Layering for Warmth

Now that fall is upon us, it’s a good time to start thinking about your layering strategy for the cold weather. I recently took a camping road trip through the Atlantic states and provinces, and encountered cold weather along the way. On this trip, I was able to test out my layering strategy early and was pretty happy with how it worked out.

Why Layers?

Layers are a great way to keep warm while adjusting to changing conditions throughout the day. Typically, layers also allow you to keep warm with less bulk — you can choose pieces that are best at one thing rather than having one piece that does it all pretty well.

Sweat is the biggest enemy to warmth. Without the ability to shed layers as you warm up, you will sweat, and as sweat evaporates it cools. A sweaty shirt or jacket on a cold day is a quick way to get uncomfortably chilled, or even worse, hypothermia.

How to Layer

My layering system consists of a thermal baselayer, a shirt and/or insulating midlayer, and a shell for wind, rain, or snow.

Baselayer

The most important aspect of a good baselayer is how well it wicks sweat and how quickly it dries. This is to protect from our number one enemy in the cold, moisture. While a baselayer also will help keep you a bit warmer when you are static by trapping some body heat, its real purpose is to help manage sweat when you are active.

Since a baselayer needs to be able to efficiently wick sweat, it is important to get the fit right. You want the fabric to sit snugly against the skin so there is no opportunity for sweat to pool against the skin or for cold air to evaporate sweat directly from the skin.

I typically wear a Patagonia Capilene Midweight Zip-neck and Pants (Polartec Power Grid) as my baselayer. All the Capilene baselayers are treated with Polygiene odor control which I find to work pretty well — I can get a few days out of a top and more out of the bottoms, depending on how much I’m sweating. There also are lightweight and thermal weight options if you need less or more warmth.

For 2018, Patagonia released a new merino blend Capilene, the Capilene Air (51% merino, 49% recycled polyester). The fabric has an interesting 3D knit structure and claims to have the greatest warmth range along with the ability to insulate while wet, dry quickly, and resist odor. While double the price of the equivalent Capilene Midweight, this seems like it could be a great fabric and worth the premium for some.

Midlayer

The main job of a midlayer is insulation. The temperature and whether you are going to be active or static can help you choose the most appropriate piece. Active insulation is designed to be very breathable (air and moisture permeable) so the sweat that is absorbed by your baselayer and evaporated by your body heat is able to efficiently migrate into the environment. Static insulation is designed to keep you warm while you are still, so it is less breathable to help conserve the captured body heat. One thing to keep in mind if you are looking at down — while synthetic insulation still works when wet, down looses much of its insulation capability in wet conditions.

Fit is important here as well, but remember to size for the range of layers you may be wearing underneath. Drawstrings, Velcro, and elastic can help with getting the fit adjusted perfectly.

I typically wear one or two midlayers, depending on weather conditions and what layers I plan to shed if I get warm (or end up inside). For me they can be a long or short sleeve shirt, light fleece (Patagonia R1 Pullover), and/or down jacket. Typically I wear a shirt over my baselayer if I think I might get very warm or end up inside. My insulation layer then goes over either the shirt or directly over my baselayer. An alternative to the down jacket could be a synthetic insulated jacket like the Arc’teryx Atom LT or synthetic active insulation layer like the Arc’teryx Proton LT.

Shell

A shell is an important layering piece when it is windy or wet. Just like sweat is the enemy, getting wet is just as bad. Being wet in the wind is even worse because the wind accelerates evaporation (and therefore cooling). A good shell will protect you from both elements. However, you should not wear a shell unless it is needed because it will typically be your least breathable layer and will hinder the evaporation or sweat. As the sweat builds up and makes your insulation layers damp, it can hinder the ability for them to continue to perform as expected.

For a shell, the fit needs to be more flexible since you will probably wear it on its own as well as over various layers. This makes drawstrings, Velcro, and elastic important so the fit is adjustable.

I prefer a lightweight shell like the Outdoor Research Helium II Jacket because it packs down small for easy stowage when the weather improves (or to carry just in case). The Helium is an ultralight shell, so unlike a hardshell the waterproof membrane is visible on the inside of the jacket. This makes it lighter but less durable and can more easily loose breathability from having clogged pores from body oils and dirt (hardshells typically sandwich the membrane between two layers of fabric). No matter what type of shell you have, if the DWR fails and the face fabric wets out, you loose all breathability.

