Is Alpaca Wool Good Quality? (Performance, Durability, and Features)
Everywhere on the Internet, you can read that alpaca wool is of incredible quality. While I like to acknowledge that, these claims often lack the evidence to support their truthfulness. Let’s see if alpaca wool is actually of high quality in terms of its performance, durability, and other features.
Alpaca wool is a very good quality wool. It keeps you warm and protects you from the elements. It is a strong, elastic, and tear-resistant fiber. Additional features include: it is soft, hypoallergenic, and eco-friendly. It can also be worn year-round and requires little maintenance.
To answer the question of whether or not alpaca wool is good quality, we should establish what it is supposed to do, first.
Aspects To Quality: Performance, Durability and Special Features
The quality of a product can be approached from many different angles. You could even argue that many aspects of quality are subjective. In this article I will focus on three aspects of quality, that I consider objective:
Some people might care about the quality of how well it performs (Does it actually keep you warm?), while other people might care more about the quality in terms of its durability, (How long does it last? Does it break easily?), and others might care about the aesthetics of a product (Does it look good?), the sustainability of the material (Is it animal friendly?), or any other specific features (Is it hypoallergenic? Is it easy to wash?).
This article will analyze the quality of alpaca woolen products. I will focus on standard, knitted garments, like sweaters, scarves and hats (for example). The quality will vary per item, but we can generalize the use and purposes of wool, regardless of the specific purposes.
How Well Does Alpaca Wool Perform? (Quality Check!)
The quality of a product highly depends on its performance. By performance, I mean the way a product lives up to what it is expected to do. The performance of each item specifically will depend on the product - as each product is used for different purposes (you don’t expect a hat to keep your toes warm, right?).
First, what should you expect alpaca wool to do?
Keeps the wearer warm (and protect the wearer from cold)
Protects the wearer from the elements (wind, rain, sun)
Generally speaking, people wear clothes to protect themselves from the elements and to keep themselves warm. And OK, to not be naked in the first place. Depending on where you live, you will wear clothes to either protect you from the sun, the wind, the rain, the cold, or even more extreme environments, like frost, snow, heat and/or sand.
Performance Claim #1: Alpaca Wool Protects You From (Cold) Temperatures
Alpaca wool specifically, is used for warmth. It is known to be a fabric that can provide warmth to your body in cold weather. Alpaca wool, even more so than sheep’s wool, is a great insulator of body heat, which means that it is meant to keep you warm.
Alpaca wool has little pockets of air inside its fiber, which function as a protective layer of air around your body. This protective layer maintains your body temperature, which is quite a comfortable temperature if you’d ask me. Alpaca wool does not allow for thermal conductivity, meaning that it will not change temperature when it is exposed to changing temperatures.
In other words, if it gets hot, alpaca wool will maintain your body temperature. If it gets cold, alpaca wool will maintain your body temperature. Alpaca wool maintains your body temperature in hot and cold environments.
Performance Check? YES! Alpaca wool keeps you warm.
Bonus Point: It even keeps you cool when it’s hot. Didn’t see that coming, did you?
The information given in this section tells you the basics about what you need to know about how warm alpaca wool really is. I wrote an entire article about this topic, that you can read by clicking on the following link: Is Alpaca Wool Warm?
Performance Claim #2: Alpaca Wool Protects You From Precipitation
One of the most important elements to be protected from is rain. While I love a refreshing shower in the summer, I hate it when it’s freezing cold and wet on top of that. So, is an alpaca scarf enough to protect you from rain?
The answer depends on the amount of water falling from the sky. Alpaca wool is very water-resistant, but it is not waterproof. This means that an average alpaca woolen garment should protect you from a regular shower, but it won’t keep you dry if you stand outside an hour-long downpour.
Alpaca wool has a special scale-like structure that wicks away water before it gets absorbed. This technology helps protect you from most rain, but will eventually get soaked when it is exposed to enough water. Despite that, wool will maintain its ability to keep you warm while wet. The wet fiber works as a minuscule heater that evaporates water and uses that energy to keep you warm.
Performance Check? Alpaca wool will protect you from your average rainfall, but it will not protect you from torrential, pouring rain.
