them. Legendary Norwegian climber Arne Naess used them when he led the successful 1950 expedition with P. Kvernberg, H. Berg, and Tony Streather to Tirich Mir (7,708 m) in the Hindu Kush.
Devold makes other surprisingly high-tech wool products as well, including their Trollkyrkja jacket, an all-merino wool shell that’s breathable, abrasion resistant and has the insulating power of wool. Its taped seams and specialized face fabric construction make it wind and water resistant.
This piece truly demonstrates the versatility of wool for technical outdoor clothing. Clearly, carefully sourced Merino wool expertly engineered into technical pieces for outdoor sports are perfect for environmentally conscious adventurers demanding the best fit and efficiency for extreme conditions.
The next time you choose your base layer, mid layer or outer layer, remember that your comfort and success in the outdoors can depend on it and consider the merits and value represented by Merino Wool.