Long Term Review: Icebreaker base layers – The Icebreaker Tech T Lite Short Sleeve Tee and the Icebreaker 260 Tech Top
I have another long term review – and one that I know a lot of you have been waiting a long time for me to do – and this time it is on the Icebreaker baselayer clothing.
I just recently passed 800 days (update: January 2015, I have now passed 1,000+ days) of wearing the Icebreaker Tech T Lite Short Sleeve Tee and over 500 days of wearing the Icebreaker 260 Tech Top (I technically had the bodyfit 260, but that name brand was discontinued and is now just called the ‘tech top’) and for about a month I had a Icebreaker Long Sleeve Chase Zip Top that I somehow lost at some trail town and quickly replaced with the Tech Top, which I am glad happened as I just did not like the design of the Chase Zip Top.
For those of you that have to trust and enjoy my long term reviews – and by “long term’ I mean ‘long term’ – longer than any other active outdoor gear writer – I wanted to get this article published for those of you preparing for your next winter hiking season. Both of these garments have proven themselves to me to be the absolute best base layer top garments I have ever owned. It took me a number of years of wearing other top base layers and just not being happy with them to finally spend the above-average costs for these two garments, but now, three years later, I am still wearing them (and I am at this very moment) and plan to keep wearing them until they give out.
I hope you enjoy this review – it has been a long time coming. Sorry for the delay for those that have been waiting, but at the same time, I do enjoy my long term useage of gear before writing a review on gear!
The issue of performance has to be looked at from a number of ways, the most important to me being “is the weight worth the warmth?” with the next being “does it work across a broad difference of weather conditions?” and other issues such as “what happens when it gets wet?”
All of us are different when it comes to performance standards, so I will just take the three aforementioned questions and answer them.
Is the weight worth the warmth?
When it comes to the Tech T weight is not really an issue, it is one of the lightest short sleeve t-shirts I have ever owned at 90 grams / 3.17 ounces. The other next-to-skin garment I use is the Mountain Hardwear ‘Way2Cool Tank’ and it is, amazingly, heavier at 110 grams / 3.88 ounces, which shows just how little the Tech T hits the scale at.
When it comes to the 260 Tech Top it is a whole other story – it is the heaviest merino base layer I have ever owned at 226 grams / 7.97 ounces.
The weight to warmth of the Tech T is absolutely worth it. It does an excellent job of being a next-to-skin layer. For a good part of the summer I wear only it, and slip on my Montbell Tachyon Wind Jacket, 2013 Edition or my ZPacks Rain Jacket when I need either of them during the day. When the sun starts going down or if the weather just turns cold I will put on the 260 Tech Top and use it as my thermoregulation layer.
There have been times, typically in the shoulder and winter season, when I opt to not take the 260 Tech Top and instead just take a full jacket, typically the Montbell Mirage Parka, as the weight of it offers a better warmth to weight performance (the Mirage offers one of the best weight-to-down performance jackets on the market with a total weight of 12.8 ounces, with a whopping 5.3 ounces of that being 900fp goose down!)
Does it work across a broad difference of weather conditions?
Yes, both the Tech T and the 260 Tech Top perform in all weather conditions where they are warranted to be used. When I am hiking in Death Valley and other very hot locations they are obviously outside their boundries of warranted use, but most other locations I hike at I have been wearing the Tech T-shirt. As indicated above, there are a few times when going with a full-on down jacket just makes more sense. However, in really cold weather I take the Icebreaker Tech T-shirt, the 260 Tech Top and the Montbell Mirage Parka, which gives me all of the warmth I could need for the type of weather that I encounter, and for only 678 grams / 23.91 ounces / 1.49 pounds.
If the weather is on the hot side (80°f or hotter) I typically swap out the Icebreaker Tech T-shirt for the Mountain Hardwear ‘Way2Cool Tank’ as I find the Tech T-Shirt to just be a bit too hot for my likes.
If the weather is in the 40-60°(f) range I am commonly wearing both the Tech Tshirt and the 260 Tech Top, as that seems to be the range that I find comfortable for wearing both of them – YMMV of course.
Durability on these, considering the amount of days I have wearing them, is surprisingly good.
The Tech Tshirt has a few holes along the bottom, where I tend to grab it to take it on/off. Seems my fingers have pushed through the fabric a few times when taking it off. Beyond these few finger size holes along the bottom seam, the Tech Tshirt is in excellent condition. Remember that this is a 150 gm fabric and it is very common for 150 gm 100% merino wool to have this issue.
The 260 Tech Top has had one small hole right below the thumb loop on the right arm. This is a result of my pushing my thumb through the fabric, trying to get it into the thumb loop and missing. It is not noticeable in any way, except if my thumb happens to catch it when putting the shirt on and I happen to stick my thumb through the hole. I will say I was surprised this happened as 260 weight merino wool typically does not have this problem.
