While next-to-skin Merino wool garments are quite common, many outdoor brands have started to use wool throughout all the apparel layers including base, mid, and outer. Smartwool recently sent me a couple of their new mid and outer layer jackets that use wool filling in place of the standard synthetic or down insulation.
The Smartwool PhD Divide Jacket features a core of wool insulation stuffed inside a quilted nylon front panel with DWR finish. The jacket is lined with merino wool jersey knit, while the sides and back panel feature Merino Max double jersey knit fabric. The PhD SmartLoft Full Zip is a fully insulated jacket, with quilted DWR treated nylon and SmartLoft wool insulation throughout.
During my ice climbing trip up to Alberta, my daily outfit consisted of a wool base layer (either Smartwool or Icebreaker), followed by the PhD SmartLoft Divide, the PhD SmartLoft Full Zip, and finally a softshell, such as my favorite Patagonia Knifeblade. By late morning or early afternoon, as the day warmed up, I had usually stripped off the fully insulated SmartLoft jacket and kept it in my climbing pack in case the weather turned.
As wool is highly compressible, has a warmth to weight ratio comparable to down, stays warm when wet, and is naturally thermo-regulating, I found layering in wool perfect for late season ice climbing. It is not always easy to regulate your temperature by taking on and off layers when doing multi-pitch ice climbs, meaning some sweating is highly likely. Even if you sweat through your wool layers, you aren't going to freeze when you stop at the belay station.
The day we climbed Guinness Gully and Guinness Stout, we were dealing with a ton of wet snow. I soaked through three pairs of gloves and ended up with the screaming barfies on one of the pitches. I never had a problem keeping my core warm, however, even though we were pretty wet all over by the time we got back to the car.
A huge added bonus to a full wool layering system is even after 3 days straight of climbing, you don't stink. When you get home, washing the Smartwool SmartLoft wool insulated garments is pretty straight forward. You can throw them in your washing machine on a cold, gentle cycle, then either let the jackets air dry or tumble dry on low.
Bottom Line: Smartwool SmartLoft wool insulation offers a great alternative to down or even synthetic insulation for cold weather activities where you know you might sweat, get wet, or even just want a little less stink in your life.
The men's and women's PhD SmartLoft Divide comes in 4 different color combinations and retails for $200. The men's and women's SmartLoft PhD Full Zip retails for $220 and also comes in 4 different colors. Put these pieces on your gear wish list for next fall.