The World of Wool ~
Right off the bat let's discuss the difference between fur, hair, and wool. Sorry to burst your bubble, but in the big picture, there is no difference. Yet if you talk to a die-hard fur/hair/wool enthusiast, there is, in their eyes, a definite difference.
Even among enthusiasts, though, there seems to be some confusion in the choice of word usage. Fur grows to a certain length then stops, where hair and wool keep growing. If this is truly the case, then humans have fur everywhere except their heads.
Who wants to say they have fur?
That said, the bottom line is, fur/hair/wool are all made of cells called keratin. These form overlapping scales, pointing towards the tip. These overlapping scales form a protective barrier covering the cortex (inner area). Fur/hair/wool tend to grow differently due to environmental conditions, breeding, and the protective needs of mammals.
The difference shows up through many factors. Some of which are: length, stiffness, thickness, softness, density, how straight or curly, how many layers of the keratin protective coating there are, and whether the follicle is hollow or not.
One of the many reasons mammals have fur is to help keep their bodies within a certain temperature range. Most mammals have two layers of hair; the short, soft wavy undercoat close to the skin (some people call this fur) and the outer guard layer which is longer and stiffer (some call this hair) covering the undercoat. This helps shed environmental elements. The fur traps and retains air between the layers of hair and each follicle thus provides an insulative layering system.
Let's translate this to humans. We're able to help our bodies thermoregulate utilizing a clothing layering system. This clothing layering system is important because it stimulates and mimics the layers of fur that mammals have. Each layer of clothing a person wears creates a layer of retained air within the threads of the fabric and between each layer of clothing. The thicker the layers and more layers you have, the more air can be retained, keeping you warm. This said wearing many layers is more beneficial than one "mac daddy" Layer.
You can regulate temperature differences more efficiently by taking off a thin layer rather than the one big thick one. We all have experiences of needing to either take layers off because we are too warm or put layers on because we are too cold. The result is either cooling off or warming up. It's important to note that the layers of clothing in and of themselves are not how you create warmth. The reason you warm-up is your body is metabolizing, giving off heat. This heat is then retained in the layers of clothing and layers of air between the layers of clothing.
We as humans in the modern era are always reaching for and trying to simulate the qualities of wool that animals have naturally. Some of the synthetic fabrics have come close but why not use the real thing? In the not-so-distant past, the thought of wearing wool was of this rough, scratchy, itchy fabric that caused more irritation than comfort. It was near impossible to wear this scratchy wool next to your skin without a thin base layer of other fabric such as cotton or silk. Fast forward many years, technology has allowed humans to produce what is generally known as merino wool.
Merino is a breed of sheep that is prized for its fine and soft wool. This type of wool, most humans can wear next to the skin without being irritated by it. Merino wool is not new. The sheep, originally from Portugal, and its wool have been around since the middle ages. It was highly valued, even back then. The wool that comes from Merino sheep is labeled as "merino wool. Yet not all breeds of Merino sheep produce a fine enough fleece that we're able to wear next to the skin. The finer the wool fiber the sheep produces, the softer it is.
The qualities of wool are nothing short of magic. Wool is my go-to fabric for all seasons. Other natural fabrics have their primary use but not to the extent of wool.
Throughout history, humans have needed to wear garments to protect themselves from the elements. The coverings humans choose and made varied according to ecosystem and availability of resources. They varied much, while at the same time was made of only two things. Garments made from plants or garments made from animals.
Every fabric has its breaking point.
Wool will still keep you warm even when it becomes wet. You may look like a prune when you take it off but you'll be alive. Wool will not catch on fire. I’ve had many sparks, embers, and flames land and lick my wool blanket and clothing with never a fire catching. The embers just tend to burn a hole and sparks fade away.
Odor control. The wool fiber is more durable than other fibers such as cotton or silk. Wool can be bent more times without breaking. Another quality wool fiber has is what’s called crimping. The overlapping scales and crimping allow the fiber to weave into each other (felting). When a garment is made with wool it comes out thicker or bulkier than other fabrics. This naturally allows more air to be trapped, causing the garment to retain more heat. The interesting thing about wool is it works both ways. you can use it to keep warm or to keep the warm out. The Bedouins and Tuaregs ethnic groups found in Africa and the Arabian Peninsula use wool to help protect their bodies from the heat. Wool can absorb almost one-third of its weight in water, while still keeping you warm.
Wool is a tremendous asset from the front country to the backcountry. You can’t go wrong adding a wool blanket into your mix of traveling items.
Enjoy the power of wool and let us know about your adventures with wool!