Wool. The thought of having thick layers of it close to your skin and then going on a 6 mile hike is enough to send an itch up and down your body. From your dad's thick socks to a hand-me-down blanket on the back of your sofa, comfort isn't a word traditionally associated with the fiber. But ask anyone who's spent significant time traveling in challenging environments and cold climates and they'll certainly tell you about a time where wool has saved the day!
Humans have been using wool for ages; as early as 10,000 BC by some records. It's the unique properties of wool that have allowed it endure the tests of time - it stays warm even when wet, it wicks moisture away from skin, it's strong and very elastic. It's fire resistant, doesn't collect static can be antimicrobial and can be woven into a variety of garments and textiles. Not surprisingly, advancements in manufacturing have allowed wool to be adapted into the highly technical garments available in adventure outfitters and fashion boutiques. Spun into minute strands, woven with elastic man-made fiber or used as insulation in outwear, wool is a go-to choice for outdoor enthusiasts and adventure travelers alike.
Wool is one of Mother Natures best insulators and its known to keep you warm, even when wet. It's known as "hygroscopic" insluation. The unique wool fibers stand beside each other creating small air pockets. The magic happens however when wool gets wet; the fibers are made up of what's called "cortical cells" and these cells are wrapped in a cuticle a second layer called an "epicuticle' . These outer layers draw in moisture and wick it away from the body. Furthermore, the water complex is broken down and the reaction produced will generate heat. Even more miraculous is the air pockets to evaporate from your skin, so you won't overheat when you sweat. So the wool fibers are actually regulating your body temperature!
Not all wool is created equal however, the composition and characteristics vary among sheep and often have to do with the climate they're raised in.
The merino breed of sheep are one of the worlds oldest, and survive in some of the harshest climates on earth, from the dry heat of Australia to snow-capped peaks in New Zealand. Their wool (also called fleece) has evolved to protect from extreme cold in the winter and to be light and breathable in the warmer temperatures. For travelers visiting the polar regions, merino wool is an ideal choice for close to skin base layers, socks and underwear. It's natures natural protection from the elements!
For the traveler, clothing and accessories made of wool can be an ideal solution for a wide range of conditions. Wool is lightweight and packs well. The warming and cooling properties make it a go-to fabric for all conditions. The fibers dry fast, so if you build up a sweat during your day, simply hang your base-layers or socks in a warm dry place - they'll be dry in no time. And if you're packing garments of merino, you'll enjoy the anti-microbial fibers which means they'll resist odor causing bacteria.
As a base layer, merino wool is an industry standard. Quark Expeditions stocks Icebreaker Merino wool base-layers, socks and apparel online and on-board our expedition vessels. Click here to shop now and be sure to visit the on board Polar Boutique on your next Quark Expedition.