Why Wool? Advantages of Wool vs. Fleece

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wool blanket on bed in a tent

There aren’t many things I despise. One of the things I despise the most is cold. I hate the cold. Nothing is more comforting to me than climbing into a nice warm bed or sitting next to a roaring fire. The opportunity to experience these comforting moments are not always available. In a survival situation comfort is not a priority. Yes, needing to remain dry, well fed, and hydrated are basic needs but no survival situation dictates comfort.

When I started looking into options for staying warm in the wild I was overwhelmed with information. Everyone had an opinion on what I should carry, what was the most important thing to use, which item was the most versatile. I decided to try as many of them as I could. Years went on and the amount of useless stuff piled up. The sad part is, most of it was useless because I only would use it in a direct emergency. So, it collected dust, lots and lots of dust.

I decided, at one point, it was time to settle on an item that would keep me protected and comfortable. The purpose was to cut down on a number of items I had accumulated and also to use everything in an efficient and functional way. The first item I needed to downsize on was my blanket. I had so many blankets lying around my house. Bed blankets, survival blankets, wool blankets, fleece, cotton, nylon, etc… There was no need for all this for ‘survival’ and it was just clutter until needed.

Clutter without a current purpose is still clutter.

I’m going to start with the downsides. Not because I think it is what pops into everyone’s head the moment they hear about wool being used in a survival situation, but because these downsides really eliminate wool as an option for most people.

Downsides to wool:

When most people hear the word wool they remember the scratchy coat they had to wear as a kid, the heavy comforter listed as an ‘antique,’ or the image of cute little sheep dancing around. No matter what you instinctive thought is, wool does have some hurdles.

  • Weight

Wool is heavy. I’m not talking about a few extra pounds heavy, I mean really heavy. For survival, a twin size blanket is large enough for one person. For two people, two blankets. While this seems simple, it isn’t. Wool blankets, not throws, can easily weigh 5 pounds for a twin size. For bigger folks, who need a queen or king, it can get as heavy as 8 pounds.

In the wild, this weight may even increase with the addition of dampness, straps, and covers meant to protect the wool. It’s no surprise that very few people even consider wool after knowing how much it can potentially weigh.

  • Cost

Wool can be expensive. There are many companies that offer wool at a very affordable price, but more often than not, the blanket is of poor quality. Finding a reputable, long lasting, durable blanket costs a lot of money. Anyone interested in finding a decent wool blanket can picture themselves paying anywhere from $50, for a sub par quality, mixed fabric blanket, to $200 or more for a Hudson’s Bay 5 point. Wool is a fine, limited production fabric.

  • Care and Storage

Wool requires very specific care and storage. Without properly being cared for, a wool blanket will become susceptible to damage from moisture, insects, and especially detergents. Wool must be dry when stored. Failure to make sure it is 100% dry before putting it away will result in the wool material rotting from moisture. Bugs, like moths, also love to eat wool. While this can be avoided with moth balls and cedar planks, your blanket will eventually start to smell like moth balls and cedar planks.

When a wool blanket isn’t being used it can also take up a lot of space in drawers and cabinets. Sure, it won’t take up as much space as those antique quilts but pretty close. Keeping them in specific containers to avoid these dangers is the first step, but also a space hoarding step.

  • Cleaning

Wool should only be dry cleaned. I say this with a grain of salt. Anything that should be dry cleaned can be cleaned in alternative ways. For example, I hand wash all my wool blankets with a gentle dish soap and air dry. While it does take more time and/or money it helps to make the blanket last longer.

Downsides to Fleece:

Fleece is commonly used as a mid-weight layer or blanket fabric. It is quickly produced by many, many manufacturers in a large variety of forms. Finding the form, weight, and thickness for yourself is vital in a survival situation.

  • Man-Made Plastic

Fleece is a man-made material that is not naturally renewable. Polyethylene Terephthalate is a type of plastic material that also makes up drinking bottles for soda and water. While it can be recycled, it is still a plastic material.

