Wool is the bomb diggity. Sheep have known this for time immemorial, and humans picked up on the fact thousands of years ago when they began making wool clothing, or so anthropologists tell us. I spent my young years as an adventurer believing that wool was not only old school, but that it also performed second to new-fangled, human-invented materials in managing temperature and moisture. Maybe I just didn’t want to look like a Viking, or John Muir, or my dad when I was on the mountain. Maybe I just believed all that marketing hype. I’m here to say now, though, that I’m back as a wool believer. In recent years, my drawers have accumulated a mini-army of wool and wool-blend base layers made by multiple manufacturers.
Last winter and spring, I tested a set of Ibex Woolies, the Zip T-Neck
($80) and the Bottom ($65). According to Ibex, these Woolies pieces were designed to function as base layers and are made using super fine wool yarn from New Zealand Merino sheep. Ibex says these pieces achieve additional insulation and stretch via a rib stitching. Extra features to add functionality and attractiveness, says Ibex, are flatlock seams, a form-fitting design, a gusseted pant crotch, and wide cuffs.
I use a wool base layer in multiple aspects of my outdoor life. Here are some examples:
- On a cold and rainy day, I wear a wool base layer under a thin pair of tights with the goal of feeling warm when my clothing is wet.
- When camping (including fastpacking), I sleep in a wool base layer, as I’ve found wool to be the fabric that best adjusts to the changing conditions of sleeping outside, such as a stiff wind one minute and humidity the next.
- I spend a portion of my professional career educating and guiding folks in the outdoors, and I wear wool next to my skin on these outings. I never know what is going to happen on these trips, whether we’ll be going hard or traveling leisurely. Wool manages both temperature and moisture whether we’re talking about high or low-output activities.
- I sometimes find myself using a base layer as my only layer if the weather turns surprisingly warm. Wool performs well in this category, too, blocking the wind and keeping me cool when the conditions get hot.
I tested the Ibex Woolies in each of these circumstances and more, and I’ve got lots of good news to report:
- Some 100% wool base layers are fast to stretch out and stay that way. As in, the pieces don’t recover their original shape until they are washed (or at least rinsed in a creek and dried on a rock or tree). The Ibex Woolies keep their shape better than all other wool base layers I’ve used. The Woolies Bottom did lose some of its shape around the hips and butt on an extended bout of use, five sequential days of use in the desert of southern Utah.
- When the Woolies are wet, they still moderate my body temperature well. I wore the Woolies Bottoms under tights on runs during both snowstorms and rain, and didn’t come home with the frozen thighs I sometimes do in these conditions.
- The stank. I’m not going to say that wool or the Woolies pieces don’t get it. If you wear wool next to your skin for a day, or five, or fifty without washing it, it acquires and keeps your odor. And, the same is true for many other types of fabrics, no matter what those manufacturers tell us. That said, there are some fabrics and pieces of clothing that get the “this’ll kill a nation” funk, and others that smell only as bad as you do. The Woolies pieces fit into the category of the latter, that when I wear them day-after-day without washing them, they only smell as bad as I do when I do the same.
- I think the durability quotient of Ibex’s Woolies is high. Most wool base layers are real thin. Wool insulates so-dang well that the material has to be thin in order to let heat/cool and moisture transfer through it. I’ve got a set of wool base layers that I love, made by another manufacturer, but that has small holes around the wrists and ankles from accidentally punching my fingers through when taking them off and putting them on. Ibex uses pretty bombproof ankle and wrist cuffs, achieving this through both tightness of weave and cuff width, to increase durability.
These pieces have a downside that I would be remiss without reporting. Those durable cuffs that I just mentioned? They might be overly durable. Because of their tight weave and width, it’s almost impossible to hike either the top or the bottom up to my elbows or knees. In the few times that I tried to do so, I was frightened that I would rip the material. While the durability is awesome, the compromised functionality isn’t. My message to Ibex on their Woolies cuffs: find a middle ground.
At the end of the adventure, or the day, or the season, I’m still a wool-base-layer convert who is fast becoming an Ibex Woolies fan. A product I use for running and other outdoor adventures has to function well in many kinds of weather conditions and for a variety of activities, and the Ibex Woolies do just that. Ibex you’re gonna like them, too.
Call for Comments (from Bryon)
- Do you wear any wool apparel during your runs? If so, why do you choose wool?
- What are your favorite wool running apparel items?
- If you’ve run in Ibex Woolies apparel, what did you think?
[Disclosure: Ibex provided these items for review while using the Amazon links in this article will help support iRunFar.]