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Author Topic: Does Wool Keep You Warm When Wet?  (Read 15746 times)

Offline brianw

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Does Wool Keep You Warm When Wet?
« on: February 10, 2013, 10:29:37 am »
That is the old adage when it comes to wool.  It still insulates when it is wet.

I came across the following an article that details an experiment that tests this assertion out.  The results are interesting to say the least.

http://woodtrekker.blogspot.ca/2012/03/does-wool-keep-you-warm-when-wet.html

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Offline Snowwalker

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Re: Does Wool Keep You Warm When Wet?
« Reply #1 on: February 10, 2013, 11:05:35 am »
It's obvious that staying dry is key.  I think everyone knows that.

As far as wool keeping you warm when wet I think it does.  I have not found any other material that insulates better when wet. 

This guy needs to do an experiment comparing wool with other materials for his experiment to mean anything to me.  I know from experience that wool does keep me warmer when wet.  Sure it is heavier when wet and wearing the proper layers underneath is key. 

There is a reason wool has been used for so long and still is today.  I wonder if there have been any other experiments on this or if after all these centuries his is the only one.

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Offline HOOP

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Re: Does Wool Keep You Warm When Wet?
« Reply #2 on: February 10, 2013, 11:37:17 am »
Good topic!  Its good that people are trying to do experiments to test assumptions.  That's science, and that's good.  I don't believe in "belief", and hypotheses must be tested to advance knowledge.

However the test he did IMO is not replicating what would happen in the bush.  He used soaked wool.  In the bush, the first thing you do if fully soaked in wool clothing, is to take it off and wring it out.  By wringing it out you remove much of the water, create micro air spaces, and increase loft. 

The numbers I have seen reported (anecdotally, not in a scientific paper, so subject to testing for verifying), is that wool will insulate when holding up to approx 30% of its weight in water.  What that translates to in my mind is that it can handle some drizzle, or a short light rain or melting snow, and some perspiration, and still insulate.  Its not saying it can be fully soaked and still insulate. 

If you can wring water out of wool clothing, then it was too wet and water will be conducting heat from your body.   If you can wring it out to the extent that no more water comes from the wool, then it will have a marginal insulating ability, which will improve as soon as your body heat starts to push the moisture out (but you need to generate lots of body heat) and dry it further.  Sit close by a big fire and the moisture will steam out.

Because I cannot wear wool next to my skin, I use the modern polyester long underwear and fleece against my skin.  This unlike wool is hydrophobic, and the heat gradient will quickly transport moisture from my ski out into the wool.  Wool is hydrophilic and so will hold moisture.  It will keep getting wetter unless it evaporates/sublimates from the outside, and is pushed out by the heat gradient. 

When its cold, my outer wool will load up with frost, but it sublimates out because of sun, wind, and the heat coming from inside pushing the moisture out.  But the wool retains a base load of moisture that does not seem to be a problem.  The "magic" of a good wool garment is that it seems to balance beautifully for the movement of moisture through and out, and even when it gets covers in snow, it  seems to do quite well and still breathe.
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Offline Tomd

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Re: Does Wool Keep You Warm When Wet?
« Reply #3 on: February 10, 2013, 09:17:01 pm »
In my limited experience, the answer is yes, under the following conditions - temperature in the 40'sF, heavy wool socks totally soaked while wading across streams with my leather boots on, taking them off on the other side, wringing out the socks, then putting the socks and boots back on and continuing to hike. After about 20 minutes, the socks seemed to be fairly dry, as I recall.

I've also seen people wearing heavy wool anoraks (Swanndri Mosgiel bush shirt) in wet weather and not complaining about being cold, but I'm not sure how wet the anoraks got so no definitive answer on that.

I think a better test would be one using test equipment similar that used for the EIN test for sleeping bag ratings.

Here is an interesting story about wool and its insulating properties-
http://adventure.howstuffworks.com/outdoor-activities/hiking/wool-when-wet.htm

There are other forums where this question has been asked and answered, but the answers are not from experts for the most part, so I wouldn't take them as reliable.
« Last Edit: February 10, 2013, 09:32:31 pm by Tomd »

Offline mbiraman

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Re: Does Wool Keep You Warm When Wet?
« Reply #4 on: February 10, 2013, 10:22:26 pm »
Good topic!  Its good that people are trying to do experiments to test assumptions.  That's science, and that's good.  I don't believe in "belief", and hypotheses must be tested to advance knowledge.

