Alpaca Wool vs Merino vs Cashmere:
Which Is The Best?

Published Nov 27, 2018 | Updated December 14, 2021

Alpaca, merino and cashmere are three different types of wool. We compared all of them and we found out that alpaca wool is the best fiber in all aspects. Let's discover why!

What is the difference between alpaca, merino and cashmere?

MERINO is a highly functional and technical and durable fiber from sheep, mostly used in outdoor clothing.

Merino sheep on pasture being raised for merino wool

CASHMERE is goat wool and is one of the softest and warmest types of wool, but is not durable. It's used in luxurious clothing.

Cashmere goat raised for cashmere wool

ALPACA combines the benefits of merino and cashmere. It's highly functional, warm and durable, which is why it's used in luxurious clothing, as well as outdoor clothing.

Alpacas raised in the Peruvian Andes for wool

What Makes Alpaca Wool A Superior Fiber?

The amazing benefits of alpaca are derived from their millennia-long breeding in the high altitudes of the Andes Mountains. This environment called for a fiber that could handle drastic temperature shifts from sub-zero at night to high solar radiation during the day.

Because of this, alpacas adapted naturally and developed:

  • Microscopic pockets formed in the core of fibers, allowing alpaca fleece to be light, yet be warmer than merino. 
  • Smoother fiber scales, which create softness while wicking moisture away from the skin.

The two best types of wool from alpacas are Royal Alpaca and Baby Alpaca.

These traits allow the Alpaca to thrive to this day, allowing us to make collections based on different weights for summer, winter and all year round. 

At Arms of Andes we make our gear from 100% Royal Alpaca Wool of 18-18.5 microns.

What Are The Benefits of Merino Wool?

Merino sheep were originally bred in Spain and were later introduced to Australia, New Zealand, the US and other countries. Considering that Spain and Australia have relatively mild climates, these sheep do not have to endure a harsh winter.

This means their wool fibers are considered finer and softer than other sheep, which can cause their wool to be less durable than other merino sheep bred in harsher climates (such as the Southern Alps of New Zealand).

Regardless of the origin of the animal, all sheep (including merino) produce a wax called Lanolin. This wax protects the sheep’s wool and skin from the rain; but it can cause an itchy, allergic reaction in people. The finer the merino wool, the more the lanolin the sheep produces to protect itself. Read more about the comparison between alpaca and merino wool here.

microscopic photos of fibers - Alpaca vs Cashmere vs Merino

What Makes Cashmere A Luxurious Fiber?

Cashmere derives from a species of goat originally found in Mongolia.  It is very warm and soft to the touch and is generally considered a non-itchy fiber as the goats don't produce lanolin. However, cashmere is not used for active gear, because its fibers are too soft, so they break easily. Cashmere is not a very durable fiber, so is unsuitable for outdoor adventures like trail running, rock climbing or intense hiking. It is mostly used to make elegant cashmere sweaters and scarfs.

Alpaca vs Cashmere vs Merino: The Showdown

Fiber StructureSemi-HollowSolidSolid
Thermal Capacity5 x Warmer3 x WarmerWarm
Water RetentionAbsorbs 10% of weightShrinks in waterAbsorbs 10% of weight
UV ProtectionYesYesYes
Fiber ScalesSmoothestSoftestPrickly
Microns (average)181418
Tensile StrengthHighestWeakHigh
Odor ResistanceYesYesYes
Wrinkle ResistanceYesYesYes
Hypoallergenic (Lanolin free)YesYesNo
Comparison of technical benefits of cashmere, alpaca and merino wool

What Is The Final Verdict?

After reviewing alpaca wool, merino and cashmere, it is apparent that cashmere is not durable enough to be used in outdoor gear, however, it serves its purpose as luxurious clothing used for special occasions. In the alpaca vs merino debate, alpaca is a clear winner! Wool from alpacas is warmer, lighter, softer and stronger than merino wool

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