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Merino vs Alpaca: Comparing Natural Fibers

Merino wool is a well-known and much-loved natural fiber option in the outdoor industry due to its well-documented performance characteristics. A question we often get is: how does your All-Paca™ performance fabric compare to merino wool? We’re glad you asked.

This blog will go in-depth to compare the performance qualities of merino wool to those of our All-Paca knits and fleeces, which are made from 100% alpaca fibers. First, let’s look at the similarities. Like merino wool, alpaca is a natural animal protein fiber that is fully biodegradable. Second, both alpaca and merino are known for their exceptional “breathability,” or climate regulation (the ability to keep you cool on a warm day and warm on a cool day). Finally, both alpaca and merino are excellent at odor control, and don’t retain the “stink” you’ll find in synthetic apparel after a long day on the trail. However, if you take a closer look at the physical characteristics of both fibers, you’ll see why alpaca is the superior performance option.

When compared to merino wool, alpaca is softer, stronger, warmer, and retains less water. It’s also a more environmentally sustainable option when you look at the overall impact. “Prove it!” you say. OK – we will.

Softer: Alpaca fibers have a smoother and more uniform surface then merino, so they are less “prickly” to the touch. They are also naturally free of lanolin, a wax found in sheep’s wool that can cause an irritating allergic reaction. In addition, the micron size (the measure of width of one individual fiber) of alpaca and wool fibers utilized for outdoor apparel is comparable. Smaller micron diameters yield softer fiber “handle,” and the average of most wool and alpaca fibers used in base layers and mid layers is generally between 18-22 microns. As a comparison, the average human hair is around 100 microns.

Stronger: Alpaca fibers have a higher tensile strength than merino, meaning they can stand up to more pressure or tension before breaking. Get ready – we’re about to drop some technical knowledge. On average, studies have shown that alpaca fibers have a tensile strength in the general range of 50 N/ktex, which measures how many Newtons of force, “N,” are required to break a fiber of a given thickness measured in kilotex, “ktex.” Merino wool has a tensile strength in the general range of 30-40 N/ktex. AppGearCo’s patent-pending process capitalizes on alpaca’s natural strength to build a bomber fabric that can stand up to serious use and abuse. Go ahead and put some serious pack miles on your All-Paca – it can handle it.

Warmer: Alpaca fibers have a unique physical structure characterized by consistent hollow voids throughout. These hollow voids trap air, which, in turn, increases the fiber’s thermal properties and creates a warmer experience for the wearer. This semi-hollow structure also makes alpaca fibers extremely lightweight, offering greater warmth for the weight than you’ll get with merino wool of a similar fiber size. There’s a reason alpacas flourish in South America’s Andes Mountains…they were engineered by nature to thrive in harsh conditions. Here at AppGearCo, we’ve fine-tuned that natural insulating power to create garments and gear perfect for cold conditions.

Retains Less Water: Alpaca fibers are considered extremely water resistant, while staying highly breathable. That’s because they only absorb about 10-11% +/-  of their weight in water, compared to merino wool at about 30%. That means alpaca dries faster and insulates better than merino when wet. It would take serious effort to get your All-Paca soaking wet, and even if you did, it would dry extremely fast. That’s what makes it an ideal option for snow sports and hiking in varying weather conditions. In fact, the recommended method for washing your All-Paca in the backcountry (if you absolutely need to) is to dunk it in a stream, ring it out, and hang it up – you’ll be set by morning.

More Environmentally Sustainable: The processing of alpaca fibers into All-Paca fabric does not require any harsh chemical treatments or added synthetics, such as those used in the merino “superwash” process, to make it soft, wearable, and washable. Many lightweight merino garments are blended with synthetics, such as nylon, to increase their performance qualities, and synthetic fabrics have been proven to contribute to microplastics pollution in the environment. Additionally, the raising and grazing of alpacas has a very low environmental impact compared to sheep, which have been shown in studies to have a significant environmental impact. When you put on your All-Paca, you can feel as good about wearing it as it feels on you.

So there you have it. Hopefully we’ve convinced you just how amazing alpaca fiber is. Now throw on your All-Paca and put it to the test yourself!

SOURCES:

http://www.alpacaresearch.org/resources/dyn/files/319759z7dbdf304/_fn/fiber-characteristicsof-huacayas.pdf

https://www.woolwise.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/07/Wool-412-512-08-T-03.pdf

https://www.woolmark.com/about-wool/wool-processing/

http://www.lionbrand.com/blog/faq-what-is-superwash-wool/

https://www.voguebusiness.com/sustainability/fashions-dirty-microplastics-secret-pollution-polyester

http://globalfashionagenda.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/05/Pulse-of-the-Fashion-Industry_2017.pdf

http://www.alpacainfo.com/_resources/dyn/files/619215z46612973/_fn/alpaca-fiber-characteristics-fuqua.pdf

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alpaca_fiber

https://theecologist.org/2019/mar/12/environmental-impact-wool

https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/B978188420799050004X

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3 comments

  • This is a great blog post. It answers a lot of questions and misconceptions. I love the hard science you gave. I have an electric blue hoody and I haven’t taken it off since I got it. It’s rare to find an piece of clothing you absolutely love. I’m going to get a second one.

    The Hiking Cucumber
  • I am sold!!

    Mary Aubel
  • I am sold!!

    Mary Aubel

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