However the test he did IMO is not replicating what would happen in the bush.  He used soaked wool.  In the bush, the first thing you do if fully soaked in wool clothing, is to take it off and wring it out.  By wringing it out you remove much of the water, create micro air spaces, and increase loft. 

The numbers I have seen reported (anecdotally, not in a scientific paper, so subject to testing for verifying), is that wool will insulate when holding up to approx 30% of its weight in water.  What that translates to in my mind is that it can handle some drizzle, or a short light rain or melting snow, and some perspiration, and still insulate.  Its not saying it can be fully soaked and still insulate. 

If you can wring water out of wool clothing, then it was too wet and water will be conducting heat from your body.   If you can wring it out to the extent that no more water comes from the wool, then it will have a marginal insulating ability, which will improve as soon as your body heat starts to push the moisture out (but you need to generate lots of body heat) and dry it further.  Sit close by a big fire and the moisture will steam out.

Because I cannot wear wool next to my skin, I use the modern polyester long underwear and fleece against my skin.  This unlike wool is hydrophobic, and the heat gradient will quickly transport moisture from my ski out into the wool.  Wool is hydrophilic and so will hold moisture.  It will keep getting wetter unless it evaporates/sublimates from the outside, and is pushed out by the heat gradient. 

When its cold, my outer wool will load up with frost, but it sublimates out because of sun, wind, and the heat coming from inside pushing the moisture out.  But the wool retains a base load of moisture that does not seem to be a problem.  The "magic" of a good wool garment is that it seems to balance beautifully for the movement of moisture through and out, and even when it gets covers in snow, it  seems to do quite well and still breathe.

 I agree with Hoop here. Its not a valid test.
When i first read this article i thought great, "another  experiment with inanimate objects in a controlled space to represent what happens to people in real life situations". And you call this science???. Where does people's common sense go. In the late seventies to the early nineties i worked in the forest industry in BC. My , and others, preferred clothing for drizzle conditions was wool. We worked outside all day long in the mnts, on the west coast, in March, in spring and fall, didn't matter. When we would stop for a break the steam would be pouring off of us. If its snowing or windy or pouring rain you need a slicker over top but leave it open. We just experimented to see what worked for us. We layered and changed it up during the day if needed.  Most of the so called testing these days on products is about selling people something or the idea of something. It still comes down to what works for you or people who you trust in their experience enough to give a product a try. Wet clothing of any kind doesn't keep a person warm. If your generating heat that's a different story.
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Offline crustysnow

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Re: Does Wool Keep You Warm When Wet?
« Reply #5 on: February 11, 2013, 01:48:29 am »
Not surprised, the water soaked wool cooled the hot water.  I think part of the 'old adage' was left out in it's popularily repeated form - wool will keep you warmer than other material when wet.  I read something a while ago, past year, where this was tested with wool and a few other synthetics.  The bottom line was, you will get cold in all the materials tested when wet, but wool retains more of it's ability to keep you warm = it will keep you warmer than the materials.
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Re: Does Wool Keep You Warm When Wet?
« Reply #6 on: February 11, 2013, 09:19:58 am »
Not surprised, the water soaked wool cooled the hot water.  I think part of the 'old adage' was left out in it's popularily repeated form - wool will keep you warmer than other material when wet.  I read something a while ago, past year, where this was tested with wool and a few other synthetics.  The bottom line was, you will get cold in all the materials tested when wet, but wool retains more of it's ability to keep you warm = it will keep you warmer than the materials.
crusty

But the experimental results suggest that wet wool, even after draining, is less effective than no insulation at all. So while damp wool might be better than damp cotton, say, it is not better than nothing at all.

I am not necessarily supporting this claim, but that is what the results of the experiment suggest. I think if the garment was thoroughly squeezed out, it might possibly be better than nothing. And it will regain its insulative properties as it dries. But, that very drying process is endothermic and sucks heat out of your body. So I agree with the conclusion that it is far better to keep garments dry and change out of them when they get wet, if possible.

Kinguq.

