"Yak wool from the heart of the Himalayas." That's the promise, and a company tag line of sorts, for Khunu USA, a Glenwood Springs, Colo., company that sells men's and women's sweaters made out of yak fur.
Technically, it's wool, not fur. And the fuzz that comes off the back of these bovine beasts is softer than you'd think. Khunu, which introduced its first sweaters this past fall, touts its fabric of choice as warmer than merino wool and more durable than cashmere.
I tested the company's Chimera sweater this winter for casual use as well as light activity. It has a trim cut, a durable build, and a zip-open chest for ventilation.
Like the aforementioned merino and cashmere, yak wool is a premium product. The Chimera, the company's least expensive sweater, costs $160. Other models go for as much as $240. The price comes from yak wool's relative rarity and the painstaking nature of procuring it off of the beasts' backs.
Khunu (www.khunu.com) relies on nomadic families of the Himalayas and nearby regions for the bulk of its material. In Tibet, Nepal and Mongolia, yaks are hand-combed once a year by the nomad families, according to Khunu. The non-industrialized process is a traditional technique used for generations to collect wool for use in making tents, ropes and rugs.
The average male yak weighs upwards of 1,000 pounds. In the springtime, when the animals are combed to help shed their winter coats, a nomadic family can ferret out bundles of fine fuzz for use in fabric making.
Yaks are born and live their whole lives in high altitudes and in some of the harshest and coldest conditions on the planet. As such, the beasts' coats have developed to uniquely block wind, shed snow, and work to retain body heat.
The evolutionary effect is not lost with Khunu's clothes. The company's sweaters are warm but breathable as well. Used as a layer under a jacket, the Chimera sweater I tested was insulating, functional, and light. I skied, hiked and wore it for average cold days at home this winter in Minnesota.
Khunu employs pure yak wool on the body of the Chimera sweater. Its underarm areas and the stretchy side panels are a ribbed merino sheep wool. In the cold and snow this winter, the yak on my back has been just the trick.
--Stephen Regenold is founder and editor of www.gearjunkie.com.