Wool has been a popular material for cold weather clothing for ages. Unfortunately, wool – merino wool in particular – is not vegan.
There’s no perfect substitute for wool, it’s a rather unique material.
However, there are some alternatives that are vegan and come fairly close. Close enough for 99% of situations.
If you’re planning on braving freezing weather, you’ll need to focus more on layering up as much as possible.
There are many vegan materials like hemp and tencel, which are both made from plants and are soft and breathable. However, I didn’t include them in this list because when people are looking for wool clothing, warmth is usually the priority.
The 4 materials below all make warm, and usually pretty soft clothes. They’re the most common ones used for vegan alternatives to cold weather clothing like socks.
Synthetic fibers are derived from petrochemicals (a.k.a. oil). This includes materials like polyester, nylon, and acrylic, which make up the majority of clothing today.
They are often blended together to make clothing that is warm, yet still breathable, making them a good alternative to wool.
And let me be clear – they are 100% vegan.
However, since many vegans are also environmentalists, it’s not my favorite option. Microplastic particles are released into the water every time you wash them.
So not the worst alternative in the world, but I like the options below when possible.
You can see my list of the best synthetic alternatives to wool here.
There’s very little controversy with organic cotton, other than that it takes a lot of water to grow.
But even that isn’t a huge deal for environmentalists, it just makes growing cotton suited to certain areas more than others.
The one big downside is that cotton doesn’t keep you warm when wet. That’s a pretty significant problem.
Avoid 100% cotton hats, socks, and gloves if you think they’ll get wet. Instead, look for a mix of cotton and synthetic materials. Cotton is usually the main material, but have a few percent of synthetic materials to introduce moisture wicking.
Bamboo is a sustainable material that is actually great for making clothing.
It has antifungal and odor resistance properties, and clothes made with it are very soft and comfortable.
I’d stick with cotton for the coldest weather, but bamboo is a great option if you just need warm clothes for chilly weather.
What About Other Materials?
I’ve heard about other potential vegan replacements for wool like soybean fiber, and even coconut.
But for now, clothes made with these seem extremely hard to find, so I wouldn’t exactly consider them a realistic alternative to wool.
Perhaps in the future they will be, but for now I’d stick with one of the 3 options above.