Thursday, 30 August 2012

Wonderfully woolly merino products

The first time I encountered merino products within the sport context must have been in 2004 when I was at Outdoor Quest in Borneo, writing for My American photographer buddies had merino tops, as I recall, for their lightweight warmth, comfort and un-smelliness.

This winter I had the pleasure - real pleasure - of wearing a lovely women's long-sleeved Icebreaker top (the model of the garment is 'Icebreaker Body Fit 200 Womens Chakra Zip'. Great news is that locally Adventure Inc are the agents for Icebreaker products so you'll find them in stores around the country.

I had to wait a bit before I could wear the top because merino is warm - very toasty - so I needed temperatures to drop. But once the cold hit in early June I was wearing it daily, although not for running because it really wasn't cold enough in Jo'burg for more than a light long-sleeve top.

Without hesitation I packed it in for Ireland - I was planning to wear it for the 24hr Rogaine Ireland. Great decision because I wore it almost every day as we were travelling around.

I'm not great at wearing layers so the thinner, lighter and warmer I can get away with, the better. Ireland is cold - by our standards - even in their summer and I was glad to have the opportunity to wear it a lot in the week-and-a-half before the rogaine. I also wore it on a few runs so I was fairly happy with the garment. The women's top has a tailored cut and it fits me well. I also enjoy the higher collar to keep my neck warm and to sit between my backpack's shoulder strap and the side of my neck.

We started the race in the rain and although we were wearing waterproof jackets both Sean and I were soaked. I can't quite figure out how but probably from sweat because we were working pretty hard in the beginning and it was raining. I guess too that when you pull back your hood and it is drizzling/raining that water gets in around the neck and probably also from your hair?

From the first control we were up on the mountains in howling wind and driving rain. Hiding from the wind behind a large peat cut-out, Sean and I stopped to put on shells over our baselayers and under our jackets before we continued to the top of the mountain where we expected to be hit by the wind. Sean's hands were already non-functional and mine were not much better.Good decision to stop then because we were pounded up top. With this set up of wet Icebreaker plus wind shell plus waterproof jacket plus wet windproof mittens I was warm up top. My legs were the freezing-est they've ever been as we didn't have anywhere to hide to put our rain pants on until a few hours later.

It was only at 2am that we were down again and in a valley where we stopped to put on dry baselayers. Until then I'd been wearing my wet Icebreaker, which had little opportunity to dry, for 12 hours. And I'd been warm.

One of the bonuses of merino is that the garments are not meant to smell, even after much use. You know how it is when you put on an active top. Fresh from the wash it smells great but once it warms up it smells terrible. Well, merino isn't meant to do this. My top has only really had a month and a half of lots of use so I'll see next season how it fares. Smells just fine still.

My top has had many washes too and it is none the worse for wear. I just toss it in the washing machine - cold wash. Fortunately it's not at all like a woolly jumper that can't be machine washed.

Overall, I really like this top. The fabric is soft, it is lightweight and the fit is good. It worked for me in the wet in seriously cold and nasty conditions. And I wore it daily on my travels, in the dry, to keep me warm without the need for thick layers - usually just with a bodywarmer on top.

The only 'downside' - that really is an 'upside' - is that this is a warm garment that is perfect for activities in the cold. For general Jo'burg weather (I usually run in the late afternoon), I won't get to wear it much because it is too warm. But for cold-weather mountain races and for cold and rainy conditions, I won't go out without it.

Merino Buff

I loooovvveee my Buffs. I've got lots of them. Many more than when I wrote this post on my Buffs in April 2008. I'm very sentimental about my Buffs, which all have their own story.

Adventure Inc are also the local agents for Buff and this winter they brought in the Wool Buff, which is 100% merino (I call it Merino Buff; its real name is Wool Buff). I only got it after Ireland but wore it constantly through the cold fronts that hit. My home-office is freezing so I'd be sitting here in my Icebreaker with a bodywarmer, blankie and cat on my lap, tea on my desk and Merino Buff around my neck. Perfect temperature balance.

The fabric is soft around the neck (not scratchy at all; a bit more 'smooth' than the Icebreaker) and as the Merino Buff is longer than the normal Buff you get better neck coverage. It's better in the cold and more efficient when it is windy.

The only thing with this Buff is that it is warm - very warm. Then again, it is meant to be. It would have been so fabulous in Ireland - racing and touristing.

I took it with me to the Ngoje 45km, which I ran in early-August. Sadly my Merino Buff is AWOL. It's my first Buff ever that has gone walkies. It didn't come back in my bag, it wasn't found it Fred's car and I haven't received a reply yet from the place where we stayed (I sent them another note today to check their lost property box because I'd really like it back). But if I don't get it back I'll definitely buy another next winter. It's now on my 'winter essentials' list.

My friend Ray has had a Merino Buff for about three years. We were chatting about our Buffs and raving about them. He says that it is true that they don't smell even with lots of wear. He claims that he has never washed his and that it doesn't smell. Mmmm... It's a good thing he didn't have it with him because I would probably have given it a sniff to check!

I'm a bit of a merino convert after trying these merino items. On the garment side you also get short-sleeve tops and leggings. I'm very happy with the long-sleeve baselayer and two would be better than one for racing. I wouldn't necessarily jump at the leggings because if they're as warm as the top, which I would expect, my legs would cook. With waterproof pants over they'd roast. But that's with my normal temperature environment in mind. For a wet 'n icy mountain race the top and leggings would certainly be a well-matched pair.

I've also gotten into merino yarn blends for crochet. There was such variety in Ireland that I found it so difficult to choose. I settled on a ball of this bamboo-wool blend. Should have bought more...

Bamboo is another natural yarn I absolutely love - sooo silky. There's a cotton-bamboo blend that I like but the bamboo-merino is much lighter and warmer. Here at home I recently made a friend some handwarmers from a cotton-merino blend, which came out really well. And then I made my dad a scarf and another friend a beanie from a heavenly cotton-merino blend.

The common fabulousness is definitely the merino. I've joined the flock.

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