Shearling vs. Sherpa: Which Is Better?

By: Orvis Staff

Shearling and sherpa are two of the materials that always seem to pop up as frost threatens to turn to snow. But what is shearling, exactly, and what is sherpa? What is the difference between them? And when it comes to the shearling versus sherpa debate, is one better than the other? Wintry weather is blowing in and it’s time to bundle up; here’s a peek at what makes these two coveted textiles perfect options for frigid temperatures.

What Is Shearling?

The term ‘shearling’ describes a lamb that has had only one shearing. A shearling sheepskin is the skin of a shearling lamb that’s tanned, processed, and dyed with the wool still intact. This creates a suede or leather material with a soft wool on the opposite side. Because the wool is still attached to the skin, shearling is a fur product. Shearling lambskin leather is used in luxury coats, jackets, hats, gloves, and more.

The use of sheepskin as outerwear dates to prehistoric times when fur was essential to survival. More recently, rugged, ultra-warm sheepskin bomber jackets were produced during World War I to protect pilots who flew uninsulated planes in below-freezing temperatures. The use of sheepskin for military apparel continued through World War II.

Sheepskin shearling made the leap from military applications to modern fashion, with appearances on the runway, on the street, and in the cold-weather arsenal of many outdoorsmen. From coats, mittens, and hats to slippers and fuzzy, slipper-like boots, sheepskin is a top textile pick. Blankets and rugs bring sheepskin into the home for décor that pulls double duty—the handsome shearling material offers a comfortable, breathable, moisture-wicking option for any season.

What makes a sheepskin ‘shearling?’ Some retailers use the term shearling to refer to any sheepskin tanned with the wool intact, but a single shearing is what creates the soft, uniform look and feel sought after in a true lamb shearling hide. While the term ‘shearling’ is somewhat fluid, there is one rule that must be followed: the sheepskin must be processed, tanned, and dyed with the wool intact. A stitched-in wool layer, whether genuine or faux, is not true shearling.

Is Shearling Warm?

The answer is unequivocally, yes. Most commonly, shearling products are manufactured with the suede on the outside and the indulgent wool on the inside, but the reverse also may be true. Wool-side-out collars prevent the snow and moisture from building up at the neckline, and textured wool trim contrasts nicely against the smooth suede of a jacket.

To prevent damage, shearling is not recommended for regular wear in the rain, but it will repel water and dry easily at room temperature if you happen to be caught in a storm. Store your shearling items in a dry area to prevent mildew, and leave washing to leather cleaning professionals.

Benefits of Shearling

  • Insulates and retains heat naturally, even in frigid temperatures
  • Breathable
  • Water-repellent outer suede, moisture-wicking inner wool for versatile protection from the elements
  • Durable, long-lasting material resists tears, rips, and snags
  • Hypoallergenic
  • Flame-resistant, static-resistant, and antibacterial
  • Has a reputation as a luxurious addition to a wardrobe
  • Ages beautifully with proper care, gets more supple through time
  • Many sheepskin products are by-products of the meat industry, reclaiming materials that would otherwise be disposed of.

Bone-Embossed Sherpa Throw

What is Sherpa?

Sherpa is a fabric made from polyester, acrylic, or cotton and is sometimes called ‘faux shearling,’ named for its resemblance to the wool-lined clothing worn by the Sherpa people of Nepal. Sherpa mimics the bumpy texture of sheep’s wool. The faux-sheepskin fabric is often used to line coats or jackets because it performs wonderfully in freezing temperatures. The dense pile of the lightweight material insulates against the cold without bulk, for a high-performance alternative to fur or sheepskin. Sherpa is also used for blankets, mittens, hats, boots, and slippers.

Sherpa-lined outerwear has surged in popularity, favored for its modern features, cold-weather performance, and vintage style cues. Faux-shearling is more affordable than sheepskin, but quality is still important. A poorly constructed sherpa jacket may become matted or pill with use.

Is Sherpa Warm?

On its own, sherpa would not make a warm jacket—the wind would cut right through. But a cotton, denim, or microsuede outer shell, paired with a stitched or bonded sherpa lining, creates a tough, windproof option that insulates against the cold.

Nor is sherpa just for outerwear. Your canine companion will gladly snuggle up with a sherpa fleece dog blanket or in his dog bed. He will love the cozy softness, and you’ll appreciate how easy it is to wash.

While some cry that faux just isn’t the same, science fiction fans have been talking about the shearling-like trench coat Ryan Gosling’s ‘Officer K’ wore in in Blade Runner 2049. Costume designers created a sherpa-lined cotton coat, then laminated and painted it—resulting in faux-shearling that looks like the real deal. This animal-free sherpa coat stayed true to the dire future imagined in the novel by Philip K. Dick.