All in all, on the durability side of things, I have been extremely happy given the 800+ days for the Tech Tshirt and 500+ days for the 260 Tech Top – that is an amazing 2+ years (if I wore it every day) for a 150 gm 100% merino wool t-shirt and almost a year and a half (if I wore it every day) for the 260 Tech Top.
There is no doubt that the cost of a 100% merino wool baselayer scares off a lot of potential buyers – and the higher than normal prices that Icebreaker charges makes them even more pricy.
In a recent bit of research done by ProliteGear, the Icebreaker 150 T-Shirt and Icebreaker 260 Bodyfit scored the highest possible results in their testing – and were the only two base layers that scored a complete success out of every base layer they put up against them! They beat out the Patagonia Capilene 4, and the Rab Meco 120! I want to specifically point out this research and its results because it is important to understand that while the Icebreaker might be one of, if not the, most expensive baselayers in the hiking garment market, they are priced higher because they are the best out there.
The drying time for the Icebreaker Tech T Lite Short Sleeve Tee is surprisingly fast given it is 100% merino wool. No, not as fast as some of the hybrid garments that are out there, but fast enough given it is a t-shirt.
When it comes to the Icebreaker 260 Tech Top it is a slightly different story. While this garment did win out in the research done by ProliteGear, in regards to being the top garment for not saturating out, when it does finally saturate out (be it from rain, washing it, or falling down while crossing a river, or such) it takes a rather long time for this heavy base layer garment to dry out. So much so that I do everything I can to make sure it does not get saturated with water while hiking. It is simply not one of those garments you can hang up at night and expect it to be dry the next morning – at least here where I live. It also ends up being really heavy when it is saturated, because it is holding so much water inside of it – even if you wriggle it out by hand. Compared to a Patagonia Cap 4 the Icebreaker 260 is probably twice to three times as long of waiting for it to dry out. This is just something to be aware of.
Excellent. Both of them. Beyond excellent. I have been out in the truly remote backwoods of Northern California for two plus weeks without having enough available water to really wash my cloths – enough to give them a quick wriggle with some water, but not a full washing – and I did not find either of them to be stinky. Of course, it could be that by that point I was use to it – my fellow hikertrash know what I mean by that ;)
The Icebreaker Tech T Lite Short Sleeve Tee can start to get a bit stinky after a few days of wearing it while out on the trail, but what next-to-skin garment does not under such situations.
I have never, in my 500+ days of wearing the Icebreaker 260 Tech Top found this garment to stink from wearing it. That is a whole lot of fabric/material that would have to get saturated with stink.
Would I Buy Again:
In fact I have a spare one of each sitting in a drawer for if either of the ones I have been wearing finally give out to a point where I just could not wear them any longer.
The really big question comes not from the Tech T Lite shirt as that is a no-brainer when it comes to buying another one.
Where the big question really comes into play is would I buy another Icebreaker 260 Tech Top over the most recent version of the Patagonia Cap 4 Expedition Weight 1/4 Zip Hoody, which I tend to feel is the one base layer that can really give the 260 Tech Top a run for its money. Putting aside the whole issue of whether or not you like wearing a hoodie (I think they provide a role in locations with a lot of cold wind) I think I would most likely make my next purchase be the Cap 4 Hoody, but only because I really really want to give it a go and put it through the same type of use and abuse that I have the Icebreaker 260 Tech Top. If I had to buy one or the other, and only one, I would still go with the Icebreaker 260 Tech Top.
What Others Are Saying:
I do not know of any other hiker that has reviewed these garments. If I come across anybody that has I will add them here.
The Icebreaker Tech T Lite Short Sleeve Tee and the Icebreaker 260 Tech Top are two of the top baselayers on the market. Time after time in reviews performed by those with testing labs conclude the same. With over 800 days of wearing the Tech Lite Tee and over 500 days of wearing the 260 Tech Top I feel I have put them through enough use to also be able to say these are top-end garments.
While they can seem expensive, as I have pointed about, these garments are priced based upon quality. Their ability to handle every situation you can throw at them, their lack of itching or discomfort that lesser quality merino wool has, their amazing durability, their ability to handle not becoming saturated, their ability to not stink, their lack of shoulder seams (I hate garments that places seams on top of the shoulder and rubs your shoulders raw from your backpack straps), and most of all, that even after all I have put them through, I still put them on day after day regardless of whether I am out on the trail or at home – simply put, these are truly exceptional pieces of base layer clothing.
In accordance of USA Federal Trade Commission 16 CFR, Part 255: I hereby declare that as of the day of publication of this article I am a sponsored hiker of Montbell America, Black Rock Gear, Suluk46.