In a world of Lycra, nylon, Spandex and polypropylene, a fabric as age-old as wool can seem obsolete. But sheep fuzz is making a comeback in outdoor circles as its natural characteristics are seeing new appreciation from outerwear designers.
Ibex Outdoor Clothing, a Woodstock, Vt.-based company that’s been making wool-based products since 1997, is a leader in new-school wool clothing for the outdoors. The company has a line of wool products, ranging from men’s boxer shorts and long johns to heavy-duty winter pants and jackets.
I recently put a wardrobe of Ibex products to the test in Wyoming’s Teton Mountain Range, including long underwear, sweater, ski pants, gloves and jacket.
First off — to answer the “doesn’t it itch?” question — no, none of the clothing felt itchy or coarse. The company uses a high-quality Merino wool that has a much finer grain than the wool many of us grew up with scratching and hating. Even the base layers against my bare skin were comfortable.
The Woolies Zip T-Neck ($59), for example, is a svelte base-layer top that fit well and was extraordinarily warm for its feathery weight. The matching Woolies Rib Bottom ($54) was similarly comfortable, toasty and light. Both top and bottom wicked moisture as well or better than the polypropylene base layers I tested in the mountains alongside the Ibex stock.
One layer up from the skin, I wore the company’s Shak Jersey ($125). Ibex calls this piece a performance midlayer, but to me it felt like a nice sweater that could do double duty outside on the ski slopes and in the lodge. I did just that, wearing the top all day at Jackson Hole Resort and then keeping the good-looking piece on that evening for a little après ski at the slopeside Four Seasons bar.
On top of the Shak Jersey and base layers, the Ibex Backcountry Pant ($235) and Neve Jacket ($260) kept the wind, snow and cold out in temps as low as minus-five degrees Fahrenheit. Ibex uses a wool/nylon/Spandex mix with its outerwear, creating a unique soft-shell fabric that breathes and stretches while repelling moisture. Both the Backcountry Pant and Neve Jacket functioned nearly flawlessly. My one gripe was with the zipper on the jacket, which seemed to snag the fabric and get stuck too easily, but otherwise both pieces were top-end.
To the unacquainted, wool will have a different feel. Unlike a Gore-Tex shell, for example, some wool outerwear is so breathable that you can feel air moving through the fabric, though its warmth remains. While some people find this much breathability disconcerting, I’m personally a big fan. Wool has always found a place in my gear closet, and with companies like Ibex redefining the fabrics’ use, I see only woollier days ahead for me in the outdoors.