I'd always heard that Icebreaker merino doesn't smell, and that once you get used to it, there's no going back to the normal materials used by other manufacturers. Icebreaker has always seemed pretty pricey to me, but everyone who uses their gear rates it so highly that I figured it must be worth a look.
The Quantum Hood is a technical merino mid layer, and the first thing I noticed was how soft it is. It's been described as 'like wearing a cuddle', although I'm obviously too butch and manly to second that... It really is extremely comfortable though, and seems to have survived repeated washes and kept this new, soft feel. It also feels light but is surprisingly warm when you're stood around. I took it ski touring on a cold spring day and was fine standing around in a lift queue - I didn't need to put anything else on when I stopped to put my skins onto my skis.
"The price of Icebreaker gear means not many of us will have a wardrobe full of it, but if you pick and choose which bits to buy it is clearly superb."
Essentially it felt like a micro fleece, but seemed to provide the same warmth as an old school 'fat' fleece. If anything I was worried it might be too warm for the day, but with the zip all the way down the chest I was able to just about stay cool enough even in the sun. After this it became a regular part of my ski touring kit and I found that unless you're really going for it uphill on a hot day, it's not nearly as warm as I feared it might be. The zip goes all the way to the bottom of the jacket, so you can have it flapping open as a pretty effective way of keeping cool, before zipping it up tight again when you stop.
Made from stretchy, midweight 260g merino, this classic hoody is designed for running, cycling, hiking and skiing but also works well as a casual top.
Features include a shaped zip pull, reflective two-way zip, eyelet panels for ventilation and thumb loops to anchor the hands.
Icebreaker Technical Mid Layers are advanced performance layers for high intensity sport.
Made with a little Lycra for a perfect fit, they're highly breathable, fast drying and odour resistant.
More info on the Icebreaker Website.
When summer came around I wore it to climb a 25 pitch rock route above the Envers des Aiguilles hut and found it was absolutely perfect for this kind of day. I stayed warm standing around belaying in it, and then set off climbing with the zip open and didn't overheat. On the descent down the same route it was also excellent, and the huge hood added quite a bit of warmth as the sun set. (I should add that I had a belay jacket on too!)
"It definitely smells less than traditional poly breathable base layers, but don't believe all the tales of people wearing these tops for a week without them smelling."
The final thing I liked is the breathability. There is a lot of nonsense talked about this subject and I think the bottom line is that if you are sweating heavily, you get wet from sweat, and no garment will do anything about this. However, on the days where I should perhaps have taken something a bit lighter, the Quantum did pretty well and dried extremely quickly when it did get wet. You can't avoid getting your gear wet if you sweat in it, but if it dries quickly and still does what you need it to, then you can't really complain.
So, faults. I have to say that there aren't many things to grumble about with the Quantum. But it most certainly does get smelly. It definitely smells less than traditional poly breathable base layers, but don't believe all the tales of people wearing these tops for a week without them smelling. The smell takes longer to arrive and is much weaker, but they do unfortunately need washing just like everything else. Also, the zip down the front is slightly more bulky than it needs to be, so it doesn't sit quite as flat and comfortably as a fleece with no zip at all, but the increased versatility that the zip provides probably makes up for this.
The price of Icebreaker means that not many of us will have a wardrobe full of it, but if you pick and choose which bits to buy it is clearly superb, and you do get what you pay for. This piece in particular is fantastic: warm but breathable and incredibly versatile. I don't think I'd use it for much in the height of summer, maybe some high mountain cragging on Cloggy or Scafell, or an alpine route in the shade might be the only exceptions, but for Scottish winter, ski touring, shoulder season alpinism and high altitude trekking, it would be perfect.
About Charlie Boscoe
Charlie Boscoe is a skier and climber based in Chamonix. His popular blog on Chamonix climbing conditions is: chamconditions.blogspot.co.uk. He and his partner, Sharon Wray create and run expeditions to the Himalayas, Andes, Alps and Atlas Mountains, and offer bespoke expedition planning. See his website: www.mountainworldltd.com.
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