I was going to write a detailed and thought provoking piece on wool but then I reread Andy's blog on the same subject and...well it is way better than I would have written :)
So read this instead:
But I have to add my 2 cents of course. I have been thinking lately about an early ice climb. My first time out in -40 temps dressed almost all in wool. My classic "nipple head" picture from 1973 on the top of Cascade in Banff.
Wool made up the first soft shells. Garments that kept you warm when wet, shed some light rain and stretched as required with any activity.
The great alpinist Herman Buhl in a early "soft shell", the boiled wool of the first Dachstein sweaters.
Although we were in a head long rush in the '70s to change into pile clothing and poly pro underwear wool always had a place. The best generally merino wool or even a merino/silk blend. But that niche was never as well filled as it is now with exceptional garments.
Some of the best and most useful merino wool garments I own were bought recently on sale at Men's Warehouse. Sweaters that I would like to wear 24/7 but would rather not wear them totally out so quickly. Light weight, full and half zip fronts and mock turtle neck collars. All basic black of course. Sweaters I wear to dinner and then can use them on a fast hike or a alpine climb the next day.
I found another company with very high quality goods and a even better price point.
I have used wool in some fashion for almost every quick ascent I have done.
Wool merino Jersey sweater, Alpaca wool hat and wool/cotton gloves from Edith Cavell in 1980.
If you haven't used anything wool in a while or ever tried wool the 33 Below folks are worth looking at. It is good stuff and the price is more than fair in comparison to the Smartwool prices you'll find at REI, Icebreaker or Ibex for equal or better quality @ 33 Below.
Start with just one light weight item and see what you think. Or spoil yourself with a zip front sweater or Hoody. Nice that you won't smell like something died inside your shirt 2 hrs. after putting it on as well :) If there was a new wonder fabric out there I would be telling you about it. The newest merino wool garments are much more than you might first expect and well worth a 2nd look.
Merino wool sweater as my only insulation on a Cascade winter summit, Feb. 6, 2010.
The German-Austrian expedition in the best kit of the day on NangaParbat, 1934.