I love sheep. Now I realise that is a dangerous thing to admit to – so I shall expand, I love what grows on their backs but I’ll be more specific than that even – it’s the wool produced by one particularly robust and tough breed from New Zealand – the Merino that I can get very enthusiastic about. When a company with such sound ethics as icebreaker get hold of this breed they fibre work some kind of alchemy with their wool that must make the sheep themselves envious.
Icebreaker are a long established company that have broken into the European market in recent years but I’ve know their products for many years ever since a rather fortunate mess up with the airline baggage handlers on a BBC filming trip to new Zealand left me with no clothes other than what I was wearing – so a quick plundering of the outdoor shops in Auckland was required. And so it was, I ended up with several well fitting items that were light weight but greater than the sum of their parts when added together as a layering system. Now although I looked a little like a Star Trek extra, what worked so well for me was that they did just what they said on the packet and they kept me really warm and dry while at the same time looking pretty stylish, which in the 90’s (and to some extent today as well) was a word rarely associated with outdoor clothing.
Well since that day I’ve never looked back. Icebreaker are still an essential part of my everyday uniform – they’ve spun a little extra magic into the product in that the older ones were favoured by the resident clothes moths in my home, the new ones thankfully don’t seem as appetising to them and they’ve changed the feel/weave of the fabric so it keeps its shape much better even if it goes through the wrong wash cycle!
The reasons these are my favourite and essential items wherever I travel or work are several, now the aesthetics of the product don’t really bother me too much, but suffice to say they look good and hold their shape, which is all I require of them.
I’m very much a jeans and T-Shirt kind of chap and with that in mind the simple black T has become my favourite over the last few years – it is rarely off my back. It looks to many just like a regular black T shirt. It’s the thinnest weave they produce a superfine 150 – I’ve worn it as a vest, under a shirt, as a base layer and as a T-shirt. It has been through jungles, spent a summer season on my back as I chased ring-ouzels around Dartmoor and it has been worn under a suit. The simple beauty is that the fibre does all the work, it’s very fine and so avoids the big itch and the bulkiness that is associated with other wool garments which are pretty much the only downsides.
Merino when worn next to the skin feels, well for a lack of manly rufty tufty words – soft. Which makes it extremely comfortable; Now hike up a mountain and get yourself all sweaty or get caught out in a rain storm. If you were wearing a synthetic garment or a cotton T-Shirt you know how you would feel – very quickly the garment would stretch out of shape, or become cold and clammy and as it dried even smelly. None of this happens with merino. If the fibre gets wet it wicks away from the skin, your body heat drives the moisture away from your body and the garment dries out very rapidly. This has the added advantages of avoiding chills and discomfort, keeping you warm. This process works well for me having tested it in the tropical jungles of Panama and in the inclement British summer weather, hiking on Dartmoor on a daily basis. I even went canoeing and got dumped on by a torrential thunder storm, I got soaked to the skin but within 15 minutes the T-shirt was dry again and not once did it feel cold and clammy. Now lets get down to the other challenge, Icebreaker told me that their garments are odour resistant – quite a claim I thought. But being a bloke this is too good a challenge to ignore and so I decided not to wash the T-shirt all summer, while it was being used on a daily basis; and you know what? All things considered the niff wasn’t too bad, it would be pushing to say I didn’t have an aroma of sorts about the garment, but nothing more offensive than a slightly damp sheep could be detected and not that pungent ingrained human bodily odour you might expect.
Quite simply this is the go anywhere T-shirt and after a seasons hammering and almost daily wearing it has stood up to the tests; the only slight niggle is that some of the sun protection I had to wear this very hot and dry summer during a field season has discoloured the wool a little, particularly where the back straps of the rucksack make contact but other than that – it will be an old friend until it either falls apart or the moths get it – neither look likely in the near future.
A fun but useful little touch is that each item has a unique ‘BAACODE’ which if you plug into their website traces the origin of the fibres in your clothing to a sheep station in the mountains of New Zealand. The Icebreaker website helpfully tells me that from 120 station that produce Merion wool mine has been traced to a group of four: Irishman’s Creek, Walter Peak, Muller station, Otematata. As a far as ethics go – in this day and age they are about as good as they get, Icebreaker are trying to be as transparent as they can about their process and although they say they are not perfect (and who is?) in this respect they are a feel good company too. From the treatment of the livestock to the thought that has gone into shipping and packaging in degradable materials and ultimately when your garment finally dies – it can be buried (ceremonially of course!) and it’s goodness returned fully to the earth, something which can’t be said for a brand of thermals I recently dug up having been used as rags in the garden, the use of synthetic plastics and their immortal nature means all these other items will for the most part simply add to the landfill.
I have of course waxed lyrical about only one item but they have many others available for both genders and many different uses. The fabrics come in several different grades from the thinnest ultralite base layers at 150g per metre2 to the 260 midweight which has 260g of fibre for every metre2 – and these of course can be used on their own or together as a system.
I also would like to reemphasis at this point – I’ve not been paid to say any of this!! I truly recommend these premium products to anyone – they simply work. In a confusing world of celebrity recommendations and commercial interests it can be difficult to get truly impartial information, anyone who knows me will also vouch for the fact that even if I had received products as part of a business agreement – this would in no way stop me from being outspoken about a flaw or a fault. So I hope that goes some way to reassure you that this is written purely as a love of a quality product that works for me!