Travel bloggers love to rave about Icebreaker merino wool shirts. Supposedly they wear like iron, are naturally odor-resistant, and drip dry quickly. Theoretically you could wear the same two shirts over and over for a lengthy trip with maybe a single dunk in the sink apiece. They also cost a pretty penny – generally $60 and up. Which is a whole lot for a t-shirt, especially for those of us who *aren’t* trying to travel the world for six months with just a small backpack. Are they worth it? And that smell thing. Frankly, I worry. Is it true, that merino wool minimizes odor, or are long-term adventure travelers maybe a bit nose-blind after wearing the same wool tee for weeks?
Since I am both jaded about online reviews and paranoid of BO, I decided I needed to find out for myself. I purchased the Icebreaker Tech Lite women’s short sleeve tee and wore it for five days straight without washing in between – including to work on days one and five – to put it to the test.
Day 1 – Thursday
The tee comes, and it is so light! I never think ‘light’ when I think wool, but this is surprising. It is a fine gauge knit, and doesn’t have that weird “knit sweater-y t-shirt” look that I hate. I love the grey heather color and the ram print is so cute I would have purchased the tee even if I wasn’t looking to review it. It also is very soft on, and doesn’t itch at all.
I wear it to work with jeans because I am done teaching for the year and I can get away with this. The fit is perfect, it follows the contour of the body without being clingy and it doesn’t grab every lump and bump. The v-neck shows enough skin to look modern but not so much I feel weird in a meeting with colleagues. I basically forget I have it on, it is so comfortable and un-wool-like. Ten hours of wear. Two compliments on the shirt, too – a good start!
Day 2 – Friday
Working from home today, so I am kind of cheating. If I stink, nobody is going to notice but the dog and he rolls in carrion when he gets the chance so he’s not likely to complain. I sniff the shirt before putting it on, and it smells worn but not dirty – like a freshly washed person. Not unpleasant, but unsettling to put on a shirt that already smells like clean-me. Still comfortable all day. I take it off before I cook dinner as I figure that cooking smells might be a bit much for even Icebreaker to fend off. Eight hours on day two of wear and I’m not yet offending myself.
Day 3 – Saturday
Today I’m with my family, and I’m wearing the shirt again. I feel a little slovenly and weird, not because I look or smell bad – I don’t, surprisingly! – but because I know that they have seen me in the shirt for the past two days at least briefly before I changed in the evenings. I tell DH that I am doing a review so he doesn’t think I’ve given up on hygiene.
We run errands with our chihuahua, and I sit in back with him so he can look out the side window while we drive around. I also have a travel mug of coffee. Life is good and the tee is really being put through its paces: speed bump + skittish chihuahua + coffee = pretty serious coffee spill down the front of me. I don’t rinse it out when I get home. Instead, I just put a bit of water on a paper towel and blot, the way I would have to if I were traveling and away from laundry facilities or unable to strip and wash in the sink.
Ten-plus hours today. When I peel off the shirt it smells slightly like coffee, and the underarm area smells a tiny bit sharp. The heather of the fabric has hidden any coffee marks though – no visible stain at all. This is the first time it has smelled like a “dirty” shirt. Grateful tomorrow is Sunday and thinking maybe I will limit this to a four-day test after all.
Day 4 – Sunday
Ok, Icebreaker merino is magical. That is the only explanation. Last night the underarms of the tee smelled a bit funky and now they don’t. It is like fairies came in the middle of the night and Febreezed the tee while I slept. Also? I fell into bed last night tired and crabby and unshowered, and now my dirty tee smells better than I do. I put it on, and it isn’t even gross putting a ‘dirty’ tee on. It smells like skin but not stink. At this point I’m officially impressed. Wear it all day again, easily twelve hours since I’m up late binging Netflix and it is so comfortable I don’t change out if it to put on home-lounging-wear.
Embarrassing admission: I skipped the shower this morning, and at the end of the day after wearing the tee I actually smelled better than I did when I first got dressed.
Day 5 – Monday
The last time I was on campus I was wearing this shirt. Now I am going to be wearing it to work again. And I have another meeting today and two of the people in this meeting were in the *last* meeting I was in while wearing this shirt. Will they remember?
I chicken out and compromise by wearing my Icebreaker tee as a base layer under a button down blouse and with dress pants. It is late May, they haven’t turned on the AC in some of the buildings yet because we are coming off a cold snap, and I’m sure that I’ll regret the choice by early afternoon. It turns out that the tee is perfectly comfortable all day, again, even though I should be really hot. I also can’t smell myself at all. I’m fully confident that others don’t notice anything, and I’d wear this tee under another shirt or sweater for warmth or sweat absorption in the future.
After I leave campus I take off the blouse and wear the tee with the dressier pants (straight leg black pants) and it doesn’t look stupid. Very wearable! I pass the sniff test in the bathroom too, where I lift an arm and stick my nose in my armpit and huff. I smell deodorant but that’s it. I’ve smelled worse by day’s end when I’ve worn a fresh cotton tee.
When I get home I wash it in the sink with Dr. Bronner’s soap the way I probably would on the road, and roll it up in a towel overnight, then hang on top of a towel on the towel hook the next morning – and it is nearly dry and smells like nothing at all.
The Verdict? This t-shirt is SO WORTH IT.
You heard it here first: Icebreaker merino wool is secretly spun from unicorn mane hair. There is no other explanation. It sneers in the face of body odor even after five straight days of all-day wear. I spilled on it, cuddled a chihuahua against me several days for hours (he’s a snuggle bunny in the evenings), and wore it one day of the five without showering at all. Nothing makes this thing stink! I could keep on wearing it even, but I just couldn’t stand it mentally to keep going. I bet if I were traveling though I might have pushed it another few days even.
The down side? I am *terrified* that I am going to put this baby through the dryer and ruin it. I know me. My idea of ‘sorting laundry’ is to pull the dirty pairs of underwear out of the dirty pairs of jeans before I dump the whole lot into the same load and hit “start”. Seeing as how I paid $85 on Amazon for it, this is a real concern. I’m going to set up a small laundry bag in the closet, hanging on the back of the door, for hand wash and dry clean to keep this from being an issue.
Also of note – At the time of the review, I was wearing a size 16. The XL that I purchased was perfect on me, but the shirt was not available in a larger size. Larger bodied travelers might not be able to wear this tee comfortably. Icebreaker, if you are reading this? Big women travel too, and if anything are even MORE worried about not having body odor than are smaller women travelers! Please consider producing a plus-size line. Thanks in advance. 🙂
Image credit: Amazon. Tee is available for purchase here.