Friday, January 19, 2007

First Impressions: A preliminary review of the Icebreaker midweight long underwear top.


January can be cold at our headquarters in Telluride, Colorado. The mercury slept at –4 at my place on Tuesday morning, and one of our guides mentioned that her thermometer read –16 on the same day. Therefore, we jumped with excitement when our friends at Paragon Ski and Sport asked us to test new long underwear from Icebreaker. Two weeks ago, a bunch of us received the Bodyfit 260, a midweight, long sleeve crew in charcoal/black.

If you’re not familiar with Icebreaker brand clothing, then you really need to visit their website. www.icebreaker.com You’ll find plenty of technical information in addition to photographs and testimonials concerning their products. (Please note that Ryder-Walker is not affiliated with Icebreaker in any way. We do not receive compensation for the endorsement of Icebreaker products).

One characteristic that makes Icebreaker clothing extremely unique is that it’s manufactured from 100 percent Merino wool. In these days of synthetic garments designed for active people, it might seem crazy to revisit natural fibers. However, Smartwool did it successfully with their socks, and I like to remember that many synthetic fibers were originally designed to mimic some of Mother Nature's naturally occurring products. Synthetic sleeping bag insulation is a perfect example. It fluffs and traps air like down, but it’s less expensive and it tends to dry more quickly after a good soaking. The flipside is that it never compresses as tightly as down. Scientists just haven’t found a way to match down’s fantastic loft to weight ratio, though they’re getting close. It seems that with every advantage there exists an opposite and equal disadvantage. The disadvantage with wool underwear of course, has always been the itch and the scratch. But not anymore!


My first reaction when I slipped into the long sleeve crew was,” Wow! This thing is REALLY comfy.” Honestly, it feels really good. The cut is wonderful and the wool is soft. I never feel restricted, yet the cut feels athletic and conforming. They got it right with this one. Of course, Icebreaker is a New Zealand based company so I guess shouldn’t expect anything less from their wool.

My second reaction, now that I’ve been snowshoeing; snowboarding; cycling; x-country skiing and generally hanging out in the thing for the last two weeks, is that IT DOESN’T STINK. Icebreaker claims that their products are naturally odor free and I’m a believer. I was able to generate a bit of stink out on the trail or within a crowded room. However, once I removed the garment for the night or lowered the intensity of my exercise, the stink just magically disappeared. I even handed the garment to my wife for confirmation. Of anyone, she would tell me if the garment needed washing. Her words? “Wow. I want one!” No kidding! I don’t think many synthetic brands can make the same claim. I haven’t washed the shirt in two weeks and it still smells wooly-fresh. Icebreaker claims that the record without washing is 169 days. I don’t recommend that anyone try to beat the record.

Here is a breakdown of my preliminary observations to date:

Pros:
Extremely comfortable-Don’t be sheepish. Give this wooly wonder a try.
Midweight-Good for light to medium intensity.
Breathes very well -My skin felt dry during moderate activity.
Extremely warm-This is some of the warmest long underwear that I’ve tried and it’s not even their thickest product.
Attractive cut-This thing is not your grandpa’s waffle underwear.
No Stink! -This will be great on our village-to -village hiking tours. Who wants to do laundry in Europe?
It’s natural-Who can complain about that?
Conversation starter-Everybody in Telluride has been talking about Icebreaker.

Cons:
Price-This long sleeve crew retails for $69.99. Ouch! Maybe, the laundry savings will make up the difference.
Addicting -You’ll want more.
Fashion-Everybody in Telluride has been talking about Icebreaker.

In Summary: The Bodyfit 260 long sleeve crew is a wonderful first-layer for active and non-active people alike. It’s warm but it breathes well, so it doesn’t feel overly hot or sticky when just sitting around. It’s pricey, but most quality products are. What would you pay for NO STINK? Icebreaker advertises this product as a base layer. However, it feels a bit heavier than comparable brands so shedding external layers and wearing the shirt as an outer garment is not unreasonable.
One final note: I haven’t had the opportunity to test this garment in a hot environment. I’m curious to see how it feels beneath a hot and sweaty backpack. Likewise, I’m curious to see how quickly it dries following a good washing. I’ll provide an updated review further down the road.

As always, please contact Ryder-Walker if you have any questions or comments. We would love to hear from you.

(Photos courtesy of the Icebreaker website)