I’ve never given an I.Q. test to a ram, or an ewe for that matter, but those who have agree that sheep are a notch or two dumber than cows and pigs, and certainly far below dogs. How is it then that sheep are so absolutely astute when it comes to high-performance fabrics? I’m talking wool, of course — and not just thick socks or that cardigan you wore to last year’s Christmas party, but a 100 percent merino wool base layer, suitable for hiking, mountaineering, and a full range of four-season outdoor pursuits. Before you turn up your nose and dredge up memories of those olive-colored, chafing, WWII surplus pants, know that the soft wool fabrics produced today weren’t even available ten years ago. To discover the secret to the softness, we need to talk sheep again — merino sheep, a breed originally from Spain, but now producing wool around the world, with the highest quality production coming from Australia and New Zealand. Merino sheep have about four times as many wool fibers per square inch of skin as other breeds, and the fiber is long-staple, high-quality wool that is exceptionally soft.