Among the animals that produce wool, the popular ones are sheep and alpacas. However, while these animals generate quality wool, they also differ in certain aspects, including warmth spiking the question, is Alpaca wool warmer than sheep wool?
In a world where synthetic materials dominate, wanting something natural and eco-friendly is understandable. Alpacas and sheep allow you to wear clothes made using wool. The question to ask yourself is which wool type is warmer and will suit you best.
Is Alpaca Wool Warmer Than Sheep Wool?
Alpacas produce warmer wool than sheep, including the ones from merino sheep. Alpaca wool is warm, soft, wind-resistant, and even water-resistant. Surprisingly, you can comfortably wear this wool in the summer heat.
Reports claim that putting on a cloth made of alpaca wool at -17.78 °C (0 °F) will make you feel like the temperatures are around 10 °C (50 °F).
On the other hand, sheep wool provides comfortable temperatures of around -1.11 °C (30 °F) under similar conditions.
Thinking about it, alpacas having warmer wool than sheep makes sense, considering where they live.
The Andean highlands that spreads through 7 countries in South America (Columbia, Argentina, Venezuela, Ecuador, Chile, Bolivia, and Peru are these animals’ home.
The region’s average height is around 4000 m, and the temperatures vary widely, averaging 64 °F (18 °C).
However, subzero temperatures occur in various places, including the equator, but the mountain range’s farther southern parts, found in the Argentinian and Chilean stretch, are the coldest.
Aconcagua, the range’s highest peak, slightly below 7000m, sees -22 -30 °F (-30 °C) or less relatively frequently.
On the other hand, sheep’s largest population is found in dry climates, with the dry air keeping them dry. You can raise them in temperate climate ranges, including the equatorial arid zones, among other torrid areas.
Why Is Alpaca Wool Warmer Than Sheep Wool?
So, we’ve established that alpacas wool is warmer than sheep wool, but why is that the case? This section provides the answers.
1. The Fiber Structure
Alpaca and sheep wool provides warmth by letting air permeate their surfaces, trapping them inside. The difference is the hollow surface, referring to the medullated core found in the fiber’s middle part with the cortex encircling it.
Ideally, you want a continuous hollow surface to trap more air. Alpaca wool contains more hollow space, thus letting in more air and giving it better thermal capacity and extra warmth.
Note that some wool has interrupted or fractioned medullas, breaking the fiber or brittle.
Among Alpaca wool’s main characteristic is its medullated core. Typically, fine fibers don’t come with a medulla since their absence makes the fibers stronger and softer.
Therefore, it’s interesting that alpaca wool has it but is stronger, softer, and warmer.
Usually, highly medullated fiber is coarser. Such wool is warmer and pricklier since it offers more air to be heated up and provides a protective, warm layer. Due to the hollow nature of medullated fibers are also lighter.
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2. Wind Resistance
The ability of wool to resist wind contributes to how what it is. Compared to synthetic materials, cotton, and fleece, wool is more versatile, keeping you cool in the summer heat and warm when cold.
Items made of alpaca wool offer protection against the wind to some degree, determined by the wind type and the garment’s thickness.
You will get better wind resistance from a firmer and tightly knit garment. Sheep wool is also wind resistant due to its lanolin (greasy/waxy coating produced by sheep) which protects the animal from wind, snow, sleet, and rain.
This protection is extremely high on a new garment, but as you continue using and washing it, the lanolin wears off gradually, letting in more rain and wind.
NB: Alpaca wool has minimal or no lanolin because its moisture resistance is high; hence, lanolin is unnecessary to protect the wool.
3. Water Resistance
The wool fibers of alpacas can take in a generous amount of water. Therefore, the fabric does not get sticky or clammy on someone’s skin, offering excellent protection against harsh elements in bad weather.
In addition, alpaca wool wicks away most of the sweat or water before getting into the fiber.
Moreover, excess moisture gets evaporated because of the hollow fiber. Lanolin coating also makes sheep wool water-resistant, helping remove water from the animal’s coat and keeping them safe from harsh environmental conditions.
However, remember that an alpaca or sheep will eventually get wet and cold if it rains or snows.
The same applies to wearing wool garments. Nonetheless, you will receive protection for an extended period.
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Is Merino Wool Warmer Than Alpaca Wool?
There are plenty of reasons to choose merino wool, including the fact that it is much softer and finer than standard wool, comfortable and versatile.
However, despite being quality wool, merino wool is still less warm than alpaca wool.
While merino and alpaca wool are excellent insulators, their fibers’ internal structures differ.
On the one hand, alpaca fibers comprise semi-hollow cores to trap air; conversely, merino fibers do the same but use crimp.
In addition, when it comes to weight, wool from a merino sheep is heavier.
Crimp or slight waves on a sheep wool fiber trap small air pockets, providing warmth. The alpaca wool’s solid fibers make it warmer compared to merino wool.
Additionally, wool from alpacas regulates temperature naturally due to the semi-hollow core and crimp.
The body generated by your body is trapped in between and inside the fibers when wearing an item made of alpaca wool.
Is Alpaca Wool Warmer Than Cashmere?
Wool from an alpaca is warmer than cashmere by only a tiny margin. Nonetheless, this does not mean cashmere isn’t warm; on the contrary, it offers soft, deep warmth.
This material has a light, nearly silky texture and fine fibers and does not require heavy weaving or a thick pile to provide warmth.
Cashmere comes from Kashmir goat’s undercoat. These goats have a 1.5-8 inches long coarse outercoat and a downy undercoat (cashmere) made of soft, fine, 1-3.5 inches long fiber.
When the molting season comes, farmers usually comb or pluck most of this undercoat by hand. Iranian cashmere is harvested through shearing.
Kashmir goats primarily live in Mongolia, Southern Asia’s mountainous areas, the Himalayas, Tibet plateaus, Afghanistan, Russia, India, Turkey, and Iran.
Both cashmere and alpaca wool is warm, soft, pricey, and used to make luxury items.
However, while alpaca wool is soft, cashmere texture is unmatched (the world’s softest wool).
Regarding durability, alpaca wool has longer, more rigid, long-lasting hairs.
Although they are both expensive, cashmere costs more, also alpaca wool provides better insulation. Both wool types make silky blankets, soft socks, and luxury sweaters.
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Alpaca wool is highly sought after because it is super soft and provides superior warmth compared to sheep wool.
It’s also an excellent choice for sensitive people since it doesn’t have lanolin which can lead to allergic reactions. Nonetheless, sheep wool will keep you warm and provide resistance against water and wind.