Animal Fibers

sheepEarlier in the week, we talked about synthetic fibers. For all of their advantages, they do have some disadvantages. Synthetic textiles are typically made from thermoplastics or resins. While garments made from synthetic materials are safe to wear, the fact that they’re essentially whipped up from chemicals made in a lab bothers some people. There’s also the matter of cleanliness. Sure synthetic materials are great at wicking, but where do you think that sweat goes? Another concern that people have with synthetic materials, is that they are not always sustainably produced. In every aspect synthetic fibers lack, natural fibers thrive.

With natural fibers, you don’t have to worry about scary laboratories, or evil scientists cooking up chemical-filled shirts (not that you should). Garments made from natural fibers are made out of happy little plants and animal haircuts. There’s no chance of strange or harmful chemicals in your wool shirt — that is, unless the sheep they sheared was eating plastic chips.

Clothing made from animal fibers are more hygienic than synthetic garments. Many wools, like synthetic materials, are great at wicking away moisture, but unlike synthetic materials, wool is naturally antimicrobial. Lanolin is the waxy material found naturally in wool fibers which is responsible for wool’s antibacterial properties. This means that it’s harder for bacteria to grow in garments made from animal fibers than in synthetic materials.

People often wonder about the environmental effects of synthetic fibers. While synthetic fibers aren’t exceedingly harmful to the environment, they aren’t as eco-friendly as natural plant and animal fibers. Natural fibers will decompose, whereas synthetic fibers will not. That means a polyester shirt, once made, will be on the planet for good.

Also, the production of synthetic fibers releases large amounts of greenhouse gasses and requires high volumes of water for cooling.

Animal fibers on the other hand, don’t require much more than a pair of sheers, a willing sheep, and a spinning wheel.

In addition to being more sustainable, animal fibers are also more comfortable than synthetic fibers. Many animal fibers have natural qualities that synthetic apparel tries to mimic such as water and fire resistance, but synthetics can’t copy the characteristic feel of cotton, silk, or wool. That’s why you never get the urge to pet a beaker full of chemicals the way you want to pet an angora rabbit or a sheep.

Here’s a look at some common and uncommon animal fibers!

  • Alpaca – Alpaca have been in South America for thousands of years, and their fleece is super luxurious. It’s softer than normal sheep’s wool, and resists water and flames. The biggest difference between alpaca fleece and other wool, is the absence of lanolin. Without lanolin, alpaca fleece isn’t as antimicrobial, but it is hypoallergenic.
  • Merino wool – This might be the most common type of wool used in outdoor apparel. Merino wool isn’t like traditional sheep’s wool, though it is very soft and very comfortable. It’s great for warm or cold weather, it’s antimicrobial, it insulates when cold, and it’s one of the best fibers for outdoor gear!
  • Angora wool – Did you know that rabbits have wool? Well, it’s more like absurdly fluffy hair, but it is awesome! Angora wool shouldn’t be confused with mohair. Angora wool comes from Angora rabbits, where mohair comes from Angora goats. The thing to know about this wool is that it is very warm, but not very durable. That’s why it’s often blended with sheep’s wool so you get the best of both.
  • Cashmere – Like Angora, you don’t typically see cashmere in outdoor gear. While they are both super soft and comfortable, they just don’t hold up to the rugged wear and tear of outdoor adventure. Cashmere “wool” comes from cashmere goats. Also like Angora, cashmere, although called a wool, is really more like hair.
  • Yak wool – Yak wool isn’t very common in outdoor gear as yet. There are a few companies that specialize in it, but they aren’t nearly as common as the companies working with merino wool. They’re claiming that yak wool can do everything merino wool can do, but better. Strength, insulation, breathability, non-stink factor (antimicrobial)… apparently yak wool has it all. Our limited experience with yak wool tells us that it’s smoother and less fuzzy than sheep’s wool.

We have lots of nice animal fibers at Uncle Sam’s Safari Outfitters in Evelyn Hills in Fayetteville, Arkansas. Think of us as your outdoor gear petting zoo and come in and see for yourself!

One Comment

  1. […] Wool base layers are the best you can buy, and the price reflects it. However, if staying comfortable is important to you, or if you’re outside regularly, wool base layers really are worth the price tag. They are super comfortable, incredibly breathable, and they will keep you toasty. Plus, there are all kinds of advantages when it comes to natural animal fibers. […]

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