Merino wool is on most people’s radar, but alpaca fiber is one of the new kids on the block of “natural” performance fabric. A familiar friend to those in the Andes region, it is a completely different animal (literally) when compared to sheep’s wool or llama fibers, with a more slippery origin material that’s harder to dye. Appalachian Gear Company’s (AGC) owners John Gage and Mike Hawkins have 45 years combined experience in the textile industry and were searching for an alternative to synthetic fabrics that could withstand the rigors of active outdoor adventure lifestyles but have less of an environmental impact on the planet. After three years of experimentation with alpaca fibers, the company mastered its process and now has a facility in Kings Mountain, North Carolina, where AGC’s products are manufactured without harsh chemical processing. AGC claims that its 100 percent natural alpaca fleece (responsibly sourced from Peru) is “softer, stronger, warmer, and more water resistant than merino” while being “exceptionally durable, breathable, and odor-resistant.” The product line is extensive, ranging from T-shirts, hoodies, hats, blankets, and ponchos in multiple colors; I chose to put the sleeping bag liner and gaiter through the paces.
All-Paca Sleeping Bag Liner
I live in Arizona, where nighttime temperatures can still dive down to nippy digits in the summer at higher elevations and can be downright cold in fall and winter. The climate-regulating properties and flexibility of AGC’s alpaca fleece seemed a smart choice on paper and delivered in practice. On its own, the All-paca liner is the perfect accompaniment on warm nights where you just need a light layer to keep the chill at bay. As a liner, it hugs your body without being clingy and stays with you as you move, adding 15-18 degrees of warmth to your sleep system. It also functions as a wrap, and now that winter is here, I find I use it at home as a blanket whenever I want to curl up in my reading chair.
The liner weighs approximately a pound and packs small making it an easy add to your kit, whether backpacking or car camping. The material is thin but exceedingly durable, fending off snags and tears with ease. It is odor neutral and does not require washing even after multiple uses. If you do choose to wash it, you’ll have no worries there. Wash on cold on a light or medium cycle and even tumble dry (on its own) on low or medium heat for 10 minutes, and you are set to go. A quick hang in the sun is likely all you’ll ever need, but I wash all new apparel and bedding that comes through my door. It was interesting to see the fleece’s water-repellent properties, with water beading on the surface as it boogied in my washer, the garment floating rather than becoming submerged; it took several minutes for saturation to take place. The liner (and gaiter below) experienced little to no discernible shrinkage (I did have them in the dryer for about 8 minutes) and kept their form.
I tested two liners, and one felt significantly softer than the other. A company rep told me that alpaca fibers vary in softness and not to expect uniformity. With use and an occasional fluff-up in the dryer, the overall feel will mellow.
All-Paca Fleece Gaiter
AGC’s gaiter has all of the benefits of the liner, allowing perspiration without clamminess, insulating in wet and cold conditions. It’s ideal for rainy or snowy weather since it does not absorb much moisture and dries quickly. It has a 9.5-inch diameter with a 19-inch circumference and is designed to be worn on top of a pullover. It’s become my go-to this season, worn in more casual circumstances in place of a scarf, but ready for the single digits when they come and is easily tucked into my down jacket.
Initially, I found the fleece to be slightly scratchy on the neck and face, more so than merino wool, but after an adjustment period of a few hours, I no longer found it noticeable. It is significantly warmer than the handful of miscellaneous-brand merino gaiters I own, and it never feels damp when wearing it over the mouth (from breathing in cold conditions).
As an aside, the videos on AGC’s website detailing their fabrication processes give a behind-the-scenes glance at how your product comes to be and, for me, served as a way to further identify with the brand—it’s something to feel good about buying without having to compromise on performance.
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