  • Quality

No two manufacturers of Fleece are the same. There are fleece blankets, shirts, hats, etc. With so many manufacturers finding a quality producer of Fleece can be difficult. There will be high quality, polar, microfiber, etc. There are many options in varying quality for Fleece.

  • Heat Vulnerability

Fleece is a plastic. As with any plastic, if you heat it too much it will melt and release fumes. If you’re using Fleece around a campfire or stove, additional caution needs to be taken. Trying to

dry a wet fleece blanket or jacket near a fire will ultimately end up with holes, or melted portions of the fabric.

  • Oil Stains

Fleece, when combined with oil, will stain. Probably permanently. If using Fleece while working on a car, motorcycle, or boat the possibility of damaging your nice Fleece blanket, jacket, shirt, or hat is a strong possibility.

  • Dampness

While a damp Fleece blanket won’t rot, like wool, it does not retain heat as easily. In a survival situation keeping warm is imperative. You need to maintain your body heat in the most efficient way possible, and if it is raining Fleece can’t do it as well as alternatives.

There are quite a few downsides to each. There are also a lot of upsides to each.

Benefits of Wool:

While most people think of wool as an antiquated, cruel, or obsolete fabric it has some major advantages over most other fabrics. For this reason, you will see a lot of serious outdoor enthusiasts enjoy embracing wool as their main source of covering.

  • Life Expectancy

Wool, when properly maintained, will last a lifetime. Many people actively collect wool blankets and there is a large collector base for antique wool blankets. Hudson’s Bay has been manufacturing wool blankets since the 1600’s. They know a thing or two about quality blankets and manufacturing. If you store a blanket right, dry it out properly, avoid insects, and treat it gently it will easily last a lifetime.

  • Fire Resistant

Wool doesn’t burn when woven together. Embers from a fire can safely hit the blanket without causing damage to the blanket itself. If the blanket is not 100% wool than it may melt the other material woven into the wool. This is why 100% wool is so important.

  • Insulates When Wet

Woolen fabrics are the only known fabric to insulate 80% when wet. No other fabric does this! It doesn’t matter if it is Merino Wool, Alpaca Fiber, or Yak Fur it will insulate 80% when wet. This is why 100% wool is important. Any lesser quality fabric will reduce the insulating properties.

  • Strong

Wool has a strong staple. A staple is the amount of thickness and waviness vs. The energy required to break the fibers. To put it simply; Merino wool, Alpaca, and Yak have very thick fibrous

strands that require a lot of weight to break apart. Thinner strands or thinner hair will break easily. Plastic is relatively thin and can easily rip. Nylon, Acrylic, and other man-made materials do not have the same strength as woolen fabrics.

  • Outstanding Air Flow: Not Too Hot

Even when Wool is wet it still has outstanding air flow. Anyone who has curled up under a wool blanket knows that air easily moves across the body making the temperature under the blanket just right, all the time.

Benefits of Fleece:

  • Cost

Fleece has a relatively low cost. That’s because it is easy to manufacture. The supplies and materials necessary to produce fleece are readily available and becoming less expensive to procure.

  • Recyclable

Since Fleece is basically a plastic, recycling other materials to produce new Fleece is common. Bottle, bags, and containers are recycled and sold as raw materials to producers. Alternatively, Fleece itself can be recycled into new products.

  • Lightweight

Fleece is very light weight. It is easy to carry, easy to wear, and hypoallergenic. The flexibility of Fleece also makes it a great choice for covering goods, protecting valuables, and making emergency supplies.

  • Styles

Many manufacturers sell different styles of Fleece for different environmental problems. Polar Fleece is manufactured for cold environmental use. Other Fleece is used for moderate to severe cold weather. Moisture Wicking, Wind Barrier, and other styles are readily available for specific needs.

  • Care-Free…Relatively

Fleece doesn’t need much maintenance. Worrying about moisture, insects, and storage space is reduced compared to Wool.

