Can You Go Hiking With Alpaca Wool? (Best Hiking Gear Ever!)
Alpaca woolen sweaters can be a great souvenir from Peru, or a colorful alternative to your traditional Christmas sweater. But what about everything else alpaca wool could be used for? Have you ever wondered if alpaca wool can be used for hiking gear?
Alpaca wool is a high quality, versatile material that is perfect for hiking gear. It will protect you from many elements, like rain, wind, and sun; and it will keep the body warm without overheating. It is antibacterial and odor-resistant, so it can be worn for prolonged periods of time.
If you like hiking, you will know that the weather conditions in the mountains can change often and present many challenges. If you like alpaca, you know that this cute little animal has adapted its wool to live in exactly those conditions.
Alpaca Wool Can Protect You From Rain When You’re Hiking
While alpaca wool is not 100% waterproof, it is definitely water-resistant. It has great wicking capabilities and compared to many other fibers, alpaca wool can absorb and retain much more water.
Sounds great. What does that mean?
The alpaca fiber is known for being much smoother than its other woolly-friends’ fibers. The hair of an alpaca has small scales that connect much better together than large scales (like from sheep, for example). Given that they connect so well, there is little room for the water to enter the fiber.
Thanks to the fiber’s smoothness, water can easily “fall off” before it gets into the fabric. These are the “wicking capabilities” of the alpaca fiber. Alpaca wool does this continuously. Rain doesn’t stand a chance. To a degree, though.
When water enters the fiber, it will make the garment wet and you will feel that on your body. Wearing wet clothes is very uncomfortable, and I probably don’t need to tell you that you want to avoid that when you’re hiking. Which is why you want to wear alpaca woolen garments.
Alpaca wool absorbs much of the water that it gathers inside the fiber, where it will sit before soaking the fabric. Makes sense? It’s trapped inside without making you feel that it is wet. It’s like magic, but then real.
Compared to sheep wool, the degree of water absorption is much higher for alpaca wool than for sheep wool, but there is no consensus among the experts, so I will refrain from quoting an exact number here! :)
Of course, when alpaca wool gets thoroughly soaked, it will get really, really heavy, but an average shower shouldn’t make the weight increase that much. Like I said: alpaca wool is water-repellent, not waterproof!
When the rain is set and done, the water that is absorbed inside the alpaca fiber will be evaporated. The hollow hair functions as if it were a mini-heater: the water gets trapped; heats up inside the fiber; evaporates; and then dries the garment and makes you warm again.
Read more about the magical world of alpaca wool and water in another article I wrote: Is Alpaca Wool Waterproof?
The Hiking Experience:
Imagine you are hiking in the mountains and a lovely summary shower surprises you with a reasonable downpour… You might get wet if it rains heavy enough and long enough, but initially, the alpaca wool will wick away the rain drops, and then absorb what can’t be wicked away. The water inside the fiber will then be evaporated and make the fiber dry and your body warm again.
If you get wet at all, it won’t be for long.
Alpaca Wool Can Protect You From Wind When You’re Hiking
Another feisty element that can throw you off your game when you’re hiking is the wind. Oh, Father Wind, if Mother Earth had only invented something to protect us from you. Oh wait, there is something: alpaca wool!
While alpaca wool is not 100% windproof, it is absolutely wind-resistant. The main reason why alpaca woolen garments are not windproof, is because of their structure. Most garments are either woven or knitted and will leave room for the wind to enter the fabric and bring the chills to your body.
Alpaca wool generally has a small fiber, and can therefore be knitted closely together. It is generally much thinner than your regular sheep wool fiber, and therefore could protect you better from the wind.
In theory, the fiber itself should be totally windproof, if you were to put the alpaca fibers close together so that nothing can go through, you should, in theory, be protected. So, look for tightly or closed woven garments, or double layered garments for the best protection.
Interested in learning more about the wondrous world of the wind-protecting fiber? Click the link to go to another article I wrote: Is Alpaca Wool Windproof?
The reason why the alpaca itself is protected from wind thanks to its frizzy hairdo, is because the fiber tends to get denser closer towards the body. So, bulk up if you want to protect yourself from the wind.
The Hiking Experience:
You’re up in the mountains, pretty much protected from the wind as you’re walking uphill. But then... You reach the summit and a sneering wind hits you in the face. Luckily, you’re wearing an alpaca woolen collar scarf. One of those tube-shaped things that protect your neck, and if it gets really cold, you just pull it over your entire face - don’t cover your eyes, though! And oh, yeah, it’s double layered, so not a single strain of wind comes through.
Keep on walking, baby.
Alpaca Wool Helps Maintain a Constant Body Temperature When You’re Hiking
Alpaca wool is super breathable. Period. End of story.
Haha, let’s try this again: Alpaca wool is super breathable, which means that it can insulate heat and isolate cold (and vice versa) without making your body feel sweaty or clammy.
Imagine any kind of garment that keeps you warm, really warm… It is probably thick and tough and leaves little space for air to flow. Or anything that keeps things out (especially waterproof and windproof fabrics: YUKKY!) Airflow: 0%.
But then, there was alpaca. And alpaca keeps heat in, cold out, and maintains a constant temperature, almost no matter what kind of activity you’re involved in. Alpaca woolen garments naturally regulate the air and thus the temperature. It will maintain a perfect temperature close to your body temperature.
