Thursday, June 2, 2011

Merino Wool

I was introduced to Merino Wool by my friend two years ago. She had just came back from a solo cycling tour around New Zealand (sweet as). She had been wearing Icebreaker garments since her first trip to NZ was about 12 years prior to this most recent adventure. (She still has the original piece she purchased on that trip. It is thread bare and has no sleeves anymore, but that is pretty good for that many years of hard wearing.) I was inspired by this trip and my own quest to build up my collection of outdoor gear began. I was curious about merino wool, and I was awe-struck when I felt this wonder material. I had been wearing wool sweaters for years, a grey Stanfield sweater being part of my everyday wear in the cooler months. They are heavy, coarse, itchy, and not very nice looking, plus they take up a pile of space which isn't good for backpacking. I don't find them all that warm either.

The beauty of merino wool, from my opinion, is that it is sustainable. It is harvested from ethically raised sheep in high mountain areas of New Zealand. The sheep are sheared, and let free to grow more fleece. Wool will break down and not last hundreds of years in land fills like polar fleece and other synthetics. Generally the performance sports apparel markets are flooded with there so called "modern" fabrics that are made from plastic. And remember, almost all plastics are made from petroleum. I am a firm believer that there is to much plastic in our lives. Wearing plastic is not that nice. It doesn't breath well(no matter what the manufacturer says), it holds smells, will melt rapidly if touched by embers from a fire, and it is just ethically wrong to the earth. I much prefer wearing something soft, resists odour due to Merino's anti-bacterial qualities, fire resistant, compostable, has a much smaller carbon footprint and isn't a by-product of big oil.

I excitedly acquired my first Icebreaker piece that spring. It was a bit of an impulse purchase at Eco Everything in Tofino. It is a short sleeve 180 GT tee. I wore that all summer, commuting by bike everyday, mountain biking and running after work.  It was amazing. I could wear it for days on end. It didn't stink. It breathed amazingly. I would hang it outside, after being soaked with sweat from the commute home and it was dry in an hour so I could wear it again to mountain bike in. It was light, and warm. I could use it as a base layer under a rain jacket on wet cooler days, or on hot summer days. It kept me warm in the morning on the way to work, and cool in the afternoon on my way home. It was different to me being that it was form fitting. It made me a little self conscious at first, but I got used to it. I was hooked. I have since purchase many more Merino clothes for myself and for my daughter. It is hard to get her to take her Merino pieces off. My favorite article I have now is a Nomad Hoodie from Ibex. It is a thick Merino that is brushed on the inside so it so very soft. It is beautiful. I paid a good chunk of money for it, but it is worth it.

I have been turned into a merino wool fanatic. I have a hard time wearing any other fabrics. From socks to beanie caps, and everywhere in between, Merino is where it is at. It may cost more than most plastic based options or cotton, but the benefits are more than worth the extra cost. My tip is to shop around online and find pieces on clearance or on sale. It can save a great deal of money. R.E.I is a good choice. M.E.C. in Canada also has a small selection of their house branded Merino. It is pretty nice and a reasonable price.

If you are reading this posting, please share with me in the comments section your opinion on Merino wool, why you like it, and when you wear it. Do you have a favorite particular piece? Thank you in advance. CC

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