by Hannah Dobson
March 1, 2016
Hannah keeps warm and cosy in this Icebreaker merino top.
I have annoying skin. The kind of skin that finds even the softest of wool itchy. Sometimes instantly. Sometimes just long enough after wearing that returning the item is out of the question. I don’t know how it is possible, but some things are itchy even with a protective cotton layer completely shielding me from the woolen outer layer. I have childhood memories of wearing guernsey jumpers hand knitted by my dad. Even with all possible interfaces between skin and wool carefully shielded by a thick cotton polo neck, I still couldn’t quite bring myself to move for fear of causing tickles and itches. On the plus side, the guernseys always smelled faintly of WD40 thanks to the knitting machine that depended on it to keep moving.
So, when it comes to merino, I’m a tough tester to please
So, when it comes to merino, I’m a tough tester to please. Not all merino is created equal, and I’ve had tops which have been simply unwearable. Others have been so completely itch free that they might be made of cotton. One such comfortable piece is a very lightweight t-shirt from Icebreaker. There’s not many rides when I don’t wear this favourite, and rather ancient, t-shirt. So when Icebreaker offered me the chance to test this long sleeved version, I was keen.
I wore the size 12, which was quite a snug fit on me – I’d wear this as a base layer, but as a top on its own its a touch tighter than I’d usually go for. On me – and I am quite tall – it’s just about long enough to stay tucked in on a ride, although the apparent trend for quite low cut shorts did lead to a bit of back exposure on occasion.
There are thumb loops in the arms, which are handy if you want to make sure there’s no gap in between your gloves and top on really cold days, but I did find that these felt a little tight around the web of my thumb, particularly when doing activities off the bike that needed a fair amount of arm movement. I would have liked a little extra length in the arms to make them more comfortable. That said, on the bike, where I’m not moving my arms overly much, the length felt OK, although I’ve not had cause to use the thumb loops for a long ride.
The high neck fits nicely – not constrictive, but snug enough to keep chilly draughts out without the need for an additional buff. The half zip is handy and unzips easily for a bit of extra ventilation on those long climbs when you start to cook and think perhaps more time on the turbo is in order.
The zip section has a nice contrasting colour trim, making the top a bit more interesting to look at than a basic baselayer – although I rather feel that the colour options in the men’s range are more eye catching. I did however find that on my first few rides, this zip area caused me a bit of itch trouble. This could be because my annoying skin is even more sensitive in the decolletage area, or perhaps it’s the slight stiffness caused by the zip and stitching in the colour contrast panel. Whatever, the cause, I have found that as time has gone by the itch has become less of a problem, and I suspect that this is at least in part due to the fabric softening with repeated washing.
Washing is no problem – you just chuck it in the machine. There’s no special care, delicate cycle or wool wash requirements. It hasn’t faded, shrunk or lost shape despite many washes. That said, it being merino it doesn’t need washing too often. I found I could happily do a week of commutes and still wear it for a weekend mtb ride without feeling I was smelling antisocial. There are mesh panels in the sides and underarms to aid breathability. These have a slightly lower merino content than the main body, and I have previously had another Icebreaker top where I felt that this panel was more prone to stink that the rest of the body, but I haven’t found the problem replicating itself in this top.
I’ve layered this up for snowy rides, and worn it on its own under a jersey for crisp but cold sunshine rides
This is a heavier weight merino than my favourite old Icebreaker t-shirt, and the difference in warmth is noticeable. In the event that you sweat into it, it doesn’t feel cold or sticky, and dries quickly. I’ve layered this up for snowy rides, and worn it on its own under a jersey for crisp but cold sunshine rides. I’m tempted to have another in the next size up for wearing as an outer layer on those late spring days where the sun warms the body as well as the soul.
A cosy top that, worn as a baselayer, has become a new staple of my cold weather riding wardrobe.