You know that undershirt that you wear to keep you warm and prevent your other clothes from stinking up? When you get warm you peel off the outer layers and when you cool down you bundle up, but you always keep that base layer on. It’s probably the most important piece of clothing for hiking.

To tell you the truth, I always used to hike in a cotton long-sleeved shirt. At the end of the day it was all sweaty and smelly and when the sun went down, cold. I carried several different shirts to change into, but I still stunk. At best it was unattractive and at worst it was dangerous. Getting wet and cold can lead to hypothermia and that is your biggest danger on the trail. It is the leading cause of death in the outdoors.

So what made me change?

While spending a year down in Ecuador, I was visited by a friend of mine. He had just come back from New Zealand, the land of Merino Wool. Merino wool is a superfine, high quality wool produced by sheep in the New Zealand alps. He had stopped off at the Icebreaker store and picked up a couple BodyFit Base layers.

He couldn’t stop praising them. In fact he wore them all the time during his visit and almost exclusively as we hiked up an old volcano Imbabura (4600 Meters or 15 190 ft). After hearing his raving I was determined to get one and here’s why:

It doesn’t stink… really. Last fall I took it up Illimani (6438M, 21, 122ft summit) for a 3 day trek/climb, wore it day and night and when I got back home I smelled good enough for my wife to give me a hug (instead of the expected, “you stink, go have a shower”). Merino wool is naturally odour resistant so you don’t have to change it up every day.

It wicks away moisture. The superfine merino wool breathes really well and wicks away moisture. I stayed dry pretty much the whole time. When I did get a bit moist, I dried off in no time.

Even wet it keeps you warm. Wool is a great insulator, it is still 80% efficient when wet. If it is rainy or you are going to get wet, Icebreaker is still going to keep you warm and reasonably comfortable.

It’s really comfortable. I know, I know, you’re probably thinking about knit wool that itches and scratches. This stuff is otherworldly. There is no itching or scratching. Don’t ask me how they do it; they say it is the superfine wool. I’ve seen and used other Merino wool products and none of them have been as soft and comfortable as what Icebreaker produces.

It’s sustainable. Icebreaker has sheep. Treat them nice and give them a haircut every now and then and you have sustainability. Add an ethical outlook and you have Icebreaker. They are forward thinking in everything from their materials to their manufacturing. They maintain high standards of animal welfare and are very selective in manufacturing.  Synthetics are nice, but they’re oil based, a real concern nowadays.

BAACODE. Do you want to know where your shirt came from? Every piece of Icebreaker gear has a BAACODE. Go to their website, type in the code and you get to find out about your sheep and where it lives, a cute touch.

Every trip I go on, I take this base layer with me. It’s found a place amongst my essential backpacking gear and I suspect will soon be accompanied by more Icebreaker gear.

Do you have a favourite piece of Icebreaker gear? If so, what is it and what impresses you about it?

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