Offline Grizzly Adam

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Re: Does Wool Keep You Warm When Wet?
« Reply #7 on: February 11, 2013, 10:47:39 am »
I see a few flaws here 1 the test was with a constant that was already loosing heat not producing heat .
2 not being able to produce heat could represent sedentary activity ,however if this were true we would freeze in our bags sleeping, so the human body even sedentary produces heat.
3 yes water acts like a conductor draining heat 25X faster than air we all know this, so keeping dry is the key.
 Now the fella doing the test has he used wool in real world bush life, if so he would know how it is to be used and maintained, to me he seems to be trying to disprove the centuries of real world exposure to the elements with a cup of warm tea LOL.

Now here is a real world example on our last trip Thebushnut unfortunately got a hip soaker on one leg 2 KM from camp at -20C windchill unknown. he was soaked right through due to being stuck in the marsh with his snowshoe the other guys helped him out so there was ample time for the water to absorb into all layers. He simply picked up the pace back to camp and the outer layer was froze solid pants and mucks, when he changed out surprisingly he was just as warm to the touch as the other extremities were. He showed no sings of early hypothermia and said that after he started moving once UN stuck warmed up quickly , there was no frostbite and no after chills were observed.

So I personally would not put to much stock in this guy's experiment I think it is good that people are doing this kind of thing but need to keep it real . If you are "dumb"enough to get soaked and stay wet in the woods well that is the gene pool at work and as Cody Lundin says best they not breed LOL Natural selection cheers Grizz.

Offline Bothwell Voyageur

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Re: Does Wool Keep You Warm When Wet?
« Reply #8 on: February 11, 2013, 12:40:31 pm »
Considering the millions spent by clothing researchers trying to understand what happens in real world scenarios it is not surprising that everyone is picking holes in his results. Did anybody spot that his test was conducted at around boiling point? I wonder why he didn't use body temperature?

In the tests I have seen the object( usually a human analogue) is kept warm with an electrical heater and the amount of energy used to maintain warmth is measured, so much closer to what happens to a real person up to the point when the body can no longer supply enough heat and then the dip toward hypothermia begins.

A big factor that is missing in the experiment is the importance of moving air- wind. Would his no-insulation result have been the same if the air was moving? Although air is a good insulator it is only still air that works this way and the main reason that a thermarest is warmer than a hollow air mattresses.

When get wet we can limit this by either putting on a windproof, but not waterproof, shell over our wet wool or using shelter. This speeds up our ability to warm any remaining water up and helps us push the water out through the clothing system. By adding water he was trying to stop the cap drying out but was also displacing any water warmed by the "body" with cooler water!

Good try but needs more thought!

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Offline Ron

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Re: Does Wool Keep You Warm When Wet?
« Reply #9 on: February 12, 2013, 01:34:02 am »
I spent a good deal debating with the person in question. I too think his experiment, even though I welcome the thought of someone finding out instead of hearing, is flawed. Many of the reasons already given here. Mr. G. shows quit a strong liking for modern materials over the traditional ones and that might have coloured this experiment too.
As I said I think it is great that someone will try for himself instead of just taking what is told, but you can not deny the experiences from hordes of people over many years. I just think it is false, and might even be dangerous, to present ones findings as a "scientific fact".
« Last Edit: February 12, 2013, 01:36:39 am by Ron »
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Offline Grizzly Adam

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Re: Does Wool Keep You Warm When Wet?
« Reply #10 on: February 12, 2013, 09:48:41 am »
Very true Ron here is a test for him, we northern folk will invite him up to northern Canada for a experiment with his Modern gear and see how we get on LOL nothing wrong with experimenting , but your right you just discount all the real world facts of our ancestors living day in day out in those type of environments. Hell if it did not work for them we would not exist LOL and I cannot believe that they were into daily suffering  Wool just Works when used right RIGHT. cheers Grizz.

Offline Snowwalker

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Re: Does Wool Keep You Warm When Wet?
« Reply #11 on: February 12, 2013, 05:34:18 pm »
Very true Ron here is a test for him, we northern folk will invite him up to northern Canada for a experiment with his Modern gear and see how we get on LOL nothing wrong with experimenting , but your right you just discount all the real world facts of our ancestors living day in day out in those type of environments. Hell if it did not work for them we would not exist LOL and I cannot believe that they were into daily suffering  Wool just Works when used right RIGHT. cheers Grizz.

