Wool. It's been around a long time. When you were little, your grandmother probably knitted you an itchy sweater, which you were forced to wear during the holidays. That's what comes to mind when we think of the word wool. Or, of course, sheep.
What if I told you that some of the best athletic apparel is made of wool? And not just for keeping you warm, but also for cooling you down? And that wool works better at wicking sweat than some of those stretchy synthetic fabrics most athletes wear these days? You'd probably say, "That's ridiculous."
But hear me out.
Icebreaker has entered the sports performance apparel game with wool from Merino sheep. Their products are extremely lightweight, wick moisture when it's hot, keep you warm when it's cool, aren't itchy, and don't stink. Synthetic fabrics tend to trap your body's oils in, so when you work out and sweat heavily, the funk gets caught in the fabric. It's hard to get out, even in the washing machine. Wool garments don't suffer the same fate, and you can wear them more than once before you need to launder them.
I tested the Aero Short Sleeve Crew and Sonic Tank in a myriad of activities—bike commute to work, CrossFit and hiking—to see if the claims were true. The fabric felt a little weird at first (I liken it to paper), but I got used to it once I broke a sweat. I credit the feeling to the fabric, since it's very lightweight. It wicked sweat quite well, and it didn't seem to get sticky like other performance fabrics.
After my 7-mile bike commute, I changed into work clothes and hung the shirt on my chair; by the time I left the office it was bone dry. That's why many backpackers favor wool as their base layer—it dries well on multi-day trips. Since it's summer, I couldn't test the claim that the shirt keeps you warm in cold weather, but sheep seem pretty comfortable in the winter, so I assume the claim is correct.
The tank was tougher to evaluate, since I didn't sweat as much as I did while wearing the t-shirt. Come to think of it, that's probably the point. It was, however, extremely lightweight and comfortable during workouts. Also, if you're concerned about the environment, merino wool is renewable and biodegradable.
Icebreaker offers more apparel items for colder weather. Check them out if you're looking to stay warm this fall. You can find these and other styles at Icebreaker.com.
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