Utilizing a shell for wind and water resistance allows you to select a very breathable midlayer which becomes especially important if you are active while out in the cold. If you are going to be out in rain all day (or days) or need more durability you might want a true hardshell, but I’ve never had any issues with the Helium Jacket.

Conclusions

If you want to stay warm outside in cool and cold weather layering is the way to go. You can stay comfortable throughout the day, even with changing conditions, and you don’t have to deal with that bulky winter coat for most weather. A simple system of a thermal baselayer, an insulating midlayer, and a shell can get you through most weather. If it’s really cold, you can swap out your midlayer, wear a warmer baselayer, and/or replace the midlayer and shell with a parka.

Layering for Warmth

Performance Fabric Blends

Fabric blends are often found in performance apparel with the hopes of capturing the positive properties of different materials while removing as many of the negative as possible. While it’s impossible to be comprehensive with all the blends, brands, and technologies that are out there now, this overview captures the major categories.

Natural/Synthetic

There are many great natural/synthetic blends out there. These blends are often made to improve the strength/durability (merino blends), or moisture wicking ability (cotton) of a natural fiber.

Merino Blends

Merino blends can vary greatly in their performance (especially odor resistance) depending on their merino content. Blends can range anywhere from over 75% merino to less than 10%. Of course, the more merino the more merino properties can be expected, but the other fibers present (and any treatments) can also make a difference.

The common co-fibers in merino blends are polyester and nylon (and sometimes Tencel — see the Icebreaker Cool-Lite line). Often, these blends are designed to give the relatively fragile merino some extra strength. In addition to just mixing the fibers into the yarn, merino can be “corespun” with a nylon core or woven in a “double weave” where the fabric has one side that is 100% merino and the other side some other fiber. Corespun fabrics give the look and feel of 100% merino while adding strength to the yarn with the nylon core (see Smartwool Merino 150 line). Double woven fabrics also allow allow for the feel of 100% merino, but can add a more durable/different looking material for the face of the fabric (see Y Athletics SilverAir Merino).

Wool can also be made into a batting and used as insulation. Wool insulation is a good machine washable natural alternative to down. It typically offers a similar weight to insulation ratio and is often a similar price point as down (see Smartwool Smartloft and Icebreaker Merino LOFT).

Tencel Blends

Tencel is seen blended with both synthetic fibers and merino. Tencel is blended with merino as it has higher water vapor absorption and drying speed than merino, it is a stronger fiber, and it improves the hand feel (smoothness) of the fabric (see DryWeight fabric from Western Rise). When blended with a synthetic fiber, it can help improve the odor resistance as the fiber holds moisture in its core, making it less hospitable to bacteria (see Pistol Lake Eudae fabric). Tencel also doesn’t get staticky like polyester, so it can help with static as well.

NYCO

While not a “performance” fabric as we typically talk about here (no odor resistance), NYCO (nylon/cotton) is increasingly seen used in hard wearing pieces like jackets or in button down shirts where the look or feel of cotton is desired. For a full rundown of NYCO, check our our previous article.

All Synthetic Blends

In some cases, 100% synthetic can perform better especially when durability and abrasion resistance are key. A full synthetic blend is also sometimes used as a cost reduction measure. Typically seen in these blends are polyester and nylon. When it’s really hot and humid, this is also typically your best choice since light synthetics hold less moisture and typically dry faster then merino (see the Nike Dri-FIT line).

Brand Name Blends

Outlier

It shouldn’t be a surprise to see Outlier here, as they make many of our favorite pants. They develop a lot of their own fabrics with various blends of nylon, polyester, cotton, merino wool, and elastane. Our favorites are the F.Cloth (200 gsm, 97% nylon, 3% elastane) which can be found in the Futureworks and New Way Shorts, the Workcloth (275 gsm, dual layer synthetic) which is found in the Slim Dungarees, and the Strongtwill (Supplex nylon/elastane blend) which is found in the Strong Dungarees.

