Except for extra pairs of socks, undies and camp clothes that double as layers on cold days, there’s really no such thing as a “change of clothes” when thru-hiking. So when it comes to deciding what to wear, you better choose wisely.
I purchased a Smartwool long sleeved shirt to take on the Te Araroa. Sizes run small and it fit snugly and felt too hot most days. By the time I arrived in Hamilton on day 31, I knew I needed to make a swap for something looser and lighter. I was thrilled when my Kiwi tramping pal Irene mentioned the local outdoor store was having a sale. I headed right on over and nabbed a T-shirt made by New Zealand’s Icebreaker.
Icebreaker was founded in the place where Merino sheep are raised. Their mission feels wholesome and caring – to take fiber from nature, keep the animal alive while doing so and transform that fiber into high performance technical clothing that keeps us alive – and thriving – in nature.
Wool used to be the standard bearer in outdoor apparel because it kept you warm and held its warming capabilities when wet. But wool is heavy and bulky and was soon surpassed as a favored fabric by synthetics. While polypropylene does a fantastic job of wicking and regulating body temperature, it is non-biodegradable – basically it’s plastic – and it smells horrible after even one day’s hiking.
Merino wool is a miracle fiber. It’s naturally engineered for the extremes of the Kiwi seasons, which can sometimes include dehydrating heat and hypothermic cold on the very same day. Merino fibers are fine and not itchy like old-school wool. My Icebreaker T-shirt felt like a second skin. But maybe the most important aspect of all, merino does not smell. At all. Ever.
The T-shirt I chose was thin and ideal for warm days covering my arms from the burning sun of no-ozone-layer New Zealand. However, it didn’t keep me warm when the sun wasn’t out, so that’s when I’d need another layer and pop on the tighter fitting Smartwool top.
I must say that I was not drawn to buying merino underwear or sports bras, mainly because I was unable to find a good fit. I am satisfied with nylon at this point but might be convinced to make a switch in the future.
Drawbacks of merino and specifically Icebreaker are the costs, which are steep, and the fact that the fiber wears out quickly. I used my Icebreaker T practically every day for nearly four months and began to develop holes where my backpack rubbed. That being said, I was thrilled with Icebreaker’s performance, and I’ve gotta have a replacement T for the next thru-hike. That’s why I give Icebreaker five Anitas.
- does not hold odor
- comfortable with no itch
- durability so-so
- temperature regulation so-so