I have been using my tried and trusted helly hansen tops since... oh, I bought the first one in 1998 and the second in probably 2003 ish- for everything adventure racing, running and cycling, including cycle commuting, day in day out for the past 5 years.
They however, are going to be the suject for another review a little later.
I have seen icebreaker around for a while, made of merino wool, they apparently dont smell, wick sweat away in record time, and, most importantly for a wool garment- dont itch.
I make no bones about the fact that I hate wool- it itches me like crazy, and I have never really been able to wear it against my skin. I have tried on a couple of merino tops on in shops, and they havent impressed me- they do feel like they itch a bit, and could turn into absolute nightmares if worn for a while.
I have been convinced to try one- at a 180 weight. (they tend to come in a number of weights, 150 for light, 200, mid and 260 for warmth. - there is also a 320 weight but this is more for mid layers) the 180 GT I have is made as a base layer- like a helly- which can also be used as a single layer for high perspiration activities- it also has a slightly perforated effect in the side panels and down the back.
The first time I put it on, it itched. It did. so it went straight into the washing machine with a pair of jeans to soften it up.
Try again... and this time it wasnt so bad. Still a slight - ever so slight feeling- but not one of discomfort, so time to actually try it on in action.
So far I have commuted in and done a few training runs in it- and performance-wise- it has certainly been as warm- but- more importantly- more wind-proof, than the hellys. Ok- so its not a windstopper, and its not made to be, but hacking along in quite a breeze, I am noticably more comfortable in the icebreaker than I am in the helly- which the wind just cuts straight through.
The shirt seems to wick very well indeed, sweat translation is fast, but this is just on first appearances, but is as good as a helly.
There is also a small zip pocket on the right hip area, which is very useful- now I dont have to hold my keys in my hand as I run around the heath- you can also use it for an ipod, routing the cable internally and up into the cable stows by the neck area, which stop it floating about the place as you run. Used them once and they seemed to be fine, though Im not really into running with earphones anymore, however, they work.
The Thumbloops are cool. Never had a top with thumbloops before, and these are great. Was out for an hours fartlek last night, it was cool, and I wouldnt have noticed not having them if I was in an old helly, however, I used them, and they were great.
Only minor issue with them was when I put them on under cycle gloves- you obviously have to take your gloves off before you can roll the sleeves up- so if you are going to have to vent quickly, its best to think about it in advance.
Does it smell?
Well, it doesnt smell as bad as the hellys, in fact, it smells different to hellys. It certainly doesnt NOT smell after a week of wearing it- its more like a slight damp wool smell than anything else. I suppose its the difference between gagging on synthetic smell, and thinking- oh, I smell like a slightly damp sheep.