SNOWSHOE MAGAZINE GEAR REVIEW:

Icebreaker Quest Long-Sleeve Neck-Zip Shirt: Merino Wool at its Best

The Icebreaker Quest Long-sleeve Neck-zip shirt has pulled the wool over my eyes and I like it.

Icebreaker, of course, is renowned for its innovative work with Merino wool apparel. I was a little apprehensive about trying its line-up of clothes, since my wife Charlene has a serious wool allergy. Combined with her asthma, the two make for a dangerous combination.

I dispensed of virtually all of my wool clothing in the time we’ve been married, due to her danger of exposure. I did so reluctantly, since wool was my go-to material for outdoor clothing long before it regained its current popularity. My fondness for wool was so great that I was a late and reluctant convert to artificial fabrics, including the now-ubiquitous fleece products that are a mainstay today.
My preference for wool is a bit surprising, since one of my earliest memories is of some old wool blankets my parents kept around in the family room of my childhood home. Coarse and incredibly scratchy, those blankets were my first and unpleasant taste of wool.

It took me until my teens to get over that, when I purchased a wool winter coat that was my first serious introduction to all of the tangible benefits of “woolens.” Coupled with my father’s tales of using wool clothing as a young man when he hunted, that coat showed me that wool could be comfortable along with warm and dry. That unlined plaid coat served me well except in the very coldest winter weather that Southern Ontario threw at me.

It also showed me that my father was right when he talked about the marvelous way that wool maintained most of its heat-retaining qualities even when wet.

“You can even walk it dry,” was one of the key points he often made, an allusion to how fast wool can dry through body heat and air flow if you just keep moving in it.

So it was with some sadness that I turned my wool clothing collection over to a number of second-hand centers about 10 years ago in favor of fleece. The only remaining items were some socks with wool mixed in, along with some headwear and gloves with the same hybrid technology.
I was willing to try the Merino after reading that it tends to be much less allergenic than the wool I remember. There is some evidence that people are not so much allergic to the wool itself than the processes used to treat it.

I checked that out with the folks at Icebreaker before ordering the shirt, and while they made no guarantees about the allergenic properties of their clothing, the company reps did suggest that it might be possible.

As it turned out, that seems to be exactly the case. I’ve worn the shirt repeatedly for two-three days at a time to check out it durability, ability to stay dry, and its ability to control odor with impressive results.

Charlene has yet to be bothered by the wool in the shirt, and it is virtually odor-free. Gone are the days when she would warn me not to touch her or come close if I’ve been wearing wool.

I’ve also been able to wear it outside in weather down 40-45 F without a coat in comfort, as well as temperatures in the low 60s and 70s. It sheds some rain too, and stays remarkably warm even when I’ve been sweating into it, totally unlike your typical dry-fit clothing.

While that material dries quickly, when it’s wet from either sweat or rain, it just doesn’t feel warm.
The zip-up mock neck is an excellent and practical addition to the shirt, as are the “sleeve-gloves” that turn the shirt-sleeves into half-gloves.

One of my favorite features, though, is a zip-up rear pocket big to accommodate my iPhone, or my wallet, or keys.

It’s also remarkably smooth and comfortable material, but I can’t say it’s not scratchy. There is always a hint of those trademark “wool itchies” when I’m wearing the shirt, it just not unbearable.
All in all, though, I think the company has “broken the ice” with me and I can see my love affair with wool resuming.

For more information on the Icebreaker Quest shirt, visit www.icebreaker.com.  To purchase the Quest shirt, click here.

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