Natural Base

There’s no reason to be sheepish about switching those synthetic baselayers for a more natural alternative.

Oct 10, 2011
Outside Magazine
Ibex Zepher Sport top

Ibex Zepher Sport top    Photo: Courtesy Ibex

I’ve been a runner for 32 years, and for most of those years I've smelled to high heaven. I sweat a lot, and while synthetic fabrics are a major improvement on the cotton gear I grew up wearing, they really stink after a couple of hard runs. A few years ago, I got fed up with all the laundry I was doing and began investigating wool apparel.

I'd run in merino wool socks for more than a decade and knew that I loved their comfort, weight-to-insulation ratio, softness, and odor repellence. Plus, I’ve long admired wool for its environmental sustainability.

After several years of dedicated testing, I've found that wool running gear is both more comfortable and more versatile than synthetic fabrics, and these days it’s my go-to choice in cool or cold weather. It keeps me comfortable in a wide range of conditions and temperatures, allowing me to get by owning fewer items, and it transitions perfectly to other outdoor activities. I’ve taken my wool apparel snowshoeing, hiking, cross-country skiing, even kayaking.

That said, it’s clear that wool is not a magic fabric. When a wool shirt becomes saturated with sweat, it clings uncomfortably and loses its ability to wick, but that happens on warm, humid days. Lightweight iterations of merino usually don’t hold up to wear, either. The five pairs of wool gloves I’ve tested have all developed holes mid season. Nor is merino cheap. In some cases, you can expect to pay a 50 percent premium for wool compared to synthetics of similar quality.

Still, the positive far outweigh the negatives. (Remember that laundry thing.) Here’s what I’ll be wearing this winter.

Icebreaker Sprint Legging
SmartWool Cuffed Beanie
Ibex Zephyr Sport Top
JONESwares Interval Running Sleeves
Icebreaker Beast Briefs

Filed To: Running, Snow Sports