Canada is cold, eh?
To survive a winter in the True North you need a decent base layer. This winter season I decided to conduct a very scientific experiment and put the much-heralded merino wool base layer to the type of cutting edge test that Einstein would be proud of – how long can you wear it until you become a social embarrassment, who can own a table in a packed après bar at fifty paces?
My first task was to find a willing subject who I could closely observe. Fortunately, I remembered I have a husband who likes to cut corners when it comes to washing his winter gear!
I decided to test the Men’s Icebreaker bodyfit 260 merino layer with a series of strenuous winter activities to examine the famed wool’s odour resistant claims. I mean, have you ever smelt a wet sheep?
Test 1 – Outdoor Ice Skating
How often do we see T.V. ice-skaters twirling around in tiny, custom designed, sequinned and/or sparkling outfits? Pretty often, but in reality they wouldn’t last 2 minutes on a windswept Lake Louise with a temperature of minus 20. The Icebreaker enthusiasts suggest that in cold weather, merino fabric uses moisture absorbed from the environment to generate heat, and its wavy fibers contain millions of air pockets that lock in body heat to keep you toasty!
Well, the merino layer did keep my husband warm but there was some moderate moisture build up in the armpit area due to an over energetic and ungraceful skating style! This is what happens when you give a Brit a pair of ice skates!
Stink score: 1
Test 2 – Mushing
With an average day temperature in the winter months being well below the freezing mark in the Canadian Rockies, and the huskies hitting speeds of up to 20kms per hour it is best to dress warm for mushing. However, the challenge is always how to stop yourself overheating when wearing enough layers for a Michelin man audition? Icebreaker claim that their merino mix of fiber and fabric allows breathability and so prevents you from reaching the temperature of the sun, and this certainly proved to be the case on this test. Wrapped up in a sleeping bag my husband showed no signs of sizzling, may be more just napping!
Stink score: 1
Test 3 – Overnight Backcountry Snowshoeing
What better way to enjoy winter than a 21km return overnight backcountry snowshoe to the remote Sundance Lodge in Banff National Park? Obviously when overnighting, weight is everything so the fact that merino wool is lightweight and has a very high warmth to weight ratio makes it a must-bring!
In this test, the semi- arduous elevation gain over a few short kilometers while carrying a decent sized pack saw the subject warm up considerably. As a result, the merino layer became pretty damp especially along the back but not as sodden as you would expect. In fact, suggestions that merino pulls moisture vapor to the surface of the fabric, where it evaporates before the vapor turns into sweat, would appear to be true!
Stink score: 4
Test 4 – Backcountry Cross Country Skiing
Everyone knows cross country skiing is a serious workout, which is why they invented the chair lift! In this test the well-worn merino layer faced a cross country ski on the Lake O’Hara fire road.
The marketers promote that merino is odor resistant and can be worn for days or even weeks without washing. However, they had not banked on my husband’s inability to handle a significant elevation gain with minimal gliding due to a questionable self-taught classic technique. As a result he became very hot quickly and managed to drench the layer within 3 clicks. To be fair though, the sweat did evaporate quickly but the stink damage was done.
Smell rating: 7
Test 5 – Downhill Spring Skiing
The final test was to throw in a little springtime heat into the equation – namely 15 degrees on Whistler mountain. The promotional copy suggests merino keeps your skin cool by transporting moisture vapor away from the skin to be evaporated.
This may be true if you’re cruising some groomers, but if you throw in a 6 hour après session with some dubious dance moves then the smell goes through the roof!
Stank score: 10 (smells like a wet dog – time for a wash)
The results of this thoroughly scientific experiment show that the merino layer can be worn numerous times in cold winter conditions and performs well with only a small buildup of stinkyness! However, as soon as the mercury goes positive the merino layer should be washed daily to avoid social exclusion, strangers offering you free soap and small children calling you “smelly man”.