Gadling Gear Review: Icebreaker LS Tech T Lite

Travelers who prefer to pack light are always on the lookout for ways that they can shed weight without sacrificing comfort or functionality. Occasionally that happens when they discover new gear that is lighter and more versatile than something that was previously available. Other times it is the result of simply finding something new that allows them to carry less in their bags. That happens to be the case with the new LS Tech T Lite from Icebreaker, a shirt that promises, “2 weeks, 1 shirt, no stink.”

Icebreaker is a company that offers a wide line of clothing for active travelers and outdoor enthusiasts. Their apparel is made from soft and lightweight merino wool, which has the unique ability to keep the wearer cool in warm environments and warm in cold ones. This versatility can come in handy on extended trips and means that one piece of clothing can be used for a variety of destinations.

The Tech T Lite certainly meets that description. Soft against the skin and incredibly light, the shirt works well on its own but makes a great base layer too. Not only does it breathe well in warm weather, it also serves as good insulation in the cold, which will no doubt make it a popular option for travelers of all types.Merino wool has another quality that makes it particularly well suited for travel apparel. Fabrics made from the wool also happen to be incredibly resistant to odors as well. That means you can carry one or two of these shirts on an extended trip and really not need to pack any others. That can save room and weight in your luggage or backpack and make packing a lot easier too, as you won’t need nearly as many shirts on longer trips.

After putting the Tech T Lite through its paces, in both warm and cool climes, I can honestly say that it more than lives up to its billing. Whether you’re wearing it while lounging around the lodge or out hiking a demanding trail, it remains remarkably comfortable to wear without inhibiting motion in any way. It also happens to be easy to keep clean, quick drying and more durable than it first appears. All of those qualities have already made it one of my favorite pieces of travel clothing and earned it a spot in my pack on just about any trip I take in the future.

The Tech T Lite LS is the long sleeve version of this shirt and carries a price tag of $80. Icebreaker also makes it with short sleeves, which runs just $65. No matter which version you select you’ll be getting a very high quality piece of gear that will prove to be a great travel companion for years to come.

Top 5 reasons Icebreaker underwear are my favorite pieces of travel gear

Gadling has sung the praises of New Zealand-based Icebreaker clothing before. We love it. However, on a recent trip to Indonesia, I learned just how fantastic the merino wool garments actually are when put to the test. While you may think that wool clothing would be far too hot for the humid Balinese climate, you’ll be surprised to learn just how critical a role Icebreaker played in keeping me comfortable. I brought several pairs of Icebreaker Beast 150 boxer briefs with me to Bali and, if I hadn’t, I can honestly say that I would have been miserably uncomfortable. Are a few pairs of underwear really that critical?

I so enjoyed Icebreaker’s boxer briefs that they have become my favorite piece of travel gear. With each passing day of the trip, as temperatures approached 90°F and humidity constantly hovered at around 98%, I was increasingly more thankful that the most intimate parts of my body were enrobed in Icebreaker. Why the glowing praise? Here are the top five reasons:

5. Style

Plenty of performance garments fulfill their promise to keep you comfortable. Many, however, do so in a hideous fashion (literally). While it’s fine to look rugged while you’re out for a hike or exploring some ruins, you still want your gear to allow you to dress up nicely. Considering that my girlfriend was with me in Bali, it was nice that Icebreaker’s underwear showed that I hadn’t given up on romance.

4. Packing

No underwear should take up much space in your luggage, but Icebreaker boxer briefs are so thin – yet durable – that they fold up neatly and compactly. And, since you don’t need to pack too many pairs, they really help lighten your load. Speaking of not having to pack too many pairs…

3. Quick Dry

Rather than pack 14 pairs of underwear for a two week trip, I rotated three pairs of Icebreaker boxer briefs. When they needed a wash, I’d rinse them in the sink with some Dr. Bronner’s and hang them to dry. In just a few hours (overnight was more than enough time), they were bone dry and ready to be worn again. However, I didn’t have to wash them too often because…

2. Odorless

Icebreaker gear doesn’t absorb odor. You can wear their gear for days – and I did – without washing it and the people around you are none the wiser. No matter how much I sweat in Bali (read: a lot), my underwear still seemed fresh at the end of the day. Not having to do laundry daily allowed me to make the most of my time in Indonesia. Which was easy considering…

1. Breathable

Perhaps my underwear stayed so fresh because I never felt that hot in my crotch. Unlike traditional cotton underwear (which I wore for one day and refused to use for the rest of the trip), Icebreaker boxer briefs allowed air to flow. As such, I stayed dry where it was most important. Lest you make a joke about groin discomfort, jock itch (aka tinea cruris) is no laughing matter. Having a rash in your crotch and inner thighs from sweat is uncomfortable and takes days to clear up. Icebreaker boxer briefs made sure that I avoided that travel nightmare.

