ALPACA VS MERINO VS CASHMERE

Published Nov 27, 2018 | Updated August 11, 2020

WHICH IS THE BEST WOOL :
ALPACA, MERINO OR CASHMERE?

These three types of wool are all famous in the clothing industry for being soft and non itchy. Cashmere and Alpaca have long been used in luxury clothing, while merino relatively recently became the fiber of choice for many outdoorsy folk. So what's the difference between alpaca, merino wool and cashmere, and why are they used for such different things?  In a nutshell:

  • MERINO is among the finest types of wool, known for its great advantages for keeping the wearer warm and dry. 
  • CASHMERE is desirable because of its softness and feel, meaning excellent warmth, comfort and breathability to the user. 
  • ALPACA'S unique and marvelous molecular composition combines the advantages of Merino and Cashmere, leading to distinct advantages in outdoor performance, while maintaining luxurious comfort. 
Close up of alpaca face

Alpaca vs Cashmere vs Merino: the Showdown

ROYAL ALPACACASHMEREMERINO
LIGHTEST
WeightLightestLightHeavier
Fiber StructureSemi-HollowSolidSolid
WARMEST
Thermal Capacity5 x Warmer3 x WarmerWarm
Water RetentionAbsorbs 10% of weightShrinks in waterAbsorbs 10% of weight
UV ProtectionYesYesYes
SOFTEST
Fiber ScalesSmoothestSoftestPrickly
Microns (average)181418
STRONGEST
Tensile StrengthHighestWeakHigh
Odor ResistantYesYesYes
Wrinkle ResistantYesYesYes
Single OriginYes - PERUNoNo
Hypoallergenic
(Lanolin free)
YesYesNo

ALPACA WOOL

The amazing benefits of Alpaca wool 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 shifts from sub-zero temperatures at night to high solar radiation during the day. Because of this, alpacas  adapted naturally in the following ways:

  • Microscopic pockets formed in the core of fibers, allowing alpaca fleece to be light, yet be warmer than merino. 
  • The smoother scales on the alpaca fibers stay soft while wicking moisture away from the skin, whether that's rain or sweat.

These traits allow the Alpaca to thrive to this day, bringing us the highest performing Mid Layer and also make our alpaca socks warmer than wool.

Hands parting an alpaca fleece on the animal

Alpaca Fleece

Hands parting a merino fleece on the animal

Merino Fleece

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 merinos – 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

CASHMERE

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. 

Alpaca wool is warmer, lighter, softer and stronger than merino wool

After looking at all these aspects, it seems obvious that cashmere doesn't have the right properties to be used in outdoor gear. But in the alpaca vs merino debate, we feel like alpaca is a clear winner!

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