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Natural or Synthetic Fabrics for Baselayer?
 Posted on: 17 Jul 2009
 Number of views: 60519
Article Highlights

How to Choose between Merino Wool or Polypropylene based fabrics for baselayer clothing.
Merino vs. Polypropylene (Natural vs. Synthetic) for Base Layer Clothing

When engaging in outdoor sports, you undoubtedly know that the weather will not always be warm and sunny.  With that said, base layer clothing is essential for keeping you warm and dry during the cold and rainy/snowy months.  You will find base layer clothing consists of many different materials, both natural and synthetic.  When viewing your options you may not know which type of material is best for you to choose.  The following will highlight two of the most popular materials used to construct base layer clothing these days, merino and polypropylene, and describe each one to give you more insight to help you decide which material is best for you.

Merino Materials in Base Layer Clothing

Merino wool is a natural fiber used in base layer clothing to provide warmth to the wearer thereof.  It is also essential in keeping moisture to a minimum and preventing odors from permeating the clothing.  When reviewing the various merino clothing options for base layer clothing, you will usually find that this type of base layer item is best used for outdoor sports such as skiing, snowmobiling, snowboarding and other snow activities.  With that said, you can also pair your merino wool base layer clothing with top layers when mountain biking or hiking in colder climates. 

Polypropylene Materials in Base Layer Clothing

Polypropylene is a material often used by the military as base layer clothing.  This synthetic material helps the wearer stay warm and dry without all of the bulk which some other base layer clothing materials can cause.  They give you the added layer of clothing and take away the moisture while being lightweight in general.  Polypropylene materials are best suited for outdoor activities where you need a bit of added warmth and wish to keep the skin dry, especially if you are prone to sweating while engaging in outdoor activities. 

Is Merino or Polypropylene a Better Choice?

Both merino and polypropylene provide warmth and dryness to the wearer.  With one being natural fibers and the other being synthetic, frequently purchasers will favor one type of material over the other.  If you like natural fiber clothing with natural odor killing properties, then merino would be the right choice for you.  However, if you prefer synthetic fibers or don't care either way then you may find that polypropylene suits your needs perfectly.

When deciding between the two materials, you should note that merino base layer clothing items will be more expensive than polypropylene items.  This is due to the natural fiber aspect as it is often cheaper for the clothing manufacturers to produce synthetic clothing.  Therefore, if you are shopping for base layer clothing on a budget you may want to go with the polypropylene over the merino items.  If price is no object or you are happy to invest the money in quality, well made merino wool items, then choosing this type of base layer clothing would work well.

With regard to the warmth factor, many people find that merino wool provides greater warmth than polypropylene.  In addition, the coziness factor which often goes along with this softer natural material draws people in and makes them take note of the warmth.  However, polypropylene also does the trick with warmth even though it may feel a bit more synthetic than its merino wool counterpart may. 

Another aspect to consider when trying to decide between merino wool and polypropylene base layer clothing relates to your washing tactics.  With regard to washing these base layer clothing items, you will often find that the polypropylene can take more rough and tumble washes than merino wool can as shrinkage is more likely with the merino wool than the polypropylene. 

When all is said and done, both merino wool and polypropylene work well as base layer clothing materials.  Review how much you want to spend, whether you prefer synthetic or natural fibers and your personal preference regarding the two materials when shopping for base layer clothing as this will help to guide your decision. 

Here's a couple links to get you started:  
Men's Baselayer                    Womans Baselayer

View Comments
 Posted By: Martin Feuchtwanger
 Posted On: Feb 21 2018 7:35PM 

Please note that most synthetic base layers are made from polyester, not polypropylene. They have been so since the early 1990s. The reason being that polypropylene was very sensitive to high heat and would easily be ruined -- it would shrink drastically -- if washed or dried on the wrong setting.

 Posted By: Martin Feuchtwanger
 Posted On: Feb 21 2018 7:34PM 

Please note that most synthetic base layers are made from polyester, not polypropylene. They have been so since the early 1990s. The reason being that polypropylene was very sensitive to high heat and would easily be ruined -- it would shrink drastically -- if washed or dried on the wrong setting.

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