Dear EarthTalk: Merino wool undergarments tout themselves as being kinder to the environment than other wools or synthetics. How is this so? -- Stella Cooley, Bangor, ME
Since the 1970s, professional athletes and weekend warriors alike have sworn by base layers made out of synthetic “fibers” that would let sweat-based moisture escape, dry fast and be easy to care for. But such garments don’t come without trade-offs: They tend to get stinky when mixed with bodily odors and, like so many modern technological marvels, are derived from petroleum. Merino wool-based garments function just as well or better—and without the olfactory stigma or carbon footprint increase.
The soft and pliable cousin to the traditional wool our grandparents wore, Merino wool is revolutionizing outdoor wear while helping manufacturers and consumers lower their impact on the environment. This natural fiber, derived from Merino sheep in New Zealand, is soft on the skin, wicks sweat effectively, dries out quickly, is naturally odor-resistant—and is machine-washable to boot. And since Merino can be easily spun into different weights, it is used in a wide variety of clothing types (underwear, shirts, coats) making it a natural choice for layering.