Our equipment experts put the Icebreaker merino wool base layers to the test in order to see how they compare to synthetics.
Merino sheep, the inspiration behind the brand
ICEBREAKER â€“ MERINO PIONEER
By now, most outdoor athletes are familiar with the New Zealand brand Icebreaker and how it has pioneered the use of merino wool to create high-quality layers for outdoors, performance sports, and urban use. Starting in 1994, they have successfully marketed a wide range of merino wool garments, from accessories such as gloves and hats to jackets. However, where Icebreaker really excels is with its line of base layers, which it markets as high-quality, natural fibre alternatives to the synthetics that are so popular now.
WHAT IS MERINO WOOL?
The merino is one of the worldâ€™s most ancient breeds of sheep. They are different from regular sheep that roam the lowlands in that they can survive in extreme weather conditions. While the origins of the merino are disputed, they currently make their home in New Zealand's rugged Southern Alps mountain range, enduring scorching summers and freezing winters. In the summer, the merinoâ€™s thin, light, breathable coat keeps him cool in temperatures that hit 35+ Â°C. During the winter, they grow an extra layer of wool over their base coat as protection against temperatures that plummet to -20 Â°C. Nature provided the merino with this adaptable wool, which Icebreaker then turned into a lightweight system of all-season garments that are ideal for outdoor athletes.
CHARACTERISTICS OF MERINO WOOL
Merino wool is built from a natural protein named Keratin that protects cells from damage and is the key structural material that makes up the outer layer of skin. Icebreaker merino fibres are typically between 17-19 microns (half that of standard wool) and not made of plastic like in synthetics. This means that merino fibres are much finer and smaller, allowing them to flex when in contact with the skin, leading to increased comfort for the user.
Comparison of diameter: polyester fibres, merino wool and conventional wool
Merino wool combines its natural breathability and capacity to absorb moisture to keep you dry. Although it is not as breathable or quick drying as a synthetic wool, it is still relatively fast drying for a natural fibre (much more so than cotton, for example). And unlike synthetic fibres, it can absorb up to 30% of its own weight in moisture before you start to notice any dampness, meaning you won't be suffering from the clamminess that occurs with synthetics when their drying capacity has been exceeded.
Merino wool is thermostatic, which means it will keep you comfortable in a wide range of temperatures. In cold weather, merino wool acts as a great insulator from the cold. Its fibres contain millions of air pockets that lock in body heat to help keep you warm. At the same time, in hot temperatures or during intense aerobic activity, you won't overheat or get clammy skin as with traditional wool or synthetics. As a breathable fibre, merino wool wicks away sweat and allows it to evaporate, keeping you cool.
If you have ever worn technical synthetic base layers made of polyester or Lycra, you will already know that after a few hours of activity, they will not smell like roses. Being an outdoor enthusiast, you could potentially find yourself in situations where you might need to wear the same clothing for an extended period of time, which can become an embarrassing position to be in among your party.
Luckily, as a natural animal fibre, Icebreaker merino has anti-microbial properties that inhibit the growth of bacteria. They resist odour naturally, and can be worn for days â€“ even weeks â€“ without washing, which cannot be said of synthetic fibres. This is noticeable in the long term as well, since bacteria eventually build up on synthetics no matter how many times you wash them. However, this is not the case with merino wool garments. They are more resistant to bacteria and last longer before you have to throw them out.
After wearing and testing it out for a few hours, the anti-bacterial properties of the merino wool were really noticeable. Unlike a Lycra shirt, the Icebreaker shirt had no distinguishable odour. It is also machine washable, which is convenient.
The Oasis Icebreaker Men's Long Sleeve Half Zip â€“ Available for Purchase HERE