Editor’s Picks: Icebreaker Merino Shirts & Shorts

By Feet Banks
Editor— Mountain Life: Coast Mountains

Left to Right: Cool-Lite T-Shirt, Compass Woven Shirt, Compass Shorts
Left to Right: Cool-Lite T-Shirt, Compass Woven Shirt, Compass Shorts

Maybe it is because I am cheap or maybe my parents taught me the value of stuff but regardless, I am not hard on gear. I still have my original MEC climbing pack from 1994 and I ski in the same pair of rear-entry Force 9 ski boots I’ve had sicne ’91.  I ride a $400 mountain bike, golf with a putter I picked up at a garage sale for two bucks and have been known to trail run in jean cutoffs. I did have to resole my climbing shoes twice but I’ve found no need to replace those epic half-shank hiking boots I bought second hand in high-school. For non-competitive outdoor fun, I find that well-cared-for old gear generally works just fine.

But there are times when it’s foolish to ignore technological progression: fat skis, avalanche beacons, socks and base layers are good examples of upgrades well worth making. And so my initial introduction to Icebreaker Merino was a thick-weight thermal layer that, as promised, kept me warm, dry and smelling much better than my old polypro. I still have that original Icebreaker baselayer from 6-7 years ago, and on the ski hill, I live in that stuff.

But I’d never considered Icebreaker as everyday streetwear until a bag of merino showed up last winter. Hooked up with a fresh Compass woven shirt, a Cool-Lite T-shirt and some Compass woven shorts I decided to basically live in Icebreaker as much as possible for three or four months and run it through the multifaceted gamut of life just to see what would happen.

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Test #1: Super Fancy Birthday Dinner

Because looking good is the first step to feeling good

Dinner for four at Whistler’s Bearfoot Bistro should never be taken lightly. First of all, it’s never just a dinner. The Bearfoot thinks big and specializes in soul-satisfying dining adventures. The vodka ice room there is kept at a chilly -35º C or so.

“I’m wearing my best Merino then,” said Dana Flahr, friend and ski icon, as we waited for the women to touch up their touch ups.

“Me too.”

Birthday Dinner: The Compass Woven shirt was classy enough for the Bearfoot Bistro table but didn’t get too warm under the big jackets in the Vodka Ice room. (Also: A black toque counts as fine dining attire in Whistler.)

With $30,000+ bottles of wine in the cellar and specialties like liquid nitrogen martinis on the bar menum the Bearfoot is the kind of joint worth dressing up for. Luckily the blue plaid Compass long sleeve shirt fit the bill with a crisp collar, stylish cut and, my favourite, snaps not buttons. Made with 100% woven merino (with merino/nylon venting panels under the arms) this shirt kept me looking hot, but feeling cool (at least until the bill came.) I also wear it to work, to meet in-laws, when I interview politicians, and pretty much as often as possible. After 5 months of washing and wearing the colour still pops, the white still looks white and this is my go-to shirt for any occasion.

Test #2- Freezing Cold

Because the whole point of clothes is to fight off the elements

The Coast Mountains didn’t have the most epic winter so I found myself across the country at Marble Mountain in Western Newfoundland. The b’yes over there were enjoying a record snow year with big storm cycles coming down hard out of the arctic circle. It was powder perfection, and very damn cold. My original Icebreaker thermal layer was a daily necessity (under a down layer and shell) but some nights  when the mercury dropped below -20 I would bring the Cool-Lite Sphere T-shirt into play as a sort of second base layer.

Designed as a moisture wicking warm weather champion, the featherweight Cool-Lite T-shirt slid under my regular thermal like a second skin. I’ve always found it better to maintain brand consistency when layering up — the seams often line up perfectly and you avoid that annoying tug of uncomfort that can happen when one layer is too tight.

Apparently the Cool-Lite T’s are made from a blend of 65% merino, 15% nylon and 20% TENCEL®, which is some kind of revolutionary new plant-based material. Whatever it is, the shirt was perfect in Western Newfoundland— not too hot inside the hockey arena watching the local team’s first playoff game but hot enough for the long -30ºC (windchill!!!) walk back to the rental van. I basically lived in that t-shirt for the entire ten day trip.

The Cool-Lite T-Shirt is made for keeping you feeling and looking cool on hot days but it also works as an extra base layer in freezing cold (and incredibly awesome) Newfoundland.
The Cool-Lite T-Shirt is made for keeping you feeling and looking cool on hot days but it also works as an extra base layer in freezing cold Newfoundland.

Test 3- Blatant Misuse

Because rules are meant to be broken

“I don’t think those are running shorts..?” It was as much a question as a statement but I could tell the girls in my office running club were trying to be as tactful as possible. For sure, the Compass Shorts are not meant for springtime running in Whister. A mix of merino and polyester, the Compass are labelled as a hiking short but I already knew they were also decent for stuff like lawnmowing, BMXing with my kid, and walking to get a coffee. Why not try running? The true value of gear is how it performs under extraordinary circumstances. Not that the first run of the year would be all that grueling, it was just a crisp 6 km out to the west side of Alta Lake and back, but still I wanted to see what would happen.

I made it. No chaffing, not too sweaty, not too to bulky and a zipped cargo or rear pocket to hold the iPod. The integrated belt even held the shorts up while I sprinted the last hundred meters (then almost collapsed and puked.) Bonus, the sweaty fabric came out of my backpack four hours later smelling just fine. These shorts are styled to look outdoorsy but they’re definitely versatile.  (I later found out Icebreaker makes running specific shorts, for sure those will be better.)

Test 4- Wet on Purpose

Because sometimes it rains

When given a chance to golf with snowboard superstar Helen Schettini, one doesn’t let the weather interfere. “Rain or shine right” she texted. “You got it.” Helen has a revolutionary golfing philosophy – she avoids practice swings altogether, just steps to the ball and blasts it. I quickly adopted this technique and we shaved almost an hour of our game.

This kind of run-and-gun style leaves no time to remove or put on a swing-inhibiting rain coat though so I opted to layer the two Icebreaker tops (Cool-Lite T and woven  Long sleeve) and go for broke. The rain wasn’t even that bad, more of a steady mist, but over the next three hours and 134 swings the Icebreaker combo kept me dry and happy. I Even crushed the drive on 16. Check it out:


So it’s been 5 months. I’ve worked, played, passed out and performed in these Icebreaker garments. They look, feel and wear as well as when I first got them. They keep me warm when i need it, cool when required and they never smell like swampy ass, even after a multi-day mission.  How about durability? Some of the big mountain community prefer synthetic garments because plastic lasts forever but I’m a more natural kind of guy and all three of these Icebreaker garments are holding up just fine. I take care of them of course —cold water wash and DEFINITELY never put them in the dryer (amazing what happens when you follow the recommendations of the people who actually design and create the gear- it’s almost like they know something extra….)

In the end, it’s not the gear you use that’s important but rather the amount of fun you have and what you learn about yourself and the incredible world we live in.

This winter/spring, I learned that as i get older i appreciate the finer things in life (and gear) and I really appreciate Icebreaker Merino.