Comparing the Two:

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Embracing Wool:

It had taken me years to fully embrace wool. I had purchased surplus blankets, wool suits, wool socks, wool shirts, wool everything! I ran into some horrible wool fabrics. Manufacturing standards were low for many producers of wool goods, and finding 100% wool was near impossible. Most wool products were mixed with linen, acrylic, cotton, even leather to make it stick together and hold shape better. The cost of producing woolen goods is high. The cost to produce high-quality woolen goods is astronomical. There is a good reason for that, and it took me years of trying different wool products to find out what worked well for me.

The cost of producing woolen goods is high. The cost to produce high-quality woolen goods is astronomical. There is a good reason for that, and it took me years of trying different wool products to find out what worked well for me.

I needed soft wool. Yes, you heard that right. Wool has the benefit of being very rough or very soft. You see when wool is sheared from the animal the quality of wool has several factors:

  • Age of the animal

Young animals produce a softer, finer wool.

  • What kind, or breed, of animal

Alpaca wool is very soft compared to sheep wool. Merino wool is considered a high-quality sheep’s wool

  • Recycled or not

Wool can also be recycled but the length of the fibers are generally shorter and fall out very quickly. The shorter the fiber the scratchier the wool can become.

  • What part of the animal the wool comes from

Some animals that produce wool will have soft and coarse wool. The undercoat may be soft but the outer coat may be rough.

Quickly, it became apparent to me that quality was very important. I ordered wool blankets from all over the world. Merino, to me, felt great while still being a little rough. I decided that it would be fine for my blanket to be a Merino Wool blanket. My overcoat became a lower quality alpaca hoodie from Peru. It wasn’t soft but it was great as a working overcoat. I opted for very fine, high-quality wools for anything in direct contact with my skin.

Wool can be made into pretty much any article of clothing needed. While it is most common in blankets, shirts, and socks there are also undergarments, pants, and jackets make with varying types of luxury. It’s almost mandatory that wool socks are required for an outdoor hike or camping trip. With all the different types of clothing made with wool, the ability to stay warm and comfortable is a complete possibility.

The thing I love about wool the most is the flexibility it offers, in terms of use. A wool blanket can be used in multiple different ways. I use a 90/10 mix wool blanket as an overcoat, camouflaging, a backpack, short term tarp, and sling. There are many YouTube videos that show the many ways to use a single wool blanket. In a survival situation, the item with the most quality uses is the most important. A wool blanket fits many uses.

One of the best uses a wool blanket has is a bed blanket. Who knew?

What To Beware When Looking For Wool:

Wool products that are 100% wool are the most valuable and useful. Generally, wool is mixed with other fabrics, like cotton or polyester, to make the garment hold together better, or retain a specific shape. While these may be great, inexpensive alternatives during the warmer days, they do not insulate well. A wool mix blanket that is 80% wool and 20% cotton, will only insulate about 60%, compared to a 100% wool blanket.

If purchasing a blanket make sure it fits the purpose. Do not settle on a thin, or throw, blanket if you need something for winter months. Alternatively, don’t think a winter blanket will be appropriate during the summer months. While each can be used moderately in different climates, they are not as comfortable.

Companies will market their products as a 100% wool mix. This is a marketing ploy. Wool mixed with anything, in any quality, is considered a wool mix. With a product like this there is no way of knowing how much wool is actually contained inside the product.

Additionally, companies will also use recycled wool in some products. While we applaud the use of recycled materials; recycled wool is not as long and has a tendency to ‘shed’ away from the main garment. The less material the less insulation it provides. The best wool is 100% virgin wool.

Lastly, some products may have a mix of wool from various animals. To make wool blankets affordable some alpaca fabric makers will mix Alpaca and Merino wool in varying degrees. A mix like this, can be of any animal that produces a wool fiber. Camel, mohair, sheep, goat, and other various

animals will all mix well together and produce a quality wool blanket. This may be listed as ‘wool mix’ but manufacturers who use quality materials will generally list the percentage of each wool type.