Schoeller

Some of our favorite fabrics are made by Schoeller. Some names you might recognize are schoeller-dryskin (double layer, functional fabric on the inside, durable synthetic on the outside), 3XDRY (moisture wicking and fast drying), c_change (wind and waterproof membranes), NanoSphere (self cleaning).

Some of these are fabrics and others technologies/coatings, but any line of Schoeller fabric can vary between manufacturers, as they customize the fabrics to the specific use.

For example, Outlier Workcloth (Slim Dungarees) and 60/30 Cloth (60/30 Chinos) utilize the NanoSphere technology. The Outlier OG Classics and OG Climbers OG Cloth is Schoeller Dryskin Extreme fabric with NanoSphere. The NanoSphere technology acts as a DWR to repel water, but also helps keep dirt and oils on the surface of the fabric so they can be cleaned easily with a quick wipe of a damp cloth.

drirelease

drirelease is a line of blended fabrics. The yarns are made with a mix of hydrophobic synthetic fibers and hydrophilic natural fibers. The combination is advertised to do a good job at both pulling moisture from the skin and getting the moisture to the surface so you feel dry and it easily evaporates. They also claim an odor reducing technology called FreshGuard this is neither antibacterial or antimicrobial. The natural fibers can be cotton, merino wool, machine washable silk, Tencel, linen, rayon, cashmere, among others. The synthetic portion is 85-88% polyester (or nylon in one case) with the balance being the natural fiber. They have a huge number of brand partners, including Outdoor Research who uses drirelease Wool in their Sequence line (including the L/S Zip Top).

The wool is the only one we’ve tried, and it does provide more odor resistance than you’d expect for only being 12% merino wool. It does, however, tend to pill fairly easily. The other blends that could be interesting include Tencel, linen, and cashmere.

New, Cutting Edge Technologies

Of course, there are also some new, cutting edge (and sometimes out there) technologies like ceramic coated t-shirts, graphene coated jackets, and a fabric that is an FDA certified medical device. But those are for another time.

Wrap-up

Even though two fabrics may have the same fiber composition, no two fabrics are the same. When comparing fabrics, always take into account the structure of the fabric in addition to the composition. The structure can be just as important for some attributes such as the look, hand feel, and drape of the fabric.

Performance Fabric Blends

Car Camping in the Rain, a Retrospective

Over the last weekend of June, I went car camping in western Washington with a two other people and all of our kids. It was a great time, and the second year we did this. This year it rained for most of the trip, even though it was forecast to only have a ‘few’ showers.

I didn’t pack anything for real rain.

Let’s start with what I did pack, as I packed light:

My thinking was that I could use the Simple Windbreaker for the passing rain, as it repels that just fine, and my Rogue jacket whenever it got cool (it’s the perfect jacket for that type of weather). The reality was two and a half days of near constant rain during the day. I spent an entire afternoon on a boat, and part of that was in the rain in Puget Sound.

In other words: I was not prepared for this at all — truthfully only our kids were as we always overpack for them.

However, things were not nearly as bad as they seemed. I basically lived in one of the t-shirts, the Sequence, and the Simple Windbreaker during the day, with the Simple pants as well. My Salomons take quite a bit to soak through, and only did one time, drying fast. Because of the materials used in these clothing items I stayed warm and pretty dry. Even when the windbreaker soaked through, sitting by the fire dried it fast (be careful with synthetics and heat sources), and the merino layers did their work to keep me warm, and dried themselves fast.

One night I had to wear flip flops to deal with the boat, and my feet got a bit muddy. I rinsed them off with water, but not wanting to use a towel to dry them, I put on my merino socks and never once noticed that my feet were anything but comfortable. That was pretty amazing.

The entire trip was a testament to what we mean on Everyday Wear when we talk about “better clothing”. I was entirely unprepared for the weather, and it could have sucked. In my mind I knew that even if it got bad, these clothes should do their job and keep me less miserable, but theory is different than practice. And yet, in practice, I was far more comfortable that I ever thought I would be.

I was cold twice, which isn’t too bad, and even then only for 10 minutes or so until the fire warmed me up. A large part of this is having a good heat source and fast drying clothes. Even when it was raining on me, I could start drying my clothes just by sitting near the fire.

