The Warmest Socks, Gloves, Hats, Scarves, Base Layers, Mid-Layers and Blankets

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I’ve been researching the warmest animal fiber products available (click here to jump straight to the product list). During my research, the Fleece & Fiber Sourcebook was very helpful. I’ve compiled a short list of the warmest fibers:

Qiviut (Musk Ox Down)

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Qiviut (pronounced “kiv-ee-ute”) is the name for the downy hair of the musk ox. It is the warmest fiber in the world — about eight times as warm as sheep’s wool. Musk oxen live in Alaska and Canada where temperatures sometimes drop to –100ºF (-73ºC), so they need protection. Qiviut is very soft and lightweight, and it’s very expensive — a qiviut scarf will cost about $300. But it may be worth it. Deborah Robson, author of the Fleece & Fiber Sourcebook, says:

From experience wearing it in the bitter cold, I know it is almost unbelievably warm: An ethereal lace scarf knitted from qiviut creates a sense of comfort and safety when the first thought on leaving the house is “frostbite”.

Musk oxen shed their down each spring. The qiviut is plucked from the coat of the musk ox during the molt or gathered from objects the animals have brushed against. Unlike sheep, the animals are not sheared. Most qiviut comes from Canada, and it is obtained from the pelts of musk oxen after hunts. In Alaska, qiviut is obtained from farmed animals or gathered from the wild during the molt.

Yak Down

A Yak

Similar to Qiviut, Yak down is a very warm, lightweight and soft fiber. Yaks are primarily raised by nomadic Tibetan and Mongolian families. Their wool is combed once per year in the springtime. According to Kora, a yak performance wear company, yak fabric is 40% warmer merino wool. It has 66% greater air permeability and 17% greater water vapor permeability (tested with ASTM D1518, ASTM D737, ASTM E96).

Bison (Buffalo) Down

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Bison down is harvested from buffalo in Colorado and South Dakota, as a by-product of the bison meat industry. Buffalo down is a very warm, insulating fiber that is warmer and more comfortable to wear than sheep’s wool. It is also unusually durable for such a soft fiber. It has a moisture regain of about 30%, compared to 18% for wool — this means that even when saturated, the fiber draws moisture away from one’s skin.

There is only a limited amount of fiber available – estimated at 10,000 pounds per year versus 2,100,000,000 pounds of sheep wool.

 

Alpaca Wool

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Alpaca wool is about three times as warm as sheep’s wool. Alpaca is soft as cashmere but stronger and less costly, more durable than merino, warmer than wool, fine, lightweight and lustrous It is durable, not prickly, and bears no lanolin, which makes it hypoallergenic. Alpacas are kept in herds that graze on the level heights of the Andes of southern Peru, northern Bolivia, Ecuador, and northern Chile.

Other Wools

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Other warm (and very soft) wools include angora, cashmere, vicuna and guanaco.

Durability and Fineness

In terms of durability, bison is in most cases the strongest, followed by qiviut and yak down, followed by alpaca and then merino.

In terms of fineness, any fiber that has a diameter of 20 µ (microns) or less will feel very soft to the touch. In the alpaca world, the labelled “royal” alpaca should indicate fibers under 19 µ, “baby” alpaca should indicate fibers that are around 22.5µ and “superfine” alpaca is 26µ. There’s also an International Alpaca Mark that indicates the fiber is less than 28 µ. In the merino world, look for wool labeled “ultrafine” (around 15-17 µ) or “superfine” (about 24 µ).

Here’s a list of fibers from finest to coarsest (in microns): Suri Alpaca (10 -15 µ), Qiviut (11-13 µ), Yak (15 – 19 µ), Huacava Alpaca (15 – 29 µ), Cashmere (15 – 18.5 µ), Ultrafine Merino (17 µ), Bison (18.5 µ), Superfine Merino (24 µ), Standard Wool (30 – 32 µ), Human Hair (60 – 80 µ).

Based on this criteria, these are the warmest woolens I could find:

Warmest Socks

Warmest Gloves

Warmest Hats

Warmest Scarves

Warmest Base Layers (Top)

Warmest Base Layer (Bottom)

Warmest Sweaters

Warmest Throw Blankets

Warmest Blankets