Why Merino Wool?

by Zach January 29, 2014

Kitsbow is not a “wool brand.” We don’t exist to extol the virtues of a single fabric, because it might be popular or sought-after. We are obsessed with finding the right tool for the job, in the right applications. And for over half our All Mountain Collection, Merino wool makes perfect sense. Riding every trail on the mountain entails periods of high exertion on long climbs, punctuated by chilly descents, sometimes separated by a trailside stop to take on nutrition or wait for a buddy. In pushing your body between hot and cold efforts, and through the pocketed microclimates found on the mountain, you need a jersey that works with your body’s natural heating and cooling system to keep you comfortable. Ultimately, this is a jersey that balances two contradictions — one that insulates when you need it to, yet breathes and wicks away moisture when you’re working hard. Naturally, our first inclination was to reach for Merino wool.

Unfortunately, in many outdoor applications, Merino wool is not exactly renowned for its longevity or durability. However, by blending it with the right materials (like CORDURA, nylon, polyester, and spandex), Merino wool can take on these properties and become a well-rounded technical fabric. By choosing these new technical versions of Merino wool Kitsbow can ensure that our jerseys and Base layers retain their shape and elasticity after multiple washes and won’t abrade or snag after an untimely crash. We believe that our bikes aren’t meant to be babied on the trail, and neither should our kit.

It might seem counter-intuitive to wear Merino in the heat of the summer, but this wool is renowned for its ability to breathe and shed heat during harder efforts — behaving not unlike your own skin. Contrary to synthetic fabrics, which must be filled with ventilation holes, micro-porous Merino wool fibers naturally allow moisture vapor to escape. This enables the fabric to actively breathe at a microscopic level, slowing the onset of sweating and keeping you from overheating. Also like your own skin, Merino wool is able to sense differences in humidity between different environments — which in this case would be your skin, the jersey fabric, and the air outside. Its fibers actively maintain equilibrium between each (ie: it “breathes”) by constantly absorbing and releasing moisture from one environment to another. If the outside environment is cold, the wool absorbs moisture in the air and releases its energy in the form of heat against your skin. Conversely, the wool will absorb heat (ie: the moisture from sweat) from your skin and release it to a drier environment, thereby creating a natural cooling effect. In addition to keeping you cool in the summer, Merino’s incredible warmth-to-weight ratio also makes it perfect for cold rides — thanks to the microscopic cortices of dead air within each wool fiber, which trap and retain body heat when you need it most.

Unique to Merino wool, is its ability to wick away sweat when that moisture is still in gaseous form. If you start climbing a particularly difficult section of trail, your body temperature rises. As you heat up, the moisture vapors are quickly absorbed by the wool fibers before they can condense into liquid sweat, and released to the drier environment outside the fabric. An individual Merino wool fiber can absorb up to 35% of its own weight and still maintain this ability before saturating. If you sweat faster than the vapor can be transported to the outside of the fabric, the wool will resort to wicking the liquid from the fabric mechanically — not unlike a synthetic fabric. In short, as you work towards the summit of that climb, Merino wool helps you stay cooler and dryer, for a longer period of time. But what happens when you stop for a breather? Though your jersey will likely be wet, the Merino is actively releasing a small, but noticeable amount of heat through a natural chemical reaction between water vapor binding to the chemical structure of the core Merino fibers. This prevents chilling, and keeps your core temperature regulated even though your jersey might feel damp to the touch.

Unlike many smooth and tightly woven synthetic fibers, Merino wool fibers are covered with a multitude of microscopic overlapping ‘scales’ which inherently create an inhospitable place for bacteria growth. Merino wool also contains traces of lanolin — a hypoallergenic and naturally antimicrobial wax that protects the fibers, enhancing their repellency to water and dirt. Together, this ensures your jersey is able to work as hard as you, and stays fresh until you make it to the trail’s end. It also means that your jersey won’t smell like the bottom of a gear bag if you’re unable to wash it after every ride.

All Mountain riding is all about quickly reacting and adapting; to obstacles on the trail, sudden elevation gains and losses, and changing weather patterns. The right tool for this job, is a reactive fabric that balances your body’s changing microclimate to ensure complete comfort throughout the ride. Naturally, that fabric is Merino wool. The Kitsbow All-Mountain collection is tailored not only for the life of the rider, but also for a life on the trail. [zp]

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