Merino wool has been a staple of the outdoor industry for years, and for good reason. It is warm, lightweight, easy to source, and very versatile. As a result, you’ll now find it is being used by various gear companies to make everything from baselayers and socks to jackets and beanies, with just about everything inbetween. But at the recent Winter Outdoor Retailer show I came across several companies that were using alternatives to merino for use in their clothing, with three options being particularly noteworthy.
Cotopaxi Llama Fleece Jacket
Cotopaxi is well known for making products that are unique, good looking, and leave a positive impact on the planet. But when the company went searching for merino-alternatives for use in its Kusa Jacket, it discovered an excellent replacement in the highlands of South America. The jacket uses llama fleece for insulation, which is lauded for being lightweight, very warm, and quick drying too. That same material has been used throughout the Andes for more than 6000 years, proving its worth over time.
Kora Yak Fleece Baselayers
The team at Kora knew exaclty what material it wanted to use to make their fabrics, and it comes from even higher up in the mountains. The company uses wool that is harvested from yaks living on the Tibetan Plateau in the Himalaya, where the animals have evolved thick coats to protect themselves from harsh conditions found there. By using the wool from those yaks, Kora has created baselayers and performance clothing that are considerably warmer, and softer, than those made from merino. But those fabrics still retain the same level of breathability, are quick drying, and don’t absorb odor either, All qualities that merino is well known for.
United By Blue Buffalo Fleece Jacket
Philadelphia based United By Blue is another company that has gone in search of alternatives to merino wool and come up with an interesting substitute. When designing their Ultimate American jacket, UBB incorporated bison wool instead, and the results have been reportedly very positive. As an insulator, bison wool compares favorably to merino in many ways in terms of performance, although it is said to be warmer too. And since bison are common in certain areas of the U.S., the entire jacket was sourced and made in America as well.
As you can see, merino wool isn’t the only option in terms of insulations that can be used in our outdoor gear, and in some cases it may not even be the best choice. It remains to be seen if any of these alternatives will be adoped by other gear manufacturers in any capacity.