Looking back, I would have liked to have had a true rain jacket with me. That said, this trip gave me a new level of confidence in the clothing we are testing. It’s one thing to talk about how fast merino wool dries when you wash it, and quite another to experience it keeping you warm, comfortable, and drying fast when you are camping in the rain.

I spent a lot of time thinking about this during the trip. I never actually felt wet on my back or shoulders, but I knew I was wet. I just felt slightly cooler in those spots for a moment. I don’t recall my pants ever feeling wet, nor being wet when I went to bed. But I do know I sat in more than a few wet chairs.

This isn’t to say you should be foolish and camp without proper rain gear, that was stupid on my part. But should you be caught out in the rain walking home from work or to work, and you’re buying the type of clothing we talk about here, it’s going to make your life noticeably less bad. It will be the difference between a ruined event, and a minor footnote of the event.

That, in the end, is what we are talking about when we say “performance clothing”.

Car Camping in the Rain, a Retrospective

Aerogel Insulation

We’ve recently noticed a new type of insulation showing up in outerwear. Many sites promote it as “NASA-inspired”, and they are not wrong. What we’re talking about here is aerogel, a very high tech and unique insulating material that found its original applications from NASA.

How does insulation work?

Outwear keeps you warm in three ways: conduction, radiation, and convection. Conduction occurs when objects are in contact (heat always moves from warm to cool), radiation is the transfer of heat as electromagnetic radiation (the body radiates mainly in the infrared region), and convection is the transfer of heat through fluid motion (air is a fluid, so wind causes convective heat loss).
Insulation helps slow conduction by trapping air, which has a low thermal conductivity.

Two common measurements of insulation value in outerwear include the insulation weight (in grams) and fill power. Weight is just what you’d expect — the weight of one square meter of insulation. Typically, warmer insulation is heavier. Fill power is the volume one ounce of insulation fills (higher fill is warmer because it traps more air).

What is aerogel?

Imagine a gel (gels are mostly liquid with a 3D solid network to hold them together) where the liquid is replaced with air — that’s aerogel (>98% air). Due to the size of the pores that contain the air, the thermal conductivity of an aerogel is far lower than insulation filled with air. Due to this extremely low thermal conductivity, aerogel insulation can retain its insulation ability even when compressed. This is due to the fact that while you can compress the air out of fibers embedded with aerogel (or in the case of an aerogel sheet, there isn’t much air to compress out), the aerogel itself is not compressed and still provides significant insulation.

The biggest issue with aerogel when it was first developed was that it is rigid and easily breaks into a powder. Since then various advances have given it some flexibility.

OROS

While it appears that other companies have made jackets from aerogel, OROS Apparel seems to have the oldest jacket still on the market. They developed what they call SolarCore, which is an aerogel in a polymer sheet. SolarCore is breathable and water-resistant, retains its insulation under compression (something many insulations can’t do), and is very thin and light. Their warmest jacket, the Orion Parka, claims to have been tested in stormy and below zero conditions — I’d say that’s a warm jacket!

PrimaLoft Cross Core and L.L.Bean

Just recently, L.L.Bean announced an outerwear exclusive with PrimaLoft for their new Cross Core technology. PrimaLoft has developed a way to fuse aerogel particles into their PrimaLoft Gold insulation fibers (here’s the patent if you’re curious) — this is called “PrimaLoft Gold Insulation with Cross Core”. Right now you can find this insulation in the L.L.Bean Packaway Jackets and the new line of Ultralight Sleeping Bags (35 °F semi-rectangular, 20 °F rectangular, 20 °F mummy, 0 °F mummy). The ability to retain insulation when compressed is a big plus for a sleeping bag, and not even the current standard, down, can claim this. Also, they seem to be at least half the weight of a comparable down bag (but they compress to a similar size).

Outdoor Research

Outdoor Research has also announced gloves utilizing a PrimaLoft aerogel technology (called “PrimaLoft Gold Aerogel”) for Fall 2018. We haven’t been able to find much information on these gloves, but they will most likely be unique in their thickness to warmth ratio. Also, from what we can find, it looks like this is a different technology in which the aerogel is encapsulated in a sheet that is not very breathable.

The Future?

We are excited to see how PrimaLoft builds on this technology as well as how our favorite outdoor brands utilize these two different types of aerogel insulation for the apparel industry.

