As winter falters on we try a midlayer from those rather special Kiwi sheep ...
Features: 100% Merino wool (320g per metre squared), reverse facing zip, thumb loops, striped knitted inserts over the shoulder and down the sleeve for styling, sizes XS to XL, available in black (shown), dusty pink, greyplum, and haze (pale blue).
What's It For?
The Coronet takes its place between Icebreaker 'skin' layers and Pureplus or Coastal outer layers in the Merino wool layering system. It's designed for warmth on nippy days out on the hills, but it performs well when it's wet, so if life gets a bit hotter and stickier than you expect, it still does the job.
Merino wool comes from the land of all things Kiwi but it's becoming increasingly popular in the UK. Icebreaker were the first to bring a full Merino layering system to these green, pleasant and rather damp isles, so they know all the ins and outs of the fabric, provided you're ready to empty your pockets in return.
It's also worth noting that all Icebreaker products are gender-specific, to ensure a good fit, so this version of the Coronet is for women only. If that's not you, there's a male equivalent in colours like 'diesel' rather than 'dusty pink' and 'greyplum', and more importantly, with a different fit.
The Techy Bits
Merino wool is an outdoor performance fabric that doesn't wick moisture very easily - sounds all wrong, doesn't it? The missing part of the equation is Merino's willingness to absorb as much sweat as you throw at it without losing its warmth. That is to say, it can down as much liquid as most of your mates at the pub without acquiring the cold, clammy feel of wet cotton, and without losing its insulation value. (Well, that might be a slight exaggeration, but you get the point.)
It works the same way as normal wool, but the fibres sitting on the backs of Merino sheep are much finer than those of their woolly English cousins, so they're softer to the touch. If you find normal wool rough or itchy then you're unlikely to have the same problem with Merino.
How It Performs
The idea of donning a garment with the word 'wool' in its name wasn't an attractive prospect at the outset, but we've used Merino a few times now and always been pleasantly surprised. It's definitely a lot gentler on the skin than you'd expect and even if you have sensitive skin it doesn't feel itchy or coarse.
We wore the Coronet on a rather pathetic attempt at a winter's day and found it very snug, but admittedly the weather wasn't doing a brilliant job of putting it through its paces. Still, we reckon it's fairly cosy as a winter mid-layer, and because it's close fitting, you can always pile an extra fleece or three on top.
We had a better shot at testing how Merino works when it gets hot and sweaty, given that we wore it in January-going-on-June. As you'd expect, it soaked up the moisture rather than wicking it away in a hurry, but we didn't feel any colder or more uncomfortable as a result. Admittedly, this is slightly less important in a mid layer than in a base layer, which sits next to your skin, but it's worth getting right anyway.
The other plus point with Merino is that it doesn't smell because the fibres are all natural. We tried wearing it for a couple of days and all we can say is that no one complained about the air quality when they were squashed in a car with us on the way home. Of course, they could have been being polite, but we prefer putting it down to the anti-pong properties of Merino.
Apart from the fabric, the main features you notice on the Coronet are the collar, ventilation zip at the front, and the thumb loops. We liked the collar, which reaches right up to your chin for warmth but can also be folded down out of the way, and the zip, which increases ventilation when you start working harder. In theory, we were quite keen on the thumb loops as well, because they stopped the sleeves riding up our arms when we added a layer over the top. In practice though, we found the loops were positioned too far back, and sat most naturally on the backs of our wrists. This meant the sleeves ended up a bit twisted when we tried to hook them over our thumbs.
The other distinctive aspect of the Coronet - as with all Icebreaker gear - is the styling. The stripes down the shoulders and arms are subtly distinctive (if that's not a contradiction); as for colour, we'll leave you to decide whether you're a black or 'haze' or 'greyplum' kind of person.
The down side of this focus on appearance is that the shoulder stripes create some fairly size-able seams on the shoulders. The fabric is soft enough for these not to rub with a lightweight sack, but it's something to watch out for if you're carrying anything heavier.
The other thing worth mentioning is that Icebreaker styling includes a genuinely figure-hugging fit, which looks flattering, if that matters to you, but more importantly it enhances the performance of the garment. A close fit equals no patches of moving air sucking the heat away from your body, which in turn equals better insulation. Icebreaker have got the hang of women's body proportions, so if you're a girl who finds it difficult to find gear that genuinely copes with curves, this might be a good place to look.
At £90 for a midlayer, you expect the fabric, features, and style all to be spot on. Icebreaker have done a pretty good job although we would have liked them to re-position the thumb holes slightly. Other than that, the fit was genuinely figure-hugging and the fabric was soft, warm and anti-pong. Merino doesn't wick moisture well, but it retains its warmth even when damp, so it works both on a cold winter's day and, in our case, a rather warm and steamy one.
Icebreaker are good at designing women's specific clothing - in fact, all their garments are gender-specific, so they've got the hang of different male and female fits. Add this to the generally well-made features and the properties of the fabric, and you've got a pretty good winter mid-layer. The only question is, do you want to spend £90 on it? If you're well-heeled, you could do worse with your money. Otherwise, you might be better off with a cheaper synthetic alternative.
Good fit and a nice natural fabric that stays warm when it's wet.
Mis-placed thumb loops.
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