Merino blends have exploded in popularity over recent years as manufacturers try to take the best features of merino, its cotton-like comfort and odour resistance, and combine it with the best features of synthetics - weight and fast dry drying. We've previously tried merino blended with everything from Yak wool and Possum Yarn to plant based fabrics and, to be honest, the differences have been minimal in practice on the hill. With the Sphere, Icebreaker have blended what initially seems like a low percentage of merino at just 52% with plant based Tencel fabric at 35% and 13% nylon.
What the manufacturers Say:
An ultralight merino wool T-shirt for warm-weather travels, outdoor adventures and hot days close to home, the Sphere Short Sleeve Crewe features a classic crew-neck design that’s as versatile as it is comfortable. Made with soft 130gm Cool-Lite™ fabric that blends merino wool with natural TENCEL®, the Sphere also features our Corespun fibers, which feature a nylon core wrapped in merino wool for added strength and durability that maintains next-to-skin softness. The Sphere Crewe is quick to dry and gives you the optimal balance of comfort, breathability and odor resistance, while offset shoulder seams eliminate chafing when you’re traveling, hiking or commuting with a backpack.
- Layer: First Layers
- Best for: Lifestyle, Adventure
- Benefits: Breathability, comfort, odor resistance, quick drying
- Features: Cool-Lite™ fabric for comfort in warm to hot conditions, Corespun fabric for enhanced durability, center back length: 74cm/29", size L, Icebreaker pip label
Icebreaker Cool-Lite Sphere Short Sleeve Crewe reviewed:
Merino has a reputation as being the "go-to" fabric for high performance baselayers and Icebreaker is probably the biggest brand name in the merino market. The Icebreaker Cool Lite Sphere SS Crew takes the best features of merino wool and combines them with 20% Tencel and 15% nylon to improve the ability dry - avoiding saturation when worn and giving faster drying times after washing.
When it comes to reviewing base layers it's very much a subjective view as we all sweat at different rates and so much of the performance also depends on what you're wearing over the base layer. In practice the addition of the Tencel and Nylon has a noticeable effect in terms of how cool the T shirt feels against the skin compared to pure merino products and feels noticeably softer than a pure synthetic. After two months of extensive use, however, the one real stand-out feature is its versatility; working across a range of temperatures as either a standalone single layer or a true base-layer.
The sizing is quite "snug", which makes it ideal as a base layer with its flat-seams preventing rub points and the close fit promotes fast and effective wicking. This is where the layers worn over the base layer makes a difference and why reviewing base layers is so difficult. Put simply, no matter how good a base layer is at wicking moisture away from the body if the mid and/or outer layer aren't breathable you won't get the real benefits of the base layer whether its synthetic, merino or a blend of merino and something else. When combined with a breathable mid layer the Sphere works perfectly and works for days. We tested the Sphere in Switzerland where the temperature varied between -2C and 32C, both with and without additional layers, continuously for 5 days and found the breathability to be at least on a par with full synthetic base layers. Wher a synthetic layer would have suffered with odour retention, however, the Icebreaker remained fresh.
Used a single layer as the temperatures rose choosing a larger size worked perfectly. The Sphere felt like a a cotton T in terms of comfort, particularly under the arm-pits where the "normal" size does feel a little restrictive but without the tendancy to stick to the body as you start exerting energy. Walking uphill from Grund to Grindelwald in the blazing July sunshine the Sphere was really pushed to the limits but although a subjective view it's impossible to think of a single base layer or T shirt that would have performed better. As a base layer in a white-out at Jungfraujoch the Icebreaker kept the core warm with just an insulated jacket on top; and that was left unzipped most of the time. At £55 the Icebreaker Cool-Lite Sphere isn't cheap and there's enough options on the market to try a different one each week, but for once we found that choosing the additional premium of choosing a top brand name really does pay off. We've tried merino on its own, merino with yak wool, merino with silk, merino with cashmere and even merino with possum yarn and now merino with Tencel, which is another plant based fabric, and while the differences are small the Sphere feels like the best balance between comfort, odour resistance and drying time. Rather than looking for a cheaper brand or combination of fabrics we'd actually suggest buying two Cool-Lite T's; one sized for a close fit as a base layer and another oversized to wear as a single layer in warmer climates.
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