Benefits of Sherpa

  • Synthetic material is easy to clean
  • The loft makes sherpa-lined products incredibly warm.
  • Can insulate better than shearling, without the weight or bulk
  • Wicks moisture and dries quickly
  • It’s less expensive than shearling products.
  • Mimics the look of wool, but does not use animal products

Shearling has stood the test of time, but sherpa has made a name for itself as a cold-weather champion. There is a shearling or sherpa coat for every taste. From rugged, ready-to-work coats to luxurious, fashionable jackets, both shearling and sherpa can take on the bitter chill of winter. Sherpa and shearling are smart options for warmth and style, built to last.

39 thoughts on “Shearling vs. Sherpa: Which Is Better?”

  1. Basically, these shearling sheepskin products are the traditional bulky, warm and fuzzy fabrics while the sherpa sheepskin fabrics are the less bulky versions which still offer great insulation against the cold. That is quite nice to learn as my wife really loves her jackets made of natural animal produce. I’ll try to look for both kinds of clothing made from those fabric and see which would suit best for her. Thanks!

      1. Gwt over your self.we have used animal hides for protection from the elements for as long as we figured out how to knap stone and light fires.and while you argue animal cruelty we dont talk about what synthetics manufacuring does to entire eco sir are being cruel to thousands of animals supporting synthetics while we just take one life.and generally its not in a cruel is sometimes unpleasant.lions dont humanely kill their prey so why the hell should we?it sound cruel but if we was having this convo 400 years ago you would probably be lynched lol.this is how we as a speicies suvived throughout our history.we are preditors.plain and simple.only reason you get to ride these ban wagons is cause we can make synthisised foods to support your idiotic diets.take it all away and you would die cery quickly while we survive.sometimes i wish a global cotastrophy would hit just to teach all you clowns a few lessons on survival.

          1. good answer ???
            lions aren’t humane, why should humans be ?
            they’re trying to survive.
            YOU are an ignorant fool….and yes, it isn’t four hundred years ago, point exactly, that was the ONLY way humans could survive. You too, please learn how to spell ! Environmental catastrophe….I wonder what would fare better, animals or plants. I again, am vegetarian, I do not try to change others, or have a CRAZY diet! How about eating a generic salad once in a blue moon. It’s the gluttony of people needing 2 lbs of meat a day….it is just very sad, you have no empathy.

      2. The said “BABY” is already dead from being butchered for your plate. Using the hide to keep you warm provides further use of the natural product and in my view, more environmentally friendly than relying on the textile industry’s polyester manufacturing while discarding a natural product.

        1. Here here, Mother Nature!
          Leather is a by-product of the meat industry. And a sheep is considered a “lamb” until the age of 2. It doesn’t make fiscal sense for farmers to butcher lambs when they’re little.

          We’ve evolved as omnivores. It’s still an individual choice to eat meat. It’s true that eating less of it and choosing wild-caught/hunted is much better for the environment.

          But synthetic fabrics (*not including certain rayons produced in entirely closed systems) are a plague on the planet–production shortens factory workers’ lifespans, runoff from production pollutes rivers and groundwater, and when the product’s lifecycle comes to an end, it doesn’t degrade back into the ecosystem.

          You can make the decision to not wear leather, and I can respect that–but please rethink any partiality you may have for synthetics. Plastic is a cancer of the planet.

  2. I am kind of amazed that you folks think naming a product after a unique ethnic group is just peachy.
    Sherpas deserve more respect.

    Would you call a black leather facing a congo lining?

    Good grief! It’s 2018 and there is no excuse for such careless racism.

    Find another term!!

    1. +Al Co
      I hope your joking. If not, please keep this ridiculous political correctness to yourself or take a poll of Sherpas and report back.

      1. I hope you are related to the famous Tenzing Norgay! He is a hero of mine since I was a boy. The sherpas are amazing people. I think everyone needs to stop being offended on behalf of other people! Also, this was a great article. Thanks to the author.

  3. There are 150,000 sherpas that are acclimated to the area around everest… Google it…..I’m sure they dont sit around thinking …damn…the rest of the world are using our name for clothing…..honestly they probably dont even know seeing as all they come across will be sporting way more durable clothing to take on everest… and heck if one person googles sherpa lining they will get a lil education! Hats off to these amazing people that keep rich people all over the globe alive at the risk of their own lives…

  4. Always think about buying faux wool. Sheep are brutally beaten, stabbed and sometimes killed to get their wool. It’s a sad and horrible act against these precious helpless animals! Think about the animals when you’re purchasing clothing.

        1. If you beat, stab, and kill your lamb in a brutal fashion, the sheepskin won’t be up to par. In fact, damaged leather loses most of its value. It’s dumb to beat the sheep you intend to sell the skin of. Many herders that produce wool or shearling don’t treat their animals like factory farms do.

