“It’s spring in the Arizona desert. The afternoon sun is beating down from above. Red rock boulders and small piñon pine offer brief, shady respite. Part of this desert’s arid beauty lies in the massive saguaro cacti stretching up to reach the sporadic rainy offerings from above. There’s a dizzying pattern of cracks and indentations in the rocks—as if they, too, are trying to absorb any bit of moisture from a fleeting storm.
Knowing things could get sweaty in the desert, and I wouldn’t be washing anything until I returned home, I purchased a couple lightweight Merino wool tops.
As we trek along a dusty trail—I start noticing what I’m not noticing. My shirt is drying at what seems like Mach speed. It feels soft and breezy against my skin. My companions aren’t complaining that I seriously stink (believe me, they would let me know). And, as this isn’t my first rodeo backpacking in red rock country, I’m feeling more comfortable in these temperatures than I’ve ever felt before.
Well, it starts with sheep. Merino sheep.
Merinos are one of the burliest of sheep. They call home some stunningly beautiful, but extremely rugged places around the world. Altitudes can range from sea level to mountain passes. Winter temperatures plummet into single digits in the snowy highlands. In the summer, Merino sheep chill out in temperatures creeping up into the nineties.
They’ve got that incredible fleece to thank! Merino wool often has a reputation of being just a cold weather choice. If that were the case, our Merino sheep wouldn’t survive. Nature knows best, providing them with the perfect year-round “clothing” for comfort—keeping them warm when it’s cold and cool when things heat up.
When that wool leaves the sheep and enters your apparel, it provides exceptional warm weather benefits—just like it does for the sheep.
Merino wool has a microscopic “crimp ” to it. Along with making the fiber resilient and durable, it also traps still air, giving it some insulating characteristics. It helps keep your body heat in when it’s cool outside and helps keep the heat out when the temperatures rise.
An added bonus, it offers great sun protection. Those sheep aren’t getting burnt as they roam around in the sunshine, because Merino wool naturally protects against the sun’s harmful rays.
Let’s talk sweat.
When you’re active in the sun, things are bound to heat up and a little perspiration enters the scene. No biggie, this is your body’s natural response to cool itself down. When your body sweats as it heats up, it leaves moisture on your skin’s surface. As that sweat turns from a liquid to a vapor, it takes a little of your body’s excess heat with it, leaving you feeling cooler. This is known as “evaporative cooling”.
But, Merino wool has this wonderful ability to move that sweat in the vapor state.
With traditional wicking fabrics (think of any synthetic base layer), the fabric transports or wicks the liquid sweat from your skin to the surface of the base layer, where it can then evaporate. With Merino wool, more of your sweat can evaporate and pass straight through your base layer as a vapor — providing more efficient cooling and leaving you feeling dry longer. It also means odor-causing bacteria don’t have a wet environment to hunker down, which helps you stay fresh.
Despite backpacking in the intense heat of the desert, that high-performance Merino wool you’re wearing is working hard to help keep you comfortable the entire duration of your journey. It’s a transformative feeling we hear often from our customers.
As a fellow Smartwool enthusiast puts it: Funkify by defunking.
“I am a sweaty and stinky person and I am a backpacker,” admits Kay, on a Merino 150 product review. “I am a Smartwool junkie. Merino wool is the only fabric that allows me to enjoy hot, sweaty, prolonged outdoor fun without getting funky. I can wear a shirt 3-4 days backpacking without washing it—which is needed mostly because it's salty-stiff, not stinky. Same goes for socks (note: never share a tent with synthetic sock wearers)… Get rid of the funk and enjoy more Funky Time in the desert, in the mountains, at the beach.”