Bonus Point: unlike other fabrics, alpaca wool retains its ability to keep you warm even though it is a little wet (not soaked).
If you are interested in learning more about the water-repellent features of alpaca wool, click the following link to read an entire article I wrote about the subject: Is Alpaca Wool Waterproof?
Performance Claim #3: Alpaca Wool Protects You From Wind
Just like its water resistancy, alpaca wool is wind resistant, too, yet not windproof. The fiber is designed to keep the wind out and stop icy winds from penetrating the fabric and reaching your skin. Given that alpaca wool is mostly used for knitted items, the design of any knitted material itself will prevent it from being 100% windproof.
However, a finely knitted piece, or an extra thick scarf, can absolutely protect you from the wind and the cold that it inevitably brings.
Performance Check? Alpaca wool will shield you from much wind, but is not 100% windproof because alpaca woolen items are often knitted.
Check out the full article to learn more about this topic: Is Alpaca Wool Windproof?
Performance Claim #4: Alpaca Wool Protects You from the Sun
Like we have seen in the first claim, alpaca wool is perfectly usable in warm weather, due to its capacity to maintain a regular temperature. This means that you can wear alpaca wool when it is warm, without feeling like a hot air balloon.
On top of its temperature regulating features, alpaca wool can be used in sunny weather to protect your skin from direct sunlight. Again, because the temperature underneath an alpaca woolen garment will not feel like a boiling pot, you can wear it in the sun, while still feeling cool.
So while most natural types of fabric will protect you from the sun (cotton, linen, bamboo, etc.), they don’t necessarily cool you down - hence the idea of wearing light summer clothes.
Wool, on the contrary, does cool you down, and will also be perfect for when you’re in a sunny yet cold environment. Like when you’re hiking in the mountains, for example.
Performance Check? Alpaca wool protects you from the sun, while keeping you cool.
Bonus Point: You can wear alpaca wool in a sunny, yet cold, or sunny, yet hot environment.
Learn more about this topic by reading the full article I wrote about it: Can You Wear Alpaca Wool In Summer?
Performance Claim #5: Alpaca Wool Is Breathable
So alpaca wool can keep out the sun, rain and wind, it maintains a regular temperature and you can wear it in hot and cold weather? That stuff must be clammy, then, right?! No, no, it is not. Alpaca wool is also breathable!
The hollow fiber helps alpaca wool to move air out when it gets too hot. The air gets trapped, heats up, and is then evaporated when there is excess heat. It releases the air when it gets too hot. It traps more air when it gets cold.
Every type of wool will have such air pockets, which is why most wool will share the same features to more or lesser extents. Alpaca wool has smaller air pockets than sheep's wool, which explains why alpaca can respond better to different types of weather, making it more adaptable.
Performance Check? Alpaca wool is highly breathable, does not get clammy and does not make you feel sweaty.
Bonus Point: Alpaca wool has very very very limited amounts of lanolin, which helps with the freshness of wool.
Intrigued by the breathability of alpaca wool? I wrote an entire article about this, that you can read by clicking the following link: Is Alpaca Wool Breathable?
How Long Does Alpaca Wool Last? (Quality Check!)
Did you know that an average piece of clothing is only worn 7-10 times before it is thrown out? Partially, that is because fashion-trends come-and-go so quickly these days, but also because the durability of products has just dropped.
Durability is an important aspect of quality. You can expect a high-quality product to last a little longer than a few months. However, everyone will have different expectations of a products’ lifespan when it comes to quality, and the outcome will inevitably depend on the use per wearer.
First, what should you expect from an alpaca woolen product?
Lasts “a lifetime” (without shedding, pilling, or losing its shape)
Needs little maintenance (odor-resistant, stain-resistant, and wrinkle-free)
You might have to decide for yourself whether or not alpaca wool can be categorized as a high-quality product or not. An objective argument can be made; however, for the condition of an item after years of use. So let’s see what I’ve found:
Durability Claim #1: Alpaca Wool Lasts a Lifetime (Generations, even!)
Well, here I am, 30 years old, a novice in the world of alpaca (I started Yanantin in 2018), claiming that alpaca wool lasts a lifetime. It’s not me who said that! I heard it. And I still hear it every time I participate in a market fair:
“OOOH ALPACA WOOL! I have a sweater that belonged to my grandmother!"