          1. Bob, so very true! As the wife and mother of ranchers/ hunters/ trappers, I will say that we have never treated animals cruelly. Our livelihood depends on it, and our morals ensure it.
            Birth and death are natural. It comes to all. We were God given dominion over animals to meet our needs. It is all part of the cycle. Much like a cat chases and sometimes catches a mouse. There is balance in the world, in this cycle. When we interfere with it, the imbalance creates greater issues that if not checked, can hurt us all. You don’t fault the cat for chasing or catching a mouse… Even if it makes you squeamish… But if it did not, you would be overrun with mice, the damage they do and the diseases they can carry.

          2. Anyone who thinks that sheep are killed for their wool is woefully ignorant. Sheep can be shorn many times over their lifetimes. And, if sheep are used for food, why waste their hides?

          1. We were God given dominion over animals to meet our needs.

            Okay, but let’s not forget the “human” in the humane treatment of all animals. All life deserves the right to live. And to live a life free of suffering and cruelty. And at the end, to receive as kind and swift a death as possible. We are not lions and tigers or bears (Or Neanderthals). We have these incredible minds. We have choice. We know right from wrong. We know compassion, empathy and sympathy. The native Americans had respect for all life. They gave thanks for their kills and made use of every part of the animal possible. Reverence for life. Is that too much to ask?

            This world, this Earth is not Ours. It doesn’t “belong” to Us. Who the hell do we think we are? (Frankly, the Earth would be better off if humans were wiped off the face of it, and given time to recover from all the harm we’ve inflicted). It belongs to all. We are merely the stewards. As the “highest” life forms, I hope we can get out shit together and do what we need to save our precious world and all who dwell upon it.

        2. wow…almost each response is WRONG. but just touching on this last comment “livestock was put on this earth for ARE needs!”.
          alright, please learn how to spell ! everyone has a viewpoint on this. If you believe that’s all they’re for…I feel sorry for you. Issue is the cruelty and i humane treatment. I myself am vegetarian not vegan, also believing that certain groups go TOO far! What about the dogs, big cats, elephants etc..this is not livestock. In my opinion, it is the horrendous cruelty and pain inflicted….suffering needs to end! As humans we’re the ones to control this, lifestyles have become meat based, animals bred just to feed everyone at McDonalds !?! you have no idea what you’re talking about. The sad thing is, if you feel this way you lack sympathy, empathy and compassion.

          1. Please! Eat your tasteless veggies, drink your lawn grass smoothie and get a life. WE don’t care what your hypocritical stance is, because it’s guaranteed that you live as far removed from true nature as the very animals you claim to vigorously protect. Livestock is bred by humans for humans. No one tries to stop you being a “vegetarian” so leave the rest of the real world alone.

    1. where are you getting your facts from? It’s true that in certain parts of India dunkeys are abused, we can see the pics on Facebook. As for baby zeals, at one time they too were abused by the eskimos (not anymore I hope),but I have never ever heard of lambs been abused by their owners. Maybe by someone who might try steal them trying to make a profit. But that would be super rare in that part of the world.

  5. Great article on Shearling vs. Sherpa.
    As for the drama,
    I guess you don’t eat anything that has been alive or comes from a living animal or plant.
    Or sit on wood furniture, live in a house, or wear cotton or drink juice…
    If you have a pet what’s in the food you feed it.
    And if you have a pet, is that cruel too. Should they live free.
    Your self righteousness and ignorance is pathetic.

    I love this planet and all it has to offer.
    I am going to use shearling for the slippers I make to keep my children’s feet warm..
    And Sherpa on lighter weight clothing.
    Great article on Shearling vs. Sherpa.
    Respectfully, Gina

  6. All of you P.C. people….GET A LIFE! If you don’t like leather or wool don’t buy any! You can buy that synthetic polyester that does not work. Oh wait! You can’t wear that because it is made from plastic and plastic comes from Big Oil! What to do…..maybe go au natural…Scary!

  7. Well I just bought a sheeling jacket used from fleebay and wonderd just exactly what was shealing… well now I know thanks n I like It even more now! 🙂
    If anyone dont like it then don’t blame me as its not my fault we’ve had this type of covering since Adam n Eve….
    As for other alternatives it can at best hope to be on a par and as for plastic thats a big problem waste wise so in my book if its good enough for God to use it to clothe Adam n Eve then its good enough for us to use for clothes.
    Thanks for the great article.

  8. Hi!! (: Awesome article I just got a Sherpa hooded robe for my bday and it’s crazy warm and super amazing! I’ve never had anything shearling before but I can definitely attest to the fact that Sherpa is brilliant!! (:

  9. The FIRST physical deaths on earth were the animals GOD killed to clothe Adam and Eve whose sin made them spiritually, but not yet physically dead.

  10. where are you getting your facts from? It’s true that in certain parts of India dunkeys are abused, we can see the pics on Facebook. As for baby zeals, at one time they too were abused by the eskimos (not anymore I hope),but I have never ever heard of lambs been abused by their owners. Maybe by someone who might try steal them trying to make a profit. But that would be super rare in that part of the world.

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