September 30, 2012

Favorite Finds: Icebreaker Merino

Icebreaker is a New Zealand-based brand that I stumbled across one day while wandering the Meatpacking District, and I’m glad I did. All of their products are made from merino wool, not that unusual, but then I saw the all-weather performance gear. Running shirts, jackets, shorts, leggings, socks, even underwear. At first, it seems counterintuitive to wear a wool shirt to go running in 80-degree weather and not expect to pass out from heatstroke. But when you delve into their philosophy, it makes perfect sense. The sheep whose coats it’s made from manage to stay warm in the winter and cool in the summer, so there has to be something to it.

Since this is activewear, it needs to be functional (though it doesn’t hurt that it looks as good as it feels) and the only way to be confident in a recommendation was to try it out, so I picked one up and gave it a whirl. I’ve had the Quest Crewe (size M), for about a month and have been running in it regularly and it has completely eclipsed all of my other running shirts.

When I first put it on, the shirt felt just the slightest bit itchy, but not uncomfortably so, more just an awareness that this wasn’t your typical performance fabric. After a few minutes though, I didn’t notice any difference from a supima cotton tee. The first run I went on in the Icebreaker shirt was definitely a different experience. It was in the mid-70s and while my core stayed warm, I felt cool for the entire run.

It has mesh panels at the shoulders and sides, but unlike synthetics that require mesh to breath at all, these just serve to help regulate your temperature because the whole shirt is breathable. When I finish a long run, this shirt isn’t plastered to my back like my technical or cotton shirts (which I sometimes need help getting off) because it is naturally moisture wicking and dries quickly (sheep get rained on after all and you don’t see them wandering around looking like wet blankets). On top of all that it is machine washable and, unlike synthetic shirts, it won’t smell after repeated use, which is a huge plus.

There are some nice features that could definitely come in handy while exercising. There is a headphone loop at the back of the collar and a zippered pocket at the right hip with a small hole on the inside for your cord. The zipper is smooth and sturdy and the pocket is a decent size, definitely enough room for keys, id, and some cash without being cumbersome.

Another really cool thing about Icebreaker is that their products are naturally sourced. Each garment has a unique ‘baacode’ (I love that name) that allows you to track the wool from your piece back to the farm(s) that it came from. My shirt was sourced from 4 sheep stations – Lindis Peaks, Irishman Creek, Muller, and Otematata.

This particular shirt is 96% merino wool and 4% elastane (which gives it an incredible amount of stretch), and wool doesn’t come cheap. $80 may seem like a lot, but considering the natural and ethical sourcing, the vastly improved comfort over a synthetic or treated cotton, and the fact that a Nike shirt isn’t that much cheaper, I have to say that it is definitely worth the money.

I cannot say enough good things about both this shirt and Icebreaker in general and I can’t wait to try out their other products, particularly the Tracer Short. And I’ll definitely be picking up more of these in the other great colors it’s offered in.

Stay fit and stylish,
- JJ

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