We are big fans of Icebreaker merino apparel and have had the chance to test and review an assortment of their items. This time around, we look at the Icebreaker Compass Long Sleeve Plaid Shirt, the Tech -Lite Short Sleeved Crewe Caravan and the Cool-Lite Sphere Short Sleeve Polo. To check out other Icebreaker reviews from us, click on the following links: Icebreaker Merino Base and Mid-Layers and the Icebreaker MerinoLoft Helix Zip Jacket. In the merino area, we’ve also looked at products from Ibex and Smartwool. To check out all we’ve looked at in terms of baselayers—some merino, some not—click on over to our base layers section.
Icebreaker is considered a high-ish-end clothier in the merino space and they have been around for 20 years. Founded in Wellington and now based in Auckland, New Zealand, Icebreaker products can now be found in more than 4500 stores in 50 countries. Not bad for a little privately-held company.
The items we’ll talk about today fit into the “lifestyle” bucket—they aren’t really baselayers or midlayers or high-performance oriented pieces made for specific sports. I wore these three items everywhere from around town to semi-formal meetings to overnight hikes. The trajectory of merino has been interesting to witness. It seems like when it first appeared in clothing, the marketing machines were touting merino as god’s gift to gear. “Stink free” and heat regulating/warm when wet being the most common claims. Over the last couple of decades, manufacturers have begun experimenting with merino blends and styles. 100% merino garments aren’t for everybody and it’s great to see that manufacturers respond to feedback and evolve their products.
Let’s look at specific items and continue with the discussion.
Price: $169 CAN
Colours: Monsoon (grayish) and admiral (blue)
Sizes: S, M, L, XL, XXL, XXL
Weight: 120 Featherweight (best for warm to hot conditions)
Fabric: 100% Merino woven body with 87% merino/13% Nylon venting panels
Front and back. The collar makes it suitable for mountain-town business meetings.
Here’s the zip-up chest pocket. I read on the Icebreaker site a while back that the pocket was ideal for your passport. I tried it with a Canadian and euro passport and they were both too big. The claim has since been removed from the site but it’s still a great spot to securely stash stuff.
Half way up a hike to Monica Meadows—Jumbo Pass in the background. R. Underarm venting – a cool (ha) idea and one that is appealing to me. I find that merino apparel can be hot under the arms in summer time.
The Compass Long Sleeve is a great option for a hike, or chilling at your local coffee shop. The snap buttons make it easy to tear off if need be and the underarm vents mean the Compass shirt is comfy on the hottest of days. The hand is a little “stiffer” than many merino shirts in my closet; meaning, it’s perfect to chuck in a travel bag because it’ll look fresh when you arrive at your destination. I would never wear this ski touring (because of the collar) but it has become a staple in my mountain-town semi-formal drawer (because of the collar).
- Centre front placket with snap closure
- Secure zippered chest pocket
- Button close cuffs
- Set-in sleeves
- Merino mesh eyelet panels underarm for extra venting
Price: $85 CAN
Colour: Grey (as pictured)
Size: S, M, L, XL, XXL
Weight: 150 ultralight
Fabric: 87% Merino wool, 13% Nylon corespun
What can we say…it’s a t-shirt, plain and simple. The merino means it “hangs” better--and in a more flattering way--than does standard cotton. To me, it’s also a little warmer and better on days with a breeze. The Caravan is one of many distinctive illustration options Icebreaker provides. All of them are a little quirky and add to the shirt’s look. Orange thread accents also add a little wink to the Tech-Lite’s aesthetic.
- Crew neck
- Corespun for added durability
- William Carden-Horton illustration
Price: $99.99 CAN
Colour: Admiral, trial or cadet (IOW, blue, beige and light blue)
Size: S, M, L, XL, XXL
Weight: 135 ultralight
Fabric: 65% Merino wool, 20% plant-based TENCEL and 15% Nylon
I’ve worked as a marketer for years so I am naturally skeptical of claims that seem a little dodgy. The claim for Cool-Lite is “40% cooler and wicks 3X faster than pure merino.” In my experience, the sphere polo was neither 40% cooler, nor did it wick 3X faster than the tech-lite T-shirt above. The shirt, like the Compass, serves as a great business casual standby (and it’d look great on the golf course) but I didn’t find it to be remarkably cool—especially in the underarm area. That’s why the panels in the Compass long sleeve make so much sense. It’s perhaps also why Icebreaker came out with the BodyFitZONE program. Built for people like me, perhaps?
- Raglan sleeves
- 3 button placket
- Rib knit collar
- Icebreaker tonal embroidery logo
Icebreaker has been in the merino space for a while. Their apparel uses New Zealand merino, though the “assembly” is done in China. We’ve been running various Icebreaker items pretty hard for 5+ years and they are still standing up to the abuse. The items reviewed here are the kinds of things that “mature” merino companies tend to offer. They started out with base layers and moved into different weaves, and clothing that is beyond athletic. The company’s design is innovative, the colours are cool and out of the ordinary, and the inclusion of funky illustration from the likes of William Carden-Horton make for topnotch apparel that function really well and turn the occasional head.
See above for individual product specification.
Did we miss something? Are we totally out to lunch? Let us know what you think. People like/dislike gear for different reasons so chime in below and we'll get a well-rounded evaluation.
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