Synthetic exercise clothes have a tendency to get funky after a day or two. They require that you either wash them frequently, or own several pairs. Fed up with the smell and the burden of having to frequently wash my exercise gear several times a week I decided to pick up merino wool running shorts and running vest. After nearly 6-months of use, I doubt I’ll ever go back.
I now wear my running clothes for up to a week before I detect any funk, and when it does smell it tends to be a “wet sheep” aroma; a far cry better than the locker room reek I had been accustomed to. Additionally, wool has antimicrobial properties which can reduce the rate of rashes.
In use, the merino wool isn’t itchy, and performs admirably even when drenched in sweat. This is due to wool’s ability to absorb significant amounts of moisture before it feels wet which also has the benefit of reducing friction in sensitive areas (for me, it reduces nipple chafing).
At first I was worried that the wool would be too hot for summer running, but I quickly found that it was more comfortable than my synthetic gear due to its breathability, wicking, and absorbant properties. Synthetics are breathable, but I have found that the minute I put them on in hot weather I feel damp (synthetic fibers don’t absorb water, but rather wick it away to its surface leaving the fabric feeling wet). Wool, on the other hand, not only wicks but also absorbs, while drying just as fast.
The downside to wool’s absorbance is that it has a tendency of feeling heavier during long runs. My second concern was that wool would wear out faster, but after 6-months of near daily use that hasn’t been the case. Their isn’t even the slightest indication of pilling even in places of high wear (between the legs).
Unfortunately, Icebreaker running gear is more expensive than many of the synthetic alternatives, but its a justified expense given that it feels and performs better. Finally, because a single set of wool running gear can replace several pairs of equivalent synthetics while also cutting down on the number of loads of laundry, you can cut costs elsewhere.
Bicyclists were the first to recognize wool’s superiority as an exercise fabric given their historic use of wool biking jerseys. Now that companies like Icebreaker are incorporating soft but durable merino wool into a much wider range of products it’s only time before most of my wardrobe is woolen.