When alpaca woolen garments act as an insulating layer, they are capable of maintaining the air inside (nice and warm). The alpaca fiber stores that air inside the fiber, where it becomes an insulating layer (the fabric). When the temperature of the air inside rises, for example, when you’re hiking and your body temperature rises, the excess heat will be evaporated out of the garment, back into the air.
Not convinced? Read the full article I wrote here: Is Alpaca Wool Breathable? (YES, and Here’s Why)
The other way around, the insulating layer will help keep cold out as your body will only feel the temperature that is generated underneath the fabric.
The other, other way around, when it is actually really hot outside, alpaca wool can prevent your body from heating up, because it won’t pass on the heat. The heat will basically reflect off the outer layer and won’t add to the underlying temperature.
You can actually Wear Alpaca Wool in Summer. Read more about it in another article I posted by clicking on the link!
The Hiking Experience:
Still going uphill, your body is starting to heat up. You might be sweating a little, your heart rate might go up, the altitude might get to you, and your body temperature might go up. But nothing changes about how you feel, because a layer of alpaca clothing is regulating the air that is kept between your body and the fabric.
But, then, come rain or shine… The sun is due a visit and starts to shine. It’s starting to get hot, potentially really hot. Now what? Take off the sweater? Nope, just wait and see people: the alpaca wool will regulate the new temperature in a heartbeat.
Alpaca Wool Can Be Worn For A Long Time Without Getting Smelly When You’re Hiking
When you’re doing a multiple-day trek and have limited space available (because you will be carrying everything on your back yourself), it might come in handy to know that alpaca woolen products won’t absorb or retain any smells: alpaca wool is odor-resistant and antimicrobial.
The Alpaca Owners Association reported that research has proven that the alpaca fiber has natural antimicrobial properties. I could not find the original publication of this particular research, but I found an article in the Morning Ag Clips reporting on their findings.
When a fiber is antimicrobial, it means that it can naturally repel bacteria and the alongcoming odors. Compared to chemically treated odor-resistant fabrics, natural fibers, like alpaca, have been found to be more effective and for a sustained period of time.
How does this work? Your sweat actually does not smell. What makes it smell (bad) are the bacteria that turn sweat into stinky acids. These bacteria can grow in areas that encourage bacteria to multiply quickly, like your armpits and your toes.
First of all, alpaca wool is breathable and does not give sweat a chance to pile up and get all smelly. Secondly, alpaca wool has those natural antibacterial properties, which help prevent bacteria from getting a hold of your sweat to start with!
For hikers - and everyone who hates doing laundry - this means that you can wear alpaca woolen garments repeatedly and for a prolonged period of time without washing it. And without fear of you and your outfit getting smelly. It’s real!
Ready to do less laundry? Read more about it in this article I wrote: Does Alpaca Wool Smell?
The Hiking Experience:
Yes, one sweater will be enough. If we’re going to hike for four days, I won’t be carrying four different sweaters. Besides, one hill and it will be done for anyways. So, one sweater, come rain or shine. Oh yes, and alpaca socks, too. Gotta let those toesies breathe! And you know what, I might as well sleep in that same outfit, too!
Alpaca Wool Is Flame Retardant Which Can Be Helpful When Hiking
For multiple day hikes, making a bonfire might be inevitable if you were to heat up some canned beans with fortified protein. Yummy!
If you’re wearing an alpaca garment, you don’t need to worry about catching fire and losing your entire set of hiking gear. In fact, alpaca wool is flame-retardant, slow to ignite and has self-extinguishing capabilities. It also won’t melt on your skin.
Please note, alpaca wool is not 100% fire-proof. Alpaca woolen garments can still catch fire and burn, as everything will burn when it is exposed to fire for a prolonged period of time.
What I’m talking about here is that alpaca wool takes more time to ignite compared to synthetic fabrics. So, for example, when alpaca wool is exposed to a flame (let’s say your arm gets too close to the bonfire when roasting your marshmallows), it is less likely that the fabric will catch fire. Not unlikely, though, as everything will burn at too close a distance and for enough time.
If an alpaca woolen garment does catch fire, it is more likely that the fire will go out by itself. Alpaca wool has self-extinguishing properties, which means that instead of burning all the way up the sleeve, alpaca woolen fabric will slowly stop burning. Compared to synthetic fabrics this is a huge plus, because they have a tendency of burning quickly and completely.
On top of that, alpaca wool won’t melt to your skin, like synthetic fabrics would do. Alpaca wool will burn, melt slightly and then start to char and turn into ashes, whereas synthetic fibers (made out of plastic, basically), are more likely to melt on the skin.
I wrote an article that talks more in-depth about this. Click the link to read the full story: Is Alpaca Wool Fire Resistant?
The Hiking Experience:
Great. A long day of walking. We have set up the camp now and before we roll onto our too thin sleeping mats we are going to have some delicious marshmallows. The fire is crisping and the bag of marshmallows starts to crips, too: someone is opening it. Great, marshmallow on a stick. Into the fire. A little closer. A little longer. A little more. Almost rea-... Oh no, too close! That’s a spark, on my arm, on my alpaca woolen hiking gear. Oh no! Oh, it’s gone? That’s it? It is distinguished. It might leave a little mark on the sweater, but at least not on my skin!
Oh and did I tell you yet that none of my clothes smell like smoke the next day? #odor-resistant