Merino wool is fast becoming a go-to material for athletic wear, for staying warm in winter, and for thermoregulating in the summer. However, there’s no denying that cashmere has long been the gold standard when it comes to warm, soft materials that feel luxurious and look great.
So, what are the differences between these two fabrics and which one should you choose for warmth and comfort? While cashmere is softer and warmer at first glance, it is less durable than merino wool. This means that, while you can indulge in a lovely cashmere sweater for a special occasion, you should choose merino for garments you’re active in. That way, you’ll get the best of both worlds!
When it comes to socks, especially compression socks, merino wool is a great choice for durability, moisture wicking and keeping away unpleasant odors and sweat. Read on to find out the essentials about cashmere vs merino wool, what the main differences are, and how to choose between these types of wool.
What is Cashmere?
Cashmere is a type of wool just like merino. So, what makes this fiber so much more expensive on the market? It’s the origin of the wool itself.
Cashmere wool comes from goats - it’s actually the hair of the Cashmere goat, specifically from around their neck region. This is a very soft fiber with insulating properties, which the goats grow in the winter to keep them warm. The original Cashmere goats hail from the Himalayas, where they live at high altitude - their name comes from the Kashmir region where they were first bred.
Nowadays, there are Cashmere goats in other parts of the world, including Australia. Their wool has been used for hundreds of years to make garments and became known in Europe in the 19th century.
What is Merino Wool?
Merino wool fibers come from Merino sheep, found a little more widely than Cashmere goats. Originally bred in Spain, these hardy sheep have now spread as far as New Zealand and Australia, where a lot of their wool is sourced.
Merino wool is known for being soft and flexible because of its thinner, softer fibers. They are less itchy and irritable than regular sheep’s wool and also conduct air and moisture very well. Merino wool can hold up to a third of its weight in moisture, wicking sweat from the body really efficiently. Moreover, it will then evacuate this moisture in the air, keeping your body dry and the clothing lightweight and breathable.
Thanks to its thermoregulating and moisture wicking properties, merino wool has become a go-to material for activewear in recent years. It layers very well underneath warmer, bulkier items, which means you can wear merino base layers and leggings. It’s also an excellent material for socks, keeping feet dry in humid conditions, as well as warm when they need to be.
Cashmere vs Merino Wool: How Are They Different?
These two materials can be quite different on first appearance, especially if you go on softness alone. Let’s have a look at the main differences and pros and cons of each.
The rumors are true: cashmere is, indeed, very soft to the touch! There’s just something special about the silkiness of cashmere scarves or sweaters against the skin. Cashmere sweaters also feel warm without weighing you down - a great balance of comfort and flexibility.
By comparison, although merino wool feels a lot softer and more flexible than regular wool, it is less plushy than cashmere. It is, however, a lot more versatile and durable than cashmere, and can also cost a lot less.
Merino wool fibers are hypoallergenic and have been known to be extremely comfortable next to the skin. Because of their flexibility, they don’t become frayed as easily as regular wool fibers, which means they won’t scratch the skin and make it itchy.
At the same time, cashmere fibers are also extremely thin and soft. Because it doesn’t contain lanolin (as most wools do), cashmere is a great hypoallergenic alternative to merino for those who may have a sensitivity to lanolin specifically.
Merino wool is far more versatile and easy to care for than cashmere, because of the flexible fibers and its quick drying properties. It’s easy to simply hand wash your merino wool compression socks and lay them flat to dry naturally, and you’ll be able to wear them again the next morning (weather permitting).
Cashmere, on the other hand, is an extremely delicate material. You can’t just throw it in the washing machine and forget about it. Cashmere sweaters often need to be professionally cleaned or hand washed with very delicate detergents.
Strength and Durability
As we’ve mentioned above, the fibers in cashmere clothing are very delicate and soft. The association with luxury items hasn’t come by chance: you wouldn’t put on a cashmere scarf to go rock climbing! These clothes are made for relaxing and lounging around in or to wear in a nice (upmarket even!) environment.
Merino wool, however, is flexible and resistant to the weather and to wear and tear. This is why so much activewear features a merino blend: it keeps the body dry and warm, wicks away sweat, and moves and bends with your movements. Merino wool is durable if cared for properly and merino wool socks and base layers can be worn for many years while enjoying all the same benefits.
When you sweat, it’s the bacteria that proliferates on moist skin - or between skin and the clothing - that leads to bad smells. If you wear breathable, moisture wicking garments, then there’s less of a chance for bacteria to grow and for unpleasant odors to appear.
This is a great advantage for merino wool. As a highly breathable and moisture wicking material, it allows air to flow in between the body and your clothing, without letting bacteria build up.
Just like merino, cashmere has natural antibacterial properties preventing bacteria from growing on it. It also lets air flow through the thin, soft fibers, and prevents sweat from settling on the skin.
Temperature Regulation and Breathability
Both merino wool and cashmere are breathable and lightweight. This contributes to them feeling very comfortable and airy on the skin, while keeping you warm at the same time. When it comes to letting air flow through, both are great enablers. You won’t feel weighed down, sweaty, or uncomfortable at any point while wearing either a high-quality plush cashmere sweater or a flexible, versatile merino base layer.
Is Cashmere Warmer Than Merino Wool?
When it comes to warmth, all types of wool deliver it in spades. But, looking at cashmere vs merino wool specifically, we also get the benefit of lighter weight and breathability from both. Is one warmer than the other, though?
Cashmere can actually be seven to eight times warmer than merino. Cashmere fibers have more loft than merino wool fibers, which means they are more insulating. This means that you can simply wear a cashmere sweater for great warmth and an airy, lightweight feeling.
However, merino wool has the advantage of being really easy to layer under various items of clothing. This makes it more versatile when you want to stay warm. For example, you can wear thin and flexible base layers and leggings made of merino wool under any of your favorite tops and bottoms to get more warmth without sacrificing some of your most loved looks in winter.
How to Choose Between Merino Wool Vs Cashmere
If you’re looking for soft, plush comfort with a touch of classy, then cashmere is the material you’ll want to reach for. Typically, cashmere garments are more expensive than merino wool ones (since the material itself is rarer). You won’t normally find many cashmere socks or under garments, but you can splurge on a lovely cashmere sweater for a special occasion. It will keep you super warm and comfortable.
If, however, you want a durable, flexible material for your activewear and underwear, merino wool is the better choice. It’s more economical and you will easily find great-quality base layers and leggings made of merino wool or a blend. These will keep you warm and dry and can be worn seamlessly under any outfit of your choice.
Merino wool compression socks are a fantastic choice for keeping your feet warm and dry in winter. You can also wear them for running or hiking all year round to avoid blisters and itchy feet. Check out our range here.