When it comes to overall performance, I think wool and other natural fabrics are simply better than synthetics. It’s not because I’m an eco nut; it’s just that they work better for me for my climate and lifestyle. I still like a thin, light nylon shell jacket in cool wet weather, and I have a polyester hoodie that has its uses. But for a broad range of activities and weather conditions, nothing beats natural fabrics for range of comfort, durability, and practicality.
For these prototypes I’m using genuine issue US Army blankets, which are 100% wool, 65% of which is virgin, and the other 35% is reprocessed. They are “boiled” (washed and agitated with detergent) before cutting and stitching, which shrinks them about 20% and makes the wool more dense. The lining is a fairly heavy cotton. It’s pretty tacky at first, and tends to pull on your sleeve as you put on the jacket (it’s not an issue with the vest, of course), but it smooths out fine in a few days.
I’d rather have 100% virgin wool, but it has proven difficult to find such a fabric that is also woven as thick and dense as the army blanket. If you know of a source, please contact me; I’d be very grateful.
I’ve discussed wool gear in depth elsewhere, but I’ll touch on its advantages here.
- Breathability. Clothing is more practical if it’s comfortable in a broad range of temperature and humidity, and breathability is one of the most important factors in comfort range. Wool is exponentially better than so-called breathable synthetics; the latter do, technically, let water vapor through, but only after it gets so muggy inside your jacket that it hardly makes a difference in your comfort.
- Water resistance. Wool absorbs up to 30% of its weight in water with only a minimal effect on its insulating ability, and when it does, the process is mildly exothermic, which means it actually releases a few calories of heat for your use. Moreover, most of the water absorbed is in the form of vapor, whereas liquid water tends to bead and roll off. And all this happens without significantly affecting breathability.
- Anti-microbial and anti-fungal. Wool resists the growth of bacteria and fungi. This reduces odor, which improves health and morale, and makes it more practical by reducing the number of washes.
- Soil resistance. Wool resists soiling because it is fairly inert. This makes the clothing more durable and easier to clean.
- Ember resistance. Sparking campfires are real hazards with synthetic clothing; not so much with wool. Also, synthetic materials are highly reactive, so they easily absorb strong and persistent smoke odors from the campfire, whereas more inert wool absorbs less odor to begin with, and then airs out much quicker.
I’m going to be frank about the cost; these items are going to be expensive. There’s no way around it. A focus on quality of materials and construction, features, and the use of natural fabrics doesn’t come cheap. I know there’s a market for this stuff in Europe and Russia; it’ll be interesting to see if there’s enough consumer capital left in the USA to find a market for it here.
The vest is in the shop for mods, so I’ll post photos of it later.