Is Merino Wool Itchy? Why Merino Wool Fantastic for Hiking

by Nomad | Last Updated: June 30, 2020

Merino wool is loved within the hiking and camping communities due to the amazing ability to stay warm even while wet! This leads many to want to purchase it but worried about the typical issues around wool clothing and that it can be itchy.

Is Merino Wool Itchy? Merino wool tends to itch very little or none at all depending on your skin sensitivity. This is due in large part to the use of smaller, finer, diameter fibers. These fibers are much more flexible and are very well suited to longer wearing. Hikers favor it do to warmth and its ability to handle body odor and sweat without getting too stinky.

Today we are going to cover topics that most hikers, backpackers, and campers have around the properties and qualities to Merino wool products. We are going to cover maximizing their life along with why some Merino Wool will be itchy along with how to wash and care to ensure the longest lifespan you can get.

The Advantages of Wool For Clothing

It’s a Natural Clothing – Merino wool is a natural, renewable fiber. One sheep by itself will grow around four to five pounds of wool each year for use.

Helps Regulate Body Temperature – Merino wool is very good at keeping your body at a stable temperature. When it gets cold, the bends and folds in the fibers trap air and insulate you. When it gets warm it helps to transport your sweat quickly away from your skin which keeps you cool and dry.

Keep You Dry and Sweat-Free – Merino and wool, in general, is porous and able to absorb a large amount of moisture before becoming saturated. This helps it continue to stay warm even while being rained on as opposed to other fabrics which will not help contain warmth.

What Is Merino Wool?

Merino wool is a specific type of wool that is thinner, longer, and overall better suited for clothing. Due to this though the costs can be much larger than for other wool items, this is why everyone doesn’t wear merino wool clothing.

Merino Wool Creating Sheep - Is Merino Wool Itchy
Merino Wool Creating Sheep

The Merino wool itself is a natural fiber grown by, you probably guessed it, Merino sheep. It is thinner and softer than traditional sheep wool which makes it much nicer to wear and less irritating to your skin.

Is Merino Wool Soft or Itchy?

This can be down to the overall quality of the source of the wool used to make the garment. The itchiness of wool is mostly driven by the quality of the fibers used and spun to make it. Though the community’s opinions appear to vary, it appears most people are not impacted, there is a decent amount though who still report itching issues with merino, YMMV.

Wool is measured in something called “staples” and the longer the staple is the less likely it would be to cause itching. When the fibers are spun into wool it is twisted very tightly around, if you were to use short staples, which are cheaper, those many little ends will stick out when spun. These little fibers sticking out is what leads to the itching sensation as the hundred of ends could be constantly rubbing against your body.

From my research online you want this staple length to be as long as possible, minimally a 64 staple or more, but most manufacturers don’t provide this on any labeling of their product as it isn’t required.

I prefer Ridge Merino gear, even though merino wool can be costly it lasts a very long time and holds up well for longer hikes and to the tortures of gross body odor!

Check Out Ridge Merino Gear

Is Merino Wool Good for Hot Weather?

Merino is very good in hot weather as it allows for evaporation of vapor out of the clothing without waiting for it to turn into sweats. This helps wick it away faster than most conventional fabrics that are used because they are less expensive than merino. This allows for your body to perform its best at heat exchanging to keep you cool.

Washing And Treatment of Merino Wool

When you start using new clothing, similar to gear, you want to learn how to maximize its life expectancy as well as how to treat it right and keep it clean. Many people have questions on how to take care of their Merino Wool gear so I dove into the most frequent ones I could find and answered them each below.

Does Merino Wool Shrink?

If you use hot water to wash your clothes it is possible for your merino wool to shrink. To prevent this you should always wash the merino gear in cold or warm water at most.

Can You Machine Wash Merino Wool?

Yes, this wool is able to be washed in a machine in most circumstances, though I defer to the product labeling as to the best steps to wash their clothing.

General Steps To Wash Merino Wool

  1. Flip Inside Out – Turn garments inside out
  2. Set To Gentle / Cold – Machine-wash on gentle cycle in warm or cool water to avoid shrinkage due to hot water.
  3. Use Only Mild Detergents – Use only mild soap, no bleach or fabric softener.
    • Bleach destroys the Merino wool fibers – shortening the lifespan drastically.
    • Fabric softener coats those fibers – Reduces their ability to naturally manage moisture and regulate heat.
  4. Preference to Air Dry – It is possible to tumble-dry most Merino gear, I would recommend air-drying to extend the life of your gear.
    • Air Dry By Laying Them Flat – Your wool clothes if left hanging and wet may end up distorting the shape
    • Tumble Dry – Make sure to tumble-dry on LOW setting. And, as always, check the label to ensure no specific instructions.

How to Make Merino Wool Less Itchy

Depending on who you purchase your gear from the merino wool may feel itchy and this turns people off. What I have found to be the case is that most of this itchy sensation is due to loose strands within the clothing, this loose wool pokes out and can cause the irritation people to have.

To resolve this almost everyone has commented online that they wash it a lot in the first month to get all those loose strands out of the clothing, some say as few as 2-3 washes and some people said a months worth (how many wasn’t really counted, not sure if I should be grossed out maybe due to lack of washes?).

Once these loose strands are removed out from the movements and agitation on the clothing almost everyone said they are very comfortable and they loved them.

Final Thoughts on Is Merino Wool Itchy

Hopefully, you have learned some good details about merino wool clothing today, you can’t go wrong if you have decided to possibly grab some for your thru-hiking or backpacking base layers!

Most merino manufacturers have a 7-day return policy on Amazon for most products if you find that it should cause you irritation, though verify with the seller.

In treating your wool well it will last you a great long while through crazy hard hiking and backpacking, all while keeping you nice and warm through the wind and rain. Lastly, we went over the proper washing and cleaning of your wool to make sure it stays nice.

Nice to meet you, my trail name is Nomad the founder of Nomad Hiker and I love being outdoors and exploring nature! I now want to help spread that love through information back out to everyone to help them feel the same excitement with the world that I feel while in the back country. My current goals are to thru hike all the trails in the greater Texas region and to show everyone it is easily achievable at any age!