Spring in the mountains can be a chilling experience as the weather clings to its wintry temperatures and snowfall. Apparel companies provide options to compel you out into the chill. Two fabric options that truly insulate in freezing weather are shearling and sherpa.  Let’s take a closer look at both in order to better understand what they are and how they stack up against one another.


Shearling is a textile derived from lambs that have only had one shearing. The skin is tanned, processed, and dyed with the wool still intact. Suede or leather is on one side (generally the outer side of the garment), and wool on the other. The use of shearling in outerwear dates back to prehistoric times. Rugged, ultrawarm bomber jackets were introduced during WWI to protect pilots flying uninsulated planes in sub-freezing temperatures. Its use in military apparel continued through WWII.

Shearling can be quite expensive. There are several contributing factors to this high price. One of the primary reasons is that garments generally require more than one pelt. This requires matching of weight, color, and density. This can be difficult and time-consuming.

A sheepskin pelt is a byproduct of the sheep farming industry that gets put to use rather than being discarded. The whole animal is used, including bones and hooves. Sheepskin is like wood in that it is one of the few raw materials for which mankind will likely always make use.


Sherpa is sometimes called ‘faux shearling’ as it mimics sheep wool’s bumpy texture. It is more affordable than shearling while doing an admirable job of protecting against freezing temperatures. The dense pile of the lightweight fabric insulates without the bulk. Sherpa is made from polyester, acrylic, or cotton fiber.

The fabric has two sides. One is the stitched wooly side with a soft and bumpy texture comparable to real fleece, and the other side is a smooth knit shell. Together, they make a sherpa material that is cozy and insulating.

The fabric alone does not block wind, however, and requires an outer shell to trap heat generated by the sherpa next to the body. For this reason, many outdoor companies line winter coats with sherpa through the body portion of the garment.

Either option will keep you warm and enjoying a cold, snowy spring in the mountains of Colorado!

References: news.orvis.com, shearling.com, overland.com, wikipedia.com, fibrebyauskin.com, shearling.com, fursource.com, islandersoutfitter.com