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Whether you’re a backpacker or luxury fashionista, merino wool likely holds an important role in your wardrobe. The fine wool is soft like cashmere and silk, but it also boasts many amazing performance qualities, like cooling and moisture-wicking abilities.

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What Is Merino Wool?

Merino wool is a type of wool gathered from the coats of Merino sheep. The natural fiber is prized for its soft nature, and the wool is extremely fine. While traditional wool is notorious for being itchy, merino wool is one of the softest forms of wool and doesn’t aggravate the skin. This is because of the small diameter of the fine merino fibers, which makes it more flexible and pliable and therefore less itchy.

Merino wool is considered a luxurious fiber, frequently for sweaters, socks, and outdoor clothing, as its prized for its odor-resistant, moisture-wicking, and breathable nature.

The Origins of Merino Wool

Merino flocks originated in southwestern Spain in the twelfth century, and the ewes were bred in the region for many years, contributing to the local economy through the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, as Spain had a monopoly on the trade. Merino sheep breeds were first brought to Australia in 1797, and selective breeding of merino wool sheep in Australia led to an even finer version of the wool called Australian merino. Today, most of the world’s merino wool still comes from Australia and New Zealand.

What Are the Characteristics of Merino Wool?

Merino wool is an extremely prized and luxurious fabric, as there are many benefits of merino wool.

  • Warm: Wool is a great insulator, as the fiber’s natural crimp, the waviness of the wool fiber, traps pockets of air, which provides resistance against cold temperatures.
  • Water retention: Merino wool is absorbent and can absorb up to 30 percent of its weight in water before it feels wet.
  • Durable: As a natural fiber, merino wool is inherently very strong, as the individual fibers interlock as a result of the protein structure. The fiber’s natural crimp also adds elasticity and strength.
  • Breathable: Merino wool has great breathability because the wool is able to absorb and evaporate moisture. Because of its breathable nature, merino is a great fiber for regulating body temperature making it a perfect base layer for outdoor activities.
  • Cooling: Merino wool stores moisture in its fibers. As that moisture evaporates, it creates a natural cooling mechanism and helps regulate body heat.
  • Moisture-wicking: Like some synthetic fibers, merino wool also has the ability to wick moisture away from the skin. This is because of the wool’s amazing absorption and breathable qualities.
  • Soft: Since merino wool fibers are finer than any other sheep fibers, they are extremely soft to the touch.
  • Odor-resistant: Merino wool has antimicrobial properties, as the natural lanolin in the sheep’s wool repels odor-causing bacteria. Since merino wool manages moisture so well, there is no wet environment for that bacteria to grow.