I spent ages researching clothing and everyone said go “merino wool”! It seems counter intuitive wool being rough, scratchy and heavy, however as with everything these days’ technology has caught up with our woolly friends too. To say I am converted is an understatement! I had originally thought I would buy running type t-shirts made from smart polyester or cotton, but if you’ve owned any yourself you will know that one session in the gym, a day of hiking or just wearing it throughout the day it does removed the moisture away from your body but after one wear it smells. Not the case with merino wool; bacteria doesn’t grow on it as it’s a natural fibre, it’s the bacteria that makes the smell. I was very sceptical at first so bought a t-shirt to try it out, wore it for three days (something I have never done before), at the end of which there was only a slight odour and I could have easily have worn it for another day….or two.
Merino wool is easy to wash (don’t use fabric softener) and dries quickly. The only downside I can say, which is really just me being fussy is that the choice of colours at present is a little limited; personally, I didn’t want to be wearing grey every day for all my travels so a little time on Amazon.com sorted that out. Keep in mind that dark colours are not bad, they hide marks better.
If you look at my “Previous gear I’ve used” section you will see the t-shirts I used to wear and a thorough review. In short, the reason I changed my t-shirts was to get more versatility and less tighter fit; to me tighter t-shirts aren’t as comfortable to wear when you are travelling in hot climates – my new t-shits are still merino wool.
From my experiences Icebreaker is ahead of the game considerably when it comes to merino wool products; they look like and feel like normal shirts/t-shirts and after a lot of experimenting they fit and work the best too. By fit I mean most of the other brands have a sportier tighter fit, that may be what others prefer, I found it uncomfortable especially when travelling in hot climates over extended periods. What I’m looking for is something practical to travel in, merino wool (for all its benefits), also not look like a traveller, I’m camping or I’m going to or coming from the gym i.e. look like a normal t-shirt/shirt.
Just an added note, I’ve not discarded my previous t-shirts I still use them regularly but they are no longer part of my main travel gear. I think I’ve come up with the perfect mix of versatility and normality for want of a better phrase. I travel with four t-shirts five at most, they are all Icebreaker:
Icebreaker Compass II and Icebreaker Compass SS – Both Merino Wool the II has TENCEL too, they are almost identical except the Compass II has snap/pop buttons and a chest zip pocket, the Compass SS has buttons and an open chest pocket. They are thin (their Cool-Lite range) and perfect for hot weather, being merino wool they also keep you warmer when needed compared to other materials. Both fit loosely and comfortably and have a casual look which could easily be smartened up with a nice pair of shorts or trousers – the SS even more so than the II. The looser fit helps in hot weather as you don’t get the shirt constantly sticking to you everywhere. The seams on the shoulders are offset making it more comfortable when you carry a rucksack, this helps prevent pack rub.
Icebreaker Tech Lite – Very similar to my other Icebreaker t-shirt which I’ve moved to “previous gear I’ve used”, these Tech Lite are just lighter/thinner as their name would imply. They look even more so than a normal t-shirt than before and now you can at least get them in an array of colours – the lack of colours in all merino wool used to be a bit of a negative but not anymore. These new Teck Lite t-shirts feel soft to the skin and even less scratchy than they used to, previous versions were perfect for me but this new range is another level. The shoulder seams are also offset, same as the compass. These have a looser fit so work much better in hotter weather, as with the Compass II and SS when the mercury rises and you are sweating profusely you don’t have this tight wet shirt sticking to you everywhere. I wasn’t sure how they could improve on their previous range, but they certainly have. Not as thin as the Rab I used to use but much more practical for day-to-day use and perform in extreme weather conditions. I liked them so much I bought 4 (1 deep-red, 1 sulphur, 1 light grey, 1 dark grey) ! I still like to travel with darker colours, but may just break that rule to test out the sulphur colour on a long trip – seriously though darker colours are much easier on a daily basis to hide marks etc.
I think I’ve finally found what I set out achieve, the two Compass shirts give me more versatility and the t-shirts look just like everyday clothing wear. They are all merino wool so that alone gives great benefits like not having to wash them as regularly, less use or even no deodorant etc. etc.
I’ve tested all the t-shirts in 30+ degrees (max temp was 44) and wore each for many days at a time (including going running and gym, 5 days+), I could have worn each for more.
I’d recommend all the t-shirts I’ve used, for some people it may be down to style, cut, colour or cost, they have their differences but all are very comfortable. The Icebreaker Tech Lite series is my favourite, Rab is second. If budget is a priority, then I’d say best option is the Kathmandu. You will be in good hands with any of brands I’ve tested.
I only bought one long sleeve t-shirt and one collared shirt; you can roll up the sleeves to give you another t-shirt and if in need of something a little smarter than a t-shirt i.e. date night, something a little more formal, some tourist attractions (churches, museums, theatres), slightly chilly day/night and even crossing borders.
Little tip – try look as respectable a possible when crossing boarders; that doesn’t mean wearing a suit but if you look too rough then you are bound to get paid extra attention
Kathmandu (Grey) – I was super chuffed when I found this, a merino wool collared shirt and at the price! It feels great, nobody would ever think it’s wool and doesn’t look like you live in the mountains, very light and colour and style goes with just about anything
Icebreaker – just like the t-shirt just fractionally thinker. Slender fit, very comfortable. As with the t-shirts I wanted a little colour so this electric blue was right up my ally!
NB – the long sleeve top and shirt are not just for the cold, getting a tan is great but constantly being in hot weather for long periods of time becomes difficult to sustain, and I’d recommend not to do so from a health perspective. Long breathable tops are also a great form of comfort whilst travelling in the hot weather e.g. deserts, hiking etc.
If you’d like to take a look at previous gear here’s the link: