There’s little doubt that one of the best materials available for baselayers is merino wool. Comfortable and stink-proof, this ideal fabric for multiday trips or those of you who’re just too skanky to wash your gear after use. Merino wool originates in New Zealand and on the Icebreraker website you can even identify from which flocks the wool is sourced from. Mine was sourced from four stations, you can click this link to see!
There’s a strong streak of environmental responsibility in the company, with an emphais on ethical and sustainable business practices, you can read more on their site. Of course, using wool as the raw ingredient means that they’re not made out of non-sustainable synthetic materials and can presumably be composted down at the end of their natural life rather than contributing to land fill. Even the box and packaging is made from recycled materials, which is in turn also fully recyclable.
The Icebreaker range is arranged into a bewildering range of tops, but once you realise that they’re numbered from the coolest tops (150 series) through to warmer winter baselayers, fleece equivelents and the warmest at 380, it’s a bit clearer what you’re after even if their website doesn’t provide much of an explanation. For summer use, you’ll need to go after the 150 series, but we tested the Icebreaker Mondo Zip from their 200 series at temperatures around 20°C and found that it was fine in these conditions and will also be used as a base layer for winter as we prefer a thinnish baselayer as a start for our layering system and then adapting the next layers to suit.
All that’s well and good, but how does it perform?
The first thing you notice about merino is how comfortable and soft it is. This is the nearest you’ll ever get to a hug in a box. The fit itself is spot on, the sleeves managing to hit that sweet spot of being simultaneously long enough to cover your hands if needed, but not obtrusive when you don’t. The zip on the front is also very generous, opening further than you’d want in polite company unless sporting a medallion, but ideal for cooling the core when you’re dragging yourself up that final pull to the summit. The claim on the box is that “It’s like a second skin” and for once, the boast on the box isn’t far off the truth.
The Stinky test. After finding that synthetic tops start to emit an odour similar to my mother’s elderly and incontinent cat once worn, I was going to give this top a run for it’s money. It was first taken on a run, then a handful of walks where i was working hard and got soaked to the skin. So with all this sweat and grime, enough to put anyone off their lunch, I would have expected the top to stink to high heaven. All I could detect was that new top smell, and nothing offensive. At least six sessions and still fresh, definitely passing the test for a backpacking top.
Washing. My first foray into merino was with another decent brand, but not one known for their merino. They shrunk rather sorrily on washing and the base on the back went rather hard and were discarded. So I was obviously apprehensive on washing merino this time around. I decided to wash it by hand, for the simple fact that I had only the one item to wash and didn’t want to fire up the washing machine for just that. Using a sample Wool Wash from nikwax, the top was easy to clean and no fuss. You don’t need to go stretching it afterwards, but they do warn you not to dry the item too quickly such as in a tumble drier or in direct sunlight presumably as that would shrink it! Once dried, it still fitted as previously and performed as expected.
Merino wool tops are certainly some of the best tops you can buy, but there comes the only downside. You don’t get this sort of ethical, environmentally responsible, high quality top at bargain bucket prices. While I’d love to replace all my tops with Merino, it would be an expensive exercise and one best taken over time. I’m wondering if it’s possible to source all the outdoor clothing you need from ethical and sustainable companies, and still have gear that’s as technically accomplished as I now have? For the time being, I’m convinced that you can with base and mid layers.
Summary: Ethically sourced merino wool active top from Icebreaker keeps you comfortable and stink-free on those long weekends.
Review sponsored, but not influenced, by Nature Shop UK – an online retailer selling premium “nature inspired” brands and products that are kind to your body and to the environment. We are committed to making a positive difference to the world that we all live in with a specific focus on preservation of the natural environment and in helping the lives of children who will inherit this beautiful world of ours. We have offices and distribution centres in Rustington, West Sussex in the United Kingdom and in Mount Maunganui, New Zealand.