High Gear: Ibex OD Heather T and VT Hoody wool base layer review
September 7, 2016
Wool has come light years since the days of itchy ski socks and sweaters. These days, companies like SmartWool and Patagonia have perfected the art of merino wool, crafting comfortable and stylish base layers with material made to stay warm and dry no matter what you encounter in the woods. It's the same thing wool has done for ages, only without the unrefined edge.
Ibex of Vermont is a relatively new addition to the modern wool scene, but they already have the "art of wool" nearly perfected. It's the company's tagline — the website has an entire section dedicated to the technology of a fiber that's been around for centuries — and it's apparent in everything the designers make, from accessories like hats, gloves and scarves to base layers like T-shirts, hiking hoodies and thermals.
For the Tenmile Traverse (14.5 miles in about 14 hours), I put two Ibex tops to the test: the OD Heather T-shirt ($90) and the VT Hoodie ($81 to $135). Both are made with 100-percent merino wool from New Zealand, and both are made for four-season trekking in the outdoors.
The traverse started before sunrise on a dry August day, when the temperature was right around 55 degrees and the air was still crisp — the kind of chill you only get in the mountains. I layered the T-shirt over the hoodie for the first 3 miles and 3,500 vertical feet of hiking from the Mount Royal trailhead to Tenmile Peak (aka Peak 2).
I started to sweat as soon as we turned onto the steep approach below the Mount Royal branch — I'm the sort of guy who only wears shell pants for snowboarding because I get so damn hot — and the wool worked wonderfully, wicking moisture away. The wind was brisk and hard when we reached the summit of Peak 1, but even then I felt comfortable under the layers of merino. I wouldn't want to spend an entire day in the elements with just a shirt and thin hoodie, but on a typical summer morning the combo worked just fine.
As the day wore on I decided to stick with the layers. I wasn't too hot or too cold — just right, as Goldilocks would say — and by the time we finished I'd spent nearly 12 hours in the Ibex layers. I was legitimately shocked at just how comfortable they were — or, more accurately, shocked at how I hardly noticed them at all. I never once felt itchy or scratchy or anything else I typically get with wool outerwear, and the knit stayed soft to the touch, without getting crisp or rigid due to sweat. Even most synthetic tops can't claim that.
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The Ibex base layers performed exactly as advertised on a long, strenuous hike in the high alpine. I can't speak to how well they manage sweat and outside moisture in extreme heat and cold, but chances are I'll put it to the test this ski season. I'm already wearing the hoodie around the house.
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