When I stopped wearing regular shoes and switched cold-turkey to FiveFingers in the middle of 2009, I discovered the joy of relying on a single simple piece of kit whatever the conditions – my KSOs went with me everywhere, whether walking or running.
So when I started hearing glowing endorsements of Icebreaker’s merino wool clothing, I decided to see if it could do to my wardrobe what the Vibrams had done to my shoe rack.
Sure enough, the casual-wear shirts I bought were implausibly cool when it was hot, nicely insulated when it was cool, and they gallantly refused to develop any objectionable odour even after several days of wear.
It didn’t immediately occur to me to extend the Icebreaker experiment to my running wardrobe, but it should have.
Danger: runner’s wardrobe
Modern running clothing has benefited from the adoption of synthetic fabrics, but every FiveFingers owner knows the problem with synthetics: give me a tech shirt and a warm day, and I’ll give you a reason to run the washing machine urgently.
Perhaps sensing the environmental peril posed by my growing collection of synthetic warm-weather running gear and the necessary detergents, the lovely folk at NatureShop sent me some of Icebreaker’s GT Run range to try out.
Apart from a little Lycra to help the fit and drying time, the GT Run garments are made entirely from finely woven New Zealand wool, just like regular Icebreaker clothes. Can we really run in woollens?
After months of running and racing in this gear, I’ve finally written up my conclusions.
In the past year I’ve mostly been running in Luna sandals and Merrell Trail Gloves, and I’ve only really worn socks when racing. The Run Lite Micro and Run Lite Mini socks are mid-weight woollen socks which work almost as well wet as dry. The socks are identical apart from the ankle height. I normally dislike ultra-low-cut socks, but the Run Lite Micros have an extended reinforced tab at the back of the heel to stop them disappearing into the shoe, and it works as advertised.
Both socks are also impressively wide in the forefoot and snug in the midfoot, so their fit is ideal for use in minimalist shoes like the Trail Gloves.
However, since I started wearing sandals for more and more of my running, my toes aren’t used to touching each other inside a shoe, and blisters result. For that reason, I have had to abandon the socks in favour of Injinjis. If you still wear regular socks much of the time, this shouldn’t be as much of a problem for you, and both models make for excellent wool running socks.
The Ace Tank feels heavier than an equivalent synthetic singlet, but is soft and silky against the skin, and the actual weight difference is quite negligible when dry.
In the very hottest weather the tank remains cool and comfortable, but not always dry; during two particularly tough races I didn’t notice until the end that the singlet was heavy and damp with sweat. I’ll stick to synthetic tops for racing this season when it’s hot.
Where this garment succeeds is in its versatility; in cool weather it’s just as warm as a light tech shirt, and more comfortable. Over winter I’ve been wearing the tank over a tight-fitting long-sleeved top, and the extra layer provides a surprising degree of warmth and insulation.
Icebreaker have also built a neat little iPod pocket into the side of the tank, presumably out of compassion for those poor souls who are stuck in a gym.
Almost best of all, the tank doesn’t develop a toxic stink, so can be worn for quite a few runs without needing to be washed. This makes it ideal for runners who travel.
To my mind, the Distance Short is Icebreaker’s stand-out running garment. Although they are heavier-weight than skimpy synthetic racing shorts, I’ve rarely worn the latter in recent months when I’ve had a choice.
Like the Ace Tank, the shorts are supremely versatile, and can be worn several times between washes. Unlike the tank, they don’t seem to get heavy with sweat. The inbuilt liner is as comfortable as the best of my other running shorts
I’ve run some wet fell races and trail runs in these shorts, and I’ve remained comfortable (and warm) when soaked to the skin.
As the temperature outside dips to a few degrees above freezing, I’d usually be wearing knee-length tights, but this winter I’ve often found myself wearing the Icebreaker shorts instead; they’re just as warm.
The only imaginable improvement to the shorts would be replacing the internal flap pocket with a horizontal rear zip pocket.
The Icebreaker GT Run gear is a great choice for those who value quality over quantity; in my view, it’s worth paying a premium for a few quality garments that are versatile and odour-proof.
For hard-core racing when the weather’s hot, it’s probably worth wearing (and then immediately washing) synthetic tech gear instead, but for the other 98% of the time, I know what I’ll be wearing.
I almost feel sorry for Icebreaker’s bottom line, because most runners will only need one or two pairs of their shorts, and one or two shirts. For the rest of us minimalists, though, that’s a good thing.
Where to buy
NatureShop promptly ship Icebreaker gear straight to your door (free worldwide), often at discounted prices, and in fully biodegradable packaging.