Is Alpaca Wool Breathable? (YES, and Here’s Why)
Updated: Feb 24
Alpaca wool is incredibly warm - much warmer than sheep’s wool, even! But a fiber that is so warm must be clammy, right? Well, let’s find out if alpaca wool is breathable or not.
Despite being super isolating and insulating, alpaca wool is incredibly breathable, too. Thanks to its hollow fiber the air is trapped inside micro-pockets. These micro-pockets help to regulate the temperature and airflow and prevent an alpaca woolen garment from being clammy or airtight.
So wait, how does that work? Let’s have a look at it in more detail.
Alpaca Wool is Insulating
Let’s start with the facts: alpaca wool is warm because it is insulating.
Insulating means that it keeps things in, like heat and a consistent temperature.
When something is insulated, you could say that a layer protects something from changing temperatures. Imagine a house: when it is cold outside, you put the heater on inside. A well-insulated house will maintain the warmth of the heater, without letting the heat escape.
Alpaca wool does the same thing. If you’re cold, or it is cold outside, you put on an alpaca woolen sweater. On the inside of the sweater, your body temperature will make sure it is warm. The warmth will stay inside of the sweater because the insulating layer (made of alpaca wool) doesn’t let the heat out.
Your body temperature of approximately 98.6°F (37°C) will generate a very comfortable temperature for you underneath an alpaca woolen sweater.
Alpaca Wool is Isolating
Apart from being insulating, alpaca wool is also isolating.
Isolating means that it keeps things out, like cold and sunbeams.
Let’s compare alpaca wool to a house again: when it is cold outside and you put the heater on, you don’t want the heat to escape. On the other hand, you also don’t want the cold to affect the heat.
Temperature does not stay still and is constantly flowing and moving. So, when something cold (ice cream) is exposed to something warm (sunbeams), the temperatures change (the ice cream gets hotter, resulting in a melting ice cream).
For a house, this would mean that the heat would flow away into the cold. A well-insulated house, however, is made to prevent that from happening. On the other hand, a well-isolated house also protects the warmth inside from the “attacking cold” outside.
Think of the white houses in Greece: the white paint isolates the heat from the sun.
For a sweater, this means that the cold air will not penetrate the warm layer of alpaca wool and the body heat inside it. This is great news!
Even better is that warmth will also not penetrate the wool, which means that you can wear alpaca in summer.
Imagine it is warm outside and you are wearing a sweater. Normally, sunbeams will heat up whatever they touch, so you would expect to be boiling in your sweater within no-time. However, the isolating capabilities of the alpaca fiber will prevent this from happening.
The layer of alpaca wool isolates the heat and protects you from high temperatures at the same time.
Alpaca Wool Is Thermoregulating
Thermoregulation is another important feature of alpaca wool. It is basically the result of being isolating and insulating at the same time.
Thermoregulation means that a certain temperature is maintained.
Given that air normally flows between different temperatures, thermoregulation is incredibly important for survival. Some animals actually have the capability to adapt to their surrounding temperature (and switch between cold and hot temperatures). Humans do not have that capability to such an extent.
Humans are warm-blooded and the body temperature stays pretty constant. Our bodies work to cool down when we’re overheating, and to warm up when we’re cold.
Now, even though we can regulate our body temperature, our system is not infallible: hyperthermia and hypothermia will occur when our bodies are exposed to extreme temperatures for a sustained period of time.
It is nice to know that when it is really cold or hot we have protective clothing to help us out.
When our bodies can use that extra hand, alpaca wool comes to the rescue with its thermoregulating capabilities.
When it is cold outside, alpaca wool will keep you warm at a consistent temperature (close to your own body temperature), without letting the cold take over.
When it is warm outside, alpaca wool will keep you cool (also body temperature), without letting the heat warm you up.
How Can Alpaca Wool Be Breathable, Isolating and Insulating at the Same Time?
As I was reading about the thermoregulatory capabilities of alpaca wool, I started wondering how something that is so isolating and insulating can actually be breathable at the same time? The answer is… the hollow fiber.
Alpaca Wool Has a Hollow Fiber
Your human instinct will probably tell you that something that is isolating and insulating must be stifling, clammy or broiling hot. But alpaca wool is not called the fiber of the gods for nothing. It is neither of that thanks to its hollow fiber.
Most woolen fibers are hollow inside. A hollow fiber can trap air within, creating an airy, fluffy, springy yarn. Alpaca is different from other fibers because it does not have just one “airbag”, but several micro airbags, that all serve to trap the air.
This type of hollow fiber allows alpaca yarn to have more superior qualities than sheep’s wool, like its breathability. Even though sheep’s wool can be called breathable (compared to synthetic fibers), it is not as breathable as alpaca wool.
To explain why this happens, you must know that wool in general absorbs air and evaporates it. It traps the air to keep you warm. It releases the air to cool you down. It’s like a heater that you turn off (let go of the air) and on (trapping the air) to match your temperature.
Since alpaca wool has smaller air pockets than sheep’s wool, it is easier for alpaca wool to adjust to changes in temperature.
Imagine you’re wearing a sweater, it gets too hot and sweaty, damp, and hot air accumulates on the inside of the sweater. This would be the broiling effect that occurs when a garment is not breathable.
Turn that imagined sweater into an alpaca woolen piece: the sweat and damp get absorbed by the fiber and are trapped inside. Because the air pockets in the fiber are small, the air is easily evaporated and sent back into the atmosphere. You will not feel clammy. You will not feel sweaty. You will not feel broiling inside an alpaca woolen sweater.
Of course, the same applies to hats, scarves, thermal underwear, socks, coats, duvets, etc. etc.
The alpaca fiber has superior breathability.
Why Is Breathability a Good Thing?
You might wonder why you want garments to be breathable. Here is a small list of circumstances in which breathability is important.
Alpaca wool is great for hiking.
Imagine you are hiking in the mountains, and even though it could be cold and windy up high, you might be feeling hot because of the reduced level of oxygen, a beaming sun or the physical activity.
An alpaca woolen garment will protect you from the beaming sun and cold winds (isolating), it will keep you warm even though it is cold (insulating), physical activity might make you sweaty, and sweating on top of a mountain is not a smart idea (imagine the cold once the sweat gets absorbed by the fabric). A breathable piece like alpaca wool will be able to absorb sweat and evaporate it before it makes you wet and cold.
An alpaca woolen duvet is great for sleeping.
Always hot in bed? If you’re sweating a lot in your sleep, consider an alpaca woolen duvet. You will feel warm (insulating) in a fresh room (isolating), and the high level of breathability can help prevent feeling clammy or sweaty in bed as any damp or sweat will be absorbed and send back into the atmosphere quickly.
Alpaca woolen garments (thermals, socks, sweaters) are great for skiing.
Just like hiking, skiing is an intense physical activity that is done in cold atmospheres. You are going to need something breathable to get down the slopes without being soaked at the bottom. At the same time, you will need good protective clothing that keeps you warm and protects you from the cold.
Besides being breathable, alpaca wool also has great water wicking capabilities. When it snows or if you fall (or like to make snow angels, like me) alpaca wool will wick it away before it has the opportunity to melt into your neck.