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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  1. Good review, always love to find out about quality products. The women’s leggings are a reasonable price, I just wonder if they would be too warm for North Carolina.

    • Maybe in NC, it gets a little toasty there 🙂

    • Hi Eva – I have the pants and I live in New Zealand and I can wear them out running on a cloudy day. I wouldn’t wear them running in the summer, but I’m not sure what it’s like in NC. When I go to Europe for winter, I wear them underneath my jeans, and that keeps me warm enough 🙂 Hope that helps! Rose

  2. I’ve run in wool socks. I like them in the winter. And no blisters!

    I’m glad you showed us your…green side. 🙂 I believe in trying to be green too. In fact, my post on my blog tomorrow is about that subject!

  3. I wear their 200 series for running from November to March– it is perfect. Does what it is supposed to do- keep you warm and dry- no matter how ‘damp’ you get while pushing your limits. (they also look great with a pair of jeans ).The 320 is fab also, I use a lot while snowshoeing and hiking etc.. even paragliding in the fall (I know Fitz, stop shaking your head). Sadly– the 150 tshirts have let me down- as did the running bras – they get wet and stay wet while working out.. the sweat just lays on the 150 series shirt almost pooling, which I find dreadfully uncomfortable.

    • Thanks for your experience Tammy – wool is a really versatile fabric, but like everything, probably isn’t best for every use.

  4. Even if they last 2-3 times as long as cotton underwear, that is still quite expensive given that you can get a 3-pack of cotton ones for $10-$15 dollars. Do you think they offer better protection from the wind?

    • I haven’t tested them in the wind – yet. It’s not yet cold enough here in the DC area but I definitely will. Cotton is pretty horrible as a performance fabric in any weather condition, so my guess is that they’d offer better protection. Time will tell, though.

  5. Merino wool is an amazing fabric for clothing. Super comfortable – just super expensive. The fit is always just perfect too and you just feel cozy in it…but you pay for it. May have to save up and try and buy a few shirts made of it…I have one right now and it is my favorite shirt.

  6. I pretty much live in my Icebreaker. The lightest singlets are great under my business shirts for three seasons, and like you I wear the t-shirts for exercise and hanging out with friends.

    I’ve had two of my t-shirts for five years now. Both picked up small holes around year three but due to the nature of the fabric I was able to repair them in two minutes and the repairs don’t show at all.

    Here in NZ there’s a great range of Icebreaker including some non-sport wear like dresses and winter jackets. I like that they’re making activity-practical gear that travels well and can be worn on most occasions but doesn’t make you look like a backpacker (even if that’s what you are).

  7. merino wool regulates your core body temp too and becuase it’s not made from nasty plastic does not attract and hold bacteria causing the niff caused by cheaper man made fabrics