Aerogel Insulation

Outlier Pants: Overview

When I talk about Outlier pants with people who are not familiar with the brand, I do so by taking great pains to call them “technical versions of normal pants”, instead of trying to call them cycling pants, or travel pants — because for many people they’ll be more stylish than the pants they currently wear and those terms don’t do them justice. Outlier pants will also be more comfortable, durable, and versatile than almost any other pants.

So when it comes to Outlier, I’ve not found anyone making better pants. With that in mind, here are my thoughts on the pants they sell, where they fit in, and my advice on each of them.

Slim Dungarees

This isn’t Outlier’s first/original pant, but it is what they consider their ‘core’ pant (I own two pairs). What’s hard to get over with these pants is just how poorly named they are, and that name really frustrates a lot of people. Initially, I didn’t buy them, because I’m not a skin tight pants type of guy, and thus I was worried these would be far too slim. However, these pants are a fairly standard tailored cut.

At the same time, I’ve seen a few people talk about how unhappy they are that these pants are not slimmer. So the name is working against Outlier on both sides. (Then there’s Steve, who will point out that they were far too slim in the thighs for him.)

Overall, these are my favorite Outlier pants, as they are incredibly versatile and comfortable. They don’t have a magical amount of stretch, but they have enough stretch and are designed well enough that I never find discomfort. They are the very core of the Outlier pants, because they are the best to start with and by far the best all around option.

I wouldn’t hesitate to do anything in these pants, and yet they look like a nice pair of jeans. I started this guide with these pants for a reason, because everything else on this list is somehow less versatile than the Slim Dungarees. However, as comfortable as these pants are, they have nothing on some of the other options. I wear these about 80% of the time.

Find them here.

Futureworks

For the Futureworks, Outlier made a pair of chinos with F.Cloth — a very stretchy and lightweight material. These pants are going to feel thin when you put them on, and yet they drape well enough that I’ve never had anyone point them out as being out of place in an office setting. They look like chinos, but can be comfortably warn in very warm climates. I’ve worn them in 90 °F+ humid weather in Houston and been fine.

They are very comfortable and almost like a cheat code. For over six months they were my go to, daily wear pants. However, they look like chinos and this might make them too dressy for many people. They also don’t handle colder weather well without a layer under them. I’d say you want to stay about 50 °F to not be chilled wearing them. That said, if you need a pair of pants from Outlier to wear in a more traditional office setting which are still insanely technical and awesome: these are the pants you get. (And they are more roomy in the thighs, but still slim enough for them to fit and look tailored for Steve.)

Find them here.

Strongworks

Strongworks are not a variant of Futureworks, as the cut is different yet they look similar. They are made from Outlier’s Strongtwill, which is heavy and very durable. If you wanted a pair of pants that don’t look like jeans for the cooler months, these are them.

I wore a pair for an entire winter and while I liked them, I eventually came to dislike the cut of the pant. It’s an acquired taste and thus you should pay close attention to Outlier’s dimensions and press images on this pair of pants.

Not currently for sale.

Strong Dungarees

This is Outlier’s take of a heavier pair of 5-pocket jeans. They are similar, but not the same cut, as Slim Dungarees — they are generally a little bigger. (Steve finds they fit him in the thighs well, unlike the Slim Dungarees. If anything, they fit even larger in the thighs than the Futureworks.) They utilize the same Strongtwill as the Strongworks, and are thus just as durable.

They are also very comfortable to wear, and as long as the temp is below 50 °F, they are among the better pants to wear from Outlier. They also look closer to a non-synthetic material than even the Slim Dungarees (they look the least technical of all the Outlier pants). What they lack in stretch, they make up for with signature Outlier treatments like a gusseted crotch and more.

Find them here.

OG Climbers

These are made from Outlier’s OG Cloth, and this is the stretchiest, most insane fabric you can get. They are styled very casually, fit and wear casually, and I describe them like wearing loose fitting yoga pants — you won’t want to take them off. OK, I’ve never worn yoga pants, but this is what I imagine wearing yoga pants is like.

If you want something for outdoors wear, you could do a lot worse than these — as they were made for actually climbing in. I personally find my pair much to casual to wear out of the house unless I am hiking in them, but I do wear them everyday when I am lounging around. They are the most comfortable pair of pants I’ve ever owned — including warm ups and sweat pants. If you live a casual life, start here.

