If it’s winter, I reach for alpaca
Winter in Chicago doesn’t have to mean hunkering down in your house until the groundhog predicts the end of winter—the key to braving the cold lies in choosing the proper clothing. Natural fibers are a must, offering warmth, moisture management, and breathability, to name a few benefits. My favorite are alpaca tops, socks, and hats.
My first experience with alpaca was akin to Paka Apparel’s founder Kris Cody. In 2007, I went to Peru to trek the Inca trail to Machu Picchu. Before commencing the four-day trek, I spent a few days acclimating to the altitude in Cusco.
While in Cusco, I discovered alpaca and its exceptional properties: cashmere-like softness, lightweight feel, exceptional warmth, moisture management, and odor control. I purchased a hat and sweater, taking both on my trek. I’ve been a fan of alpaca ever since.
Watch this video to gain insight into Paka Apparel. It chronicles Kris’ journey to Peru, the subsequent Kickstarter campaign that surpassed its goal by 1700%, launching the business in 2021.
Paka is All About Corporate Social Responsibility
The company sources its alpaca wool from Peru, supporting local communities and empowering women to transition from manual, unskilled labor to the skilled craft of weaving. The traditional Inca techniques of spinning, dyeing, and weaving yarn are passed down through generations. Paka works with Centro de Textiles Tradicionales de Cusco and the weaving communities in the Cusco region on a fair-trade basis to help preserve these traditions while promoting the weavers and their work.
Another way the company is helping empower local women is by donating 1% of its sales to Peruvian Hearts, an organization that provides scholarships to young women in Peru, enabling them to pursue higher education. They also donate 1% of their sales to the International Alpaca Association, which improves Peruvian farmers’ livelihoods and regenerative alpaca practices.
Paka supports and partners with other organizations and is a poster child for corporate social responsibility. By wearing Paka Apparel, customers can feel good about their clothing choices and take pride in supporting a company that truly makes a difference.
Everyday Base Layer
Sizes: XS-2XL (men’s and women’s)
Colors: Eucalyptus, Black, Clay, Heather Grey
Fit: Runs slightly big
Materials: 15% Royal Alpaca, 85% Tencel
How obtained: Company sample
RBR advertiser: No
Perfect for Winter Riding – Warm, Moisture Wicking and Thermoregulating
Paka’s Everyday Base Layer is everything you’d want on a winter ride. It offers exceptional warmth, moisture-wicking properties and regulates body temperature. Crafted from a blend of 15% Royal Alpaca and 85% Tencel, the lightweight fabric is precisely how the website describes it. When you slip it on for the first time, it feels like the fabric is pouring over your body, enveloping you in luxurious softness. Its flexibility ensures unrestricted movement, maintaining its shape and never getting stretched out.
This long-sleeve crew neck base layer is available in men’s and women’s cuts, ranging from XS to 2XL, and comes in four stylish colors. However, I found that the sizing chart on their website led me to order an XL, which turned out to be too loose for a base layer that should fit snugly. The sleeves and bottom hem are plenty long to keep you covered even when reaching for the handlebars. Flip over the bottom hem to reveal a special message (see image below). All in all, I was thoroughly impressed with the base layer’s overall performance, testing it biking and hiking. It’s also great for lounging around the house on a chilly winter’s day.
Thanks to alpaca’s natural antimicrobial properties, it doesn’t need to be washed often. So, wear the base layer multiple times without laundering. When the time comes, turn it inside out, toss it in the washing machine on a delicate cycle with cold water, and then dry it on a flat surface to air dry.
Performance ¾ Crew Socks
Sizes: M (men’s 6-9; women’s 7-10.5) and L (men’s 10-13)
Colors: Black, Walnut, Quail, Charcoal Blue, Forage
Fit: True to size
Materials: 33% Baby Alpaca Fiber, 7% Tencel, 57% Recycled Nylon, 3% Spandex
Alpaca Fiber Socks – Soft, Lightweight, and Warm
If you have never worn alpaca socks, trust me, you must try them. They are incredibly soft, warm, lightweight, and breathable, making them perfect for everyday wear on or off the bike.
Made from a blend of 33% Baby Alpaca Fiber, 7% Tencel, 57% Recycled Nylon, and 3% Spandex, these socks offer a unique combination of comfort and durability. They have ventilated mesh on the top, extended heal cushioning, and a tightened compression arch for support. If you are curious about where the alpaca wool was sourced, check the QR code on the hang tag for the exact location.
The medullated air pockets (fibers containing a hollow core) within the alpaca fibers make these socks three times lighter than traditional sheep’s wool. This makes them perfect for those who prefer a lighter sock without compromising warmth.
Additionally, the alpaca fiber’s water retention rate is only 8%, significantly lower than other wools that range between 16-20%. These socks won’t stay wet for long, making them ideal for biking and hiking, especially on rainy days.
The fit of these socks is true to size, ensuring a comfortable and snug fit. They are available in only two sizes, M (men’s 6-9; women’s 7-10.5) and L (men’s 10-13). There are five color options: black, walnut, quail, charcoal blue, and forage.
Like the base layer, there’s a message on the socks, but it is written across the toes this time. “Go outside in nature.” It is an excellent message to embrace.
Whether you’re lounging at home or venturing outdoors, these socks will keep your feet cozy and dry. Plus, since bacteria won’t grow on alpaca wool, they don’t smell. As with the base layer, you can wear them multiple times without washing. Launder the socks using the same directions as provided above for the base layer.
Sheri Rosenbaum regularly contributes articles and reviews products for RBR. She’s an avid recreational roadie who lives in the Chicago area and a major advocate for women’s cycling, serving on the board of directors and volunteering with the Dare2tri Paratriathlon Club. Click to read Sheri’s full bio or visit her web site sunflowersandpedals.com.