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Reviews > Clothing > Base Layers and Undies > Icebreaker CoolLite Sphere Crewe > Test Report by Richard Lyon

Icebreaker Men's Cool-Lite Sphere Short Sleeve Crewe
Test Report by Richard Lyon
Icebreaker 1

Initial Report May 9, 2019
Field Report July 9, 2019
Long Term Report September 19, 2019


PERSONAL DETAILS and BACKPACKING BACKGROUND

Male, 72 years old
Height: 6' 3" [1.91 m]
Weight: 210 lb [(93 k])
Chest: 46 in [117 cm]
Waist: 38 in [97 cm]
Torso: 22.5 in [67 cm]
Email address: Montana DOT angler AT gmail DOT com
Home: Outside Bozeman, Montana USA, in the Bridger Mountains

I've been backpacking for nearly half a century, most often in the Rockies. I do at least one weeklong trip every summer, and often take three-day trips.  I'm usually camping in alpine terrain, at altitudes 5000 to 10000 ft (1500 - 3000 m).  I prefer base camp backpacking, a long hike in with day trips from camp.  Though always looking for ways to reduce my pack weight, I still tend to include my favorite camp conveniences. I always sleep in a floored tent and like hot meals. Backcountry trips are often planned around flyfishing opportunities.

INITIAL REPORT - May 9, 2019

Cool-Lite is an Icebreaker trademark for a "featherweight" fabric that consists of 52% merino wool, 35% TENCEL, and 13% nylon and is used for its Sphere Short Sleeve Crewe. I would describe this as a solid color tee shirt with semi-raglan sleeve panels [see below] from the crew-style neck to the shoulder. It has a sewn hem at the bottom, collar, and on each sleeve, 0.5 in [1.25 cm] wide; a regular rather than tapered fit; and a smooth-faced fabric with a very soft hand.

Manufacturer: Icebreaker, icebreaker.com
Size: XXL; available in sizes S-XXL. There's a sizing chart on the website.
Color: Thunder [I'd say blue-grey]; available in three other similarly understated colors
Listed length, rear collar to hem, size Large: 75 cm/29.5 in
Measured length, rear collar to hem, size XXL: 30.0 in/ 76 cm
Listed fabric weight: 130 g/sq meter
Listed weight, size Large: 152 g/ 5.36 oz
Measured weight, size XXL: 5.25 oz/ 149 g
MSRP: $75 US
Warranty: Free return or exchange for 90 days from the ship date "as long as they are unworn, unwashed, and in the original packaging." Subject to inspection by Icebreaker.
Related products: Icebreaker offers many other tee shirts in various weights and fabrics. Some are gender-specific and all have some amount of merino wool in the fabric.

OUT OF THE BOX

Icebreaker 2 The one feature new to me is the semi-raglan style sleeves. Lord Raglan's sleeve design usually has a single fabric panel that runs from collar to the sleeve cuff that is sewn to the body of the shirt on both sides of the shoulder a few inches/centimeters below the shoulder. His lordship, a career soldier, had it designed to facilitate use of his sword in battle. A hiker appreciates a more specific utility, namely eliminating a center seam's pressing into his shoulder under a pack strap. Icebreaker calls its hybrid style "offset shoulder seams" and says that it is intended for this latter purpose. We'll see if it works as well as its ancestor.

Also noticeable on my first inspection is great care in all stitching. This includes inside stitching of separate front and back panels, a feature that should help the shirt hold its shape under stress in use and washing.

I've mentioned the two most obvious first impressions. This shirt is extraordinarily lightweight, noticeably lighter than any other merino or merino blend shirt in my gear closet, a collection that includes several specimens from Icebreaker. Yet it doesn't appear at all flimsy. And the fabric is soft and smooth, with its hand definitely reflecting its substantial merino content. I'm looking forward to wearing it this summer.

TRYING IT ON

The fit is great, just what I like in a base layer. The shirt isn't tapered, so it fits loosely. But not too loosely as to bunch up under pack straps. I like the fit better for a tee shirt that I'll wear as my sole upper body garment than for a base layer that would go under a sweater or another shirt. And that's what Icebreaker intends for it. In the manufacturer's words: "Best for Adventure, Hike" in "warm weather conditions." I'd like another inch or two [5 cm] of length but I don't think that will matter if I don't tuck the hem into my hiking shorts, my standard practice in summer. Typical of many non-U.S. athletic manufacturers Icebreaker tends to size a bit small. This undersized XXL gives me an almost perfect fit.

The fabric feels like merino on my skin, a comment intended as a compliment.

FIELD REPORT - July 9, 2019

A rainy and pleasant cool late spring/early summer here in Montana has limited use of the Sphere as a sole upper body garment over the past two months. But use as a base layer under a long-sleeved shirt or sweater has been promising.

FIELD CONDITIONS

I've worn the Sphere as a base layer on eight or ten day hikes of 3 to 12 miles [5-20 km] in length, at temperatures from 40-75 F [4-23 C]. At the cooler end of that range I normally wear a lightweight sweater or other pullover as my outer layer, adding or substituting a rain shell if needed. When warmer temperatures were expected I started out with a wool button-front shirt, in the fond [but as yet unrealized this spring and early summer] hope that I could unbutton the shirtfront or dispense with the top shirt altogether when hiking in the sunlight.

work crewI have spent two days this spring doing trailwork in the nearby Paradise Valley. [I'm immediately to the right of the sign.] On each day I wore the Sphere under a long-sleeved lightweight merino pullover. Each day was overcast, with a high of about 60 F [16 C] and one light rain shower that didn't last more than fifteen minutes. After a hike to the work site [1.5 miles/2.5 km on one hike, about double that on the other] it was manual labor for five or six hours - lopping, brushing, moving rocks, digging water bars, improving streamside tread, then hiking back. In addition to a day pack with food, water, and rain gear, I carried two tools to and from the work site. In Shakespeare's words, a good day's work.

