You’ve probably seen the Woolmark a thousand times yet never given it much thought. But, for runners, cyclists, and outdoors enthusiasts, the Woolmark is worth understanding.
There are many symbols we look to for reassurance that we can trust a product. You have the kite mark for British standards, the CE mark for European standards, fair trade symbols, even the little recycling symbols we increasingly see on packaging.
Each of these icons tell us that the items we use meet industry standards and have passed the necessary quality controls.
The Woolmark logo, unsurprisingly, guarantees the provenance of your wool. But why is that important?
Since 1964, the Woolmark has featured on over five billion products, but for us runners, cyclists, and outdoor types, there is one particular strand of wool that we’re most interested in: merino.
When it comes to performance, merino is a wolf in sheep’s clothing. Breathable, moisture wicking, and odour resistant, it has become a de rigueur fabric for sport and adventure clothing.
So, it's important to know not only that the wool in the garments of these brands is 100% responsibly and sustainably sourced, but that it's genuine merino and delivering the performance benefits we've been promised.
For that, we have the Woolmark.
There is much more information about how Woolmark helps to maintain the sustainability of wools, including merino wool, on their website.
The merino microclimate
A 100% natural fibre - obviously - merino wool is also sustainable and biodegradable, while using 18% less energy than polyester and 70% less water than cotton to produce.
But, performance wise, it has a series of other unique advantages.
We all know that being active means getting a little sweaty, but when that sweatiness leads to an unpleasant pong it can be a problem.
A 2006 study showed wool’s chemical structure enables it to absorb and “lock away” unpleasant odours which may develop.
And its breathability can prevent against those awkward smells from developing in the first place. Sweat itself has no odour but, if it remains on the skin, the humid environment is perfect for the bacterial growth that leads to body odour.
Wool’s natural breathability keeps the skin drier, preventing the odorous bacterial build-up.
How Merino fabric works
Essentially, merino wool’s unique properties create a favourable ‘microclimate’ next to the skin, and that has a number of benefits.
Firstly, the make-up of the fibres transfers large quantities of moisture vapour away from the body, either to evaporate or get locked into the fabric.
The skin’s microclimate is left dryer and, as a result, it reduces the severity of post-exercise chill.
Secondly, merino’s famed breathability comes from a process called moisture buffering. It refers to the fabric’s capacity to transfer moisture vapour from the microclimate next to the skin and release it again on the outer side of the garment.
Merino clothing does this extremely well, making garments highly breathable and the wearer less prone to clamminess.
But the wool’s main claim to fame, particularly for active wearers, is its aptitude for temperature regulation.
Sweating is nature’s temperature regulator – the evaporation of liquid from the skin’s surface produces a very efficient cooling effect.
Clothing can obstruct this process and cause overheating. However, compared to clothing made from other fibres, merino wool’s process of vapour transfer allows the wearer to remain cooler which results in cooler muscles that are able to work at higher intensity levels.
While many materials offer benefits for active wearers, merino's unique array of talents means it remain part of the fabric of our sport for a long time to come.
You can find out much more about merino’s performance abilities on the Woolmark website.
The Wiggle X Woolmark Strava Challenge
To celebrate all things wool Wiggle and Woolmark are jointly hosting a unique Strava challenge, giving you access to huge savings on a range of merino performance kit once completed.
Find out more on Woolmark's Strava Page.