Letter Re: Low Cost Merino Wool Clothing

Hello, I am very grateful for your web site/books and thought I could add a little something that I have been doing lately. I am a carpenter and usually end up building outside at some point during the winters, so I have tried a lot of different clothing options to stay warm and comfortable. The best solution for me has been Merino wool.

It seems to me that since the mid-1990s that there has been a huge push from most retailers and advertisers to support man made synthetic fibers (recycled plastic fleece, polypropylene, acrylic, etc.) as insulating layers of clothing. In my experience I have noticed that these clothes get smelly and uncomfortable within a day even though they claim to have some sort of antibacterial agent impregnated in them. I tried to get past this fact, but after years of dealing with it I decided to start looking other places.

I grew up hearing that wool is just too itchy to wear next to your skin, but I wanted to decide for myself. I have come to learn that there is a whole spectrum of wool quality. What has come to be my favorite type of wool is Merino. Merino is a breed of sheep that produces wonderful wool for, as far as I can tell, all situations. The fabric from this wool is soft and comfortable, great at regulating body temperature, moisture wicking, and is antibacterial, so you don’t stink. This spring, I wore Merino underwear/long underwear for five days while hunting with no shower and I swear I didn’t have bad body odor.

The perceived problem with Merino wool is that it is too expensive. After acquiring a few coveted garments from Christmas and subsequently wanting more, I realized that I could not afford them. If you can though, I highly recommend the Icebreaker brand. They make only Merino wool clothing, but you better be ready to spend big bucks. The solution to my problem was relatively simple. Go and search thrift stores. I cannot believe what people give away to such places as Goodwill, St. Vincent De Paul’s, and the Salvation Army. I live in Oregon and these are the three big stores in the cities here. Just to compare, a lightweight Merino wool top at Icebreaker would be around $80-$100 and at a thrift store I have paid between $2.50-$8. The sweaters that I find are light to medium weight, which I consider a base layer to be worn as long underwear or a middle layer between underwear and your outer most layer. The thick traditional wool sweaters that are also very common at thrift stores are great as well, but I do not wear them right next to my skin because they usually are pretty scratchy and really hot. When I visit a city that has a thrift store, I try to make time to check and nine out of ten times I find at least one sweater. I probably need to stop, because I have around fifteen now. I’ll leave some for you.

Another thing that can be done with used wool sweaters is that they can be reconfigured to be children’s clothing. My wife makes wool kid’s pants by removing the arms from a sweater and sewing them into leggings. As far as adult wool leggings go, the best option I have found so far is to keep a look out in the outlet catalogs/web sites like campmor, sierra trading post, and REI outlet. I have scored relatively cheap ($20-$30) nice Merino wool long underwear bottoms at such places. The best low cost Merino wool socks I have found came from Costco.

If you live in a cold climate, having warm, comfortable, and technically superior clothing will go a long way in securing your well being now and when the SHTF. Thanks again and happy thrift store shopping, – Jesse C. in Oregon