Find them here.

OG Classics

I’ve not owned these pants, but they are the same material as the Climbers, with a more formal and dressy look. They are also Outlier’s first pant. I’ve long wanted a pair, but my experience with the OG cloth leads me to believe that they wouldn’t find much use, as the OG material does not look or drape correctly enough to get away with wearing these in more formal settings. Perhaps there’s a difference here, but I am skeptical. (Steve ordered these and found the fabric too shiny and the drape off so he sent them right back.)

If you have an office that is borderline business causal, you could wear these all day and look sharp. Any more formal than that, and I think you would be pushing it. However, if you work in a restaurant, these might be the game changer for you if Reddit posts are to be believed (then again, the price will really hurt).

Find them here.

60/30 Chinos

The 60/30 Chinos (a cotton/nylon/spandex blend) are a great pair of pants if you don’t think you can pull off technical pants (even if they don’t look technical). They move, they are durable, and are treated with DWR for a little extra water resistance, but they are still mostly cotton. And while these NYCO blends can be quite good, they won’t perform nearly as well as most of the other pants on this list. They will, however, blend right in with every other pair of chinos. For the price, I’d rather have any other pair of pants on this list.

Find them here.

New Way Shorts (Long and Regular)

While these aren’t pants, they do deserve an honorable mention for quite possibly being the most versatile shorts money can buy. Made from Outlier’s F.Cloth (same as Futureworks) they are breathable, durable, look sharp, and dry quick enough that you can swim in them. Yes, they’ll dry slower than purpose built swim trunks, but the mesh drains in the bottom of the pockets will allow you to swim without issue.

These are my go to shorts, the only ones I own, and I’d highly recommend them. They come in a long variant as well, for those who prefer more length in their shorts. (Steve also recommends these shorts.)

Find them here.

Others

Outlier makes a ton of other pants, from joggers to merino wool “backed” pants made for colder climates. While there are far too many options to dive into, I will point out that they tend to use a core set of fabrics, so it pays to look at what the above pants use for fabric to help guide you on some of their infrequent offerings.

For instance if you want Futureworks, but a trimmer style, look out for Futuretapers. Outlier seems to come out with a couple new runs of pants every month, so keep an eye out.

Outlier Pants: Overview

Workout Shirt Odor Resistance Comparison

If you’ve been around the performance clothing world, you should be well versed in the odor resistant properties of merino wool. While many tout the “magical” properties, we have not seen many head-to-head tests of merino vs. other fabrics for odor resistance.

The Test

I picked out three of my workout tees for this test — standard 100% polyester (Nike Dri-FIT), Olivers Convoy Tee (100% merino, our review), and Pistol Lake Minimalist Performance Tee (Lightweight Eudae, our review). I wore each shirt for my standard workouts (kettlebell or rowing), hanging to dry overnight, until each started to smell. The tests were repeated two times each.

100% Polyester

This shirt smelled after just one workout. The smell was bad enough that even if I were in the woods, I wouldn’t have wanted to give it a second wear. When dry, especially in winter, polyester gets terrible static cling. When wet or sweaty, polyester clings to your body in the worst way possible.

Eudae

Eudae is a 76% polyester, 19% Tencel, and 5% spandex blend. I was able to get a respectable four workouts out of this shirt. If I were hiking I could have probably pushed it another day or two. Eudae is my favorite lightweight material — it is amazingly soft and comfortable, with just the right amount of stretch to get out of your way at the gym. It looks and drapes just like cotton, and does a great job wicking sweat without getting that damp clingy feeling.

Merino

100% merino turned out to be the champ. I was able to get eight-plus workouts out of this shirt. And really, when I decided to wash, it was because it was getting a little dirty looking. Merino is on par with Eudae on sweat wicking, however is not as good looking or comfortable. In the looks department, merino tends to have a slight shine and doesn’t quite drape like cotton (it almost has a “heavy” look). As for comfort, 100% merino has a decent amount of stretch for exercise, but it can sometimes be slightly scratchy when compared to other materials (this depends on the grade of merino).