I agree...let's get the parameters set up so we can move on this and invite him.
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Re: Does Wool Keep You Warm When Wet?
« Reply #12 on: February 12, 2013, 06:07:45 pm »
Very true Ron here is a test for him, we northern folk will invite him up to northern Canada for a experiment with his Modern gear and see how we get on LOL nothing wrong with experimenting , but your right you just discount all the real world facts of our ancestors living day in day out in those type of environments. Hell if it did not work for them we would not exist LOL and I cannot believe that they were into daily suffering  Wool just Works when used right RIGHT. cheers Grizz.

I don't agree at all.

Look, this guy did a simple experiment, not bad for an amateur. However it means basically nothing because there was no replication. We don't know if the variation between treatments exceeds that of the variation within treatments, because each treatment was done only once. In other words, the next time he does a run with dry wool, he might get quite different results, we just don't know.

However I applaud his efforts. I think it is great that he questions "accepted wisdom". And I don't accept that what amount to anecdotes should supersede good experimental results. The fact is that our ancestors did not have access to polarfleece, nylon or any other more modern fabrics. So they may very well be superior in some respects to wool.  The only way to find out is to do properly designed experiments.

There is a whole literature on textile and clothing research. A good place to start is here, which is a good description of some of the qualities of wool. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wool_insulation . There are lots of other sites that describe comparisons of various fabrics. Google if interested.

Personally I prefer polar fleece in almost every respect- better insulator per unit weight, absorbs almost no water, no itching. However I have recently become concerned about the environmental effects of fleece fibres, and so am having a look at other alternatives.

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Offline Snowwalker

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Re: Does Wool Keep You Warm When Wet?
« Reply #13 on: February 12, 2013, 06:34:27 pm »
Everyone seems to agree the experiment didn't take many things/aspects into consideration. 

Do I give the guy credit?  Yes, but in the end he pretty much assumes he has it figured out and to me that comes off as...well, you know what I mean. 

The reality is anyone who has spent time outdoors knows there is no such thing as a magic fabric whether it be manmade or natural.  I feel the key is a mixture of all of the above, knowing when they are appropriate and/or how to combine them.  It's no different then someone saying this is the best knife, best compass, best tent etc...

It's more about knowing how to use that clothing, that knife, that compass etc...Most of us know that if you get soaked you should shake/wring it out, dry it by a fire if you can (depending on the material) or even in some cases just keep moving.  It all depends where you are or how far you are from where you need to be.

I love wool, I love fleece, I love cotton, but I also know they all have there place. 

 


« Last Edit: February 12, 2013, 09:39:23 pm by Snowwalker »
"For the strength of the Pack is the Wolf, and the strength of the Wolf is the Pack." -Rudyard Kipling

"I never saw a wild thing sorry for itself.  A bird will fall frozen from a bough without ever having felt sorry for itself"  D.H. Lawrence

"What lies before us and what lies behind us are nothing to what lies within of us"  Ralph Waldo Emerson

Offline Grizzly Adam

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Re: Does Wool Keep You Warm When Wet?
« Reply #14 on: February 12, 2013, 10:01:22 pm »
I did not mean that we take the guy out and let him learn the hard way but rather use him along with any others to do a experiment in real time in the conditions experienced. similar to what the foam clothing guy did with the us army for the PALS system, He did the real time rechearch and proved his claims, I have a retired CF vet doing his own take on the PALS system and him and I are going to test them side by side in various conditions experienced.

 In the end you can do all the controled experiments you want all day long and it still will not be as good as pure dirt time learning how to use skills and equipment in the bush, everything works on paper and computer but mother nature seems to have her own way of testing you yes. I also have extensive experience with synthetics and yes they have their place but like any system if you do not use it properly it will fail.

Was a climber for 15 + years and been around and in various conditions wet dry cold wet and freezing cooking sweating you name it . - dessert not my thing climbed ice in -40 and had water pour out of the screws soaking me through the gore tex "SUCKS" . Point is that he is making claims with his test that do not replicate what really happens, it's like testing a knife for streangth by battoning it through a rock and it breaks " compleatly un realistic" and then saying that it does not stand up to what it claims to.

Everyone has their prefered clothing system and use it effectively even the inuit still use traditional clothing when they go on extended hunts why "because it just works" yes they have access to modern clothing but it seems that they use it more for around town than deep exposed regions. Hillery and Mallory wore wool to the top of the world it worked and others have done the same with synthetics. Not saying i'm 100% right or wrong and their may be no end to this topic but discussing it has been fun. Cheers Grizz.