Why is Yak Fiber Soft?

Why is Yak Fiber Soft?
Photo by Toomas Tartes on Unsplash

Yak fiber is the new luxurious fabric dominating the textile market and reigning the heart of fervent wool-lovers always on the hunt for the softest and the most breathable fabric out there in the market. 

Yak fiber can be defined as the fiber made out of yak wool that is produced from the downs or the undercoats of Himalayan bovines, named Yak. Yak fiber is a luxury item because yaks are super rare, only inhabiting the Himalayan region, the plateaus of Tibet, Myanmar, Yunnan, and a few areas in Mongolia and Central Asia. 

The other thing that makes yak fiber more luxurious than other kinds of wool is its sheer softness. 

But why is yak fiber so soft? We have done extensive research on the same to bring a complete breakdown of all the reasons that contribute to the yak fiber’s softness.

The Different Yak Coats:

Yaks are to Himalayan people, what bison are to Americans – important. They have a bulky body frame, extremely dense and long fun, as well yas horns of dark colors. 

Every yak can produce some amount of fiber, whether it is wild or domestic. The quantity, however, depends on the age, breed, sex, and genetic makeup of the yak.

Although yaks look like they have rough fur, and it would be impossible to make fiber out of them that is even remotely soft, what would take you by surprise is the fact that they have three different coats. 

Each coat has its own texture, and all of them vary greatly in appearance, characteristics, and even usage. 

The coarse coat: The coarse coat is the outermost layer of hair, which can be considered the long and dense fur of the yak. This protects the yak from the extremities of the arctic environment. 

It is mostly used by nomads and the people domesticating the yaks in tent-making. As the name suggests, the fur is coarse and has a micron range of 79-90, which is considered thick.

The mid-type: The mid-type in the middle to the outer layer of the yak coat with a diameter of 20-50 microns. It is used to make ropes and tents. However, it is not as strong as the coarse outer coat and neither as fine and soft as the down-coat.

The down fiber: This is the coat of the yak that is ‘the talk of the post.’ The innermost layer of hair that is naturally shed by yaks during the late spring to early summer, the yak down is the softest layer of the three coats.

It is used in the textile industry for the production of yak fiber, which, as we know, gives tough competition to the fabled cashmere, both in terms of softness and price.


Reason why Yak Fiber is soft

Yak fiber has an average diameter of 16-20 microns which, in the textile industry, is considered fine; in fact, yak fiber is one of the finest in the world, and therefore also soft. Here is where the article picks thrust as we throw light on the multiple reasons why yak fiber is so soft, beginning with the very simple yet very important reason – adaptation to cold environments.

Yaks have a double coat of hair.

The primary reason behind the softness of yak down boils down to more or less a physiological adaptation. Yaks live at extremely high altitudes in the Himalayas and the associated regions where the temperatures can drop below 30 degrees which is why they need some sort of protection against the harsh extremities of their habitat. 

This protection comes in the form of a double coat (with a mid-coat) that protects the yaks against cold. The outer coat of the yak is rough and long, which primarily serves the purpose of repelling rain, frequent snow, and precipitation of ice. 

The undercoat or the down serves as an insulatory coat, which is short and fluffy and traps a layer of air so that the yak could maintain a certain body temperature to survive the cold. Since the undercoat is protected from the elements of nature such as rain, snow, dust, etc., by the rough outer coat, it stays soft and fluffy all the time.

Since the yak down or the undercoat is only required during the winters to insulate yaks from cold, they start shedding it naturally in spring. This down can easily be combed down off the yak once the yak has been sheared off the outer coat. Later, the down is spun into a yarn that is used to craft some of the finest and softest fabrics in the world – the yak fabric.

Most luxury fibers are soft, the major reason being environmental adaptation similar to yaks. For example, the vicuña is an animal inhabiting the Andean highlands where it has to face environmental extremities such as cold, snow, and rain. This is why it has a double coat, with the undercoat being super soft, fluffy, and super warm.

The microns count

Micron count is a good way to get the approximation for softness; the smaller the micron, the thinner the fiber. An average human hair measures around 60-70 microns in diameter, and the down of a yearling yak measures 15-17 microns and 18-20 microns in the adult yaks, which makes yak fiber ultra-soft. 

Micron measure is important when you are looking at wool or any other fiber. 

When buying yarn online, you don’t get to feel the yarn and can barely estimate the softness of the yarn. It is not a good idea to buy yarn based on customer reviews because the meaning of softness is different for different people. Words like “super soft” in the reviews don’t help you to understand how soft the yarn really is. But whenever there is a micron measurement given, for example, 15-micron yak, it helps a lot, mostly for people who have been looking at micron count for a whole. 

