Friday, February 05, 2010
The limits of wool? A quick review of the Wool Buff
I realised the other day whilst out ice climbing that the Kiwis had won and I was totally woolified from head to toe, at least with my base layer. Only a few years ago, the only bit of outdoor clothing where wool was regularly seen was in socks. But merino wool, almost all from New Zealand, has revolutionized outdoor clothing in the last few years and has become hugely popular for base layers. Merino works as well as any synthetic on the whole, but has the huge advantage of just refusing to become stinky and disgusting which synthetics do quickly. That day I was wearing Smartwool socks (about €10 from an outlet store in Sweden – which still seems to me like a huge amount to pay for socks but was half the normal price), Devold longjohns (bought half-price in a spring sale a couple of years back) a Decathlon Quechua long sleeve merino top (reduced from £30 to 20, but free to me I discovered later after the ‘yoof’ at the cash desk got distracted and neglected to beep the bar code!), a merino Wool Buff scarf-neck-tube-thingymabob and a rather fetching woolly hat from Marmot.
recommended by Scottish gear-guru Petesy, and using wool as a face covering because it is more resistant to freezing up was a recent tip from Andy Kirkpatrick who tells me he heard this from Gary Rolfe, a Brit who lives and mushes dogs in Greenland. So with those top recommendations I thought I’d ask for one as Christmas pressie. On first acquaintance the wool Buff is lovely: warm, snugly and stretchy enough to hold tight over your face, but not tight enough to feel claustrophobic. But after ‘field testing’ I’m less convinced – in temperatures around or little below freezing whilst winter climbing in Wales, the Buff got rather damp from my breath and the soggy snow being blasted about and lost its elasticity. It went slack and heavy, and would quickly fall down off your nose if you pulled it up to protect your face. Wearing it in Finland in January whilst hiking to ice climbs in temperatures into the –20s, it again got heavy and slack from moisture in my breath, and then subsequently froze into unhelpful lump around my neck. When I went out skiing last week with the temperature again getting close to –20 I decided instead to wear an old Meraklon headover – a stretchy tube made out of synthetic material, polypropylene at a guess. Even when damp with moisture and then subsequently frozen, the synthetic material seems better at retaining its shape and elasticity.