Icebreaker Beast 150 boxer briefs are available on the company’s website, at their stores in Portland and New York and at various outdoor gear suppliers. They retail for $43 per pair.

Ships, sailors trapped by ice in the Sea of Okhotsk

Multiple ships have become trapped in the thick winter ice in the Sea of Okhotsk, located off the east coast of Russia‘s Siberia, stranding more than 500 sailors in incredibly cold conditions. Reports indicate that some of the ships have been stuck there since last Friday with temperatures hovering around -10 degrees Fahrenheit, while they await rescue.

Yesterday, a Russian icebreaker was dispatched to clear a route for the iced-in vessels, but it was making very slow progress against the ice that is reportedly over a foot in thick in some areas. High winds, at times in excess of 65 mph, and heavy snow in the region also conspired to impeded the progress of the rescue ship.

There are conflicting reports as to the number of vessels that are actually stranded in the ice. Last week, the BBC reported that ten ships and 600 sailors were locked in the frozen waters, while yesterday the Washington Post claimed there were half that many vessels, carrying approximately 500 crew, awaiting rescue. The three ships stuck since last Friday include a fishing boat, a science vessel, and a refrigerated cargo freighter.

Russian authorities say that there is no immediate threat to the ships or their crews. They all have plenty of food, fuel, and water to get by while they wait for their exit to be created, and with any luck, they should be on their way sometime today. A second icebreaker is now in the Sea and will help to expedite that process.

I can’t imagine how quickly the conditions must have changed in order for these ships to become trapped like this. Thankfully they’ll all be freed soon, as the prospects of waiting until a spring thaw before they can get underway seems like a brutal proposition. You know that somewhere, deep below the decks of those ships, there are a few sailors wondering what ever became of that whole global warming thing.

[Photo credit: Wofratz via WikiMedia]

Gadling’s cold weather gift guide

Christmas is less than two weeks away (and Hanukkah wishes are now being expressed belatedly), and that’s still plenty of time to shop for all of your favorite people. We’ve already covered the best gifts for outdoor travelers and the top luxury travel gifts, so this time around we’re focusing on people who embrace winter.

You know the type: the adventurers who see snow and can’t wait to get outside to enjoy the season. OK, these gifts are also for people who barely tolerate a cool breeze and just need some gear to help them survive the next three months.

However, don’t have to simply survive winter. You can enjoy it – and look good – with the right gear. So, bundle up, pour some hot cocoa into your favorite travel mug (we’ll get to that shortly) and head outside. We rallied the Gadling troops and put together a list of our favorite winter gear. This is Gadling’s cold weather gift guide.

Mike Barish

I love the Patagonia Wanaka down jacket (pictured above). There’s nothing I hate more than someone in a fashionable pea coat complaining about the cold. Maybe if they dressed properly, they’d be comfortable. On the flip side, so many warm coats are just plain ugly. Unlike all the bubble jackets you’ll see everyone wearing every winter, the Wanaka is a down jacket that actually looks good. It manages to combine fashion and function by looking sleek while packing 600-fill down inside. ($349 at Patagonia)

I also never leave the house without my Dale of Norway knit cap. Dale of Norway gear is beyond warm and I could probably wear nothing but their knit cap and still be comfortable outside. I haven’t been able to find my exact hat online (my girlfriend picked it up while she was in Norway) but you can shop for their gear at high-end sporting goods stores and sites such as Amazon and Zappos. ($49 on Amazon)

If you like to take coffee (or, if you’re like me, hot chocolate) with you, then you’re going to want to carry it in Klean Kanteen’s insulated bottle. It will keep your beverages hot for an astonishingly long time. (Starting at $22.95 at Klean Kanteen)

Grant Martin

Our well-traveled editor is a big fan of the Icebreaker 320 RealFleece Aspiring Hood. He’s sung its praises previously and continues to enjoy Icebreaker equipment. The merino wool keeps you warm and doesn’t absorb odor. Great for when you’re breaking a sweat on the slopes, chopping wood or just building a snowman. ($200 at Icebreaker)

Darren Murph

Leave it to our favorite Engadget Associate Editor to recommend the Recon-Zeal Transcend goggles with built-in GPS. As he noted on Engadget, these goggles are “equipped with a Zeal Optics’ frame design with a micro LCD display, which appears to hang approximately six feet in front of the user. That head-mounted display provides real-time feedback to the wearer, including speed, latitude / longitude, altitude, vertical distance traveled, total distance traveled, a chrono / stopwatch mode, a run-counter, temperature and time.” Wow. ($399 or $499 depending on model at Zeal Optics)

