We check out Icebreaker's winter-weight merino wool baselayer top and ask if sheep can put one over on the petro-chemical industry in a natural, feelgood stylee :-)
Icebreaker Bodyfit 260 Tech Top
Weight: 370 grammes (men's
260 merino fabric, long sleeves, zip-neck with
double-thickness collar, seamless shoulders,
Very comfortable, natural, warm and doesn't pong.
Holds moisture, expensive.
Merino wool is the flavour of the baselayer month
and has been for a couple of years now. The fabric is made from the
wool of merino sheep, which is very fine and so non-scratchy and has
other wool-like properties, like non-pong tendencies. Its main
selling point is that it's a natural alternative to the
petrochemical-derived synthetics like polyster and polypropolene than
most outdoor companies use.
As with all baselayers, it's intended as a more comfortable
alternative to the bog standard cotton tee-short with better moisture
The Bodyfit 260 is Icebreaker's heavier grade base
layer fabric designed for cooler weather use. It comes on our fave
long-sleeved zip-neck format with a collar for warmth and sun
protection. You also get nice details like seamless shoulders for
pack use and thumb holes in the cuffs to prevent the sleeves from
pulling up when you make like an orang utan.
Bodyfit 260 has a reassuringly chunky feel that
promises and delivers good insulation in cool conditions particularly
- it's a little too warm for the hotter months. It's dead comfortable
against your skin thanks to the fineness of the merino fibres, which,
combined with its all-natural credentials, makes it a proper 'feel
Merino seems to be the flavour of the month at the moment, but it
definitely doesn't manage moisture as well as a good synthetic
baselayer. That means if you run hot and sweaty then the fabric will
tend to soak it up rather than transporting it outwards as
effectively as, say, a good polyester baselayer.
What is impressive though, is that even when it's damp, merino is
still comfortable against the skin and feels warm thanks to the
exothermic properties of wool - it generates heat when damp. That
means it often doesn't register that the top is damp until you strip
off at the end of the day. It also means that the top, particularly
in this thicker grade, takes longer to dry.
The other big plus of merino is that it's extremely odour
resistant. That means you can get away with wearing the same
baselayer several days running, which is great, say, if you're
trekking or on a multi-day backpacking trip. There's still a slightly
damp odour to it, but it never turns into that awful stink you get
with some fabrics.
The cut and design of the garment were fine with us, though we
rarely used the thumb holes in the sleeves, they add a little extra
warmth particularly when layered with a mid-weight glove and
eliminate any exposed skin at the wrist.
The Tech Top's a real feel-good garment and we liked the
warmth, comfort against the skin and the anti-pong qualities that
allow multi-day wear. We were less impressed with the moisture
management of the thicker grade of fabric though and if you're a
sweaty sort of person, you'd probably be better off either with a
synthetic or a lighter grade of merino. Or maybe you should just slow
down a little.
The saving grace is that even though the material does get damp,
it remains comfortable and warm against the skin regardless. You can
look at that in a couple of ways, you might either decide that you
want better overall moisture management and go synthetic or
rationalise that since you're going to get damp anyway, you might as
well be 'comfortable damp' rather than 'damp-feeling damp'. The
choice is yours, though you should also note that the thicker grades
of merino do dry more slowly than synthetics.
The other sticking point is the price - £65 is a lot for a
baselayer top, no matter how comfortable it is, but if you can live
with that then it's a very nice winter-weight baselayer option.
Pushed for time
Winter-weight feel good fabric that doesn't manage
moisture as well as synthetics, but feels comfortable even
when its sopping wet. Also has great anti-stink properties
so you can wear it on multi-day trips without your partner
smacking you. Not cheap though.
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