Several months ago, a dear friend who will remain nameless, shared a deep, dark secret with me. She confided to me that she used wool underwear on a recent outdoor adventure and that it was so amazing she could wear it for a few days without washing. I mean, this is a good friend who would share this type of information! Needless to say, I was skeptical.
Fast forward to a month or so ago when I was at an REI store asking one of their hiking experts about socks. Although I religiously wear Darn Tough (which are made just a couple of towns away from where I live), I thought perhaps there was something better I should be considering. I explained that I wanted socks that would dry quickly since I would be hand washing them every night. The guy described the differences between synthetic and wool and suggested that the lightweight synthetic would dry most quickly. BUT….he prefers wool socks because they don’t absorb odors. In fact, he can wear a pair of wool socks sometimes for a week while on a hiking adventure, before he feels the need to wash them.
Walk, Wash, Repeat
Wanting to work the kinks out of most everything before I hit the Camino, I “practiced” washing my clothes by hand several times, using different soaps and methods for drying. Some people say they love the rhythm of walking, showering, washing clothes, eating, sleeping and repeating. But, the clothes washing isn’t something I was looking forward to doing each day. Besides that, I wasn’t happy with the results. My clothes just didn’t feel (or smell) clean.
So, a light went off when the REI hiking pro told me about the wool socks. I bought a couple more pair of Darn Tough socks to add to my collection. But, then I remembered my undisclosed friend and her underwear story. I asked the clerk to show me some wool tops and he introduced me to Smart Wool 150. It is extremely lightweight and I would defy you to guess that it is wool. When he confirmed that the shirt would work the same as the socks and I would be able to wear it for days without washing, I had to give it a try. I walked out of the store with the most expensive top I have ever owned at $80, but I haven’t looked back!
Wool doesn’t absorb and hold body oils like synthetic fabrics do which is why you can wear tops and socks for days without washing. And, if you are thinking that you couldn’t possibly wear wool because it is too itchy, you owe it to yourself to give it a try. Today’s modern wool products don’t itch they way that Icelandic wool sweater your mom knit for you when you were a kid did.
I purchased a long sleeve pullover since it would be cooler when I would be in Spain, but I had to test it in extremely hot and humid conditions. To my total surprise, it was quite comfortable to walk in. I sweat up a storm regardless of what I wear in that type of weather, but with the wool top, I didn’t feel like I was suffocating. Body odor was held at bay. The next day it was pouring rain; a great opportunity to test out my rain gear! The wool top was impressive once again. The rain gear had failed, but even with the wool top soaking wet, it was comfortable. I wasn’t cold and I wasn’t hot; I didn’t feel wet at all!
But, the ultimate test was the 60 kilometers I walked over the 3-day Labor Day weekend. I put the Smart Wool 150 long sleeve top to the test and wore it all three days without washing it. As was recommended by a pilgrim in a Camino Forum I follow, I laid the top on my bed at the end of each walk and within a couple of hours it was bone dry and no odor!
I have since invested in two more of the same Smart Wool tops; a second long sleeve and a short sleeve version. I exercised true control and didn’t replace any other clothing with wool, but if this little experiment is successful with the socks and shirt, I will definitely be looking into more wool options in the future!