Comparing different types of insulations has now become a regular topic on our site. We have looked at a number of insulators, including renowned synthetic ones, such as PrimaLoft®, as well as natural insulators like Down.
Insulation, however, is not solely limited to fill-form, meaning that it is not only in the form of padding and filling that is used in jackets or sleeping bags. Insulating fabrics have been around for much longer than that.
We have also looked at several insulating materials that are made into fabrics and wool is one of them.
The use of wool dates millennia ago and its manufacturing and processing has evolved alongside humans. Nowadays wool garments come in many varied forms, but their purpose has remained the same despite the times, to provide insulation during winter.
Today we will be looking at two types of wool, which is the renowned Merino wool and the “regular” sheep wool that is most commonly used.
As a disclaimer before we move any further: we are well aware that regular wool is not a thing per se, but we are using that term to refer to sheep wool that is not sourced from Merino sheep.
Our purpose for this comparison is to understand wool better and then try and conclude as to which type of wool would be the best fit to your requirements.
1. Wool and Its Characteristics
Before getting on with the comparison, let’s first learn a bit more about wool and what makes it so widely used and beloved.
Being completely natural and one of the least controversial natural insulators at that, wool comes second after down for its insulating ability.
It is sourced from wool-bearing animals, through the process of shearing that afterwards requires very little actual processing, unless dyeing it is necessary.
Wool-bearing animals are not solely limited to sheep and goats, but llamas, rabbits, alpacas and even camels are some of the common animals that wool is sourced from in regions where these animals are native to.
However, it bears mentioning that wool from animals other than sheep is regarded as being hair as opposed to actual wool as we know it.
Wool has managed to remain one of the most frequent insulations due to its characteristics, which help set it apart.
Unlike other natural or even man-made materials, wool is highly resistant against flames and is also known to be flame-retardant. Where synthetic wool (fleece) would melt, natural wool fares much better.
Its fibers are durable and flexible, helping it withstand pressure and use much longer, making wool a very long-lasting material that can be used for years with no issue.
Also it is very good at wicking moisture away, it is highly breathable and manages to insulate even when wet.
Lastly, wool is antimicrobial and does not hold on to body odor like other materials, such as polyester, are prone to do.
2. Merino Wool
Now that we are more acquainted with the qualities that different types of wool share among each other, let’s focus on one of the most popular types used, Merino wool.
Yes, different types of wool do generally resemble each other in how they perform, as we mentioned before, but there are differences among them that makes one more preferred than the others in certain situations.
Merino wool comes from merino sheep, which are primarily found in Australia and New Zealand.
“Regular wool” comes from, well, regular sheep. Jokes aside, there are many different kinds of sheep meaning there is no one-type of sheep wool, as there is melton, lambswool, loden, Shetland, etc., as we mentioned in the disclaimer.
Merino wool is regarded as being one of the best materials for base layers because it performs exceptionally well in different weather conditions, including the heat of summer.
This last part can be surprising to those that have not had much or any experience with Merino wool, but it is true that in a lighter construction it can be very useful at keeping you cool and dry during summer.
In regards to how it feels against the skin, this is arguably the primary reason why Merino is preferred for base layers. Due to its fine fibers, merino is incredibly soft, less itchy and also quite lightweight, making it a very comfortable material to wear.
The fibers are also quite flexible, which adds to its durability and it helps the garment made out of merino wool adapt better to movement. This is one of the reasons that wool socks made out of merino wool are some of the most comfortable to wear.
Because the fibers are so fine, it is slightly easier for Merino wool to allow air permeability and moisture wicking. Both of these qualities make it a preferred layering material, because it helps keep you dry much more efficiently than other garments would.
As with traditional wool, Merino also has commendable water-resistant abilities, but unlike traditional wool, it dries more easily, especially when garments are made of finer fibers and at a lighter weight.
Most other types of wool, due to the thickness of the fibers absorb more moisture when exposed to wet conditions for a long time, and thus they take a lot longer to dry. We have also noted this issue in our Fleece vs. Wool comparison.
3. Other Types of Wool
Now that we are finished with Merino wool, let’s take a quick look at some of the other common types of sheep wool that are used.
Shetland wool: Sourced from Shetland sheep, native to Shetland Islands in Scotland, this wool is very durable and highly insulating, making it a preferred choice for winter garments. It is thicker than Merino wool and has a tendency to be itchy if not properly brushed prior to processing.
Lambswool: Just like its name dictates, lambswool comes from the first shearing of lambs, resulting in a very soft and smooth fleece.
It is hypoallergenic, which is good news for those that suffer from allergies, and its ability to regulate temperature and breathe make it a preferred choice for bedding and blankets.
Suffolk fleece: Found in the UK, wool from Suffolk sheep is dense and soft, suitable for garments that are made to insulate and to have some thickness and bulk to them.
Melton wool: Typically thick and used in garments made to withstand the cold, melton wool is smooth and highly durable, as well as wind resistant.
Loden wool: Commonly used for heavy coats, loden wool is renowned for its ability to shed water and its sturdiness.
Other comparison you might like: Wool vs Cotton Fabrics
4. Which One is Better?
With all of the information out there and in this piece, the question of which one is better is important in determining your next purchase.
Well, which one is better? Merino or other types of wool?
Depending on what you are going for, that is if you are looking for a base layer or a coat, the answer will be different.
In regards to overall qualities, Merino wool’s advantage is its softness and high comfort when wearing, especially for garments that are directly on the skin.
It is great at temperature regulating and it helps keep you dry in both cold and warm weather. It is also very durable, a trait shared with the other types of sheep wool, too.
Therefore, for sports or outdoor activities where you expect to sweat, regardless of weather, Merino wool may prove to be a better choice.
But if it’s insulation that you are looking for, there are more affordable wool garments that will provide great protection in low temperatures.