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Gear Guide
The New Wool: Sheepish and Proud of It
Itch-free, windproof, and soulful, wool is making a comeback.

   1. Woolrich Voyager
   2. Arc'teryx Gothic Cardigan
   3. Ibex Backcountry

No offense to fleece, but wool is the true miracle fabric: It breathes efficiently, it never feels clammy, and it stays comfortable in a broad range of temperatures.

What's new is that soft-haired merino sheep, sophisticated treatments of the raw fiber, and the stealthy addition of synthetic materials have eliminated old-time wool's itchiness, while laminating technology and tighter weaves have improved wind-blocking performance. Most important, in a polyester world, wool just soothes the soul.

All prices in U.S. dollars

Click to Enlarge.
Clockwise from top: Woolrich Voyager, Arc'teryx Gothic Cardigan, Ibex Backcountry
1. Woolrich Voyager
Price: $150
Telephone: 800 966 5372 (U.S. and Canada only)
Web: www.woolrich.com

Woolrich is better known for a leaf-raking level of performance than for backcountry protection, but this jacket is ready for serious cool-weather hiking.

Like other garments in the company's TechnoWool X Series, the Voyager is made of densely woven, crimped yarn that will block a moderate wind and a light rain, while insulating even better than regular wool. The minimalist design includes thoughtful details such as sleeves engineered to eliminate seams from under pack straps. In a high-mountain squall, add a shell.

The Voyager comes in women's (shown here) and men's versions.

2. Arc'teryx Gothic Cardigan
Price: $195
Telephone: 800 985 6681 (U.S. and Canada only)
Web: www.arcteryx.com

The Gothic Cardigan's color, styling, and Italian wool are so classy it may be hard to take the sweater seriously as a technical piece, but the details argue otherwise: Unlike Arc'teryx's outdoor-café-oriented Diplomat ST, which incorporates a wind-blocking laminate, the more breathable Cardigan is a true layering component, designed to provide warmth when worn under a shell.

The slim cut facilitates layering and saves weight; the synthetic lining helps wick moisture. It comes in both women's (shown here) and men's versions.

3. Ibex Backcountry
Price: $235
Telephone: 800 773 9647 (U.S. and Canada only)
Web: www.ibexwear.com

Calling these soft-shell pants a wool garment is a bit misleading. They're made of a tweaked version of Swiss textilemaker Schoeller's Skifans, which combines a merino-wool lining with a Cordura outer layer.

Skifans—along with its all-synthetic sibling Dryskin—is reminiscent of the material in stretch ski pants. Here's a little secret: It is the material in stretch ski pants—Schoeller's been selling to skiwear companies for decades. But don't let that embarrass you. Wear these tough, water-resistant pants for hut-to-hut tours, ski-mountaineering trips, and more casual adventures. They come in both men's (shown here) and women's versions.

—Jerry Beilinson

Photograph by Spencer Jones

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March 2002:
In the Magazine | Excerpts | Afghan Warlord | Colossal Cave | Property-Rights Forum | Antigua Travel Guide Gear Guide: Wool | Gear Guide: Daypacks

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