Adventure photographer Chris Brinlee Jr. set out to wear the Libre for 61 days. (Courtesy Chris Brinlee, Jr.)
You’ve no doubt heard of all the benefits merino wool has to offer, and you can likely recite them from memory. You’ve probably even have merino socks or baselayers in your closet. But llama wool? That’s not something you see every day.
Cotopaxi’s Libre Sweater has three key features that set it apart from other wool midlayers: First, it’s made entirely of llama wool. Second, it has wide perforations on the back, which open enough that whatever you are (or aren’t) wearing underneath shows through. And third, Cotopaxi actively discourages washing it.
The first couple of times I wore the Libre, I noticed that it was occasionally itchy around the wrists and neck. But I packed super light for a two-week trip to Italy, France, and Switzerland, and this was the only warm layer I brought along, so I didn’t have much choice but to give it another shot. After the third wear or so, the sweater seemed to soften and the itchiness didn’t bother me anymore. The weight of the Libre feels good and It’s thick enough to keep you warm, but not so much that you swelter. I never felt overheated while wearing it, thanks to the mesh back panel that lets cool breezes pass right through. The raglan sleeves offer full range of motion, which came in handy when I climbed up ladders and shimmied across narrow ledges in Tuscany’s Grotta del Vento, or the Cave of the Wind. More often then not, I was thinking about my next move — not my sweater riding up.
The Libre is comfortable on its own or as a layer over a tee or tank. The perforations kept me from getting too sweaty while hiking with a daypack or speed-walking to catch trains with my heavier travel pack in tow.
Sizing for the Libre is unisex. For women, that’s often an indication that a piece of men’s clothing has been made in different colors that would appeal to the ladies too. But I found the Libre’s fit to be both comfortable and flattering. Space and weight were at a premium in my single carry-on bag, and with the Libre I found not just a performance hiking sweater, but a top that could pass as fashionable back in town.
Like many of the products Cotopaxi makes there’s a story behind the Libre. Founder and CEO Davis Smith lived in Bolivia in the ‘90s, which inspired the brand’s llama logo. Since starting Cotopaxi a few years ago, the company had been on the lookout for ways to use its purchasing power to create products that would provide living wages to people in that country. The sweaters are made in the Bolivian Andes, the same region where the llama wool is sourced and processed, making good on Smith’s commitment to give back.
At Outdoor Retailer, I learned that Cotopaxi sent adventure photographer Chris Brinlee, Jr. on a mission to wear the Libre for 61 days, to test out how odor-resistant it is. That seemed like a bold move, but so far the company’s claims that the sweater doesn’t stink seem to be holding true. I wore the Libre for hiking, a via ferrata in a dripping cave, on train rides, trans-Atlantic flights, and hours-long car rides more days than not for two weeks. Even after all of that it, still no one shied away from me when I wore it to lunch or dinner. It occasionally smelled a bit musty when I dumped out my backpack to air out my limited clothing options, but simply hanging it up to give it some air helped quite a bit.
When I got home and poured my entire backpack into the washing machine, I turned the Libre inside-out to check for washing instructions. I was surprised to see this:
Instead of guiding the wearer through the wash cycle, Cotopaxi encourages them to think twice before wasting the water: “Llama wool is a self-cleaning fiber and requires less washing than other materials,” the label says. “Save resources and simply air your Cotopaxi garment after wearing.”
So, I skipped the washing machine and even a light rinse in the sink, and laid it out on my drying rack. Sure enough, even after wearing it for 20 hours solid on three flights back to the U.S., it smelled clean by the next day.
Overall, the Libre sweater is a versatile midlayer ideal for multi-day trips. It packs well and airs out quickly even when heaped in with smelly clothes. On top of that, it transitions well from outdoor adventures to city excursions, making it a must have fore frequent travelers. cotopaxi.com | $140.