Made by nature, processed by man. When it comes to functional clothing sheep wool might come into your mind first, but not just any breed of sheep is as special as merino sheep. The most famous breed worldwide, because of its merino wool.
WHERE DOES THE MERINO WOOL COME FROM?
Originally, merino sheep came from North Africa and were domesticated in Spain. Today they are mostly bred on sheep farms in Tasmania, New Zealand, and Australia. These few countries have become the most influential sheep wool suppliers in the world as most of the merino wool is processed there.
→ Get more information in our Travel Guide: Mountains, lakes and lots of sheep on the South Island of New Zealand
With the harsh climate conditions of these regions, the sheep, thanks to their insulating wool, get along just fine. It is pretty usual that the winter temperatures come down to -10° Celsius and high summer temperatures can reach up to 35° Celsius. Doesn’t matter if it’s a cold winter or a warm summer, merino sheep are well adapted and feel comfortable in these conditions. At the beginning of the spring, the long wool coat is sheared – the sheep are left with active breathing hair which protects them from the sun. In autumn, when the temperatures get colder, the thick, up to 5 kg heavy wool coat starts growing back again.
WHAT IS SO SPECIAL ABOUT MERINO FABRIC?
Merino clothing has many different features and properties. It is very comfortable to wear on a bear skin, has a good moisture and sweat management, is adaptable to all temperatures and has an odorless function. In order to understand why this type of wool has so many functional properties, you have to look at the wool fiber more closely.
High wearing comfort
Merino sheep are a high quality wool breed. The wool coat consists of many extremely thin woolen fibers out of keratin protein, which we can also find in our hair, skin, and nails. One merino fiber, of the finest type, measures only 16 micrometers. In comparison a human hair measures around 100 micrometers.
A specific merino fiber is on average 17 – 19 micormeter thick. A conventional sheep wool fiber is on average twice as thick as a merino one. Due to this property, merino fibers are extremely flexible and elastic; therefore having a smaller distance to our skin. As a result, they feel very comfortable and soft, compared to the scratchy and rough wool from normal sheep.
Moisture regulation and fast drying
During sport activities and movement we sweat – our body is releasing moisture to regulate its temperature. The fibers of functional clothing should absorb the moisture and release it outside, where water can evaporate into the surrounding air. In comparison to synthetic fibers, which are not really breathable, the merino fiber has an enormously good moisture management. It absorbs the body moisture, before it turns into sweat and releases it outside where it can evaporate. Merino fiber can absorb 30 percent of its own weight without causing a feeling of wetness and making the clothing sticky. Another positive property of the thin fiber is that it barely gets absolutely wet, it dries faster than thick wool fibers.
Merino clothing is odorless
The fast drying merino fibers offer a relatively unsuitable habitat for bacteria. They can grow very poorly and hardly reproduce because bacteria need moisture conditions, which merino does not offer. Additionally, the protein keratin breaks down odor-forming bacteria. While the synthetic fibers need chemical treatment to prevent bacteria from growing, merino wool is naturally anti-bacterial.
If you are mostly active during your day then merino clothing is an ideal choice! Even if you wear it a couple of times without washing, it keeps what it promises: fast drying, less odor. This is not only great for you, it also protects the environment by saving water.
Warming and cooling function
Merino wool has a heat insulating function because there are many tiny air cushions between the millions of thin and crimped woolen fibers which do not allow any warmth, produced by your body, to be released outside. One fiber can contain up to 85 percent of air inside its volume. In addition, merino base layers act like a thermo chemical heat accumulator on your skin. This means that merino fibers convert moisture from your body into heat (so called sorption heat).
At the same time, merino wool is pleasantly cooling at warm temperatures. As the body sweats due to outside warm temperatures or activity, the thin wool fibers divert the moisture away from your body.
All these properties make merino wool perfect for allround conditions and one of the finest raw materials in the textile industry. On the other hand, merino wool production is partly controversial when it comes to animal welfare. The so-called “mulesing” is especially debated: Part of the skin is cut off at the buttocks of the sheep in order to prevent fly maggots attacks. These flies can cause many illnesses and are responsible for the death of millions of animals.
As an end-user and consumer, you should always inform yourself about the origin of the merino wool. As a result, the leading manufacturers in this field are very transparent about this topic. For example, the company Icebreaker introduces the farmers and animals on its homepage. Furthermore, it gives insights into the production and guarantees a proper treatment of merino sheep. Icebreaker is sourcing its wool from New Zealand, Ortovox, for example, from Tasmania.
HOW DO I WASH MY MERINO CLOTHES?
Even if the merino clothing has an odorless smell without washing it too often, sooner or later it must be put in the washing machine. This process is actually easier than you would think. You don’t have to hand-wash it or use any special laundry detergent. Merino wool is easy to take care of and if you follow these hints nothing bad can happen.
The rules, as for other functional textiles, also apply for merino wool; therefore the first thing to do is to check the instructions from the manufacturers because there might be exceptions. For example, when you want to wash a merino jacket, which has a DWR (Dubrale Water Repellent) layer, you should also consider the right impregnation. Otherwise, you can wash every piece of merino clothing at 30° – 40° Celsius without any problems.
For special care, you can buy a laundry wool detergent which is pH-neutral and without any protease. Furthermore, you should keep your merino away from any bleach or fabric softeners. In addition, you should skip the dryer as merino wool dries in the same speed on itself and it keeps the fibers healthy. In order to keep your merino clothing permanently soft, some manufacturers recommend washing it with rougher clothing such as jeans. This process prevents the so-called “pilling” of the wool. Short wool fibers stick together and create little bundles. If you then wash these clothes with the rough materials, it helps to rub these bundles off the merino clothing.
MERINO CLOTHING AT SPORT CONRAD
You can wear merino as a base layer, 2nd layer or as an outer layer -merino clothes provide comfort in any conditions. In our webshop you can find merino functional wear, socks, pullovers, shirts or jackets from brands such as Icebreaker, Ortovox, Kari Traa and We Norwegians.
Summary of merino wool characteristics:
✓ Breathable because body moisture is quickly absorbed
✓ Odorless because of antibacterial function
✓ Quick drying, due to a thin fiber structure
✓ Heat-insulating, thanks to small air cushions
✓ Less inflammable compared to artificial fibers
✓ Renewable and natural raw material
✓ Surface acts as dirt repellent
✓ Provides natural UV protection
✓ Easy to maintain
Interesting facts about Merino:
- the wool cut from one sheep can weigh up to 5kg
- 2,5kg of it is dirt, plant residues or wool fat, the rest is pure merino wool
- One sheep can give on average from 2 – 4 kg of wool per year
- 5 Icebreaker pullovers are made from one sheep’s wool coat
- Merino sheep is one of the most popular breeds grown in Germany