Icebreaker Merino Wool Review: Preparing for Fall

A few months ago the good folks at Nature Shop sent me an Icebreaker Merino Wool t-shirt and a pair of boxer-briefs to review. I was damn excited because I’ve heard that quality wool can be a high-performance fabric but I hadn’t yet tried it. Until now.

Icebreaker Merino Wool Running GearWith images like this, how can you not love Icebreaker?

Both the t-shirt and the boxer-briefs arrived and at first I laughed at the quote on the back of the package:

The city brings the beast alive. Your creative energy thrives. The beast in you is caged by frail and fragile bars. This product reconnects you with nature, a harmonious force to balance the beast.

Maybe a little too woo-woo for my tastes, but it got me excited to wear the gear. Well done, marketing guy at Icebreaker.

With fall coming fast, it’s a perfect time to evaluate your winter running wardrobe and see what you’re missing. Considering I haven’t bought any new cold weather gear in, oh, about five years I’d say I am due for an upgrade. Having a good base layer is crucial when the temps dip below freezing.

What initially drew me to Nature Shop (the company that provided the clothes) is that they’re environmentally responsible. I don’t talk about it much here on Strength Running, but I have a big green heart. I care deeply about environmental issues and think global warming is more than an environmental issue – it’s a social, political, and economical issue as well.

So I was pleased to see that Nature Shop:

  • donates 10% of their net profit to environmental/social causes
  • is carbon neutral (they buy carbon offsets to mitigate their carbon emissions)
  • uses biodegradable plastic and recycled paper packaging
  • is a World Wildlife Fund sponsor

If you’re going to buy stuff, in my mind it makes sense to do it from ethically defensible companies.

Icebreaker Merino Wool – First Impressions

I opted for the SS Apollo Crew t-shirt in the ivory color. The shirt is off-white and has a unique texture because of the wool. It actually looks somewhat trendy and if I wanted to go out drinking with my buddies, this is an appropriate t-shirt to wear. Fashionable, yet understated.

So at first, I loved the fit of the t-shirt. The proportions work perfectly (I wear a size small), especially for your “typical” distanceIcebreaker Merino Wool runner ectomorph frame. Yes, I’m skinny. I find that a lot of brands of clothing just don’t work for smaller people – the shirt is either way too wide or a size small dips past my waist. Icebreaker fits true to size!

I have worn the t-shirt numerous times for casual reasons and am in love with how it fits. A lot of people think that wool is scratchy, but merino wool is incredibly soft. I’ve never felt uncomfortable wearing the top or the boxer-briefs. As someone who has worn a lot of wool sweaters through Boston winters, I was happily surprised.

Both the shirt and the boxer-briefs are not the type of wool that you think of when you think “wool.” It’s like rough cotton that breathes better, wicks moisture, prevents smells, and keeps you warmer. Unlike the dry-fit gear that most running companies promote, Icebreaker wool doesn’t hold on to smells as easily.

This means your shirt won’t smell like a locker room after one use. My wife enthusiastically thanks you, Icebreaker.

Now for the part you’ve all been waiting for: me talking about my underwear. Like the shirt, the underwear isn’t scratchy at all and isn’t nearly as warm. If you get hot easily, fear not because you won’t overheat in a pair of wool boxer-briefs. I have the pewter/rocket color which has easily become my favorite pair of underwear. In fact, I wore them on my wedding day!

If you’re looking for a slit in the front to make peeing easier, you’re going to be disappointed though. No hole for your…uh, manly parts when you saddle up to the urinal. But there is an anatomically correct pouch that allows everything to fit very well. This works well if you wear the shorts under a pair of tights (good idea for windy conditions or temperatures below 20 F). It’s a little early in the season for tights, but I’ll definitely be using them in the colder winter months.

The length is perfect and each leg goes down slightly past that anatomically designed pouch I mentioned before. My biggest pet peeve is when boxer-briefs are longer than my running shorts. There’s no extra fabric to worry about and the fit is snug with a thin layer of breathable wool. Works for me.

So, Would I Buy Merino Wool?

Since I didn’t pay for these products, you may think this review is biased. I hope at this point you know I can’t be bought by a pair of underwear and a t-shirt. They really do rock and I’d absolutely pay money for these.

Yes, they’re more expensive than regular clothing. I normally wouldn’t pay $45 for boxer-briefs or over $50 for a t-shirt. I can recognize that these will last 2-3 times the length of standard gear, which makes it absolutely worth it. They also perform better than cotton and look a helluva lot nicer.

Since I use the shirt for both casual and running purposes, I consider it a double-threat. There aren’t too many articles of clothing that double for both hanging out and running. I’m waiting for it to be cool to go to a bar in short shorts, but I may have to wait awhile longer.

You should also consider the business you’re buying from when you pay more. Nature Shop is a company that’s doing business the ethical way – they donate money to good causes, use sustainable and renewable materials, and their packaging is biodegradable and recycled. What’s not to like?

One thing to keep in mind is that they’re not as soft as cotton. The material seems a little thicker (even though it’s actually thinner) and it will keep you warm. If you’re prone to overheating even in the cold, then you should go for a polyester shirt.

Check out Nature Shop for some great merino wool running gear or leave a comment below with your experience running in wool! What other pieces of wool running gear have you worn? What doesn’t work well?

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