Is Alpaca Itchy? Is Alpaca Warm?
Published Oct 08, 2019 | Updated August 25, 2020
Alpaca wool isn’t a new fiber, having been used in the Andes for centuries (or more!) and by the fashion industry for a long time. Alpaca has a reputation as a luxury wool – rivalling cashmere – for high end street wear, but it is new in the outdoor industry. In this article, we answer key questions about the warmth and itchiness of alpaca wool. We also compare alpaca to merino wool, often the fiber of choice for travel, outdoor activies and adventure sports.
Is Alpaca Wool Itchy?
In a nutshell: no, Royal Alpaca wool is not itchy.
There are there factors that determine how itchy a wool fiber will feel against the skin and these are discussed in detail here, but they are summarized below:
- LANOLIN CONTENT
Lanolin is an allergen for some people and is naturally present in large quantities sheep’s wool.
- SMOOTHNESS OF THE FIBER
Wool fibers have microscopic scales which protrude from the surface of the fiber, creating a prickly feeling. The smaller and flatter the scales, the smoother the fiber.
- DIAMETER OF THE FIBER
Coarse wool fibers feel scratchy against the skin, while very fine ones (21 microns or less) feel much softer.
Alpacas produce very tiny amounts of lanolin (sometimes none at all), so many consider alpaca wool hypoallergenic.
The scales on alpaca fibers are smaller and sit quite flat against the surface, meaning alpaca wool doesn't cause a prickly sensation.
Within an alpaca fleece, there are fibers of many different diameters, but royal and baby alpaca wool are the finest categories, with diameters of less than 21 microns (18.5 microns or less for royal alpaca). Garments made from baby or royal alpaca wool feel so soft against the skin and are very unlikely to feel itchy.
Is Alpaca Wool Warm?
Bottom line: YES! Alpaca wool is very warm!
Wool fibers work so well as insulators as they are not straight, but instead have slight wave (know technically as the “crimp”), along their length. The waviness of the fibers traps tiny pockets of air between the fibers in a weave; these air pockets are heated by your body and stay warm. Additionally, the internal structure of wool can have an impact on warmth. In most wool fibers, the filaments are packed together, making them appear to have a solid cross-section under the microscope. Fibers that have less dense areas running down the center, so they can be considered “semi-hollow”, not only trap air in between them, but the “hollow” areas heat up too!
Guess what? Merino wool has solid fibers and alpaca wool has semi-hollow fibers.
Alpaca wool is naturally temperature regulated because of the crimp and semi-hollow core. Alpaca wool clothing traps the heat produced by your body, both inside and in between the fibers. For this reason, if you leave an alpaca base layer hanging outside, at first touch it feels cool, because the air trapped in the fiber is cool. However, once you put your alpaca base layer on, it warms up very quickly to protect you from the cold. But more than that, our thinner layers can prevent you overheating in warm weather!
ALPACA VS MERINO
Is Alpaca Warmer than Sheep's Wool?
YES, alpaca wool is warmer than sheep’s wools, including merino.
We are not trying to say that say merino wool is not warm, because it certainly is! Merino works as a great insulator even when it’s wet. But the difference is in the internal structure of the fibers: Alpaca fibers have those “semi-hollow” cores mentioned above, while merino relies only on the crimp of the fibers to trap warm air. This difference also means merino wool is heavier than alpaca wool.
Is Alpaca Less Itchy Than Sheep's Wool?
Yes, by nature, Alpaca is less itchy than sheep’s wool.
Sheep’s wool has very prominent scales and is coated in lanolin. Further – discounting merino – sheep’s wool fibers tend to be on the coarser end of the spectrum. All this leads to that characteristic wooly jumper itch. However, merino wool used in outdoor clothing tends to be very fine (around 19-20 microns in diameter) and has usually been treated to remove the lanolin and fiber scales, so it feels much softer and less itchy than other types of sheep’s wool. But alpaca wool doesn’t need any special treatment: it’s naturally super soft and even less itchy.