The History and Origin of Merino Wool and How It Became a Popular Outdoor Fabric

An image of a merino sheep linking to a blog about the history of merino wool

Merino wool is one of the finest and softest types of wool in the world, prized for its warmth, breathability, durability and versatility. But where did this amazing fibre come from and how did it become a staple of outdoor clothing? In this blog post, we will explore the fascinating history and origin of Merino wool and how it evolved into a popular outdoor fabric.

The Spanish Monopoly

The Merino sheep breed originated in Spain, where it was known as early as the 12th century. Some historians believe that the ancestors of the Merino were brought to Spain by the Berbers, a North African tribe, while others suggest that they were developed from local sheep breeds with selective crossbreeding1

Whatever the case, the Merino sheep soon became highly valued for their fine wool, which was suitable for making high-quality textiles. The Spanish kings recognized the economic potential of the Merino wool and established a strict monopoly over its production and export. Anyone who tried to smuggle Merino sheep or wool out of Spain risked the death penalty3

For several centuries, Spain dominated the fine wool industry in Europe, supplying the demand for luxury fabrics and garments. The Spanish Merino flocks were carefully managed and protected by royal decrees and laws. They were also adapted to nomadic pasturing, moving across different regions according to the seasons and climate1

The Spread of Merino Wool

Despite the Spanish efforts to keep the Merino wool a secret, some flocks were eventually sent or smuggled to other countries in Europe and beyond. In the 18th century, several European courts received gifts of Merino sheep from Spain, including France, Hungary, the Netherlands, Prussia, Saxony and Sweden. These countries started to develop their own strains of Merino sheep with different characteristics and qualities. For example, the Rambouillet breed in France was derived from the Spanish Merino and became known for its large size and long-staple wool3

In the late 18th and early 19th centuries, Merino sheep were also introduced to other parts of the world, such as South Africa, Australia and New Zealand. These countries offered vast lands and favourable climates for sheep farming, as well as access to new markets and consumers. The Merino sheep thrived in these new environments and produced large quantities of fine wool that competed with the Spanish product3

The Rise of Merino Wool as an Outdoor Fabric

Merino wool has always been used for making clothing, but its popularity as an outdoor fabric increased in the 20th century, when fashion designers and consumers discovered its natural benefits and versatility. Merino wool is not only soft and warm, but also breathable, moisture-wicking, odour-resistant, fire-resistant and biodegradable. These qualities make it ideal for outdoor activities such as hiking, skiing, cycling and camping.

Merino wool can also be blended with other fibres such as bamboo, cotton, silk or synthetic materials to create different textures and performance levels. For example, merino-cotton blends are more durable and affordable than pure merino wool, while merino-synthetic blends are more stretchy and quick-drying than pure merino wool.

Merino wool is also available in different weights and thicknesses, depending on the season and activity. For example, lightweight merino wool (150-200 gsm) is perfect for summer or layering, while midweight merino wool (200-300 gsm) is ideal for autumn or spring, while heavyweight merino wool (300-400 gsm) is great for winter or cold conditions.


Merino wool is a remarkable fibre that has a long and rich history. From its origins in Spain to its spread across the world, merino wool has evolved into a popular outdoor fabric that offers comfort, performance and sustainability. At Smart Merino, we are proud to offer a range of high-quality merino wool products that are made in New Zealand from ethically sourced merino wool. Whether you are looking for base layers, hats, or accessories , we have something for you. Shop online today and enjoy the benefits of merino wool!


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