Occasionally, the best solution to a problem is not the most obvious one. Take gym kit for instance. The fabric it’s made from needs to be insulating for outdoor work but breathable to help wick away sweat. Then it needs to be able to withstand the rigours of continuous wear in sweaty and eventually smelly conditions. Plus, all this needs to be rolled into one garment so that we don’t have to buy a wardrobe’s worth of workout gear.
Big brands have spent serious time and money developing fabrics that respond to all those demands. But Woolmark Company, and a selection of other sportswear brands, prove that those boxes can all be ticked with a merino wool top.
Anyone with experience skiing, hiking or spending extended periods outdoors will already know that wool makes for the best base layers. But athletic gear?
Let’s look at the evidence: in toastier climes, say Woolmark Company, the ‘active’ nature of wool as a fabric means it will react to changes in your body’s temperature and as a result can feel almost twice as cool as man-made fabrics because it wicks away sweat.
On top of that, woollen fabrics can move 25 per cent more moisture away from your skin than polyester ones and will absorb 35 per cent of its weight in moisture before feeling wet.
On the face of it, then, wool should make for ideal gym-kit.
But it’s not necessarily as simple as that. A not at all scientific straw poll of the Men’s Health office seems to suggest that merino wool tops are almost too effective. Go for a run in temperatures cold enough to see your breath and it will be extremely effective but if you plan on using it in the gym, you’re going to get hot.
From personal experience, I can say that I didn’t get on with a merino gym top at all. It felt scratchy against my skin compared to cotton or polyester and, as predicted, after 40 minutes in a temperature-controlled sweatbox, I was cooking. Whether or not it repelled odour, I can’t be sure – I chucked it straight in the wash and haven’t worn it since. That said, I don’t do much exercise outdoors, so it could be a trail runner’s dream kit upgrade.
If you’re looking for lightweight layers that punch above their weight insulation-wise — whether you’re trying for a Murph PB or plodding around your local park — something wool-based seems like a logical addition to your gym wardrobe.