Wool is a fabulous material; it has, after all, been keeping sheep warm and dry for millennia. But it does have its limitations: it’s expensive to process; it absorbs water; it smells when it gets wet; it can be itchy to wear; and it has the inconvenient habit of unravelling if you catch it on anything sharp.
The mission? To short-circuit evolution itself
So man, with the incurable arrogance of his species, set out to design something better. The mission brief was simple: to short-circuit millions of years of evolution and manufacture something that would protect its wearer better than wool when the weather turned cold and wet.
And blow me down, they did it. Malden Mills in America designed the first fleece back in 1979 - and because Aaron Feuerstein, the company’s CEO, refused to patent the process, the synthetic fleece swept the world, replacing wool almost overnight as the material of choice for outdoorsmen and women everywhere.
Started well and just got better
Early fleece clothing was a bit stiff and not terribly comfortable to wear but it could be woven into windproof clothing and it shed water like a champ. As the years rolled by the process was refined and honed and modern fleeces can be made to feel almost as soft and wearable as the finest silk.
My Paramo Bentu fleece
They are also thinner than ever, yet retain an incredible ability to insulate way beyond their heft. My Paramo Bentu fleece is barely thicker than a decent brushed-cotton shirt but was effective enough to be my second and final layer when hiking in the Arctic. It breathes and wicks moisture away from my body yet repels rain almost as effectively as a waterproof jacket. It’s a miracle of modern science and as comfortable to wear as my pajamas.
Versatile, comfortable, and very, very slimming…
It’s versatile too, folding down into an impossibly small package that can be tucked into the corner of my camera bag as insurance against a summer squall. It is also smart enough to take my through semi-formal evening meals and rolls into a very comfortable pillow when I’m flying. (It’s also very slimming to wear, which is almost as important when you are developing a middle-age paunch…)
Where to buy your Paramo Bentu fleece
Available in dark green or blue, it’s designed to be worn as part of the Paramo layering system. I paid just over £100 for it from Cunningham’s of Betws Y Coed (they have branches in the Lake District, Yorkshire Dales, and Galloway too, as well as a mail order service), and I consider it money very well spent.
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