Wool vs Polyester – Ultimate Comparison Guide


Polyester is currently the most widely used sportswear material. Due to its numerous benefits, merino wool is also becoming an increasingly popular fabric in the sportswear industry. The fact that merino wool and polyester are almost equally popular makes it extremely hard for outdoor enthusiasts to make their pick.

When it comes to comparing wool vs polyester, it is quite tough to say which one is better, considering that both fabrics have benefits and limitations. To give you an example, merino wool is perfect for hiking base layers since it has natural antimicrobial qualities (this makes it useful for multi-day trips) while polyester is a perfect choice for a running base layer since it tends to be super light.

In the following sections, we will compare polyester vs wool by exploring the benefits and limitations offered by both materials. By the time you reach the end of this wool vs polyester comparison guide, you should be able to choose the right fabric.

Which Clothes Are Manufactured Using Polyester/Merino Wool

Both merino wool and polyester are used for a wide range of clothes. They are used to manufacture mid-layers, base layers, hiking socks, hiking gloves, and even hiking hats. Polyester is also used occasionally for low-end or superlight pants. However, in most instances, hiking pants are made using nylon since nylon offers better abrasion resistance compared to polyester.

Merino wool and polyester are perfect for winter and summer base layers. Most people assume that merino wool is just perfect for thick layers ideal for hiking in cold weather. However, merino wool can be knit into thin fabrics which are ideal for hiking in the summer season.

Most mid-layers are made using thicker knitted merino fabrics or polyester than the base layers. The polyester mid-layers feature polyester fleece (usually soft and fuzzy) which offers ideal warmth while being extremely lightweight.

While the merino mid-layers are capable of keeping you warm, they are generally heavier – they weigh about 300 grams per square meter. This quality makes the material less ideal for adventurers and athletes.

When it comes to hats and gloves, merino wool is ideal for relatively thin gloves (liner gloves) and hats. Polyester is more ideal for warmer gloves and hats.

Socks are never made of just merino wool or polyester – they are basically blended with other fibers, including elastane and nylon, for increased stretch and durability. In most instances, however, the merino wool and polyester fibers will account for up to 60% of the fibers in socks.

Comparing Polyester vs Wool in Terms of Their Characteristics


1. Comfort

Merino wool is usually very soft to touch and does not cause any itching. This, however, is largely dependent on the quality of the wool which is usually measured by the fiber diameter – the smaller the diameter, the softer the fabric. High-quality wool clothing is manufactured using fibers whose diameter does not exceed 18.5 microns.

Polyester clothing will feel synthetic to the touch since polyester isn’t a natural material. Polyester is usually made using plastic fibers, and in some instances, recycled bottles. This tells you that high-quality merino wool is usually more comfortable to wear close to the skin compared to polyester.

Due to less comfort when worn close to the skin, polyester is usually worn as a mid-layer. For certain sports (say, trail running), however, polyester may be worn as a base layer.

2. Breathability

When comparing polyester vs wool in terms of breathability, merino wool wins. Including merino wool in your hiking checklist will guarantee you better breathability once you get on the trail.

An exception does exist. The exception is generally valid for the thick or heavy mid-layers only. High-quality fleece offers better breathability compared to thick or heavy merino wool garments since it is more porous.

3. Durability

When it comes to durability, merino wool loses to the polyester fabric. Polyester fabric has the ability to last for an extended period of time compared to merino wool.

Wearing merino wool is not recommended for high-intensity activities, including running. Running will expose your garments to extreme abrasion (for underwear, around the thigh/crouch area, and the armpits for shirts and t-shirts). Merino wool will start tearing in the areas exposed to abrasion within a short period of time.

Polyester features great durability. In fact, the fabric is capable of lasting for ages even if you decide to wear it when getting involved in high-intensity activities.

4. Weight

It is possible to knit polyester into lighter and thinner garments than merino wool. Merino wool density does not go below 130g/m2 to minimize the durability problems. Basically, the polyester fabric is lighter compared to the merino wool.

5. Drying Time

When comparing wool vs polyester in terms of the drying time, the first thing you need to note is that Merino wool absorbs a lot of moisture (33%) while polyester absorbs much less moisture (0.4%). Since polyester will absorb much less moisture when you are out using your trekking poles, it will dry more quickly.

It is worth noting that due to the merino wool fiber structure, wool clothing does not feel as clammy against your skin as clothing made of other materials. This improves comfort, especially if you are sweating too much.

6. Odor-Control

As noted earlier, merino wool features natural antimicrobial capabilities. This means that it offers ideal odor-control. You can wear merino wool clothing for a couple of days without having to worry about stinking.

Polyester becomes pretty smelly within a short period of time. Some polyester garments do use anti-odor textile treatments, including Polygiene, to stay fresh for extended periods of time. Nevertheless, the anti-odor treatments do get washed out eventually – the antimicrobial treatment never lasts forever.

If you are planning a backpacking trip that will last for several days, polyester clothing may not be the best option. If you have to wear polyester clothing, be sure to select clothing featuring antimicrobial treatment.

7. Price

The polyester vs wool price could make the polyester clothing more appealing to people who are on a budget. Merino wool is generally more expensive than polyester. The merino wool clothing price can increase significantly if high-quality merino wool is used.

8. Warmth

Contrary to what most people think, merino wool fabric is not always warmer than polyester. The warmth of the garment is largely dependent on the fit and the density of the fabric (thickness).

Obviously, thick garments are warmer than thin garments. When you are out exploring the wilderness, tight-fitting clothing will have the ability to retain more heat compared to lose clothing.

It is worth noting that insulation is supposed to be mainly provided by the mid-layer and not your base layer. The base layer is supposed to be quick-drying and hence should be made of thinner fabrics.

Globo Surf Overview

After going through this wool vs polyester guide, you have probably noted that polyester dries faster, is more durable, and less expensive than merino wool. Additionally, the polyester is lighter. Merino wool, on the other hand, is usually much more comfortable to touch, features better odor control, and better breathability.

The material you decide to invest in will be largely dependent on your preference. However, if you intend to go on a multi-day trip after grabbing your hiking backpack, merino wool clothing may be more ideal since it features natural odor-control and better comfort. For other short-term activities, polyester may be a better option.

More Backpacking/Hiking Reviews:


  1. Fleece VS Down VS Merino Wool, Altitude-blog.com
Globo Surf
My name is David Hamburg. I am an avid water sports fan who enjoys paddle boarding, surfing, scuba diving, and kite surfing. Anything with a board or chance I can get in the water I love! I am such a big fan I decided to start this website to review all my favorite products and some others. Hope you enjoy!