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I’ve been using the Icebreaker BodyFit 150 short sleeve shirt as my go-to baselayer pretty consistently for a little over the last two years.
It has been my baselayer of choice for virtually all of my outdoors pursuits (climbing, backpacking, and mountaineering), irrespective of the season, and has even been my shirt of choice for the climbing gym, for running, occasional yoga sessions, and at the normal weights and treadmills gym (when I rarely do go).
It is impossible for me to guess how much usage this ONE particular shirt has got over the last few years… But it’s been through a lot.
I’ve used other shirts occasionally during that time—the Patagonia Capilene 2, both long and shirt sleeve are my other Usual Suspects.
I have owned both the Cap 2 shirts longer than my Icebreaker 150, but these days they see far less usage than they once did.
Needless to say, the Icebreaker 150 has been my preferred baselayer and I have used it to death at this point.[singlepic id=494 w=540 h=405 float=center]
From Old School to New School Wool
I think a lot of us had that one wool sweater that they recall with dread from their childhood… The one that Aunt Gertrude bought you for Christmas that made you itch like crazy.
Yuck, who would wear a wool t-shirt?
As you may know, the mountaineers of the Golden Age used numerous layers of this itchy old-school wool to insulate themselves at altitude because of wool’s warmth, even while wet.
In time, outdoor products began shifting away from leather, wool, and other natural products to performance tech t-shirts, Gore-Tex, fleece, and other oil-based products.
But the increasingly popular wool garments of today utilize special wool from the merino sheep of New Zealand. These sheep produce super fine wool hairs that feel soft like cotton and don’t itch like that sweater from Aunt Gertrude.[singlepic id=497 w=540 h=405 float=center]
Merino Wool versus Polyester
One of the oft-recognized qualities of merino wool is its antimicrobial proprieties, making it extremely odor resistant. You can wear your one shirt day in and day out in the backcountry and you realize the shirt itself does not stink…
You, of course, probably do; but the shirt doesn’t.
It therefore makes a suitable choice for a week in the woods, or even as a good gym shirt: you can go for a run one night, hang it up to dry off and then wear it to the gym the next day without any offensive odor.
I machine-washed my Icebreaker 150 intermittently depending on usage, and then always just hung it up to air dry (mostly to reduce additional wear and tear than out of concern of shrinkage).
Polyester shirts such as the Capilene shirts will definitely pick up a foul odor, even after just a quick 30-minute run outside.
You say “but I’m a rugged outdoorsman, who cares if I stink?” Fair enough. There are other advantages to merino wool though.
Merino wool’s performance as a baselayer when wet is extremely good. It does not feel clammy against your skin and is less chill inducing than polyesters while wet in cold environments.
This is attributable to the composition of the wool fiber itself.
To quote Andrew Skurka from his book the Ultimate Hiker’s Gear Guide, “the coretex (the inner core), absorbs about one-third of its weight in water, but the cuticle (its outer sheath) is hydrophobic.
“So when merino wool gets wet, the coretex absorbs the moisture (until it is saturated), and the cuticle feels dry against the skin. By contrast, a polyester fiber repels moisture, so the moisture stays on the fiber surfaces and between the fibers, where it can come in direct contact with skin.
“Wet wool is warmer than wet polyester because less moisture is in direct contact with skin—it gets absorbed into the coretex.”Buy from Amazon.com
Merino Wool Benefits
- Feels soft like cotton
- Excellent odor resistance
- Insulates when wet
- Doesn’t feel clammy
I have certainly felt a difference between polyester and merino wool in respect to its performance in wet and cold environments.
I recall a recent trip where I wore the polyester and got soaked by an unexpected rain in the evening, I wasn’t able to dry off before camp and despite my layering fleece and down over the top, I continued to feel chilled and cold because of the damp layer next to my skin.
It eventually dried out from body heat, but in my mind it was much less comfortable than when I’ve had a wet merino layer under similar temperatures and conditions.
So I see the utility of merino in conditions where it is difficult to stay dry—whether from your own perspiration, from rain and snow, or from otherwise wet and damp conditions.
Merino wool shirts do absorb more moisture than polyester however, and thus take longer to dry. By most accounts it takes approximately 50% longer to dry (ie a Capilene 2 garment that takes 30 minutes would take 45 minutes in a merino wool shirt).
Despite the increased drying time, I think the warmth and comfort of wool still prove superior when wet.
The shirts also perform admirably in the heat. This was still my go to shirt during the warm months in the Mid-Atlantic when the temps and humidity soared.
It performed similarly to polyester garments in those conditions, in my opinion. It wasn’t particularly comfortable, but then again what is when the temperatures are 90+ degrees as well as the humidity?
The slightly longer drying time of wool provides additional evaporative cooling benefits during the hotter weather.
Drawbacks of Merino Wool
There are two main drawbacks with merino wool however.
First of all, there are durability issues with these lightweight merino wool garments. They are prone to develop holes and tears over time, particularly in high abrasion areas like those underneath your pack.
This particular shirt has only a few tears or holes on the front, but is full of holes on my back—especially along the shoulders (shoulder straps) and along the back of the torso (from the backpack strap).
By contrast, I have owned my Capilene 2 garments for a longer period of time, and (while I don’t use them as frequently anymore, they did see a lot of use initially) they have held up decidedly better over time.
Secondly, merino wool garments are not cheap.
The Icebreaker BodyFit 150 short sleeve retails for $60. If you keep your eyes open you can get them a little cheaper.
I picked up this particular shirt at the Icebreaker outlet store down near Portland, Oregon for about $40-$45.
This summer I picked the Tech T Lite which has a slightly more casual cut compared to the BodyFit from Amazon.com for $46 (retail $65). And just a few weeks ago I picked up another 150 Tech T Lite on sale for $45 at one of the Icebreaker stores in New York City.
BodyFit versus Tech T Lite Shirt
These two shirts are not tremendously different. Both are 150 g/m2 weight shirts, but the BodyFit is 96% merino and 4% LYCRA, while the Tech T Lite is 100% merino.
The BodyFit, as its name suggests, has a tighter more athletic fitting shirt, while the Tech T Lite has a more casual cut. The BodyFit retails for $60 while the Tech T Lite is $65.[singlepic id=501 w=540 h=405 float=center]
Icebreaker BodyFit 150 Short Sleeve Shirt
Icebreaker makes a top of the line merino wool t-shirt and I have been extremely happy with it as a baselayer throughout its life.
Their garments are not cheap, but I think that the sustainable nature of a product derived from sheep versus oil based products should count for something.
This particular Icebreaker 150 shirt has reached the end of its life after about two years—there are quite a number of holes that have developed on the back, and a few holes on the front.
Even at the end I still proudly wore my holey shirt out in the woods and at the crag though.
But after more than two years of climbing, backpacking, working out, and abusing this shirt—it was time to say good bye.
I was pleased enough with its performance during that time that I knew I needed to replace it with another, and I didn’t hesitate in purchasing another Icebreaker 150 short sleeve shirt.
Actually, I wouldn’t mind picking up another couple of merino shirts and other garments from Icebreaker for my upcoming year-long climbing trip.
After all, I doubt I’ll be able to wash my clothes as often as I otherwise would. I’m looking forward to living like a dirtbag, but it’d be nice not to smell like one…Buy from Amazon.com
Further reading: BackpackingLight.com conducted a detailed assessment of merino and polyester by sewing two shirt halves together. Very interesting review.
Disclaimer: I own this product and purchased it with my own hard earned money. The company did not advocate for a review nor contribute to it in any way. This post contains affiliate links which provide me a small commission if you decide to purchase–thanks for the support!
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