Scott Carmichael

For someone who lives in Chicago, Scott sure does hate winter. Maybe that’s why he recommended Zippo’s new hand warmer. It might look like a classic Zippo lighter, but you won’t see any flame coming out of this hand warmer. It uses Zippo lighter fluid to provide hunters, skiiers and Chicago commuters with portable warmth when their fingers start to go numb. ($19.95 at Zippo)

Kent Wien

Gadling’s resident pilot loves Arc’teryx gear (so much so that he let us use a picture of his lovely wife, Linda, modeling some of her favorite pieces). Linda highly recommended her Beta AR jacket and Strato fleece. According to Kent, “You’ll be drawn in by the colors and schemes, and hooked when you see the functionality (pockets everywhere). And then you’ll likely take a step back when you see the price. But if you take the plunge, you’ll probably be hooked on their products for life.” ($450 and $175, respectively, at Arc’teryx or much cheaper on Amazon)

Alex Robertson Textor

Alex loves Fox River Socks’ Red Heel Monkey Socks. According to Alex, “Fox River Socks manufactures the original Rockford Red Heel monkey sock, and apparently every pack of socks from Fox River comes with monkey sock instructions. I love these socks for their warmth and feel during winter.” ($12 at Fox River Socks)

Laurel Miller

Laurel gushed about her Western Mountaineering Hooded Flash Jacket. “It’s microlight (9 oz.), compresses to the size of a softball, 850 plus fill power goosedown, and it’s gotten me through a winter in Telluride (including skiing, which I usually won’t do in down), and mountaineering in a blizzard on the world’s highest active volcano in Ecuador. I wore a waterproof shell over it in that instance. I’ve slept in it on camping trips, and have generally abused the hell out of it and it’s still maintaining it’s loft, and is in perfect condition (albeit a bit grubby). I got caught in a Seattle rainstorm yesterday wearing it, and it still didn’t soak through. It’s the ultimate traveler’s/backpackers jacket, and great for women like me who are perpetually cold, but don’t want to wear a bulky jacket or loads of layers.” ($260 on Amazon)

Kraig Becker

Perhaps no one at Gadling knows more about outdoor gear than Kraig. When he recommends products, we all listen. He’s a big fan of the Outdoor Research Alti Gloves. “A good layering system is only part of the answer for staying warm. You’ll also want something to keep your hands and head warm too. For the hands, I recommend a pair of Alti Gloves from Outdoor Research, which are designed for technical climbing in extreme conditions, which means they’ll also keep you warm on the slopes, during a winter hike, or any other winter outdoor activity.” ($150 at Outdoor Research)

Kraig also recommends layering in the winter, including starting with PolarMax Base Layers. “These base layers come in three varieties; warm, warmer, and warmest. Most Gadling readers will probably be very happy with the “Travel Weight” option, which is light weight, but still very warm. For colder weather outdoor adventures, such as backcountry skiing or snowshoeing, jump up to the “Mountain Skins,” which are high performance gear for the active cold weather traveler.” (Starting at $19.99 at Sport Chalet and other sporting goods retailers)

Lastly, Kraig loves the Eddie Bauer First Ascent Hangfire Hoodie. “Their Hangfire Hoodie is an amazing piece of gear that works great as an outer layer jacket in cool weather and an insulating layer in under a shell in cold weather. It is form fitting, but designed to move, making it easy to be very active while not limiting motion. It also looks great and is just as comfortable for use around town as it is in the backcountry. I highly recommend this one!” ($99 at Eddie Bauer)

Annie Scott

Annie loves the feel of cashmere and recommends White + Warren for all of your cashmere needs. That said, when it’s time to be practical with a pair of gloves that keep you warm and let you use your iPhone, she has other ideas. “Tec Touch gloves let you use your iPhone and other devices with your gloves on.” (Starting at $20 at 180s)

McLean Roberts

I recently invested in a pair of Pajar Davos boots. They’re the perfect winter weather wear – not so much gear as they are a fashion statement that actually keeps you both warm and comfortable … Think more apres ski in Telluride or Aspen than anything else. Made of real fur and lined with sheep, these sturdy and comfortable boots are both waterproof and durable, boasting a sturdy rubber liner at the bottom that prevents slipping. Oh, and they aren’t Uggs, so people won’t make fun of you. Okay, they might…I look like I’m wearing a small animal on my foot, but at least I’m warm.” ($350 at Jildor Shoes)

Melanie Nayer

We’ll wrap things up with the wise words of one of our editors:

I love winter. The idea of bundling up in warm sweaters, cozy scarfs and mittens and cuddling by the fire after snowshoeing through the mountains is a perfect way to celebrate the season, in my opinion. But when it comes to the best winter gear, I simply have no idea. I take whatever is warmest from my closet and layer it on, but when Mike asked us to submit our favorites I couldn’t ignore his request.

