Although the ice on our deck suggests otherwise, the fact that the sunshine is now peeking through our windows when it’s time to get up means the harshest part of winter is just about past, leading to the cool, wet early days of spring. For that, Icebreaker has some fantastic New Zealand merino wool pieces ready to tackle the rides and commutes. And, really, just about any other outdoor activity.
Over the past couple months I tested the Blast zip jacket, the Relay and Spring long-sleeve baselayer tees and the Flexi Chute, a soft, scarf-like neck gaiter that pulls up over the chin or nose as the weather dictates. All of them have lived up to the comfort and durability I’ve found in other Icebreaker items I’ve tested. If you’re looking for technical yet simple gear that’s versatile, check out the details below…
The Blast fuses a water-resistant polyester outer with 100% wool inner, sandwiching a polyuyrethane layer to block the wind. I’m 6’2″ and tested the XL, which fit comfortably loose for commuting but would be a bit baggy for road riding. Their website models are wearing a smaller size for a more form-fitting, slip-streaming application.
Judging from the arm length on the XL, going with a smaller size might mean slightly too-short sleeves for the riding position. At least for us tall folks. So, it seems more appropriate for a commuter/casual or even mountain biking piece.
The back plackets helps vent heat, while the tall neck helps retain it and prevent cold air from sneaking inside. The drop tail falls over the butt about half way, enough to keep spray from getting to your shirt. Small reflective hits between the shoulders and on the left shoulder add a bit of visibility.
The zip hand warmer pockets have a mesh liner and a massive opening. The insides are equally hungry, swallowing up a Redbox DVD very easily…or a magazine.
Inside, the tops are open, creating a double pocket that wouldn’t have any trouble hiding an iPad Mini. The chest pocket is about the right size for a smartphone (no phablets, sorry) and has a headphone port.
For a windproof, rain resistant cycling jacket, it’s among the softest of soft shells and is very comfortable. I liked the tall neck and large pockets i particular, and the style gets the thumbs up from Sweetie, too. Normal retail is $275, but the Blast is on sale (40%) as of this post.
The blue base layer is their Sprint Long Sleeve Crew, one of the two base layers tested. More on that in a second…
Keeping the wind and cold from leaking between the Blast and the base layers is the Flexi Chute, a $25-$30 accessory that’s worth every penny. It’s a simple neck gaiter that’s oversized (a half size is also available), leaving a lot of folds to fill in the space against your skin, or enough fabric to pull all the way over your nose while still staying tucked in. The material is their Cool-Lite blend of wool (65%), Tencel and Nylon, so it’s thin enough to breathe through but still kept my face warm.
I wore it on road rides and commutes into the high 20ºs and it worked perfectly. It even held its own on the slopes through dense flurries, all the while staying surprisingly dry considering the amount of humidity being exhaled through it. If your on-bike fashion sense skews less toward silk scarves and more towards wool sleeves, this is one piece you’ll definitely want in your three season arsenal.
In addition to the blue Sprint crew, this ivory Relay crew makes for a great first layer. The difference is the weight of the material – the Sprint is their 200 weight, and the Relay is 150 weight. They’re a blend of 96% wool and either Lycra (Sprint) or elastane (Relay). I tested an XL in these, also, and probably would have been better off with a large to make them more form fitting, something I prefer for base layers to ensure a non-bunching fit under mid- and outer layers.
Both have elongated sleeves with thumb loops, and both use raglan sleeves for easy movement in any activity. I used them for running, cycling and just generally screwing around. The Relay is pretty thin, like a well-loved T-shirt, while the Sprint has a bit more substance. Neither are as thick as the Wool-X base layer I reviewed, but they’re plenty under a good winter jersey into the 30ºs when used with the Flexi Chute. That also spreads out their use across more seasons.
I’m a little sad to see the disappearance of their cycling jerseys and shorts from their website. There’s a chance it’s just a seasonal shift, but our rep it looks like they’ve been discontinued. Fortunately, many of their active pieces work great on the bike, so my love affair with Icebreaker continues. All of the pieces tested here make great cycling pieces without being cycling specific, helping them pull double or triple duty for active folks. It’s not cheap, but I’ve had some pieces for a few years and they hold up great.