Why Merino Wool Is an Ideal Running Fabric

Merino wool is nature's original performance fabric

With a wide variety of weights, knits and applications, wool doesn’t need to hide in the back of the closet during warmer months. Not only is it suitable for warm temperatures, it’s even appropriate for high-intensity workouts and endurance pursuits, like running.

If the thought of wearing wool conjures memories of damp, winter mittens and scratchy sweaters, you’re in for a pleasant surprise with the latest applications. In fact, its temperature-regulating and antibacterial properties make it a smart fabric choice for running throughout the year.

“Wool, in particular premium Merino wool, is Mother Nature’s original tech fabric because it has inherent benefits other fabrics try to mimic: moisture management, breathability, odor resistance, stain resistance, wrinkle resistance and a natural SPF,” says Molly Cuffe, director of Global Communications for Smartwool.

What makes the wool fibers of today feel different is advanced treatments and finishing processes as well as being used with other fabrics such as polyester or bamboo to enhance durability, breathability, stretch, fit and softness.

“Wool is an active fiber, so it works naturally with the body’s heating and cooling system, constantly reacting to changes in temperature to help people stay comfortable in all sorts of varied climates,” Cuffe says. “This helps to keep people cool when it’s hot and warm when it’s cold.”

This is due in part to the fact that wool both repels and attracts moisture. For running apparel, that means sweat. The fabric achieves a natural balance by absorbing and releasing moisture, allowing you to be comfortable in changing environments.

You definitely need to pick the right wool for maximum comfort—despite its positive qualities, a heavy wool long-sleeve top will still be miserable for a hot summer run. But thin wool socks are a dream in any weather. Use this overview of products as your starting point for the latest wool running gear for men and women.

Ashmei—Men’s 2 in 1 shorts

These shorts combine the benefits of a slightly compressive, soft wool inner short for support with a ventilated, nylon over-short for coverage and comfort. An elastic and drawstring waistband keeps the shorts in place, even when your smart phone is stowed in the generous zip pocket. ($130, ashmei.com)

Pettet Endurance Project—The Fremont

Wool even comes in bold colors, like this heather gray and high-visibility yellow, three-quarter sleeve made to go from trail to tavern. It’s cut for performance comfort with raglan sleeves and no side seams to minimize the chance of chafing, plus a longer length through the torso for a nice drape as you run. ($60, pettetendurance.com)

Cotopaxi Wool Hoodie

You can wear this unisex, polyester, wool and spandex blend hoodie before, during and after your run. Seamless sleeves, a form-fitting hood, stout pocket and athletic cut keep you looking sharp, not slouchy. ($140, cotopaxi.com)

Balega Stripes Crew Socks

Feet will stay dry and comfy in limited-edition crew socks with a peppy pattern and foot-hugging fit. ($15, balega.com)

Ibex Women’s Pulse Runner Short

The merino and spandex knit brief is dry and soft against the skin, with a recycled polyester over short for durability. These have a zip lumbar pocket and 3.5-inch inseam. ($75, ibex.com)

Smartwool Merino 150 Pattern Tank

Wool is also an appropriate fabric for your new favorite strappy tank. It has a regular fit, meaning not too tight, to pair smartly with both running and lifestyle clothes. It’s also comfy enough for restorative yoga class. ($70, smartwool.com)

Icebreaker Cool-Lite Rush Windbreaker

A lightweight, DWR-coated, weather-resistant shell comes with a wool mesh lining for active insulation. Not only does the lining wick and breathe, there are underarm vents to help keep the air flowing. ($160, icebreaker.com)

Buff Lightweight ¾ Merino Wool

Buffs mop up sweat, protect you from the sun, keep you warm, keep you cool and look good too. This ¾ height one does all of that with a sleeker profile, plus it’s made out of wool for natural protection. ($27, buffusa.com)

Darn Tough Vertex Tab No Show Ultra-light

Low-cut, tab socks are basically meant to feel as though they disappear. And these do, but with great color choices, durable construction and a smooth fit. You may want to show them to the world after all. ($16, darntough.com)

Allison Pattillo

Motiv Running senior editor Allison Pattillo writes about running, health, nutrition, gear and travel from her home in Colorado. When it comes to gear, she’s a fan of tall running socks, short running skirts and wearing her hat backwards. Even with a BQ and a few podium finishes (all triathlons should be run, bike, canoe!), Allison finds more inspiration from running in beautiful places and exploring on the run instead of the numbers on a stopwatch. She looks forward to the day when she finds her ultimate running dog, which, at this point, may be more bulldog than border collie.