Regular Wool vs 'Technical' Wool
Despite this winter being colder than last, I am finding cycling in freezing temperatures easier this time around. The reason, is that I have finally surrendered to wool. Clad in head to toe wool, I no longer complain about the cold and life has gotten easier. Pictured here: a long sleeve wool t-shirt from Icebreaker (the red bit sticking out), wool sweater and gloves from Jigsaw, wool skirt and hat that I knitted myself, and wool coat (folded over the back of the bike) from Benetton. Not visible here are Icebreaker leggings, Smartwool socks, and I/O Bio underwear and bra - also all wool.
Dottie from Let's Go Ride a Bike - I have always loved sweaters with enormous turtle/cowl necks that can be unfolded over my face to protect against the frost. But before this year, I have limited wool clothing to outer layers, and did not think I was tolerant of wool right next to my skin. That was why I repeatedly ignored advice that was given me last year to buy lightweight "technical" wool. I remember trying to wear wool shirts and tights next to my skin before, and finding them irritatingly itchy. Today's manufacturers of technical wool - the most popular being Smartwool, Ibex and Icebreaker - promise featherweight, itch-free garments. But they are also super expensive. It took me a long time to suspend my disbelief and commit to giving these things a try, and it also took me a long time to find everything I wanted on sale. But now that I have, I can never go back. The stuff works, and it really is non-itchy - even for someone whose skin is normally sensitive to wool.
All this makes it possible to wear "technical wool" next to one's skin, and for those struggling with the cold, I would highly recommend it. Wearing a wool sweater and overcoat did nothing for me last year, when the stuff I'd wear underneath was made of cotton or some other fabric. My underlayers would get soaked with sweat, and then the wind would chill me to the bone when I would stop at intersections. The feeling of my skin being covered with frozen sweat underneath three layers of clothing was just awful. But wearing wool underwear, bra, tights, and long-sleeve tee, has solved this problem for me completely. As far as the difference between the popular brands, I think they are all pretty good and I just get whatever is on sale. For ultra-thin layers, I prefer Icebreaker. And I also love Icebreaker leggings - they are gusseted, whereas Smartwool leggings are not.