Wool Rising over the Fleece Landscape

By Jen Deraspe

Fleece came of age when I did. All the hip and trendy outdoorsy types sported it. I shortly followed suit.

The fleece industry touted their new age material as far superior to any natural fiber ever utilized. The woolen ways of my father and his father were disregarded and my tattered, well-worn wool sweater went to the back of the closet for the moths to enjoy.

Off I went to L.L.Bean, purchasing a multiple layering system of fleece as recommended. Layer upon layer was utilized to keep me warm and comfy in the outdoors.

In my ancestor’s days, all cloth was made from natural fibers, including plant sources such as cotton, flax, and hemp, and animal sources such as wool, hair, and silk. In the 20th century, these were supplemented by artificial fibers, such as my head-to-toe outdoor clothing of choice.

I refer to these clothes as my plastic clothes, since most are made from polyethylene terephthalate, also known as recycled plastic bottles. After a week in them while on expeditions, I begin to feel like a soda bottle, just a bit plast-icky.

I met an old Master Maine Guide who wouldn’t touch fleece with a six-foot paddle. He had been given some from his enlightened guests from time to time, urging him to get with the times and enter the new millennium bursting with advanced technological discoveries sure to improve his life in the outdoors. No, his wool stayed put on his back.

I respected the man so began to shed some of my plastic layers, trading them back in for wool to test it for myself. What I learned was that wool did not get wet in a light rain and didn’t melt from campfire sparks. Wool kept me much warmer in the wind, the damp and the cold. And, even better, I only needed one layer. I will admit, wool itches like crazy, so I have not given up my first wicking synthetic layer made of thermoplastic polymer, whatever that is. I like the snug fit and the drying it provides during activity.

A friend gave me an old pair of army green woolen pants, the kind with all the side pockets and parachute attachments. They are much heavier than any soda bottle pants I may wear, but are perfect for activities that involve a lot of stopping and going out in the cold. They are very toasty and block the wind tremendously.

If I am in a remote wilderness setting at the cusp of a new season, you bet I will be bringing along my favorite wool layers, be it in August, March or November. Those old guys had something figured out and I appreciate a natural choice any day of the week. Call me a hybrid traditionalist with some synthetics still favored, but the fundamental layer I trust is an old wool sweater that I don’t mind standing right next to the camp fire in.

Jen Deraspe, founder of Nurture Through Nature, Maine’s first green retreat center, lives off the grid on the southwestern side of Pleasant Mountain in Denmark. You may occasionally notice her in Renys in woolen items.

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