Most base-layer garments are made from synthetic
fabrics, basically byproducts of the petro-chemical industry, or
plastic, if you want to be cynical. Merino wool, on the other hand,
comes from merino sheep.
What makes merino wool different from standard issue sheepy wool
is that the individual fibres are much finer. That means none of the
itchiness that many people experience with wool and a soft luxurious
feel next to the skin. On top of that, Icebreaker has a whole list of
merino pluses including breathability, insulation, fire-retardent
qualities, temperature regulation, a warm feel when wet, and odour
So, we're talking what's claimed to be a viable alternative to
synthetic baselayer fabrics.
The Skin 2000 fabric is Icebreaker's lightweight, all-season, next to
skin fabric. It's 25 per-cent lighter than the Bodyfit 260 mid-weight
bodywear and has a nice, light feel to it. The Oasis crew is a simple
long-sleeved crew neck top but the same fabric is also available as a
simple tee-shirt design or as a long-sleeved zip-neck, the format we
In Action We'll talk about the different garments individually
in a moment, but first some general observations about merino wool.
The first thing we'd say is that it's a real 'feel good' fabric, both
physically and emotionally. It is lovely and soft next to the skin,
particularly in warmer conditions when synthetics can feel nasty and
plastic. It's also simply nice to know that you're wearing a natural
fabric that's come from a renewable sheepy resource rather than a
of which is fine, but useless if the fabric doesn't perform. Well the
good news is that it does, really well. There are lots of things we
really like about merino. It feels comfortable against the skin hot
or cold, wet or dry and does a neat trick of feeling warm in cold
weather, but still being comfortable when everything goes
It also has fantastic anti-odour properties. We found we could
wear it for several days without nasty pongs developing, which is
great for multi-day trips and travelling, or simply if you're lazy.
It's machine washable too, unlike most conventional wool which has to
Are there any downsides? As far as we can see, the only area where
merino loses out to synthetics - though durability may be another -
is in moisture management. The best lightweight synthetics,
Berghaus's Xstatic Powerdry for example, wick noticeably better than
even the lightweight merino, which definitely holds more moisture and
takes longer to dry. The good news is that damp merino still feels
comfortable and wool's exothermic properties - it generates heat when
wet - means that you miss out on that damp, cold sensation, so it's
not a major problem unless you sweat like a Turkish wrestler in a sauna.
As far as the individual garments go, predictably the lightest
weight Oasis Crew worked best for high tempo activities and in
warmer conditions and, becauser of the thinner fabric, wicked more
effectively than the heavier Tech Top. Ideally we'd use it in
zip-neck, long-sleeved guise for more versatility and some sun
protection for the back of the neck.
The Tech Top uses a thicker fabric and is a great winter
baselayer that still feels comfortable when the going gets hot. We
like having the zip-neck for ventilation, but the collar is on the
generous side and while it offers great protection when zipped up,
it's a bit floppy when the neck is open. We weren't particularly
bothered with the thumb-holes, but the big plus is that they're
unobbtrusive enough that they aren't at all bulky and annoying when
the sleeves are worn normally under a shell or midlayer. We're not
sure if regular use of the thumb loops wouldn't cause accelerated
wear in that area of the cuff however.
Last but not least, the mid-layer weight Sport 320 Coronet
is the loveliest thing we've tested since the Arc'Teryx MX Gamma
Hoody. It simply looks and feels fantatic and we've been living in it
for weeks now. The styling is spot on with a really funky, erm,
contemporary look to it. It's almost too lovely to wear on the
In purely practical terms, we'd have to admit that microfleece
beats it for warmth to weight ratio and handles moisture and dries
faster too, but the Coronet has that feel good factor in spades.
The first thing we'd say is that we think merino is great - it's
natural, comfortable hot or cold, wet ofr dry, and it doesn't pong.
It's not hard to care for either, being machine washable, and - tip -
Icebreaker suggest that for the first wash you throw in a pair of
jeans with it to remove short fibres, soften it even further and help
The best synthetics do handle moisture better - they wick faster
and dry more quickly - but merino still feels comfortable even when
it's damp, so any downside is minimised. On the mid-layer side of
things, we have to admit that, although we love the Coronet top, a
standard microfleece is much cheaper and arguably performs as well or
better, though it'll smell more in the process. Then again, it lacks
merino's feel good factor and the Coronet's great look.
Which leaves the price - 65 quid is a lot to pay for a baselayer
top and the £100 price tag on the Coronet is also steep, even if
it does reflect the amount of work that's gone into the detailing -
we comepared it to a functionally similar, but much cheaper Aldi
merino top for reference. Of course, value is a very personal
judgement and if you can afford Icebreaker, we don't think you'll be
disappointed based on our experiences so far. Very, very nice.
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See more comments...
You'd think, but "I need a spare for going away" is too easy to say.
And online shopping? you don't even see the money.
They take a lot of abuse though, and you can't get a comfier base layer.
Posted: 26/04/2005 at 17:45