New Zealand merino wool is becoming renowned among backpackers and hikers as being an ideal material for activewear. But where did it come from and why has it become so popular? Here we look at the background behind merino and what makes it perfect for travel and outdoor pursuits.
The wool comes from the merino breed of sheep. This breed is originally from Spain, from where the term “merino” is derived. They are raised particularly for their high quality wool, which is considered as being some of the finest and softest when compared to all other breeds of sheep. The sheep and their wool adapted to the tough climate and environment in the mountains of New Zealand’s South Island, where the temperature can range from 35 degrees Celsius all the way down to minus 15. The durability of the wool, able to deal with the harsh conditions, is why the Merino wool from this region in New Zealand is so sought after.
Benefits of Merino Wool
There are many benefits of merino wool and why one would choose it over other materials. Here is a list of some of the reasons people choose it:
Like other wools, merino contains lanolin which helps prevent bacteria from growing. This is an advantage over Synthetic fibres, which encourage bacteria to grow. By preventing bacteria from accumulating, merino helps reduce body smell, meaning one can even wear a merino T-shirt for prolonged periods without building up any odour.
Merino wool is a good temperature regulator as it will retain heat in cold climates, but also ensures that you remain cool in warm conditions. Even when slightly wet, the insulating air pockets of the wool remain unaffected.
Merino wool has one of the highest insulation to weight ratios and is actually very thin. Merino wool usually is less than 24 microns in width and can be as fine as 12 microns. For ultra-light packing it can be compacted into very small bundles, and this does not crease.
By purchasing merino, one is both supporting the farmers and the animals. Merino wool is produced organically, and by purchasing merino, this encourages farmers to raise sheep for their wool rather than for food. The wool can be removed from the sheep without any harm, and this will then grow back.
Quick to dry
As merino absorbs moisture and releases it back into the air quickly, it is one of the fastest materials to dry after washing.
Uses of merino wool
Merino wool was used for the old classic Cycling vests, and continues to be popular with a range of sports practitioners. Many in the hiking community favour the material as a base layer due to its success in regulating temperature and insulating properties as well as a reference as an odour eater.
Travellers are also drawn to merino, as it is one of the best materials to pack for long term and lightweight travel. The anti-bacterial properties of the wool mean that travellers can use the same clothing without having to worry too much about washing. Once washing is required, the quick drying property of merino mean that one can wash it in the evening and it will be ready for use again soon.