Wool has been used in the outdoors for hundreds of years, however during the 80’s synthetic fabrics such as Polartec® gained popularity as they where lighter, softer against the skin and dried quicker than the old woollen garments did.

In 1994 the New Zealand company Icebreaker was formed after its founder Jeremy Moon was introduced to Brian Brackenridge, a merino sheep farmer. Brian showed Jeremy a prototype thermal tee-shirt made from 100% merino wool. Jeremy found that it felt soft and sensual. It was nothing like the wool that he had grown up with, which was heavy and scratchy and as a bonus you could throw it in the washing machine.

Since its beginning Icebreaker has also beet on the forefront to set the industry benchmark for quality and ethical treatment of their workers and the sheep used to produce the wool.

Why Merino?

There are several properties contributing to why merino is such an amazing fabric and why it can be used in conjunction with other fabrics for outdoor and travel clothing:

  • Merino is excellent at regulating body temperature, especially when worn against the skin. The wool provides some warmth, without overheating the wearer. It draws moisture (sweat) away from the skin, a phenomenon known as wicking. The fabric is slightly moisture repellent (keratin fibres are hydrophobic at one end and hydrophilic at the other), allowing the user to avoid the feeling of wetness.
  • Like cotton, wool absorbs water, but, unlike cotton, wool retains warmth when wet, thus helping wearers avoid hypothermia after strenuous activity or weather events.
  • Like most wool, merino contains lanolin, which has antibacterial properties. This means that Icebreaker wont get sticky.
  • Merino is one of the softest types of wool available, due to finer fibres and smaller scales. So you wont get that feel itchy & prickly feeling that was associated with old woollen jumpers.
  • Merino has an excellent warmth-to-weight ratio compared to other wools, in part because the smaller fibres have microscopic cortices of dead air, trapping body heat similar to the way a sleeping bag warms its occupant.

Two Mountain Adventurers in Icebreaker Gear

Where does Icebreaker’s Merino come from?

The Merino wool used for Icebreaker is sourced from New Zealand’s rugged Southern Alps mountain range. The temperatures are extreme and can range from 35 degrees in summer through to -20 degrees in winter.

The Icebreaker Baacode traceability programme lets you trace the merino wool in the garment right back to the source. You can see the living conditions of the sheep, meet the growers who raised them, and follow the production process through to the finished garment.

The Woolshed at The Point Station, Tarras

How is Icebreaker ethically made?

Icebreaker invests a great deal of energy into supporting its commitment to environmental sustainability and responsible sourcing. It sets strict standards for environmental management and animal welfare from its growers, all of whom are contracted long-term to Icebreaker. Once harvested, wool is processed in facilities that strictly observe rigorous standards for environmental impact and human welfare. Learn more about Icebreaker’s recent A+ in the Ethical Fashion Report here. 

Mountain Adventurers in Icebreaker Gear

What is Icebreaker’s MerinoLOFT?

Everyone knows about Icebreakers thermals and mid weight jumpers but mid way through 2014 Icebreaker launched MerinoLOFT, a new lightweight insulation created from premium, ethically-sourced wool fibres.

Ten percent of the loft comes from recycled merino offcuts salvaged from the factory floor, while the jackets’ water repellent shell is made from recycled polyester.

MerinoLOFT garments are Icebreaker’s warmest-ever jackets, and are ideal for lightweight layering. Icebreaker is using the latest technology to build the next generation of high performance merino.

MerinoLOFT jackets that are built for the outdoors and styled for the city. The range now includes a number of Jackets, Hooded Jackets and Vests which are perfect for travelling, hiking and alpine use.

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About The Author

Dave Casey

Dave has worked as an International Expedition Leader and in Outdoor Education for over 15 years. He has extensive travel and guiding experience in Australia, NZ, Asia, South/North America and Europe. In his spare time Dave is a keen bushwalker, mountain biker and climber while also dabbling in some mountaineering and sea kayaking.