There are other natural fibers of animals like musk ox and vicuna, with a small diameter. But these animals are wild, and if their down is not gathered by hand, they might shed down while wandering in the vegetation. Whereas in the case of yaks, their down can be simply combed off the animal.

Yak Down is Scaly

There are a number of different factors which make yak a brilliant quality soft fiber. One of the many reasons is the surface texture of yak down. Each hair from a yak down, when examined under an electron microscope, appears to be scaly and tightly fitted against the surface of the hair shaft. This not only makes the texture of yak down smooth but also soft.

Yak Fiber has Crimps

Crimps of the yak down also make the texture of the fiber soft and springy to touch. In terms of textile, the bends and folds in fiber are called crimps. The crimps of the yak down appear like a coiled spring that has been mashed flat. The crimp in wool fiber makes it soft and spongy; it also traps a large volume of air between fibers which gives it an insulating property.

The crimp provides three qualities to a fiber – bounce, loft, and insulating property. The strands of the yak down bounce back to their initial position when you stretch them apart and release them. Compress the strands, the coil gets closer, and when pressure is released, they spring apart again.

That’s the loft. When the fiber is mixed with other fibers, it meshes up and creates micro pockets of insulating air. All these qualities come together with yak fiber and make it one of the softest, lightest, fluffiest and luxurious fabrics in the world of textile. 


Why is Yak Fiber Considered a Luxury?

It’s a known fact that yak fiber is considered a luxury – but if you think it’s only because of the softness that yak fiber is characterized with, you’re not looking at the complete equation. Here are eight reasons, including the ultimate and obvious softness associated with yak fiber that make people go nuts over it.

1.Rarity is Luxury

There are about 20,000 yaks in the world, according to the Wildlife Conservation Society, which clearly proves how rare they are. Most of the yaks live in the Tibetan plateau because of its super-high elevation, far away from the heat. 

However, Tibetan Plateau is also a victim of climate change, and it is sad for the yaks because the environment of the Tibetan plateau is excellent for them. Therefore, the fact that luxury fiber is rare and limited is clear from the above. And there is no fast way to recover the number of yaks because we can’t plant animals like we do flax or cotton.

2.Yak Fiber is super Warm and Cozy

It was during 1980 when the exceptional warm quality of the yak wool was first discovered. The wool is capable of maintaining insulation even if the wool is wet and readily maintains the normal body temperature. It was found during various experiments on yaks that they could survive extreme cold, thus, explaining the adaptation of yaks to the harsh climate.

3.The Softness is Unmatched

The fiber is unbelievably soft and so delicate that one can hardly distinguish between scoured yak down from scoured goat cashmere. The reason why the yak fiber makes a perfectly balanced product is that it’s soft, strong, and durable. It’s easy on the skin and keeps you warm during the cold winter.

4.Breathable and Antibacterial

Yak down is a breathable fiber, and the products that are made of yak fiber have the ability to absorb and release moisture. 

One of the unique features of the yak down is that it’s antibacterial, which means that it’s impossible for the bacteria to breed from sweat and dirt in clothes. The antibacterial property is perfect for making underwear, socks, and sweaters.

5.Static resistant and Absorbs No Odour

The yak fiber is a natural fiber, and like all other natural fibers, has an anti-static quality, and it does not electrify. It is even way better than cashmere, and it doesn’t stick to the skin.

Say NO to sticky!

The yak fiber doesn’t absorb odors, which is one of the important qualities of yak fiber. The products made of yak fiber don’t require frequent wash, which results in extended durability.

6.Renewable, Cruelty-Free Resource

Yak fiber is a cruelty-free resource; it doesn’t require any electrical or manual clippers as the yak down shed each spring. A yak weighing around 750-1,300 lbs can easily shed over two pounds of yak fiber annually, and the same amount of fiber is produced by a tiny German angora rabbit weighing about 6-10 pounds. This also states why yak fibers are limited and therefore luxurious.

7.Kinder to the Planet

Yaks in the semi-wild areas are allowed to graze freely, and it is an important positive contribution towards a critical ecological niche to the environment. 

Yaks are a great alternative to cashmere, as the cashmere turns grasslands into the desert by overgrazing sheep that contribute to the hyped cashmere fiber. 

8.Warmer Than Wool, Softer Than Cashmere

Yaks are one of those highest-dwelling mammals in the world that live between 9,800-15,500 feet above sea level. The yaks can survive in temperatures as low as -40 degrees Fahrenheit with the help of their warm and cozy thick coats. The yak down is 10-15% warmer than Merino wool and softer than cashmere.

The idea is to say that yaks are sheared carefully.


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