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What is Merino wool?

What is Merino wool?

Itchy wool socks? No thank you! People usually picture something warm when they think of wool clothes. But they also question whether or not it is going to make them itch. That is a reasonable assessment. But Merino wool is just built different.

Natural fiber

Merino is authentic wool. It is grown by the extremely hardy Merino sheep popularly found in New Zealand. These sheep can withstand single-digit temperatures in the winter and nearly triple-digit scorchers in the summer. And their wool helps them stay happy and comfortable. The result of these conditions is a natural fiber that is unrivalled in moisture management and body odor resistance. And it is very soft to the touch when spun into clothing. Plus, Merino sheep naturally need to be shorn or have their wool managed every year. This textile is a highly renewable resource.


We recommend Merino wool for next-to-skin pieces in the backcountry and high-output activities. Garments made from this material aim to keep you dry. Staying warm is simple when you are dry. Dry feet also blister less than wet feet.

Merino fiber works by pulling sweat away from your skin to the outside of the piece where the air can help to speed up evaporation. It does this while refusing to absorb the odor-producing bacteria created by your body.

In hot weather, you can look to pick up a lightweight layer for any part of your body, including your feet, and gain some sun protection as a bonus. Since Merino is a natural fiber that protects an animal’s skin in harsh conditions, it provides those same protective properties when woven into clothing. Sun-blocking capability varies from garment to garment. But it is still nice to have that extra assurance.

When the temperature drops, start looking for thicker layers. Smartwool’s Merino 150 baselayers are great for warm weather. The Merino 250 is excellent in winter. You can even try out a wool-insulated jacket for breathable heat containment that stays warm when wet.

Merino socks

Now that we’ve established how effective Merino is at wicking moisture and avoiding odor, you can see why they make great adventure socks. Just imagine taking off your socks after a long day of walking and not smelling something horrible after they have dried out.

Proper footwear is essential for life in the backcountry. Dry feet are happy feet. Fewer blisters on your soles mean less pain and agony during your trip. There are socks for all activities: running, snow sports, hiking, hunting, and everyday wear. The list goes on.

Product care

Be gentle with your precious wool. You will want these clothes to last for years to come. It is imperative to wash and dry them properly. Do not dry-clean or bleach your wool. Only cool iron them while avoiding any decoration if they need wrinkle management. To clean your Merino, wash them separately from other materials on a cool gentle cycle. Tumble dry on low or lay them out to dry. When you're on the go, you can rinse your clothes off in the sink with some gentle detergent and hang them up to dry. Some products may come with more specific instructions, but this should help you in general.

If there are any drawbacks to Merino, they are hard to think of. It is a slightly heavier material than other technical fabrics, but most Merino wool products make up for that by blending with polyester to reduce weight and boost durability. Its natural fibers are more resistant to abrasion and overuse when bound to another high-performance thread. A 100% Merino product would most likely be a very casual, lifestyle piece of clothing. 

Merino wool is a must-have for the outdoor enthusiast. High-tech pieces of comfort make for a more enjoyable experience. And high-quality gear means you will not have to keep buying more and more products every year.

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