Why I Still Like Fleece:

Many Tactical garments are Fleece. Fleece makes some great jackets, sweaters, and undergarments. It has a great, practical, and proven history and also is very easy to find. Companies like Condor, 5.11, Rothco, Tru-Spec, and Under Armor produce some high-quality outerwear made from Fleece. Combined with wool, it can be the perfect peelable layer for the autumn and spring months.

What is more important to me, is the use of recyclable materials. Even though Wool is a naturally occurring material and quite renewable, Fleece can be made from items there is an overabundance of. Using what is already available and at our fingertips, is something more survivalists and preppers try to remember when preparing themselves for any emergency. Using materials readily available is no exception to that rule.

Where to Buy a Quality Wool Blanket:

Alpaca Warehouse makes some 55/45 Alpaca/Merino wool mix. While they have some varying results in terms of quality, their pricing for a 100% wool blanket can’t be beaten.

Rothco makes a wonderful 90/10 wool mix. These wool blankets are great for survival situations, keeping in the car during a breakdown, or laying around with until finding a 100% wool blanket.

Pendleton has a 100% wool blanket. The quality is some of the best. While it is a pricey option it is a blanket that will last a lifetime.

Army surplus blankets are also a great alternative. They are made to last a long time and different countries offer different qualities of wool blankets.

  • Arguably, one of the best blankets is the original Italian Officer’s blanket. While they are getting harder to find they offer some of the best insulation.
  • US Surplus blankets are actually thinner than many other countries. This doesn’t mean they are bad, just tightly
  • Israeli wool blankets are currently easy to find. They can be very inexpensive but may need some

Goodwill, other thrift stores, and estate sales may have some wool blankets that people dropped off. Many thrift stores and estate managers don’t realize or don’t care, how much wool blankets can be worth.

Blankets to Avoid:

Harbor Freight makes an emergency, wool blanket. These blankets are good to keep in the car during a storm but these blankets are very low wool percentage and quality. These are good only for packing or extreme emergencies.

Any blanket less than 60% wool isn’t worth it. For the cost, it would be better to buy a quality Fleece over a poor mix of wool.

Conclusion:

There is no rule that you only have to settle for one or the other. Try each, and choose the best option, for your intended use. Whatever you choose, wool or Fleece are both good options. With the history of wool, the proven uses it has, and the ability to adapt to any environment wool is one of the primary choices for Bushcrafters, reenactors, and serious survivalists.

If the cost, and questionable quality, of wool blankets, make it difficult to choose a proper wool blanket don’t ignore the benefits that fleece has to offer.

Pound per pound, fleece has outstanding benefits that cannot be ignored.

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Jonathan Kilburn is a Martial Arts Instructor, Special Needs educator and businessman. He focuses on self-reliance and survival in difficult urban and sub-urban areas. Natural disasters have pushed Jonathan to teach about urban farming, homesteading, and survival. As a Special Needs Educator, Mr. Kilburn has developed a neurological approach to executive function. This means: pushing the boundaries of human needs vs human wants. This mindset and philosophy assists in training himself and others in self-reliance and survival. Mr. Kilburn has also studies martial arts which include but are not limited to: Aikido, Combat Sambo, Judo, TaeKwon-Do, Haidon Gumdo, and various other sword arts.

1 COMMENT

  1. Thanks for.the article.I like my german.wool.sweaters on top of a cotton long sleeve shirt. I always wash them by hand (never ever dry clean) with a.special.wool wash call eucalan. I love that stuff. All you have to do it soak it for 15 minutes in lukewarm water and eucalan and then I put it in the Washmachine for only a spin cycle and it drys pretty quick laying it flat.No rinsing necessary. It also makes the sweather nicer and softer. You can buy Eucalan with lavender,which helps against bugs also.

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