Cashmere vs. Merino—What’s to Choose?

Cashmere comes from goats and is softer still than sheep’s wool. Collecting these particular fibers is a laborious task that must be done by hand during spring molting season, resulting in a relatively small yield. The difficulty involved with collecting cashmere wool explains why it is relatively rare and considered a luxury item compared to sheep’s wool. It takes at least two goats to make one two-ply cashmere sweater, whereas the wool from one sheep can be used to make four or five conventional wool sweaters.

Cashmere wool is softer and lighter than sheep’s wool and possesses a higher loft, which translates into plush, luxurious fabrics with a silky feel. Because it also drapes beautifully, cashmere garments impart an elegant look on more formal occasions.

Merino wool, on the other hand, is softer and more refined than regular wool. It comes from Merino sheep, raised mostly in Australia and New Zealand these days, and bred to produce very fine wool fibers. Merino wool is a superb material for performance clothing especially, given its moisture wicking properties. It is warm yet lightweight and breathable, making it suitable for a wide range of active pursuits. And since merino wool garments tend to retain their shape without wrinkling, they are great for travel and appropriate for varied climates. Are the best wool sweaters made from merino? The answer probably depends on the situation. Merino wool clothing has certainly proved its mettle for the wearer who enjoys an active lifestyle.

  • Warmer: Cashmere can be seven to eight times warmer than merino wool.
  • Softer: Cashmere has a higher loft, which makes it softer.
  • More Durable: Merino wool is sturdier and resists pilling more effectively.
  • Easier to Care for: Merino generally requires less care in washing.
  • Dressier: Cashmere is a more luxurious fabric with an elegant drape.

Though high-performance apparel made from synthetic fabrics abounds these days—designed for different outdoor activities in all seasons—the purists among us believe that nothing beats good ‘ol natural wool. Attractive, warm, water repellent and breathable, wool garments, particularly if they’re a refined version such as cashmere or merino, are singularly comforting.