Base layers. Is there something maybe less interesting in the outdoor community than underwear? Everyone talks about the much cooler looking outer layers. Big puffy jackets filled with wonder insulation. Technical shells with miracle coatings that shed water, created by scientists in lab coats for our benefit.
I’d ask you to think about what you’d like to have next to your skin under all of that technical gear. Icebreaker has been thinking about that problem since 1995. Imagine a product made from the softest ethically-sourced wool you can think of, a fabric so wonderful you’ll never want to take it off. I purchased my first piece of Icebreaker merino wool about fifteen years ago. It was this amazing long sleeve top with a half zipper and thumbholes. Thumbholes! It was pretty much the most amazing thing I owned, and I wore it day in, day out, all the time. And you know, I could do that because one of the best things about merino wool, aside from how well it regulates body heat, is that it really does not hold onto odour.
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Fast forward to today, and I am still amassing pieces of Icebreaker. The products have changed a lot, but the wool is still sourced from long-term growers in the Southern Alps of New Zealand. This article is about two pieces in particular, the BodyfitZONE 150 leggings and the accompanying crew neck top. I’ve been wearing them pretty much every day for the last month and I think they are big winners. Please allow me to tell you why.
Icebreaker uses a numerical system to indicate how warm a piece of clothing is. These pieces carry a rank of 150, which puts them in the ultralight category. This makes them perfect for layering under a mid layer piece and maybe a shell if you’re going hard in cold, wet conditions, but honestly, there are times when I don’t even bother with the mid layer. The crew neck top is form fitting – which is quite nice for a base layer since the wicking properties of merino work best when next to your skin – and the thumb holes seal up your wrists nicely and keep you from getting cold there when you stuff yourself into a lot of powder snow. I find the thumb holes especially awesome when I am going hard and am only wearing the base layer and a pair of gloves. Everything stays toasty. If you do happen to get wet, it’s less of an issue with wool because wool keeps insulating even if it’s wet. The same can’t be said for down.
The leggings are similar. They sit next to your skin and you’ll forget you are wearing them until that one time when you go outside and realize you aren’t. It is quite incredible, how well they insulate, despite being so lightweight. For really cold days, Icebreaker makes a 260 weight legging. I own a pair of those too, and I’ve slept in those comfortably, in a warm sleeping bag, in temperatures approaching -40°C. Pro tip – put your leggings on first and pull your socks on over top. That seals the bottom of your cuff and keeps the leggings from sliding up your calves when you pull your pants on over them.
I’ll return to a previous point I made, about Icebreaker regulating your body temperature. Notice that I didn’t say that they “keep you warm”. They certainly do that, in the winter months, but a lightweight Icebreaker short sleeve top is wonderful in the summer as well. The hydrophobic wool fibre breathes so very well and allows moisture to pass through it without condensing and getting wet and clammy. Marvelous, indeed.
If you want to be really comfortable in your outdoor – and indoor, if we’re being honest – pursuits, underwear and base layers are important things to think about. They sit next to your skin and provide a foundation to build everything else on. If you’ve been unsatisfied with your comfort level in the past, I encourage you to rethink the foundation of everything and check out Icebreaker’s merino wool offerings. In the fifteen years of wearing their products, I’ve always been blown away.