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Wool or Fleece?

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  • For me, it depends on the application. I make no apology for loving wool, but when some kind of under-jacket is needed, and space and weight are important considerations, a fleece jacket wins. For socks and shirts and pants, I still prefer wool, no matter what. And even for that under-jacket situation mentioned above, I often prefer wool if I'm not worried about the extra bulk and weight. I have one of those wool "shirt jackets" that were popular all through the 40s and up through the early 70s, and I love the feel, and even the way it "smells natural" when it gets wet (unlike pre-60s versions, it's only 85-percent wool, but the wool character is largely intact). I don't think fleece holds its insulation quality as well as wool when wet, and certainly it's no contest when soaked (I know, that's what rain gear is for, but sometimes I'll put up with some light rain when wearing wool, and that "soaked" situation can sometimes happen to us boaters). Fleece just seems sterile and inert no matter what, even when wet, while wool has history and "soul" which seem magnified in rainy weather. I hope you weren't looking for an emotionless evaluation!

  • I use both, plus other synthetics. I love my Merino wool socks. I don't care how much they cost, and even if I did they last many, many times longer than cheap cotton "tube socks". I have thick insulating ones and thin wicking ones. Both are extremely comfortable. Did I mention I like these socks?

    One thing wool has going for it over synthetics is that it tends not to retain body odours. Synthetics such as polypropylene can get pretty bad after a while and there's not much I've found that does an effective job of bringing them back to original.

    I don't have any top items that are wool, but I have first hand experience of getting drenched in fleece. I was able to shake a lot of the water out, put it back on, and it kept me nice and toasty on a cool overcast (Canadian) spring day.

  • I use Smartwool socks but it has been quite a while since I have used wool sweaters, shirts, or pants. Back in the day I used to canoe using old wool sweaters for insulation and as I recall they got quite stinky and seemed to take longer to dry than fleece.

  • Wool long underwear. Merino of course
    Wool hat. Warm even if damp
    Wool blanket shirt for real cold
    Woo guide shirt for fall cold
    Fleece for summer coolness
    Tried fleece pjs. Too HOT!

    Wicking layer wool. Insulation usually fleece

  • I inherited an old Filson wool shooting sweater, with thick leather patching over the shoulder and elbows. Really well made, solid sweater. I think they used 1/8" thread to sew the buttons on!

    It is one heavy garment, and warmer than one would need for most non-arctic conditions. And it can be a little scratchy.

    I think it will always have the smoky-musty cabin smell, I am not about to try washing it using any conventional methods. It is too cool as it sits. Water beads right off in the rain, but I did get one of the sleeves wet (submerged) by accident and it took a week to dry!

  • I understand the weight thing, but does fleece have anywhere near the R factor of wool? Seems like you have to have more bulk in a fleece garment to produce similar warmth.

  • @Loon_Watcher said:
    I understand the weight thing, but does fleece have anywhere near the R factor of wool? Seems like you have to have more bulk in a fleece garment to produce similar warmth.

    A backpacker had the same question: http://woodtrekker.blogspot.com/2012/11/fleece-vs-wool-insulation.html

  • I've been thoroughly fleeced, for the last 20 years. Sometimes I still use some rag wool socks inside the dry suit (if I'm wearing some really large booties) but now it's all synthetics. Unfortunately, the layer next to the skin can really reek- so avoid polypro, I can even soak that stuff in the miracle boater-funk solution and the smell returns with the next use. Kind of makes me feel sorry for my shuttle partners. You learn to keep your arm pits down when your a passenger.

  • edited March 20

    Wool definitely absorbs water and gets heavier when wet and takes longer to dry. When perfectly dry, wool might perhaps provide better insulation than a fleece garment of equal thickness and bulk. But when both are wet and the wool gets heavier, I feel that wet fleece provides better insulation than a wet wool garment of equal weight. I remember when I used wool sweaters for paddling I needed to keep several if I wanted to paddle more than one day in a row, because a sweater that got wet one day would still be wet the next.

    I do recall when Polartec fleece first became available, I threw out the old wool sweaters I used to use for paddling.