A good flask and a little whiskey go a long way. I couldn’t tell you what brand my snow boots are or what layer of warmth my ski pants are tagged, but I can assure you a little Johnny Walker Black can warm you up nicely on a cold winter’s day.

So very true. Melanie didn’t recommend a specific flask, but we’ve long had our eyes on this handsome model from Stanley. It holds eight ounces of your favorite warming liquid and you’ll never lose the cap. ($20 at Stanley)

Wool fleece: smarter than your average fleece

We’re in an era now of green travel and green experiences. Bio fuels are the new sexy pronouncement in the airline industry, and with every mile traveled, we’re encouraged to offset our carbon to save parts per million per million somewhere further down the road.

Nary a trip out the front door goes by without the opportunity to stay green, but with tangible travel goods it’s hard to escape the benefits afforded by oil. It’s all around us — the vinyl in our tents, the Lexan in our water bottles and the polyethylene terephthalate in our jet black fleeces. Popular as those goods may be, they’re all cracked from long-chain petroleum hydrocarbons and in the end, contribute to our dependence on fossil fuels.

Unfortunately it’s hard to escape oil when trying to source good, outdoor travel clothing. Most of the warm, breathable fabrics that are used in a flexible, athletic cut are based on a space-aged stretchy polymer or some sort of other synthetic, non-biodegradable material. Gore-tex windstopper fleece, for example, is made from the same base material that Teflon and some armor piercing bullets use — all created from oil molecules.

Some of the outdoor gear industry is starting to go green though with the creation of merino wool fleeces. Technical wool clothing, if you’re up to snuff on your gear, has been around for some time, but it’s usually used in socks and the occasional base layer. Whether it was a limitation with the manufacturing process or the targeted demographic, thicker piles of wool clothing were never developed until the last season or so, but they’re now starting to creep into the mainstream consumer market. Follow the gearjunkie over at twitter and you’ll get a good idea of how often the material is discussed.The obvious benefit of the material, of course, is its natural source and structure. Most of the merino wool on the planet is produced from Merino sheep in Oceania, South America and the United States, and the nature of the material makes it biodegradable, warm and inexpensive. From a user standpoint, the material remains warm even while wet and has excellent breathability.

Another key benefit to the material is its ability to repel odor. Because of the way that the wool fibers interact with foul smelling bacteria, fewer smells stick to the fabric and create the longer appearance of cleanliness. Our editor at large Justin Glow is said to have worn his Icebreaker baselayer for two weeks straight without any foul odor setting in.

All of these traits are great for athletic gear, so it was only a matter of time until a savvy designer adapted the technology to fleece. Two of the industry leaders, Icebreaker and Ibex have released the first waves of technical wool fleeces, a series of eco-friendly clothing that’s supposed to be just as warm as traditional gear and with a lower ecological impact.

Needless to say, eco-virtue and trendy design can be trumped by performance and fit in real life, so Gadling Labs checked out on an Icebreaker 320 performance fleece on a test run this fall.

The pile in this lightweight fleece isn’t what one would expect in a traditional, oil based material. There is a subtle coarseness about it, a realness to the fabric that’s intrinsic to the merino wool. While not as thick and fuzzy as a traditional fleece, its feel against your skin is still warm and gripping, yet low profile enough such that it can be worn around the house without difficulty.

Icebreaker’s designs tend to lean more towards a slimmer, athletic cut, which works particularly well for slender or lean people. At 6’3″ and 145 pounds, the large 320 fits our editor Grant Martin’s frame well, as opposed to a medium North Face fleece which would still be to roomy around the torso. Part of that cut is also a function of the material, as a small amount of stretch and grapple is also afforded by the wool.

Besides fitting exceptionally well, the 320 is moderately warm, waterproof and windproof. Merino wool naturally tends to wick away water and if thick enough, can insulate from the wind. If either are encountered in excess, however, you can count on feeling them through the fleece. For something water and windproof, the synthetic materials still have the lead.

On the road and in practice, however, the Icebreaker 320 has performed impressively at Gadling Labs. There is enough give in the material to permit full movement, yet it’s cut well enough to not feel cumbersome and baggy. The 320 is warm enough for late fall, it’s eco friendly and most importantly of all, it looks pretty damn good to boot. With those qualities, it’s pretty hard to go wrong.

[sheep flickr photo via David & Chi Basson]