While the claims might be at random, there is definitely evidence that alpaca wool is incredibly strong. The animal grows its hair for a year minimally, so it is quite long before it is shorn off, resulting in tightly spun yarn that has great tensile strength.
The measuring of wool happens in staples (little bundles of hair put together), and is measured in Newtons per Kilotex. This number shows how much Newton (force) is needed in order to break the staple of alpaca wool. The staples are brought down to a uniform number in order to make the comparison with other fibers easier.
In short, I can tell you that alpaca wool uses a required minimum of 30 N/ktex - this is needed for it to run on modern machinery without breaking. On average, though, alpaca wool has been found to be of 50 N/ktex, which is quite strong.
Data sourced from Breezy Hill Farm Alpacas
The strength of the fiber is important to understand in context, unless you feel like hanging a bunch of apples on a knitted thread to see what will happen (please let me know if you do!). It shows that you can use alpaca repeatedly without being afraid of it showing wear-and-tear, like holes, deformation, or decreased quality.
Durability Check? Alpaca wool is a strong fiber that will not break easily, it will be able to resist friction, and it will not show wear-and-tear, even after wearing it intensely.
I wrote an entire article about this topic, How Strong Is Alpaca Wool?, for those of you who are interested in learning more about the strength of alpaca wool :)
Durability Claim #2: Alpaca Wool Maintains Its Quality Because It Does Not Shed (As Much)
All wool fibers (including alpaca wool) are prone to losing hair or fluff that falls out and leaves a trace. Shedding is natural for many animals, as their fleeces automatically let go of old, weak or damaged fibers. The same happens when you are wearing a woolen item: some of the hairs might break over time, or are shorter than others, and this will cause shedding.
While eventually all wool fibers can shed loose hairs, this is much less so for alpaca woolen items. The hairs of alpaca wool are generally very long and strong, which helps to keep them an integrated part of the yarn. Some fibers, like merino wool, low quality sheep wool, angora and mohair are much shorter than alpaca wool, and will therefore shed more.
Look at the list below as a reference:
Baby Alpaca: 2-4 in. (50-200 mm.)
Alpaca (Low Quality): 1.5 in. (38 mm.)
Alpaca (High Quality): 7 in. (178 mm.)
Sheep (Low Quality): 1.2 in. (30 mm.)
Sheep (High Quality): 12 in. (300 mm)
Merino Sheep: 3.5-4.5 in. (90-115 mm.)
Angora: 2.4 in. (60 mm.)
Mohair: 4 in. (101 mm.)
As you can see, the alpaca fiber is longer in length than most other wool fibers.
Durability Check? Alpaca wool does shed, but it does so to a lesser extent than other types of wool. Your garment will not lose its fluffiness due to shedding.
This section only shows the tip of the iceberg. If you are interested in reading more about shedding of alpaca woolen fibers, click the link to read the full article I wrote about this topic: Does Alpaca Wool Shed?
Durability Claim #3: Alpaca Wool Maintains Its Aesthetics Because It Does Not Pill (As Much)
While most wool actually does pill, alpaca wool does so to a lesser extent. This has (again) to do with the length of the alpaca fiber. Just like shedding, pilling occurs when there are loose, broken or brittle hairs that “break free” from the yarn. When they are rubbed together (which inevitably happens when you wear an item), they can start to form little balls.
Fuzzballs are considered an undesirable trait because they give the impression that a garment is used, worn and old. But, when there is a lot of pilling on a woolen item, it doesn’t necessarily mean it is worn out completely, it is just the sight of it that people find unattractive.
Bobbles will form naturally when an item is used, especially on parts where there is a lot of friction. Since alpaca wool is not very susceptible to pilling, you can conclude that an alpaca woolen product maintains its aesthetics for a long period of time.
Durability Check? Alpaca wool does pill, but it does so to a much lesser extent than other types of wool. An alpaca woolen garment will look like new for a long time!
Bonus Point: You can remove the fuzzballs carefully with a razor, making it look super new again :)
Want to learn more about the causes, prevention and solutions of pilling? I wrote an entire article about this topic. Click the link to read more about it: Does Alpaca Wool Pill?
