Comparing the Best Mid-Layers for Year-round Outdoor Fun: Wool

When it comes to choosing layers for your next outdoor adventure, waterproof outer shells and warm or wicking base layers tend to take the center stage.

But when you’re enjoying summer or shoulder season adventures in climates that see chilly mornings and warm afternoons, layering is the best way to stay comfortable all day long. And good layering starts with the right mid-layer.

Wool has long been a popular mid-layer option for outdoor enthusiasts. It’s come a long way since our grandparents’ bulky wool sweaters, with many modern companies offering lightweight, yet warm jackets, pullovers, sweaters, and more that are perfect for every outdoor adventure.

Keep reading to learn everything you need to know about the pros and cons of wool, and how to choose the right layer for your next visit to Sointula Lodge.

A History of Wool

A far cry from down and fleece, both of which came around in the previous century, wool has been woven and worn since around 400 BC to 300 BC. While sheep were first domesticated between 9000 BC and 7000 BC, these animals were covered in a more hair-like fur rather than the wool that we know today. They were selectively bred for wooly coats, which were hand-plucked or sheared used bronze combs.

Most of the popular wool options today are made from Merino wool. This variation began in Spain, where Merino sheep are thought to have originated. This wool is thinner and softer to the touch than traditional wool. This makes it ideal for wearing outdoors in both warmer and cooler temps, without causing the itchiness and discomfort that some wools can cause.

Pros of Wool

Because both fleece and down are newer inventions, wearing wool for outdoor activities might seem an odd choice. However, there are a number of benefits to wool. There are many reasons why wool has stood the test of time, being worn for hundreds and hundreds of years and still in use today, despite the many alternatives that are readily available.

Some benefits of wool include:

  • Wool is all-natural and renewable, making it a great, eco-friendly choice for outdoor wear compared to synthetic alternatives.
  • Another reason wool is an eco-friendly choice is that it is biodegradable. It breaks down after just 12 years in the ground.
  • Wool is able to absorb a large amount of water. This makes it ideal for wicking sweat away from your skin to keep you dry and comfortable in hot temperatures and prevent hypothermia in colder temps.
  • Because of its natural stretch, wool moves with your skin, offering plenty of give so that your range of motion is never limited.
  • Wool is proactive. This means that it will react to changes in body temperature throughout the day. That makes it perfect for wearing on days when temperatures may vary from chilly in the morning to hot in the evening to cold again as the sunsets.
  • Sometimes wool gets a bad reputation for being tough to care for. However, many modern variations are actually incredibly easy to wash. Unlike a down jacket, you can toss many wool jackets and sweaters in the wash, and simply hang to dry.
  • Wool is naturally odor-resistant–perfect for anyone who works up a sweat on the trail!
  • While it may not be something you think about when choosing outdoor gear, merino wool is actually fire-resistant, so you won’t have to worry about stray embers while you’re sitting around the campfire.

Cons of Wool

While wool is undeniably warm and offers many benefits, there are a few drawbacks to using it as your mid-layer. These include:

  • While Merino wool is far softer than traditional variations, many people still find it itchy against their skin, especially compared to other synthetic options. Wearing a layer underneath of your wool sweater or jacket can help with this, but keep in mind that short sleeves underneath will still expose your arms to the material.
  • Wool is great for wicking moisture away from your skin. Unfortunately, it tends to hold onto the moisture that it absorbs. That means that after a sweaty day or a rainstorm, your sweater or jacket is likely to stay saturated until you can hang it up for a while to dry.
  • Wool, and especially Merino wool, tend to be more expensive than synthetic alternatives. Perhaps for this reason, and the amount of work that goes into producing it, there are far fewer options for jackets and other mid-layers on the market, at least compared to fleece and down jackets.
  • Thick wool sweaters may pull, while thin Merino wool will break down and tear much faster than synthetic fabrics.

How to Choose the Perfect Wool Jacket or Sweater

With fewer options on the market, choosing wool mid-layers is easier than narrowing your options for other materials.

One thing that you will want to consider is the other types of layers that you plan to wear with your wool. For instance, if you know that you’ll be on the water or in rainy conditions, you’ll want to make sure to plan to wear a waterproof outer layer over top your wool. This may mean choosing a lightweight wool layer if you’re worried about getting too warm.

If you find traditional wool too uncomfortable to wear against your skin, it’s a good idea to try on softer Merino wool variations before you buy. You can wear another layer underneath to avoid having the wool against your skin while still reaping many of the benefits of this material.

Deciding Whether Wool is the Right Material for You

If you’re looking for a natural material that’s perfect for wicking away sweat and adding lightweight warmth, wool is a great option. Looking for other great options for versatile mid-layer options? Check out this guide to down jackets, or check back soon for a guide to fleece layers.