The Sphere was my base layer on a few fishing days; too few, as the spring rains have made the rivers high and fast. On these days the overlayers were a cotton shirt and fishing vest.

OBSERVATIONS

It's a sturdy piece of clothing. After a dozen days on the trail or streamside and two trips through the washer [see below], the Sphere looks as good as new, with no loose threads and no distortion in shape. I consider the range of motion and exertion level on trail maintenance days to exceed those on an average backpacking day. Swinging a Pulaski and straining to reach some low-lying tree limbs stretch the muscles and bring on the sweat. Durability has been terrific.

As with other merino base layers I own, odor is barely noticeable on the shirt, even when I can't say the same about myself. Wicking has been great, despite relatively damp conditions. The Sphere is drier than I am upon return to the trailhead.

I'm pleased to report no problems with the semi-raglan sleeves. [See my Initial Report.] For everyday wear and lighter day hiking I barely notice the Sphere at all, its hand is that soft. The Cool-Lite blend is as soft as merino.

I have washed the Sphere twice. Normally I wash merino clothing with a load of socks [also mostly wool] whenever I have a tubful, but I modified that somewhat to get a sense of the shirt's ability to avoid odor after several days' use. Following my customary practice, which coincides with Icebreaker's instructions for the Sphere, I use a non-detergent soap in my no-agitator machine on cold water cycle, then air-dry the garment. Drying takes about 24 hours in my laundry room. No pilling and no damage yet to report.

WHAT I LIKE

Soft and non-scratchy
Very durable
Excellent wicking

POSSIBLE IMPROVEMENT

No complaints to date

LONG TERM REPORT - September 19, 2019

FIELD CONDITIONS

Romania
I have made it a point to wear the Sphere as often as possible over the past seven weeks. That has included several trail maintenance day trips and one overnight here in Montana, many more days performing outdoor chores around my house, and as my base layer on a four-night hut-to-hut trip in the Transylvanian Alps in Romania in early August and a four-day backpack in Yellowstone National Park in mid-September.

The only severe weather occurred on the Alps trip and in Yellowstone - in Romania, heavy rain [two inches/five centimeters in two hours one day at its worst] and constant mist most of the time when hiking; the photo at right was taken during a rare spell of sunlight. [That weather and a minor injury cut short my participation in the trip.] In Yellowstone our toughest hiking day, ten miles/16 km, with a nasty descent and three river fords, began at 40 F/4 C in a light rain that turned to snow after a couple of hours. While I met with some showers and one thunderstorm on the day hikes, all were brief. We've enjoyed a lovely summer in the Northern Rockies, with temperatures rarely exceeding 90 F [32 C]. At night and early in the morning it's been as low as 39 F [4 C] but usually a few degrees warmer. I estimate twenty-five days' use during the Long Term Test period.

Once the mercury climbed above 50 F [10 C] it's been the Sphere alone above my waist unless I needed to add a rain shell. Even at cooler temperatures I have no need for an overshirt when wearing a pack. I did wear a lightweight long-sleeve shirt when Forest Service regulations or simple prudence called for full arm protection, such as heavy brush work or swinging a Pulaski. During some downtime in Romania it was cool enough for an overshirt.

PERFORMANCE

In a word, outstanding!

The Sphere's composite fabric wicks as well as any fabric, including pure merino, that I have ever worn. Even when climbing a steep trail in Romania, under a rain jacket and with a full pack, the Sphere never got saturated, much less clammy. Try as I might I couldn't get the shirt to retain an odor, which I can attest was not true of its wearer.

Yellowstone The shirt's performance in Yellowstone deserves special mention. I inadvertently [read negligently] forgot to pack a second, long-sleeved base layer top, my usual custom on multi-day trips, and therefore wore the Sphere all four days and three nights. During the precipitation and at colder temperatures I hiked in my unlined rain jacket, otherwise just the Sphere and my pack above the waist. At night it was the Sphere and my MontBell Plasma down sweater [reviewed on these pages] inside my Nunatak Back Country Blanket [also reviewed here]. When I finally changed shirts after the hike I still could detect no aroma on it and no distortion after thirty miles [48 km] of hiking and three nights in the tent.

As I normally wear size XL rather than XXL, I'd say that Icebreaker tends to size small. Fit and comfort in this larger size are excellent though, in fact almost perfect. The length is just right for this long-torsoed hiker and, unlike a number of XL and XXL tee shirts I have worn, I didn't have to suffer extra shoulder width to get that length.  Thanks to careful washing, discussed below, there's been no shrinkage, and the offset shoulder seams [discussed in my Initial Report] have kept pack straps from digging into my shoulders.  I've not lost any range of motion, something tested every time I work on a trail. Unlike some other composites I have worn, the fabric is soft against my skin even after heavy exercise. I have nothing but praise on this score.

The Sphere truly looks as good as new, without a loose stitch or any deformation of shape. Early in the Long Term testing period I departed from my standard practice of machine-washing the shirt with every wool load, which means about once a week, instead waiting two-plus weeks for a wash. I couldn't tell the difference. I also washed the shirt in my hotel room in Romania, using a travel packet of my regular non-detergent soap. In all cases I air-dried the shirt. That took longer in humid Romania than at home but it was dry enough to wear after 36 hours.
 
Dislikes haven't changed, which means no complaints at all about this terrific base layer. I will add two more Likes - durability and good looks. The great fit and low-key color make this tee easy to grab for front country wear. I'm ready to buy a couple more.

ACKNOWLEDGMENT

My Test Report ends here.  My thanks to Icebreaker and BackpackGearTest.org for the chance to test this base layer.








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