Durability Claim #4: Alpaca Wool Does Not Lose Its Shape Because It Is Elastic
Alpaca wool is incredibly stretchy and elastic. It is one of the general features of wool, and alpaca wool is no exception to that. The elasticity of a wool fiber is determined by the natural crimp that you can find on a single hair. Crimp indicates the natural waviness of a fiber, and can vary per animal, and even per body part of the animal.
Elasticity is important for the wearers’ comfort: imagine a hat that is super tight and does not adapt to your head size, or a sweater that does not let you move freely. Items need to be elastic in order to be comfortable. Knitted garments are generally more elastic than woven fabrics - so this is something to keep in mind.
Besides wearers’ comfort, elasticity is also closely related to durability: an elastic product will maintain its shape because it will be able to jump back into place after being stretched out. This is called resilience (or wool memory), and shows the degree of which the wool is able to “remember” its original shape.
Alpaca wool has less memory than other wool fibers, which could potentially mean that once an item is stretched out too much, it will not entirely jump back to its original shape. This risk increases when an item is wet, as wet fibers are more elastic than dry fibers.
You can prevent wool from losing its shape by making sure you don’t let gravity get a hold of it. A wet item is best put to dry laying flat on a uniform surface. This way, you can help the wool “remember” its original shape and it won’t dry stretched out and lose its shape.
Durability Check? Alpaca wool is elastic and resilient, which helps to maintain its shape over time.
Be Careful! When alpaca wool is wet, it risks losing its original shape. Make sure to put an alpaca woolen garment to dry on a flat, even surface.
Interested in learning more about the resilience of alpaca wool? Click the link to read the full article I wrote about elasticity of alpaca wool here: Does Alpaca Wool Stretch?
Durability Claim #5: Alpaca Wool Needs Little Maintenance Because It Is Odor-Resistant
In general, items that require being washed more frequently will lose their quality over time. The spinning and tossing in the washing machine “beat up” a garment and make it more prone to pilling, felting, shedding, and other undesired traits. On top of that, items can lose their color (especially when dyed) or their shape (they can shrink or stretch, depending on the washing process).
So, before we dig into this alpaca-wool-is-durable-because-claim, we can all agree that any item that requires less washing is more durable.
Alpaca wool is known to be odor-resistant, which means that it does not easily adopt any smells. This is a great feature and helps reduce how often an item needs to be washed. Normally, when a piece of clothing starts to smell unpleasant, you would throw it in the washing machine with a dash of flowery detergent and soon it will smell like roses again…
For alpaca wool, there is no need to do this. The alpaca fiber has miniscule scales on its hairs that neatly close off the fiber. Very little air can penetrate it. In other words, when an alpaca woolen item is exposed to smelly airs (like sweat, smoke, or mold), the smell won’t get trapped into the fiber.
When a smell does get caught into a garment, airing it (either outside - away from the sun, or in the bathroom - when taking a shower) will remove any smells. Alpaca wool is highly breathable and continuously works to make the air flow without trapping it.
Durability Check? Alpaca wool has a unique fiber texture that keeps smells out. On top of that, it is highly breathable and will cleanse itself automatically when exposed to smelly airs.
Bonus Point: No need for washing, as airing will suffice.
Intrigued by this special feature of alpaca wool? There is more to learn and you can read all about it in the full article I wrote on the topic: Does Alpaca Wool Smell?
Durability Claim #6: Alpaca Wool Needs Little Maintenance Because It Is Stain-Resistant
Another way to get a garment dirty is by staining it. While the stains obviously differ per usage and per person (clumsy people, raise your hand), the scale-like alpaca fiber will be able to save itself from getting stained in most cases.
Alpaca wool has great wicking features, which means that it is capable of shaking off moisture before it gets absorbed. This again has to do with the smooth fiber texture, giving little way for liquids to penetrate the garment. When you spill something on an alpaca woolen item, immediately removing the stain under running water will often do the trick.
Keep in mind that your alpaca is not invincible from every type of stain. Obviously, it depends on the type of stain and how much liquid or dirt is being spilt, and the time it has to get absorbed. Different factors all play a huge role.
