Wearing wool in high summer

The term “woolen underwear” conjures images of the scratchy longjohns worn by miners and cowboys in America’s Old West. So I was pleasantly surprised by a line of woolen wear from New Zealand designed for travel and sports in even the warmest of weather.
The Icebreaker line sold by the Nature Shop gets its raw material from the merino sheep that graze the high country on New Zealand’s South Island. Merino wool, one of the softest types available, is gathered at sheep stations with such names as Walter Peak, Glenmore and Mount Nicholas. The result is a lightweight fabric that’s soft to the skin and wicks away moisture.
Full disclosure: The marketing folks at the Nature Shop came across my blog and asked me to field-test some of the Icebreaker products, and keep them in exchange for an “honest review.”
So I checked out the online catalogue with an eye for apparel useful for cyclists.

Icebreaker tech t lite ridge

A woolen jersey, ideal for cool-weather cycling, immediately caught my eye. But it was high summer in Texas, with temperatures over 100 degrees Fahrenheit. So a T-shirt and a pair of boxer briefs seemed the more appropriate choices
It’s counterintuitive that wool would be suitable wear for summer, so I was skeptical. But I tried out both items in the Texas heat and during a trip to South Korea and Taiwan, where the heat and humidity were beastly. Even after several days’ wear — how to put this? — the T-shirt and briefs seemed much more fresh than cotton would have been.
Here’s the reason, according to the Nature Shop website: “Icebreaker clothing breathes better because each individual merino fibre breathes as well as the fabric. In warm conditions, sweat is pulled from the body into the fabric, dispersed and metabolised as water vapour, cooling the body through ‘cooling by evaporation.'”

A merino sheep

The Icebreaker apparel also dries out very quickly after a wash. A person who likes to travel light — as I do — could get away with taking only a couple pair of underwear on an extended trip and washing one out in a sink each night.
Until I was contacted, I had never heard of the Nature Shop, which started in 2007 and has operations in New Zealand and the United Kingdom. But I’ve since learned a few things about the company, including what it calls the “10-percent profit pledge.”
“We want to put our money where our proverbial mouth is,” says the Nature Shop website. “In 2010 we introduced a new policy that will see us spending a minimum of ten percent of our net profit each year on environmental and social initiatives including charitable donations to the World Wildlife Fund, donations to kids charities and carboNZero certification.”
Each piece of clothing in the Icebreaker line has sewn into it a green tag with a “Baacode.” You can go to the website icebreaker.com, type in the numbers and letters of the Baacode and find out what sheep stations gathered the wool to produce the garment. You can also watch interviews with the families that operate the sheep stations.
My T-shirt, for example, was made with wool from the Walter Peak, Glenmore, Muller and Mount Nicholas stations, nestled in the Southern Alps that run almost the entire length of New Zealand’s South Island.
All that is very cool.
But the downside of the Icebreaker line is the price. The T-shirt costs about $60, the boxer briefs about $43. That’s a bit pricy for a cheapskate like me who frequents bargain bins and almost always buys clothing on sale.
The Icebreaker line is available at REI, Backwoods and other chains of outdoor stores. During one of my frequent visits to a Backwoods store in Fort Worth, I found a display of Icebreaker clothing positioned just to the left of the checkout counter. Without mentioning any knowledge of Icebreaker apparel, I asked a floor manager about it and how it was selling.
“It’s a terrific product,” he said, adding that the line is selling very well. So, I guess, despite the price, consumers who want high-quality products are willing to pay the price, even in a sluggish economy.



Filed under Environment, Products

3 responses to “Wearing wool in high summer

  1. John Vandevelde

    A sensitive and important subject, especially to cycling campers who want to travel light, but remain civilized. Thank you for exposing this product and its fabric content, and not its other content.
    I am intrugued by Icebreakers and will check them out on my next visit to REI, but I also am a big fan of Patagonia capilene boxers–not “natural,” but slightly cheaper than Merino, definitely cool, comfortable, easy to wash and quick drying, from an eco-friendly company. Here is a link– http://www.patagonia.com/us/product/mens-capilene-1-silkweight-boxers?p=45120-0-565
    Lest someone take it the wrong way, I will refrain from commenting on things like freshness and attractiveness.

  2. I didn’t see any hot weather cycling jerseys on their site.

  3. I remember the merino sheep from back when I lived in Australia – their wool is amazing

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