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Leon's Blog

Wonderful wool | Check out the reader feedback!

Wonderful wool | Check out the reader feedback!

Judging from the reader response, there are a lot of wool enthusiasts/fans out there! Here are some of the comments we recently got after publication of “Five reasons to get a wool pullover sweater for wilderness survival.”

he C.T. Fisher Nessmuk knife comes shaving-sharp with a quality sheath.

The C.T. Fisher Nessmuk knife comes shaving-sharp with a quality sheath.

Christopher Fischer of C.T. Fischer Knives lives in the beautiful little village of Elk City, Idaho,  in the Nez Pierce National Forest many miles from the next nearest town. He is a very proficient outdoorsman, and makes incredible knives out of sawmill blades. I own three, including a Nessmuk and a bushcraft.

Here’s Christopher’s take on wool clothing:

“Yes, Wool is king among clothing materials for the out-of-doors. Water repellent, fire-retardant, it handles water vapor (sweat) very effectively, to keep the skin functioning healthfully, while dissipating heat. It stores heat chemically as it dries, and then releases that heat when getting wet, to help stay dry (and warm) longer.
“The fact that it give a wider comfort-range, means that we do not have to be adding and removing layers nearly as often as with synthetics. While synthetics have their place, and can be lifesaving, they just don’t touch the performance of wool for comfort in heat, cold, and wet.
“To avoid heat exhaustion and heat stroke, wear a thin layer of wool over the whole body. To avoid hypothermia, wear more wool over the whole body. An outer layer of wool makes the best rain-gear for moderate precipitation. Soft wool jersey (lamb’s wool, camel down, etc.) makes excellent underwear.
“Three basic factors contribute to itchiness:

  • Coarse, short fibers, such as are found in carpets, some blankets, and re-milled or shoddy wool;
  • Chemicals used by the manufacturer to dissolve vegetable material in the fleece.
  • Methods of laundering that leave the wool stripped of all oil. Solve this by using a fat/lye-based soap, instead of detergent, and then put a little vinegar in the last rinse water. This usually leaves the wool fairly well lubricated.

“Best wishes to the shepherd and the sheep! (And the wool-processors, too!)”

Karla spinning wool from the comb, carding the wool as she goes.

Karla spinning wool from the comb, carding the wool as she goes.

Karla Pantenburg Moore is my kid sister, and knows more about homesteading and fiber processing than just about anybody. She cards, spins and knits wool and creates incredible wool products. She also makes aartisan hand soap and has taught soapmaking for the Iowa State University Extension Service 

Here’s her comments about wool garments:

“Make sure it is real wool and not some acrylic blend. Real wool is insulating, breathes and will shed off moisture. The rest (acrylic or cotton) absorb moisture, do not wick moisture away from the skin and end up like a wet rag.”

From Kim:

“Wool makes me itch like crazy. What do you think about silk for long underwear and sock liners (if there is such a thing). Also how difficult is it to find such things for women?”

From Amy:

“Wool doesn’t itch if it is processed properly. Silk is actually very unhealthy for the body. It’s from an unclean animal and registers as very draining to the body. See this study.

“Linen and wool are the only items people should make clothing out of. Maybe organic cotton or perhaps hemp, but I don’t know readings for hemp and organic cotton is only neutral to the body so it has no healing benefits.

From Left Coast Chuck:

“Natural fibers will burn but not melt. Artificial fibers will melt and stick to your skin, making a burn worse. Consider natural fiber, especially wool if you are in a situation where fire is an issue. The ignition point of wool and cotton is higher than the melt point of most artificial fibers used in clothing.

“While some artificial fibers have better heat retention properties than natural fibers, the flammability/melting issue should always be considered when fire is going to be present. Cotton may be treated with fire retardant but I believe the cancer issue has not been fully resolved with the use of fire retardants on cotton garments. Generally speaking, cotton will ignite and burn quicker than wool.

“Silk is a good non-allergenic underlayer and is cool in the summer and warm in the winter. Winter Silk is a good website for silk garments including underwear. No financial interest in the company, have purchased products from them in the past and was a satisfied customer.”

From Philip C:

“Leon: I want to thank you for your timely suggestion regarding wearing wool dress slacks for practical winter wear. Here in Minnesota where temperatures have been ranging from the minus teens to the mid 20’s so far this winter, I find I’ve been far more comfortable wearing a pair of wool slacks I picked up at my local thrift store than any other time of my life. I no longer use long underwear, except during severely cold days.

“Always one to prefer natural fibers over synthetics when possible, these last few years I’ve become a grand lover of my knit silk, or merino wool base layers over my previous duo-fold long johns which did nothing but make me excessively hot, and the cold! I have a couple of pairs of Patagonia base layers I got super cheap at a thrift store, but since discovering and committing to this pair of wool trousers, I only change out of them to launder them as necessary.”

From Linda:

     “I too have a second-hand wool sweater and would not trade it for the world. I wear it in early spring when I first start gardening.”

From PeteM:

“I agree, wool is a great material for wet or dry environments. I have two favorite sweaters… A pull over and a high collared zip up with hand warmer pockets. Love woos socks, gloves, and hats for cold weather too. Looked onto a wool hoodie but the hood closes off peripheral vision and dampens sound too much for my use.”

From John in Alaska:

“I live in wet Southeast Alaska. After washing I like to spray my wools with a good soaking of lanolin to enhance to shedding of rain.”

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Leon's Blog

Leon Pantenburg is a wilderness enthusiast, and doesn't claim to be a survival expert or expertise as a survivalist. As a newspaperman and journalist for three decades, covering search and rescue, sheriff's departments, floods, forest fires and other natural disasters and outdoor emergencies, Leon learned many people died unnecessarily or escaped miraculously from outdoor emergency situations when simple, common sense might have changed the outcome. Leon now teaches common sense techniques to the average person in order to avert potential disasters. His emphasis is on tried and tested, simple techniques of wilderness survival. Every technique, piece of equipment or skill recommended on this website has been thoroughly tested and researched. After graduating from Iowa State University, Leon completed a six-month, 2,552-mile solo Mississippi River canoe trip from the headwaters at Lake Itasca, Minn., to the Gulf of Mexico. His wilderness backpacking experience includes extended solos through Yellowstone’s backcountry; hiking the John Muir Trail in California, and numerous shorter trips along the Pacific Crest Trail. Other mountain backpacking trips include hikes through the Uintas in Utah; the Beartooths in Montana; the Sawtooths in Idaho; the Pryors, the Wind River Range, Tetons and Bighorns in Wyoming; Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado, the Catskills in New York and Death Valley National Monument in southern California. Some of Leon's canoe trips include sojourns through the Okefenokee Swamp and National Wildlife Refuge in Georgia, the Big Black River swamp in Mississippi and the Boundary Waters canoe area in northern Minnesota and numerous small river trips in the Midwest and Pacific Northwest. Leon is also an avid fisherman and an elk, deer, upland game and waterfowl hunter. Since 1991, Leon has been an assistant scoutmaster with Boy Scout Troop 18 in Bend, and is a scoutmaster wilderness skills trainer for the Boy Scouts’ Fremont District. Leon earned a second degree black belt in Taekwondo, and competed in his last tournament (sparring and form) at age 49. He is an enthusiastic Bluegrass mandolin picker and fiddler and two-time finalist in the International Dutch Oven Society’s World Championships.

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