Conclusion

If you want the best odor resistance, nothing beats 100% merino. If durability is important, you can find merino/nylon blends, but expect the odor resistance to decrease with increasing nylon content. For comfort and looks with respectable odor resistance, go with the Eudae. And the polyester — just forget it.

These performance tees can also become part of your regular wardrobe. With the extended wear you can get from them, it becomes easy to justify the higher prices (all while slimming down your wardrobe).

Workout Shirt Odor Resistance Comparison

Fabric Care

Part of owning great clothes is learning how to take care of them. Of course, we always recommend following the manufacture washing directions, but here are a few tips we’ve learned along the way.

General Tips

Hand washing is always more gentle than a machine. When machine washing delicate fabric (such as merino), a laundry bag is always a good idea. Front loaders are more gentle than top loaders, and a gentle/delicate cycle with cold water is also a good idea for delicate fabric. We love Kookaburra Wash or Eucalan for washing, especially merino wool. If hand washing, these detergents have the added benefit of not needing a rinse.

Since much of the clothing we talk about is made from performance fibers (synthetics and merino), the dryer is usually not necessary (and just adds unnecessary wear). If your clothing gets wrinkly (and the care instructions allow), a steamer is more gentle than an iron.

Merino Tips

Always wash with cold water and a detergent containing lanolin (oil that is naturally in wool) and never machine dry. Usually hanging or laying flat to dry takes care of any wrinkles. If you are hand washing, roll in a towel before hanging rather than wringing to avoid stressing the fabric.

Synthetic Tips

Follow the washing directions (but it never hurts to wash cold and skip the dryer) and be careful of hot surfaces (such as irons and camp fires), as synthetic materials will melt.

Fabric Care

What is Merino?

Merino wool comes from the Merino sheep which produce a wool which is durable and soft. Typically these sheep are from New Zealand, however there are more and more of these farms springing up around the globe. Typically, these sheep graze in the low lying valleys of mountains, as well as climb the mountains, and thus the wool they grow must be able to help them survive those vastly different climates.

To many, merino wool is a bit of a super fabric.

The Benefits

The benefits of merino wool are huge, and hard to believe when you first read about them. The first is thermal regulation, which is a fancy way of saying that it will keep you warm when it’s cold, and cool when it is warm. The second is anti-odor: it naturally resists odor. The last is water repellence: it has natural ability to repel water (due to the natural oils in the fibers), as a lightly coated DWR garment might, and thus helps with stain resistance.

Thermal Regulation

Thermal regulation is a massive factor of comfort throughout the day — it’s why people often buy specific clothing for the gym, because that clothing is better at thermal regulation than their cotton t-shirts.

Merino is awesome at keeping your body comfortable in two ways. Moisture wicking — as you sweat, the merino will absorb that sweat, pulling it away from your body and towards the fabric’s surface where it will dry quickly. Insulation — merino can help your body regulate temperature because the natural shape of the fiber allows it to trap a lot of air. This makes it act as an insulating layer, just like the fiberglass insulation in your house. This insulating effect helps keep you warm in the cold and cool in the heat.

Anti-Odor

Lastly, merino wool is anti-odor, and we specifically use anti-odor instead of the more common ”anti-bacterial” or “anti-microbial” because those are both technically questionable. The gist of it is this: merino wool tends to not trap odors for a variety of reasons, the most accepted that the absorptive power of the fiber traps moisture, giving no place for odor causing bacteria to grow. That means: body odor, and external odors. Because of this, people often are able to wear their merino clothing many times before it needs to be washed.

The Wool Misconception

You already know what wool is, so when people tell you to wear merino wool underwear or t-shirts, you think they are crazy because wool is itchy. And you are right, wool is itchy. But merino wool is not itchy. It’s best to not think of merino as wool, and instead just as merino.

There are some people who do find merino to be itchy, while many will say it’s an allergy, in many cases it’s just sensitive skin. Additionally, not all merino is equal, as the larger diameter fibers, and thus cheaper, merino is much more scratchy feeling on your skin. But in general ultra fine and fine merino wool is as soft as cotton to most people.

