What is Merino Wool?

What is merino wool, you ask? Only a weather-regulating, all-season, sustainable, do-it-all, soft as a kitten, sophisticated yet easy-going, non-wrinkling(ish), badass ninja of a fabric. That’s what.

Where does it come from? Merino wool comes, not surprisingly, from the Merino breed of sheep. Hailing originally from Turkey and Spain, the breed is now globally widespread and highly valued for the quality of its wool. Here at Ibex, we work with ranchers in New Zealand, Uruguay and the good ol’ USA. Our American ranchers raise Rambouillet sheep, which are also known as French Merino. The lineage dates back to Louis the XVI, when he embarked on some royal co-mingling with his Spanish royal cousin’s Merino flock.

What makes merino wool better than regular old wool? Two things rise to the top when assessing wool quality: crimping and microns. Each strand of Merino wool is highly crimped and handles the weaving process extremely well. The many crimped bends of each strand capture air, thereby bolstering the legendary thermal regulation of Merino wool. Micron measurements indicate the thickness of an individual strand of wool, and are the key indicator of softness. The finest Merinos will measure between 17 – 24 microns. The lower the number, the softer the final fabric.

Are all merino wools the same? You could see that was “set up” from a mile away, right? Because the answer is no, nada, and nyet. Most Merino wool will measure under 25 microns, which is an ideal mid- or outer-layer. At Ibex, we believe that next-to-skin pieces and summerweight merinos should clock in between 17.5 – 18.5 microns through and through. Some companies will blend a percentage of soft, low-micron Merino with a less expensive, thicker wool, and slap a “Merino” label on it. It may be technically accurate, but the quality and softness can vary. Not so with Ibex. We’re transparent with our microns on every Ibex piece, and you can be sure that measurement is consistent through the piece.

How does this all make a difference to my life, say on a bike ride, run or backpacking? We could talk your ears off about the shape-shifting, ninja-ized awesomeness of merino. Give us a call and we will (…only if you want us too, of course). For now, trust us that there are science-y reasons backing up nearly every point on the following list. Ibex Merino performance and fashion apparel is: ultra-soft, machine washable, naturally odor-resistant, excellent at wicking moisture, offers off the charts temperature control all year-round, and provides warmth even when wet.

Is it also true that Ibex is saving the planet? Hmm… we’re pretty committed to locally grown food, craft beer, recycling, and the emotional uplift of animals. So while we’re doing our best to make our little corner of the world a better place, claiming to save the planet may push into hyperbole. But here’s a little something to chew on: Wool is a natural and sustainable fiber. Most performance fabrics today are raised between an oil derrick and a lab. Our sheep are raised on open grasslands by ranchers who manage their flocks for longevity. As to the end of its usable life, which could be decades, wool is a natural fiber and decomposes readily. Suffice to say polypro decomposition usually includes a hefty number after “half life.”

For more info on the Basics of Merino, check out this Ibex resource page.