    I used to do a good bit of bicycling and back in the day (1970s) Pro Togs wool garments were some of the best cycling jerseys one could buy. But when fleece and other synthetics became widely available, I ditched most of those as well. But I think I still have some Pro Togs merino wool tights, arm warmers, and leg warmers hanging up somewhere or other.

  • edited March 21

    I compared an Eddie Bauer fleece parka liner to my old Cabelas wool sweater, and it is indeed lighter, but much bulkier. I guess it's warm enough, but I've never used it on expedition. What are some of the qualities of a good expedition fleece jacket?

    I just read the Wood Trekker thing. Good read.

  • It’s all about the tightness of the weave. Wool sweaters are loose woven
    Felted wool is actually water resistant
    I have some icebreaker wool items that dry very quickly
    Much faster than fleece.
    Same for cotton. We’ve all heard the old saw cotton kills. Some fine denier and tight woven twills dry very quickly unlike coarse diameter Jersey as in t shirts

  • edited March 22

    Wool also has lanolin oil in it, which repels water. I treat my wool with a product that restores the lanolin content.

    One attraction to wool is its sustainability, low impact manufacturing. There's just something intrinsically pleasing about wearing a quality handmade product that doesn't rely on the petroleum industry and won't clutter the landscape for a thousand years. So few outdoor products are that way anymore. Guess I'll stuff my wool sweater in my canvas pack and move on with my wood paddle. :|

  • Wool socks, fleece liner.

  • Hey Rookie, the results for the wool vs fleece look so close as to be suspicious. The same site shows results for cotton which are basically identical to wool or fleece. The test and measurement system are not validated. Hmmm.

    The link below shows a study from 75 years ago. Figure 16 shows a clear benefit of pure wool over pure cotton but the perhaps surprising overall conclusion (page 28) is that the biggest factor for insulation of wet fabrics is the surface of the fabric and how well it makes contact with your skin. So maybe the itchiness of wool is helping to keep you warm.

    https://nvlpubs.nist.gov/nistpubs/jres/32/jresv32n5p229_A1b.pdf

    I like my synthetics since they dry out so fast, pack small, don't itch, and in my experience they will keep me much warmer than cotton if soaked. But now I feel more guilt since castoff is educating us about microfibers from washing synthetic clothes.

    Water repellency, sustainability, and fashion are of course totally separate discussions so I suggest a good flogging for Loon Watcher for raising such a broad topic.

  • @TomL

    Went back to that site and read a bit more. Most interesting was the first comment written five years ago about fleece fiber pollution in the oceans. Patagonia explains how to reduce fiber pollution; https://www.patagonia.com/blog/2017/06/what-you-can-do-about-microfiber-pollution/

    Will be hiking along the Lake Michigan shoreline in a bit, around Sturgeon Bay. Definitely wearing wool, winter gloves and hat, and my big old thick LL Bean down parka. Warmth is preferable over fashion.

  • edited April 3

    Picked up Patagucci's Nano-Air vest a couple years ago.....best purchase made in a while. Breathes while maintaining a comfortable temperature for me, with their Capilene baselayers of various thicknesses, no matter what the conditions.

  • Wool doesn’t have to itch
    Some wools are smooth like alpaca and merino
    Some are sheep wool that is unprocessed and still has the little barbs in it.
    That’s used for felting. Turns out thick and the barbs interlock

    Just as in Kevlar there are types of wool

  • @Rookie said:
    @TomL

    Went back to that site and read a bit more. Most interesting was the first comment written five years ago about fleece fiber pollution in the oceans. Patagonia explains how to reduce fiber pollution; https://www.patagonia.com/blog/2017/06/what-you-can-do-about-microfiber-pollution/

    Will be hiking along the Lake Michigan shoreline in a bit, around Sturgeon Bay. Definitely wearing wool, winter gloves and hat, and my big old thick LL Bean down parka. Warmth is preferable over fashion.

    >
    It's a cool site. Being an engineer I got excited by the data and graphs, then got curious about cotton. On the page with the graphs of cotton performance there is a long comment from someone challenging the validity of the test method. Probably another engineer.

    I use lightweight cotton dress shirts in the summer, lots of synthetics that I use all the time, and some wool stuff that I use on occasion including an army surplus blanket that is often in my "ready" pack. It does seem like wool socks are hotter than anything short of heated socks. It's all good.

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