When you think of wool clothing, what comes to mind? Cold weather? Bulky sweaters? Scratchy socks? Well, there’s a whole category of wool clothing that wants us to change our minds about wool – how it feels, how it looks, and when to wear it.

Case in point: Icebreaker’s line of merino wool activewear. I’ve been wanting to try Icebreaker’s running clothes since I first heard about them, so when natureshop.com contacted me to ask if I’d review some of their stuff, they didn’t have to ask twice. I sent them a list of the stuff I was interested in, and they kindly sent me three items to review: The SS Ace Crewe Tech T, the Tracer Run Short, and the Boxer Anatomica. Here’s the required disclaimer – they gave me the stuff for free to review, and I got to keep it.

I live about as far as you can get from the beach and still be in Los Angeles. It gets hot in the summer, so my typical running outfit is a Tech T and running shorts. That’s about it, not counting my GPS watch, heart rate monitor, hat, sunglasses, Road ID anklet and hydration pack for long runs. Although I often run barefoot, I’m not really a minimalist in any other respect.

I’ve done several runs now in my Icebreaker shirt and shorts. The boxer briefs I mostly just wear for daily wear. They could be worn under other shorts for running, but the Icebreaker shorts have a built-in liner, so they don’t really go together. Here are my thoughts on this novel approach to active wear.

This stuff looks and feels really good. The biggest thing I notice right away is how light, soft, and smooth it all feels. I’m wearing wool directly against my skin, and there is not a hint of scratchiness. It has a distinctly different feel to it than the synthetic tech clothing I usually run in. For lack of a more apt description, it feels more “natural.” It’s got slightly more texture to the cloth, and a tiny hint of “fuzz,” though it’s not actually fuzzy. It’s more like a slight nap to the cloth. Nap like suede, not like sleeping.

My favorite of all these pieces is the shirt. The SS Ace Crewe they sent me is a vibrant blue with nice details. I don’t look as smashing in it as the hot Kiwi they got to model it on their site, but it’s definitely one of the more attractive pieces of running clothing I’ve seen. It feels great on. There is a slight hint of the possibility of itch, but it never quite happens. And once I’m running, I almost don’t feel it there at all. It wicks moisture very well. The only thing I would say it doesn’t do quite as well as my synthetic stuff is dry quickly. When I’m done with a long run, the shirt is wet with sweat, and stays that way longer than some of my poly stuff. The shirt also has a cool little integrated pocket in the side that would hold a key or a couple gel packets.

The shorts are less visually interesting, being basically black running shorts. But they are simple, fit well, and look fine. There are two things about these that I like a bit less than some of my other shorts. First, they don’t have any exterior pockets. I don’t like loading up my shorts with stuff, and I usually run with a belt or hydration pack that I can put stuff in, but a pocket or two is nice. The biggest thing, though, is that the built-in liner is briefs instead of compression boxer briefs. I have two other pairs of running shorts – one from New Balance and one from Asics – with integrated boxer briefs, and now I either want those or to wear my own underwear instead of an integrated liner. On the one longer run I did in these – 10+ miles – there was some chafing. Enough said.

The underwear are really comfortable. As the name – Boxer Anatomica – suggests, they’re more, uh, fitted than what I sometimes wear, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. They look AND feel good. Second disclaimer – that is NOT me in the photo.

The one area where this gear wins hands down over anything else I own – odor control. They don’t smell bad. When I wear them, even after a 14+ mile run, they still don’t smell bad. I cannot say this about ANY of the other running gear I own. Usually when I finish a long run, I’m not fit to be around other humans until my clothes have been put into the laundry and I’ve been through the shower. My wife insists I put my running clothes directly into the wash because, in her words, she doesn’t want the bedroom to smell like crotch. But with these, it doesn’t happen. I can get home from a run and actually be around people without feeling guilty or clearing the room. I can hang them up to air out and wear them another day before washing. My wife even gives them the OK.

So, overall, I give this stuff high marks. There are two other things, though, in the “con” column. First, the underwear and the shirt have both had bits of stitching start to come unravelled. Nothing catastrophic, but having only had these pieces for a few weeks, I wouldn’t expect to see signs of them starting to fall apart just yet. And all the moreso because of the second negative – price. I got these pieces for free, and I’m very grateful. But even with natureshop.com’s discounts, these items are quite a bit more than the stuff I usually run in. The shirt is $63, the shorts $70, and the underwear are $50. I can’t really say what their long-term durability is. If they hold up well, I might say they’re worth the price, but I’m not quite ready to say that yet.

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