The Downsides

Aside from those who are sensitive, there are a few downsides to merino wool.
The first downside is durability. Merino wool is not inherently fragile in clothing, but it also can be prone to pilling (those little balls of fabric you get on sweaters) in areas of abrasion as well as snags. So while it generally holds up as well as soft cotton, there is some risk with it. In some items, the merino is blended with synthetic fibers (such as nylon) to provide some extra strength and durability to the fabric (however, this can interfere with some of the odor resistance).

The next downside is care. The best way to care for merino is to not hang it, and to wash it in a delicate washer (or hand wash), with special soap, and air drying. This can be a deal breaker for some, but also is quickly something you get used to.

The biggest downside of merino is the price. There’s not a lot of merino wool out there, and thus it’s an expensive material to work with. Rarely will you see a merino t-shirt dip below the $60 per item mark. Even though it will last (and you will need far fewer garments), it’s a high barrier to entry.

Our Thoughts

While many people debate about the odor resistance, we’ve found that allowing the merino to air out between wears typically will wipe away any smells in just a few hours.

Merino is well worth the high cost of entry, and will likely cause you to drastically pare down your wardrobe as merino clothing can be worn many times in one week without looking or smelling dirty.

Where we like it

The absolute best starting point for merino is socks. They are simple, less expensive than other garments, and very effective tools for showing just how amazing merino is. Our feet sweat throughout the day, but with merino wool they will stay comfortable. Often you can wear the same pair of socks all week, and never detect a smell from them — even after hard workouts. So if you are new to merino and need to test the water, get a pair of socks.

Beyond that, the only garments made of merino we have yet to find in a piece we love is in pants. Otherwise underwear, dress shirts, t-shirts, sweaters, sweatshirts, and everything else is pretty great in merino.

What is Merino?

What are Synthetics?

You will find that most athletic and outdoors clothing is made with synthetic materials for their improved properties over traditional natural fibers such as cotton.

There are may types of synthetic and artificial fibers including rayon, spandex, lyocell, modal, nylon, and polyester. Most of what you will find in the clothing we talk about is nylon and polyester (and some of the more unusual, naturally derived artificial fibers). Nylon and polyester are made from petrochemicals, while the artificial fibers come from cellulose derived from plants. These fibers are formed by extruding liquid polymers into air or water.

A lot of the properties of synthetic fabrics not only come from the fiber itself, but also the weave/knit of the fabric (think fleece vs. a wicking workout shirt, both are made from polyester). In many cases, synthetics can also be blended with natural fibers (like nylon core merino wool).

Nylon vs. Polyester

Nylon is a stronger fiber than polyester, making it a great candidate for bags and blending with other fibers for strength.

Polyester has the upper hand in moisture control. While both fibers are hydrophobic (they repel water), nylon absorbs more water than polyester, resulting in a fabric that can be heavier when wet and take longer to dry.

Artificial Fibers

The naturally derived artificial fibers, such as lyocell and modal, (remember these are plant cellulose, but are still manmade) have many of the same properties as natural cellulose fibers (cotton), but have some advantages such as softness or wrinkle resistance.

The Benefits

There are many benefits synthetic fibers can impart on clothing including durability, stretch, wrinkle resistance, moisture wicking, water resistance, wind resistance, and stain resistance. These properties make the fabric popular for harder use garments (like outdoors clothing and activewear). Over time, these fabrics have started to make it into dress and casual clothing for the same reasons. They can even make your blazer more comfortable, durable, and have the ability to go in the wash.

The Downsides

Synthetic fabrics tend to smell more quickly and retain smells longer than some natural fibers (in fact, it has been shown that some bacteria that produce odors love to live on polyester).

Synthetics also can be more staticky than natural fibers, and they also melt when exposed to heat/flame (or an iron).

Our Thoughts

Synthetics certainly can mimic some of the performance characteristics of our favorite natural fiber, merino, but also can impart some downsides. Mainly, synthetics are used when durability or cost are top considerations.

Where We Like It

We like synthetic fabrics for their stretch and durability, especially in garments like pants, shorts, and outerwear. They can also be great blended with fibers such as merino, with the resulting fabric having unique properties such as stretch or more durability. One great example is NYCO, a nylon/cotton blend. Some others include merino with a nylon core and merino blended with lyocell. These fabrics all retain some of the good properties of their natural fiber component while improving performance with the synthetic fiber.

What are Synthetics?