It comes as no surprise that mountain biking is not the cheapest of sports to take part in. Everything from the bike, equipment and clothing are designed to withstand the demands and challenges that the trails throw at us, and these specialist wares can cost a pretty penny. So, trying to balance the need for performance-inspiring kit with what you can realistically afford is a very real dilemma for most of us. We don’t want clothing that just looks and feels good, but we want clothing that lasts us time and time again.
Essentially, we want the biggest bang for our buck so we evaluate the rate of return on our purchases to see if our desired garments are worth the investment. One largely misunderstood fabric is merino wool. It’s huge in the active outdoors world, known for being somewhat pricey, it’s often considered to be a more luxurious purchase option. For example, a Polyester 3/4 length women’s jersey can range from £20 upwards, but a merino wool jersey of a similar cut and style can set you back around £60. So what makes the merino jersey more expensive and is it worth the extra money? To find out what mysteries are woven into merino wool, I chat with Alex Feechan from FINDRA, the merino guru of the outdoor world.
“It is expensive, but I really feel that merino is one of nature’s great wonder fibres – it looks good, works hard and lasts a long time”
Before FINDRA was gracing our wishlists with merino wool goodies, Alex had spent over 20 years mastering the in’s and out’s of being a knitwear designer. Working with brands like Chanel, Calvin Klein and Escada, it’s safe to say that Alex has worked with many fabrics over the years, but when FINDRA became a very real dream-in-the-making, Alex knew merino wool would be at the heart of its products.
If you think about it, merino sheep are reared in tough outdoor conditions so their wool can withstand rugged environments, making it a strong and adaptable fibre. FINDRA’s merino wool is ethically sourced in Australia, using the best quality of fabric available, but what else makes this fabric expensive, but worthwile?
Wool fibres are breathable and react to the body’s changing temperature. If you consider the environment in which merino sheep live, you will understand that merino wool naturally adapts to both the heat and the cold. The merino fibres absorb moisture from the skin and release it once the moisture level drops, which is why merino wool garments dry so quickly.
Merino clothing, like FINDRA’s, are also extremely lightweight, which means you can layer up and down without bulk, and they pack down small, so you carry less weight.
One big difference between merino and synthetic fibres is that merino ‘holds’ moisture while synthetics remove it. Wool fibres are hydrophilic fibres, so merino wool can be heavier when wet and hold up to four times its own weight in moisture without losing its natural thermo-regulating properties. It is also highly efficient at wicking moisture away from the body without feeling wet to the touch; the fibre surface remains dry, while any moisture moves to the fibre core. Merino doesn’t suppress the body’s natural cooling function of sweating; it just cleverly moves the moisture and odour away from the surface of the skin to the surface of the fibre.
As well as its high-insulating values to keep you warm, merino allows heat to be released when necessary, to avoid overheating, especially during bouts of intense exercise and in warmer climates.
Merino’s thermo-regulating properties are because wool fibres have a naturally rippled structure, which allows body heat to be stored in air chambers, creating maximum insulation. This is also what makes merino wool products so effective when layered up – the air serves as an insulating layer. Wool can also absorb more than 35% of its own weight in moisture, without feeling wet to the touch, so if the surrounding air is warm, any moisture dries faster, resulting in a refreshing evaporative coolness.
Out with odour
No one wants to smell and with merino you won’t! During activity, the body produces sweat, which develops bacteria and it is the bacteria that is the cause of those nasty smells. The natural composition of merino, with its antimicrobial (bacteria-killing) properties, allows sweat to sit on the surface of a garment without leaving unwanted smells on the clothing. With merino, moisture is absorbed directly onto the fibres, allowing less sweat to build up on the skin.
Wool fibres also have their own inbuilt ‘washing machine’. The keratin – protein molecules in merino fibres – breaks down odour-forming bacteria, which means merino wool clothing doesn’t have to be washed as often as other fabrics. Hanging merino garments out to dry is often enough to freshen them up.
We give our merino wool garments a special finish that allows you to machine-wash them at 30 degrees. Only the scaly surface structure of the wool fibres is washed, which protects the wool from severe shrinkage.
For more information about how to keep your merino clothing looking great and lasting longer, check out our merino care guide.
Natural and sustainable
Wool is 100% natural, grown year-round by merino sheep. Every year sheep produce a new fleece, making wool a completely renewable fibre. The shearing process involves manual labour and causes the animal no pain. When a wool fibre is disposed of, it will naturally decompose in soil in a matter of years.
Merino wool absorbs some UV radiation, keeping it away from the skin. It’s still advisable that you wear sun cream, but your merino wool garment will act as an extra layer of protection.
With so many incredible properties of merino wool, it’s hard to believe that more can be achieved with such
“As much as pushing the boundaries in our outdoor lives and enjoying everyday adventures both big and small, we at FINDRA enjoy pushing the boundaries when it comes to product design and innovation too. Our Seamless Performance™ garments are high-quality items knitted entirely without seams. This process requires a high level of manufacturing and specialist techniques, which results in a seam-free garment that has not been pieced together from component parts for total comfort.”
Now, can you honeslty look at your £25 polyester mountain bike jersey and say it does all that for you? Probably not.
It appears that merino really is a wonderful and natural material, certainly not the expensive and delicate fabric that it’s commonly known for. With brands like FINDRA showcasing its glorious properties through the medium of active outdoor apparel, it seems that many of us were very wrong about the capabilities of this unique, durable and hardwearing fabric.
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