Durability Check? Alpaca wool is resistant to most stains when immediate action is taken. Little need for washing, rinsing in running water will suffice (most of the time).
On the off-chance that you do get a stain on your alpaca woolen garment, I wrote a Step by Step Guide on How To Wash Alpaca Woolen Products. Click the link to read more.
Durability Claim #7: Alpaca Wool Needs Little Maintenance Because It Is Wrinkle-Free
An item that is wrinkle-free, no matter how badly folded or jam packed your wardrobe is… Sounds like a dream, right? With alpaca wool, you might find that dream come true.
Alpaca wool does not require ironing. This has to do with the elasticity that we have discussed earlier. When a fiber is elastic, it will jump into place after being stretched out. When a fiber is not elastic, parts of it will stay in place after they have been folded, causing wrinkles to show up.
An alpaca woolen item will not show wrinkles after having been folded in a certain way for a prolonged period of time. And even when it does so, unfolding it will get rid of the wrinkles in no time. There is no need to iron alpaca wool to maintain it looking neat. There is also no need for fancy softeners or steaming devices when it comes to alpaca. It’s super easy care.
Durability Check? Alpaca wool is wrinkle-free and does not require ironing, steaming or special washing to prevent creases from happening.
Interested in learning more about how alpaca wool is naturally non-iron? I wrote a full article about the topic in which you read more about it: Is Alpaca Wool Wrinkle Free?
What Special Features Does Alpaca Wool Have? (Quality Check!)
For some people, the quality of a product depends on other factors than its functionality and/or its lifespan. There are a bazillion other features to take into consideration when assessing a product’s quality and I am going to highlight another few characteristics of alpaca wool.
First, what extras can you expect from an alpaca woolen product?
Sustainable and animal-friendly
Exclusive luxury fiber
For each person special features will be of varying importance, but they are generally important, specific and unique enough to consider when talking about the quality of alpaca woolen products.
Special Feature Claim #1: Alpaca Wool Is Soft and Does Not Prickle
For people with a sensitive skin, it is important that materials feel soft on their skin. And admittedly, everyone enjoys a product that feels soft and smooth on the body, right?
The softness of natural garments is not always a given, and even among alpaca wool there can be differences. The softness of a fiber depends on the diameter, or in other words, the micron count. Regular alpaca wool is generally between 23 and 40 microns, while royal and baby alpaca is between 18 and 23 microns.
However, even the micron-count is only half of the equation. Some fabrics can have a low micron-count but can still prickle your skin. This has to do with the fiber texture. Generally, a lower micron-count means that the fiber is smaller, which means that the fiber is finer, and thus, softer and less prickly.
Wool fibers have tiny scales on them, and while these scales are so minuscule that you can’t even see them with your bare eye, your skin can feel them. Sheep wool generally has bigger, rougher scales compared to alpaca wool (although this is different per breed, because merino is a sheep and is super soft!). So, while you might get itchy from wearing sheep wool, you don’t necessarily need to feel an itch from alpaca.
Special Feature Check? For most people, alpaca wool does not feel itchy or prickly.
Bonus Point: Sensitive skin? Try baby alpaca! Depending on the quality, it might not even prickle the most sensitive skin!
To find out more about the itch-free fiber of alpaca, check out this article I wrote about the topic by clicking on the following link: Is Alpaca Wool Itch-free?
Special Feature Claim #2: Alpaca Wool Is Sustainable and Animal Friendly
The alpaca is an animal that lives in the harsh Andean highlands of Peru, Bolivia, Ecuador, and Chili. Almost 80% of all alpacas live in Peru - the natural habitat of their origins, and a few have made the journey to the US, Australia and the UK.
Alpacas barely leave any footprint at all: literally, because their hooves have soft pillow-like cushions that prevent the grass from breaking when they roam the highlands; they carefully break off the grass that they eat with their teeth, without pulling out the roots; and alpacas contribute much less to greenhouse gas emissions compared to cattle.
The is therefore considered a sustainable animal, and its fiber is that, too. Alpaca wool is completely biodegradable, which means that it is broken down naturally when it is disposed of. The process uses very little water and no to very little chemicals, especially since the wool is not as dirty as sheep wool can be, for example.
