With travel season in full-swing, people from all walks of life are gearing up for the summer’s adventures–be it to Kilimanjaro or Uncle Bob’s house in Michigan. Equipped with a ravenous desire for bigger bags and lighter, smaller gadgets many people are overlooking the most basic travel essential, the one your mother always made you take more of–the underwear. If you’re wondering “what’s so hard about packing a few pairs of tighty whities” well, things have come a long way, and I’ll expand it a bit further than just the unmentionables.
Leveraging my Guide position at Eastern Mountain Sports Soho I’ve learned not only a great deal about what’s out there in the travel apparel industry, but also seen how frequently people are more concerned with buying a bigger bag to hold all of their existing wardrobe than simply getting more practical clothing–and “practical” is just the tip of the iceberg (keep reading for pun).
In the mid-90’s two companies came into the scene that literally pulled the wool over the technical apparel industry. The first SmartWool may be known to many as a magnificent sock company, when in reality they have a full line of clothing, also magnificent, and fit for many activities and outings. The second, Icebreaker (hence the prior pun) is a New Zealand-based company, rising in fame stateside. Smart Wool leans towards a folky, more organic aesthetic while Icebreaker is well, sexy…make that, very sexy.
What they share in common is that they’ve both perfected Merino wool rendering and production to the point where now underwear, or even a teeshirt can be made to feel equal to or better than a cotton counterpart. It will also wick moisture away while in the vapor state, keeping you dry and preventing the age-old dilemma of “monkey butt” brought on by cotton.
Secondly, merino wool and wool in general is a temperature regulating material–and shouldn’t be seen as something to wear just in the cold. Considering its source, New Zealand wool, the sheep need their fleece both for the cold winter in the mountains and the hot summers in the sunny, valley pastures. Both companies make shirts in different weights, which do correspond to being lighter in the summer months but given its versatility, there’s no reason why your summer travel tee shirt can’t become your base layer for winter sports when the slopes open.
Continuing on its regulating attributes, wool insulates much better when wet as compared to cotton, which drops to approximately 20% of its insulation capability as compared to 70-80% with wool. You may not think this matters in the summer, but consider the fact that warmer areas often have higher instances of hypothermia than places known for frigidness–largely because of a lack of preparation in the visitors. Higher altitudes and coastal regions with evening winds also have volatile weather and rapid drops in temperature. Wool also dries faster if it does get wet; on my most recent hiking outing, laying my shirt on a sunny rock brought it back to just-cleaned feeling in 3-5 minutes.
Now the real beauty in wool garments is the fact that the pathogenic bacteria that make clothes stink cannot readily adhere to merino fibers, therefore you can wear the shirts time after time without washing them as often! That also means that you can take less clothes, thereby saving you weight and space–and ultimately money if you don’t have to splurge on a bigger bag for your trip! I myself have been wearing one of my merino tees at least ten times without a wash and have found no traces of odor in it. Icebreaker especially touts this and has reported a certain adventurer wearing the same shirt while sailing for 60 continuous days…but you can of course moderate your own behaviors…
But let’s not forget about style. Both companies offer fits for almost all body types–with Icebreaker being the more athletic of the two. They even make polos with and without pockets for the gents and cocktail dresses for the ladies, so your casual evening wear is covered. And did I mention how hard it is to wrinkle these things?
From the green standpoint, their sourced wool is a completely sustainable and humane industry. Icebreaker goes so far as offering a BAA code on every garment, allowing you to view the sheep that grew the fleece and to have a relative idea of its living conditions. Both companies openly disapprove of the barbaric practice of mulesing and have close relationships with their supplying farms.
So before you go out and spend an amount equal to your plane ticket on a massive travel duffel, consider the investment of wool underwear and clothes and see how much space, weight and money you could end up saving in the long-run.