In early fall we were contacted by the American startup company Arms of Andes, which specializes in making mid- and base layers in Alpaca wool. Alpaca wool is said to have similar and/or superior characteristics in comparison with Merino wool, so we were of course thrilled to receive some apparel for testing in exchange for unbiased reviews. Not only is the material intriguing, but the brand also has a very sustainable supply chain with all production taking place in Peru. The creators of Arms of Andes, the siblings Meli and Rensso Hinostroza, have a Peruvian heritage, and the brand and its values are honoring that heritage – which we deeply respect and admire. I have been wearing the short-sleeved t-shirt regularly since the beginning of October, and can thus safely say that the Arms of Andes Alpaca 110 T-shirt for women is suitable for:
- Everyday life
While Merino wool has been used widely for active wear since the mid-1990s when the ‘grand dames’ Icebreaker and Smartwool were founded, Alpaca wool is more of a newcomer in the outdoor industry. It has, however, been used long by the fashion industry and quality-minded knitters for luxurious knitwear. When I did my research on Alpaca wool, I stumbled upon multiple online claims of it being superior to Merino wool in various ways, but the claims are mainly unsubstantiated, as no scientific sources are cited. In a forthcoming article on the qualities of Alpaca wool vs Merino wool, I will dive deeper into this complex topic and the science behind, but for now I will mainly stick to my experience with the material as represented by the Arms of Andes t-shirt I have been testing for the past months.
First of all, I should say mention that Alpaca wool is definitely similar to Merino wool. If I had been presented with the t-shirt without any name, tags or description I would probably have guessed that it is made of Merino wool – or blend with a very high percentage of Merino wool. Nevertheless, it is definitely also different from Merino wool. Arms of Andes apparel is made with Royal Alpaca wool which means that the fibers are less than 19 microns in diameter. The slightly rougher grade Baby Alpaca wool (which does not come from the cria/baby alpaca red.) is between 19 and 21 microns in diameter. Most of the Merino wool apparel I have tested so far is made with fibers as thin or thinner than the Royal Alpaca. In terms of softness, I would say that the Arms of Andes Alpaca 110 T-shirt is softer than the Isobaa Merino 150 t-shirt, which is made of 100 % 18.5 microns thin wool fibers.
On the other hand, it is soft in a more velvety way than the Formal Friday t-shirt which feels silkier smooth with its 100 % 17.5 microns thin Merino wool fibers (although that might also have something to do with the spinning process of the latter). One could describe the Alpaca material as loftier and more “fluffy”, and one certain difference between the Arms of Andes t-shirt and all the other Merino t-shirts and base layers I have tried is that it feels much warmer to wear in spite of it being super light. As the name implies, the Arms of Andes Alpaca 110 t-shirt for women is made of a fabric with a density of just 110 g/m2 and weighs just 90 g (size L)! I have only tried one lighter t-shirt – the Falke Silk Wool t-shirt, which weighs 85 g (size L) and is made of a 105 g/m2 blend of 70% Merino wool and 30 % silk. Nevertheless, the Arms of Andes t-shirt provides much more warmth for its weight than any other Merino wool/blend t-shirt I have tried.
Comfort, sizing and fit
According to Arms of Andes size chart for women I should be a size Large, and while the Alpaca t-shirt fits me snugly, but not tightly around the torso it is simply too tight in the shoulder area which makes the fabric pull around the arm holes and cause discomfort. As with the Lasting Back t-shirt, it seems that the shoulder construction has been made quite narrow. One could suggest that I should simply size up, but Large is the biggest size! Being 173 cm (5’8’’) tall and weighing 68 kg (150 lbs.) I also don’t think of myself as Extra Large, so perhaps it’s Arms of Andes’ sizes which are a bit small/limited?
The discomfort in the shoulder area is also exacerbated by the fact that all seams, except for the hems at the bottom, neck and arm openings, are made with conventional “bulky” seams. For something as snug-fitting as the Arms of Andes Alpaca 110 T-shirt, flat lock seams would be a better choice for optimized comfort, regardless of size. Nevertheless, the washing instructions have been printed in the back of the neck of the t-shirt rather than on a separate tag to avoid the possibility of chafing. I tested the black V-neck version of the t-shirt, but it also comes in other colors and with a crew neck.
Washing and drying
The Arms of Andes Alpaca 110 T-shirt should be hand-washed in cold water with a wool detergent, whilst avoiding softeners, bleach etc., to preserve the size, shape and properties of the garment. It should be air-dried, preferably flat, as tumble-drying will almost certainly shrink and deteriorate the alpaca fabric. Fortunately, the fabric is so lightweight and porous that it dries very rapidly.
There is no doubt that alpaca wool is a very intriguing and promising fabric for base layers. I myself did not get to experience the full-on awesomeness of the Arms of Andes Alpaca 110 t-shirt because the construction issues (the narrow shoulder design and regular seams) caused a bit too much discomfort, but if you are built more petite I would absolutely recommend you to check it out. In spite of the somewhat exotic material and sustainable production, the t-shirt retails for a surprisingly competitive price.
If you have any questions about this product, drop me a line in the comments below.