The animals are shorn manually and only “when in season”, which means they have a full year (or more) to grow their fur. The shearing is necessary in order to prevent the hair from overgrowing. With animals living in their natural environment, and the shearing done manually, they are treated well: alpacas were considered divine animals by the old incas, and their indigenous caretakers still treat them as such!
Special Feature Check? Alpaca wool is sustainable, biodegradable, and natural. The shearing process is animal friendly and most animals live in their natural habitat and are free to graze.
This section shows a lot of information in a nutshell. I wrote two full articles about these topics. Click the following links to find out more about sustainability:
Special Feature Claim #3: Alpaca Wool Is Hypoallergenic
For those of you with a wool allergy, alpacas brings good news! Alpaca wool does not contain lanolin, and is therefore considered hypoallergenic. When something is hypoallergenic, it means that a product probably does not contain allergens.
Wool-bearing animals contain an allergen that is called lanolin, and lanolin can cause an allergic reaction. The allergic reaction can include irritated skin, a runny nose, and watery eyes. For people with an allergic reaction wearing regular wool is off the table.
Alpaca wool is different because it has a scale-like texture. While most wool-bearing animals produce lanolin to protect their fleeces from dirt and rain, alpacas don’t need this due to their scale-like structure. Alpacas have natural wicking capabilities and can live without the lanolin.
While there might still be a tiny chance that allergies or sensitivities are caused by other sources than lanolin (like the dust or mold that can be trapped in the fiber), alpaca wool is considered hypoallergenic.
Special Feature Check? Alpaca wool is hypoallergenic as it does not contain lanolin. It is generally accepted to be safe to use for people with a wool-allergy.
If you are curious to find out more about hypoallergenic products, I wrote an entire article about the ins and outs of alpaca wool. Read more by clicking on the following link: Is Alpaca Wool Hypoallergenic?
Special Feature Claim #4: Alpaca Wool Is an Exclusive Luxury Fiber
Alpaca wool is often labelled as a luxury fiber. Luxury fibers are generally considered of high quality because of their special features. For example:
Silk: renowned for its smoothness and exclusive look
Cashmere: known for its durability and softness
Camel: famous for its characteristic color and for being waterproof
Angora: special because of its lightness and fluffy look
Alpaca: a favorite because of its warmth and softness.
Another important aspect of luxury fibers is that they are exclusive. This means that there is somewhat of a limit to the availability of such fibers. There are many reasons for this, and it can either be because the animals that produce the fiber live in specific environments, because the fiber needs to grow a certain (long) time, or because the process to obtain the fiber is labor intensive.
For alpacas, the reason is because most of them live in the high Andes of Peru, they are only shorn once a year (to guarantee the quality of the fiber), and because they are shorn manually. All these factors contribute to making alpaca wool more exclusive than conventional fibers.
Special Feature Check? Alpaca wool is an exclusive luxury fiber that has a limited availability, a labor intensive production process and special features.
Interested in luxury fibers? I am going to write more about this topic in a full article. Stay tuned!
Special Feature Claim #5: Alpaca Wool Has Good Aesthetics
OK, thin ice here: aesthetics is a highly subjective feature, but there are certain features of alpaca wool that are close enough to make them facts. Alpaca wool looks aesthetically pleasing.
There are several reasons why: first of all, alpaca wool has a glossy shine to it. It has a smooth fiber that almost looks silky. This feature gives alpaca wool allure (think about silk, it would not be a luxury fiber if it weren’t for its gloss).
Alpaca wool also drapes well. This means that kind of no matter how you wear it, it will always fall into (almost) perfect shape. This is thanks to the smooth fiber as well and adds to its allure, exclusivity, and generally sophisticated look.
Special Feature Check? Alpaca wool looks shiny, glossy, and has a perfect fit.
Curious to learn more about this lustrous fiber? I wrote an entire article about it. Click the link to find out more: Is Alpaca Wool Shiny?
Alpaca wool is high quality because of its great performance, high durability, and many special features. On top of that, there are also many different ways to use alpaca wool - not only for clothing!
Read more about the awesome things you can use alpaca wool for in another article I wrote: 23 Things Alpaca Wool Can Be Used For.