If aliens landed and studied hikers, climbers, outdoor magazine cover models, and cyclists, they'd report back that outdoor life requires sythetic materials. Synthetics are so pervasive that a person only slightly off his or her rocker might wonder: Does wool really and truly work?

Yeah-duh... Wool has evolved over hundreds of thousands of years in the snowy slopes of the Andes and the blistering wastelands of Afghanistan. It will keep you comfortable in suburbia, the woods, the mountains, and on the coast.

Wool regulates body heat much better than poly-anything does, so you're more comfortable in a wider range of temperatures. A wool fiber's complex structure evolved to protect sheep roaming in extremes heat and cold. Wool always works. Clearly, on a 15 minute fair-weather commute,it doesn't matter what you wear; but when the ride is longer and the stakes are higher and your level of exertion is maxing out, wool is the best fabric.

WARMER WET THAN DRY ! Norwegian fishermen used to dip their wool mittens in water before heading out on deck. It wasn't to be done with the inevitable; it was to prepare for the immediate need of warm hands. The fact is, wet wool is warmer than dry wool. This isn't ancient myth poppycock.

WOOL DOESN'T STINK. Unlike synthetics, which stink when they're dirty with sweat, wool doesn't stink after you've sweated in it, so you can wear it many times before you need to wash it. Once you collect a few sleeveless t's, short-sleeved t's, long-sleeved t's of various weights, and a few jerseys and heavier sweaters, you're loaded for bear and won't have more than a couple of wool loads a month, if you wear it and sweat in it every day.

The clothing you wrap yourself in becomes your immediate environment, and plays a huge role in your outdoor experience. How it looks, feels, sounds when it flaps in the wind, and smells after the third day without washing depends on what it's made of. Wear synthetics at the mall and disco. Out in the world, wear wool!


Down & dirty easy lazy good enough way
Soap: Whatever you have, but nothing with bleach in it. Water: Warm Dryer: Warm

Wool laundered this way will shrink about half a size. It won't get wrecked. We'd like to see you treat it with slightly more care, but if you can't be bothered, that's quite all right.

Worrier's Way
Soap: Kookabura (we sell it), or pretty much any earth-friendly suds sold by hippies or in cardboard box with a picture of the earth on it. Use Warm or cold Air dry.

The main thing is: Don't fear wool or save it for special occasions. Have enough so you can wear it all or most of the time, and don't worry about wrecking it.


by special guest lecturer Mary Stipe-----------

There are two kinds of sweat glands: apocrine glands, the type found in your armpits, and eccrine glands, the type found everywhere else. Eccrine gland secretions don't smell, and thank goodness. But apocrine gland secretions are released through the same pores as the oil glands, and when bacteria on the skin's surface feeds on the fats in these secretions, run for cover and plug your nose!

When this happens, the last thing you want to do is trap the moisture on your body and in your clothing. Unfortunately, that's exactly what happens with most synthetics. Wool doesn't stink because moisture passes through it and is released into the air instead of remaining on the skin.

Wool absorbs about 30 percent of its weight in moisture, so it can hold that much without making you feel clammy. Nylon absorbs 4.5 percent, and polyester, just 0.4 percent. With these fibers, moisture remains on the skin and the surface of the fabric, giving that bacteria a veritable feast that makes you stink.

A fabric's ability to wick moisture does not make it immune to this, as anybody who has sweated in high-wick fabrics can attest. To prevent sink, the fabric must absorb the moisture to keep it away from the stink-inducing secretions of the apocrine glands, and wool does that better than any other fabric, synthetic or natural.


Mary Stipe is a freelance writer specializing in textiles. At least, she was when she wrote this about ten years ago. Mary, what are you doing now?