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Merino wool is one of the most popular fabrics for outdoors clothing due to its natural insulating, moisture-wicking, and anti-odour properties. But merino has one major downside: It lacks durability. For Bushbuck customers, durability is essential. That's why we set ourselves the challenge of developing the best durable merino fabric on the market. The result is Combat Merino, our innovative, high-performance merino clothing range that looks and feels like merino wool, but has the durability of the toughest outdoor fabrics. This is the story of how Combat Merino went from an idea to industry disruptor.
Merino has long been a favourite fabric among outdoor enthusiasts. There are many things to like about it. Merino wool is naturally breathable, comfortable, warm, odour-resistant and has moisture-wicking properties. It's almost perfect for rigorous activity. But it's always had one significant flaw: It lacks toughness. For years, it's been a trade-off that many people have been willing to make. But for many of our customers, regular merino just didn't cut it. It's been known to catch and tear on thorny scrub and tree branches, wear out under the weight of a heavy pack, and even get damaged in the washing machine. For hunters, multi-day hikers, farmers and even tradies, patience with merino was wearing thin. So in early 2022, the Bushbuck product team decided to try and do something about it. We started the process of developing a fabric that retained all of the natural benefits of merino, but was tough enough for serious bush-bashing and rigorous adventuring. It was clear from the beginning that we'd need to blend merino wool with another, more durable, fabric. But which fabric was up to the task?
Combat Merino wasn't our first attempt at developing a durable merino fabric. A year earlier, we developed our Basetech and Midtech merino range, which was a merino-nylon blend. It was certainly tougher than regular merino, but we weren't satisfied with the result. It wasn't as strong as we wanted it to be. Fabric weight and the type of weave used were contributing factors. While it was a good product and a step in the right direction, we were determined to improve upon it. Our first idea for Combat Merino was to blend merino wool with Dyneema®, a lightweight, strong, durable material used in fishing line and outdoors gear. We worked with New Zealand company, TMC Innovation, the developers of Nuyarn, to test the potential of a merino-Dyneema® blend. To our knowledge, this hadn't been attempted before. Unfortunately, the merino-Dyneema® blend proved to be too tough for the testing machines and was determined to be inefficient to produce. So it was back to the drawing board.
We'd had some success blending merino and nylon in the past, which made us curious to experiment with a merino-Cordura® blend. Cordura® is a nylon-based product that's proven to perform in tough environments, is rugged and strong and retains a comfortable texture that wouldn't detract from the softness of merino too much. We worked with the New Zealand Wool Testing Authority to test different ratios of merino and Cordura®. Our previous merino-nylon range was 83% merino, 17% nylon so we knew we wanted to create something tougher than that. Initially we got a sample of a 60/40 blend, but we thought we could push the envelope a little further. Our goal was to maximise durability and abrasion resistance without sacrificing the natural comfort and luxurious feel of merino wool. The blend we settled on for Combat Merino is 52% merino, 48% Cordura®. It still looked and felt like merino to touch, but it was way tougher. But we had to put that toughness to the test to be sure. Using the Martindale Method and Diaphragm Method, we tested the abrasion resistance and burst strength of the new fabric. Results showed our blend was 5x more abrasion resistant than 100% merino and stronger than many heavy-duty commercial fabrics. It seemed that we'd hit the sweet spot. But before getting ahead of ourselves, we had to see how Combat Merino performed in the field.
We worked with one of our suppliers to get samples made up. We knew we wanted to launch a full Combat Merino range with t-shirts, half-zips, hoods, leggings and even a neck gaiter. Getting the right design, cut and sizing for clothing is a whole other story, but we're really happy with how the Combat Merino range came together. Next, we had to get Combat Merino into the field. We sent samples to some of the Bushbuck Test Team, ambassadors, and shared some with staff, friends and family to get a good range of feedback. We needed to see how Combat Merino performed in the wild with a heavy pack in warm weather and overnight in the cold. The verdict was unanimous. Everyone reported that the new fabric performed like pure merino and even had a faster drying time due to the addition of nylon. The durability difference was obvious. And there was no more worrying about chucking merino clothing in the washing machine. We'd successfully engineered a solution to a major problem in the outdoors industry - Combat Merino was born. We've since had customers say that they were never able to wear merino clothing because it made them itchy, but they have no problem wearing Combat Merino. It's become an incredibly popular product and one that we're particularly proud of. "Good hardwearing knit and good fit as a base layer. Quality seems high and so far it seems very durable great that someone has brought out a hard wearing base layer for NZ conditions." - Paul C. "Absolutely delighted with my Combat Merino 200 thermal top (crew neck and hooded version plus the leggings, too). Cant speak highly enough of them, a pleasure to wear everyday during the winter since I purchased them, nothing better, reluctant to take them off. Great fittings, warm and comfortable, just great products. One other really good thing is that they don't have a build up of static when you put them on or take them off which is great and they don't make me itchy like previous nylon ones. Great value for money. Well done Bushbuck." - David M.
Jonathan Carson is a Content Writer and Copywriter at Bushbuck. He's a wordsmith who handles most of Bushbuck's website, marketing copy and oversees our blog, The Campfire.
Outside of work, he's big on hiking and dabbles in surfing and bouldering. His favourite wilderness area in New Zealand is Nelson Lakes National Park, particularly the Blue Lake, home to the clearest known freshwater in the world.