Wool Still Works

Another guest post by C.E Harris
Recently I relocated the buttons on my Filson double-cruiser and Mackinaw vest to give more room to fasten around my aging middle. When I bought these back in 1972, I was told by the sales advisor at Eddie Bauer to buy one “not less than two full sizes larger than I wore now,” because quality woolens are “lifetime garments” which I would “grow into.”  A sad truth to be sure.

When I got out of the service I wore a size 43 suit.  When I walked into the store I had intended to buy size 44.  The sales advisor at Eddie Bauer talked me into a size 46. In hindsight now I realize I probably should have gotten a 48.   Today the wool fabric has lost some of its nap over the years, its forest green color has faded and turned seams are threadbare in places.  Living in West Virginia now, I wear the vest more often than the double cruiser, which sees only occasional winter wear.  Both garments smell mildly of lanolin and wood smoke, have traveled lots of miles, and evoke memories of pleasant hunts, a few impromptu nights spent in the woods, and one especially dark, cold walk along Rt. 114 after my car slid on black ice off the road and into a pond near Sutton, New Hampshire in 1984.

While modern Gore-Tex and fleece is lighter to carry, it is less resistant to tears and abrasion. It damages easily when riding or through heavy brush. Tightly woven wool gear is heavier and more expensive, but if you buy quality it will last for many years of hard outdoor use and will keep you warm as long as you apply basic cold weather principles.  If the lowest weight and bulk are most important to you, then get the newer types of clothing that are available.  But in harsh environments where you must make one set of outdoor clothing last, it should be entirely wool, with the possible exceptions of silk or polypro underwear and a 60/40 cotton-poly rip stop anorak or windbreaker.

This is because wool remains warm when wet, including complete immersion.  Next to a diver’s wet suit wool clothing offers the best protection in cold water.  Trapped air in the garment is buoyant and aids as insulation. Bulky wool sweaters worn by Allied sailors and Axis U-boat skippers during WWII documentaries weren’t for show, but absolutely necessary for survival, because the body loses heat 32 times faster in water than in air.

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You cannot appreciate the panic-shock of being suddenly immersed in cold water, until you have actually experienced it.  IF you live to tell about it.  It doesn’t have to be winter.  After three hours in 70 degree water you are exhausted and your hands too numb to grasp a lifeline.  In 40 degree water you might last 30 minutes without an exposure suit.  If you live near the water, boat, trap, hunt or fish in the cold water months you should be skilled in water self-rescue methods. See https://homestudy.ihea.com/concerns/23capsize.htm and https://www.ussartf.org/cold_water_survival.htm

Woolen blankets are required survival gear for private aircraft in Alaska because they keep you warm when wet.  Wool blankets are durable, long lasting, and cost less than sleeping bags.  They are flame resistant, noncombustible and safer to bundle up in close to a camp fire.  British, Swiss, German and Italian army blankets may still be found online for as little as $25 each. A U.S. GI blanket is 60 inches wide, 84 inches long and weighs 3-1/2 pounds.   During WWII and Korea the original GI “poncho liner” was improvised by cutting an 18 inch slot cut parallel to and centered 36 inches back from one of the short edges, fabric taped and stitched by parachute riggers.   The 36 inch length in front of the slot falls to the crotch, but doesn’t get in the way of your legs when running.  The 48 inch length in back covers your butt and back in warm comfort while sitting. The sides tuck at the waist and are held by the pistol belt.  If evading like Rambo in First Blood you could use parachute cord. What you are doing here is converting the blanket into a Wetterfleck, the Loden cape used for centuries by German, Swiss and Austrian foresters.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PKfz2ZdjFFY

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2 thoughts on “Wool Still Works”

  1. Wool is certainly excellent. Old style heavy wool will certainly last, but for moving it is not always the best option. Inner layers are best made of 100% merino wool. This is also expensive but has excellent anti-microbial properties and like all wool is warm when wet. That not withstanding- I still wear the old US Army GI wool sweater as a mid layer, and a surplus wool scarf is a must in the cold.

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