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The 100%-Alpaca Pullover Is One Amazingly Warm Midlayer

Ancient Incans are said to have used alpaca for currency—they had their reasons.

Basics

A warm, light, wicking, odor-resistant 100 percent alpaca pullover


Pros

•Silkiness

•Warmth

•Trim fit

•Use any season, with the possible exception of summer 

Cons

•Fuzzed when I wore it on rock, though the pills are easy to remove with a razor

•Recommendation to dry-clean or hand-wash

•That alpaca will cost ya


Weight

8.46 ounces

Price

$220

Brand

Alpacas of Montana


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Like cashmere. Meaning the fancy sweaters someone gave you or handed down. Plush. That word, too, came to mind when I tried on the new 100% Alpaca Pullover Quarter Zip from Alpacas of Montana. The garment was so soft it was almost shocking. Alpaca fibers are known as smooth, and it doesn’t hurt that the pullover is 30 percent silk. 

Alpacas are camelids—which include, well, camels, i.e., the dromedaries and Bactrian types domesticated in Asia and the Middle East. In South America, camelids exist as, broadly, two wild and two domesticated species. The domestic ones are the llama, mostly used for carrying burdens, and the smaller alpaca, mainly raised for their soft wool. The guanaco and vicuna, descended from a common ancestor 2 to 3 million years ago, are their wild antecedents. 

The Alpaca Pullover in action.

The ancient Incas bred alpacas, whose fleece was at one time reserved for royalty. Other accounts have it used as currency, even called the “gold of the Andes.”

New this year, the 100 Percent Alpaca Pullover Quarter Zip, a midlayer item, is so soft and almost dressy I at first felt weird about wearing it climbing. But … I got over that. The top is trim, warm, and so light (240 grams, or 8.46 ounces for size medium) that I’ve surprised myself by wearing it at the climbing gym, which here is set at a cool 60 degrees, three times. I also wore it for climbing outdoors. It has an asymmetrical hem that extends well below the waist in back, keeping you that much warmer, and the slim fit suits a harness well.

Like sheep’s wool, alpaca is warm when wet. Alpaca fibers are completely hollow, promoting extra insulation and wicking/ moisture control. Alpaca certainly costs more than wool: Call it a “luxury tax.” While not considered waterproof, alpaca is considered water repellant. I have used the pullover in a light rain, and the small drops stayed and sparkled on the surface.

Like wool, alpaca is super stink-resistant. I have worn it a dozen times and not washed it yet. Maybe should ….. Let’s see. “Dry clean”?! Well, that’s not going to happen. Or “hand wash”? Nor that. I will go for a truncated delicate cycle (later update: it survived that approach just fine). Thankfully, like wool socks that you can wear for days, this item needs little washing. 

Alpaca is generally considered resistant to pilling, but upon the friction of climbing, especially outdoors, mine does have some fine fuzz and visible picks or pulls.

Alpacas of Montana, founded by James and Sarah Budd of Bozeman, Montana, has been around for 16 years. As of a few years ago, sales are all online, which served the company well during the pandemic shutdown of 2020. The company even expanded during that time and came out with half a dozen new products: the new quarter-zip tops, four new types of socks, and some accessories.

The farm has 60 alpacas (and they all have names), 10 employees, four llamas, and three Anatolian Shepherd livestock guard dogs. All the fleece on the farm is used in the company’s products, and it is supplemented with fibers from alpaca farms in New Zealand and Peru (where the company is setting up a nonprofit to help regional farmers cope with climate change and drought). Yes, this is an expensive item, with high production value, but if you choose it, you will find it a cold-weather staple, super comfortable for every kind of outdoor sortie.