Because it's durable, insulates when wet, and is naturally stink-free, wool has long been a favorite material of outdoorsy folks of every stripe. If you're reading this, chances are high you own at least a few pairs of merino wool base or midlayers. Over the last decade, companies have also been experimenting more with nature's wonder fabric, as these four new sweaters and jackets demonstrate.
Icebreaker Realfleece Nano Kodiak Zip: Icebreaker treats this cozy, mid-weight merino wool fleece with water-resistant nanotechnology. Conventional water-resistant fabrics use chemical coatings that can interfere with wool's natural breathability. Realfleece Nano jackets contain tiny nanoparticles that attach themselves to the wool, leaving tiny pockets of air which won't interfere with airflow. The water-resistant nanoparticles have a ridged surface that prevents water, oil or mud from adhering, so they simply run off. While we haven't been mountain biking in a Kodiak yet, it's proved itself in light rain and snow. Stretchy side and back panels will make the Kodiak your new favorite sweatshirt. And it's probably a little nicer looking than the one you already own. Available July 2012, $250, us.icebreaker.com
Dale of Norway Stetind: The Vikings wished they had this Norwegian-made sweater on that long row to Greenland. Modern seamen will appreciate the classic combined with the cutting edge. In the Stetind, Dale of Norway took their traditional heavyweight Norwegian-made wool sweater and added a Gore Windstopper liner. The wool is water- and stain-repellent four-ply Heilo yarn that'll not only keep you dry, but warm for those long days at the helm in a stiff breeze. Store a nip in the hidden side zip pocket. Available now, $428, dale.no
Smartwool PhD SmartLoft Full Zip: This new top from Smartwool and the one below from Ibex are arguably the most innovative products here. Instead of being stuffed with synthetic fill or down, both are insulated with wool batting. (It's such an interesting concept that we gave a similar jacket from Smartwool Gear of the Show at Outdoor Retailer this past winter.) As we noted at the time, and subsequent field testing has confirmed, the wool batting functioned just as well, in terms of warmth and moisture management, "as synthetic-stuffed jackets while cat skiing in Jackson, Wyoming." The inside is fleecy merino wool jersey, so it's cozy and easy to layer. It'll quickly become your favorite spring and fall jacket or winter layering piece. Available fall 2012, $220, smartwool.com
Ibex Aire WI Hoodie: Ibex has its own unique spin on wool as insulation, mixing it with a cornstarch derivative to keep it down-sweater fluffy—even after you wash it. The Aire WI is better against snow than rain, though even if you get damp, you'll still be warm. And, it stuffs into its own pocket. Available fall 2012, $325, ibex.com