Bamboo fiber comes from bamboo plants. It’s extracted from the plant either mechanically or by hand and used to make cloth, yarn and clothing like activewear and our very own Abenaki Cross Trainer workout t shirt. The textile has grown in popularity since the early 2000s because of its light, yet durable fabric and the fact it breathes well.

Bamboo fiber appears to have anti-bacterial properties as well – and it’s exceptionally comfortable. But lately bamboo fiber has competition in another fabric pitched as ‘eco-friendly’ and ‘anti-microbial’: merino wool.

How then, does bamboo fiber compare with merino wool, and which should you buy? Let’s look closer at these two fabrics.

Bamboo Fiber: The Basics

Bamboo is the fastest growing plant in the world. Well, it’s a grass actually, but it’s hardy and sustainable. One species has been documented at over a metre’s growth in one day. They’re tall too, and can reach 35 metres. These factors allow for much growth in a relatively small area, and requires few pesticides and fertilizers for growth. This combines to give bamboo a relatively small ecological imprint.

Now consider that bamboo can be used as food and shelter – and of course, for bamboo fiber – and it’s easy to see why it’s often pitched as eco-friendly.

The Abenaki Cross-Trainer is a bamboo work out shirt. Photo by Steve Hutchings

But it’s bamboo fiber that’s of greatest interest to you and the increasing number of consumers who opt for bamboo clothing. The Pros of Bamboo Fabric include:

  • It’s VERY Soft
  • It’s Even More COMFORTABLE
  • It Holds Water (and is Odor-Resistant)
  • It Has Anti-Bacterial Properties
  • It BREATHES Well
  • It Dries Quickly

Sounds good right? So what are the Cons of Bamboo clothing?

  • It’s More EXPENSIVE Than Cotton
  • Chemicals are used during production

Most bamboo clothing you’ll find on the market is Rayon. That’s a fiber made from regenerated cellulose – in this case, from bamboo. The result is a fabric that ‘drapes’ on the body, is light to touch, and is very comfortable in the gym or on a hot day.

Merino Wool: The Basics

Merino Wool comes from Merino Sheep. The latter is a sheep breed that originated in Spain and was later domesticated in Australia and New Zealand. The breed’s wool is especially prized; it’s both fine and soft, and blends well with other high quality fabrics, like silk and cashmere.

A merino sheep. PhotoBy Original: User:Fir0002Derivative work: Charles Esson at en.wikipedia – Edit of Image:Sheep eating grass edit02.jpg, GFDL 1.2,

Merino wool breathes well, among other benefits, and has many of the same properties offered by bamboo fiber. The pros of Merino wool include:

  • It’s Soft
  • It Breathes Well
  • It’s Odor-Resistant
  • It Dries Quickly
  • It Regulates Your Temperature

Whoa! Merino wool really is all that and a bag of chips! So what’s the down side? The Cons of Merino wool include:

  • It’s More Expensive Than Cotton
  • Concerns About Mulesing
  • Can Cause Itching in Some People

Merino wool is finer than typical wool, which allows it to bend easier against the skin and, hence, cause less itching. However, some people may find itching can still be an issue. That would be a consideration when comparing merino wool with bamboo fiber for activewear or as a base layer.

Should I Buy Bamboo Fiber or Merino Wool?

That depends on you. You’ll find advocates in both camps. Some like merino wool better because you can wear it for days, even weeks, and it won’t hold odors. Others opt for bamboo clothes because they stretch better, which makes them ideal for activewear. It’s softer too, and some claim it wicks better than merino wool.

With these in mind, Merino wool appears to be better for long trips. Bamboo fiber gets the nod for performance clothing and workout clothes.

We’ve chosen to go with bamboo fiber at Abenaki because we feel it’s better suited for extreme sports – something you’re likely interested in if you’re on this website. We’ve also found it’s incredibly resilient and feels nothing short of magic on a hot day.

Put a bamboo shirt on in July and you’ll see what we mean.

We’re partial to bamboo over merino, but they’re both quality fabrics. Bamboo or merino, it’s really your call.