What is special about Merino wool?

Ultimate Hack to Travel Light

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As counter-intuitive as it seems, using woolen clothing in hot, tropical weather can not only keep you cooler but also save you precious pounds. A sheep from Down Under has the answer to every backpacker’s holy grail of lightweight travel – be it in the Caribbean or Iceland. Guest contributor Thomas Carney shares how all-weather woolen wear has helped him cut down from a 50L backpack to less than half. Read on the ultimate hack to travel light.

Packing too much?

It all started when spending a winter surfing in Guadeloupe in the Caribbean. I still have the packing list I wrote out in preparation for that trip: 2 t-shirts, 3 polo-neck shirts, 4 pairs of pants… Suffice to say, it’s a long list, be it for a first-time backpacker or an experienced one.

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Travel Planning

All told, the list filled my 50L backpack to the gills. And it was heavy to carry, especially in the hot, tropical heat of Guadeloupe. Getting onto a bus was a constant battle between squeezing past people and making sure not to hit anyone with the backpack when I turned.

Quickly, I realized that not only was my backpack enormous, it was also packed with items I barely used. Sure, it was great to have 5 different shirts, but I spent most of the time lugging around 4 dirty ones while waiting for the next opportunity to wash them all. And most of the stuff went entirely unused. For example, out of a sense of caution, I packed two phones with two different chargers. Some backpacking lessons!

My girlfriend was barely less paranoid than I was, and she ended up looking like she was ready to hike into the wilderness.

What are the tips for minimalist traveling?
Non-Minimalist Baggage | Photo by Thomas Carney

The turning point

It was time to downsize my baggage to something more minimalist. The pivotal moment that propelled me to embark on becoming an ultra-minimalist traveler was in a surf camp near Saint Anne in Guadeloupe. I met a Swiss guy who, despite the heat, was a wearing a t-shirt made of merino wool of all things. He told me that he’d been wearing it for weeks without washing it.

I was curious, albeit a little grossed out by the idea of not washing a t-shirt for weeks.

What was this merino wool? Wasn’t wool something that your grandma used to knit an itchy, uncomfortable Christmas top? I want to dig into why I found that merino wool is perfect for ultra-minimalist travelers who want to downsize their luggage.

What’s so great about Merino wool?

Merino wool comes from merino sheep, a breed that originated from Spain, but now is widely raised in New Zealand and Australia. It’s exceptional, because the wool is very soft and fine, so it isn’t itchy.

What are some tips for traveling ultralight?
Special Merino Wool!

It’s also a very high-performance fabric. It will keep you warm when it’s cold and it will keep you cool in hot weather, thanks to its insulating properties. Wool naturally contains a wax called lanolin that has antibacterial properties. This means that merino wool remains odor-free for a remarkably long period, even if you sweat in it, unlike other fabrics such as cotton.

Wool is also highly water resistant thanks to the lanolin, and even if your merino wool t-shirt gets drenched, it will still keep you warm when wet. For this reason, many adventurers swear by merino wool in extreme conditions, whereas they consider cotton to be a liability.

What role does Merino wool play in ultralight travel?

How to travel with only a single bag?
Boarding Flight to Iceland with a 19L backpack | Photo by Thomas Carney

So, merino wool certainly has properties that make it a high-performance fabric. When you are traveling, you want to carry the minimum amount of gear that will let you do the maximum amount of activities while on the road.

Therefore, when rationalizing my gear, I wanted to strip down to the bare essentials. Merino wool let me go from 5 sets of socks, shirts, and underwear to two of each. Having only two of each item meant that I have to wash one while wearing one, which I find easier than trying to washing a bunch of clothes once a week. That meant I could go from my bulky 50L backpack down to a 19L backpack.

My personal tip if you are starting out is to try out a pair of merino wool socks. After that, try getting a t-shirt and see how much you can reduce your existing travel wardrobe.

What does ultra minimalist packing let you do?

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Skip the wait for your baggage!

Once I’d stripped down my backpack to the essential, I found that traveling was transformed from an exhausting process to a liberating one.

Before, going through an airport was a struggle comprised of waiting for my oversized backpack to arrive on the baggage carousel, hoping that it hadn’t taken a wrong turn and ended up on the other side of the globe. Now, I could grab my backpack from the overhead locker and walk past the baggage carousel straight to the exit.

When I arrived at my destination, I don’t have to beg a hostel to keep my luggage for the day, hoping that nothing will get stolen. I can just go for a hike with my entire possessions comfortably on my back. It’s an incredible feeling of independence to not be weighed down.

Are you a minimalist backpacker? How do you cut the weight in your backpack? We would love to hear from you.

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What are some tips on ultralight travel and backpacking?
Thomas Carney
Thomas Carney

Thomas Carney is a minimalist backpacker who's always plotting a new trip. Originally from an organic farm in Ireland, he is now based in Berlin, Germany. When not on a computer, he's at CrossFit or trying to brew the perfect coffee with an Aeropress coffee maker. He writes about packing lists and merino wool.

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