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Reviews > Clothing > Base Layers and Undies > Icebreaker Skin 200 Leggings > Owner Review by Richard Lyon

Owner Review by Richard Lyon
April 29, 2007


Personal Details and Backpacking Background.
Male, 60 years old
Height: 6' 4" (1.93 m)
Weight: 200 lb (91 kg)
Email address: rlyon AT gibsondunn DOT com
Home: Dallas, Texas USA

I've been backpacking for 45 years on and off, and regularly in the Rockies since 1986. I do a week long trip every summer, and often take three-day trips. I'm usually camping in alpine terrain, at altitudes of 5000 to 13000 ft (1500 - 4000 m). I prefer base camp backpacking, a long hike in with day trips from camp, but I do my share of forced marches too. Though always looking for ways to reduce weight, I'm not yet a lightweight hiker and I usually choose a bit more weight over foregoing my favorite camp conveniences.

Additional Reviewer Information. I've always favored natural fibers over synthetics for outerwear (and everyday wardrobe too, for that matter) unless I could identify a particular functionality in a man-made fiber that I couldn't get with wool, cotton, or linen. That meant that until the last few years many of my outdoor base layer shirts and leggings came from one or two suppliers. Now that pure wool, particularly merino wool, garments that are intended for backcountry activities have become more popular and far easier to find, I'm always looking for new sources. This past fall I continued my search for wool base layer clothing in a highly scientific manner I'd buy a top or pair of leggings from a manufacturer new to me whenever I found a garment I liked at a significant savings over my current principal suppliers. One such purchase was two pairs of Icebreaker Leggings with Fly from an online outfitter during a sale.

Icebreaker Leggings with FlyPRODUCT DETAILS. Icebreaker Men's SKIN 200 Leggings with Fly are a base layer (Icebreaker uses the term "skin layer") made from 100% merino wool. The "200" refers to fabric weight in grams per square meter. Instead of a single seam running down the middle of the seat the Leggings have a trapezoidal-shaped back panel that is sewn to a rectangular panel about two inches (5 cm) above the bottom. This rectangular panel goes under the crotch and is sewn in front to the bottom of the fly, about two inches (5 cm) up from the bottom. All seems are sewn flat. The Leggings have plain bottoms, with no elastic at the cuff.

Manufacturer: Icebreaker Nature Clothing, Ketchum, Idaho USA

Manufacturer's description of features: "Flat sewn side seams; Soft elastic waistband; Gusseted crotch; No centre back seam."

Website: (All quotations in this Review and the photo at left come from this website.)

Size: XL; available in sizes S through XXL.

Color: Black

Fabric: "100 % merino wool." (I don't know if this is intended to exclude the elastic in the waistband.)

Weight (measured, none listed): 7.6 oz / 215 g

MSRP: $64.99 US

Warranty: None listed. Icebreaker will accept returns for products ordered online if returned, unworn and unwashed, in original packaging within thirty days after order.

FIELD CONDITIONS. I wore the Icebreakers as base layer for my lower body each day I spent in the Rockies from December through March twenty days of in-bounds skiing or backcountry ski touring. Temperatures ranged from -30 F (-34 C) at night in January to a mid-afternoon springtime high of 65 F (18 C), all in the Teton Range of the Rockies in Wyoming. Daytime temperatures were about 15 F (-9 C), in Alta and environs, Utah, and Nelson, British Columbia, in December and February, respectively. In these latter venues snow flurries and stiff winds generated a "wind chill" considerably more frigid than the ambient temperature. (Wind chill is a misery index reported by various meteorological services in the United States and Canada. It is a rough calculation of the temperature equivalent on exposed skin at a specific temperature and wind speed.)

I never wore an intermediate layer between the Leggings and my outer shell. On seven days in-bounds and two in the backcountry (one of them very cold, ~-15 F/-26 C) days I wore unlined eVENT bibs; on the other days I wore a one-piece Gore-Tex ski suit with a Thinsulate lining. Twice it was cold enough after skiing to wear the Leggings (a clean pair) under jeans around town, and one night in a backcountry yurt in the Tetons I wore fleece sweatpants over the Leggings when going out for firewood or bathroom breaks. I washed the Leggings at the end of each trip, meaning that at most a pair had no more than three days of use between washings.

EVALUATION. The bottom line (pun intended) is that the Icebreaker Leggings with Fly are as good a pair of tights, long john bottoms, lower body base layer, backcountry underwear (pick your term) as I've ever worn. Here's why.

For me at least the Leggings have a near-perfect fit. Icebreaker has a useful chart on its website to assist a buyer in selecting the correct size of its products. Rather than giving the garment dimensions Icebreaker provides "ideal" user waist, seat, and outside leg measurements for each available size, and instructs: "In instances when your body measurements for Seat, Waist and Outside Leg are in different suggested sizes, we recommend going with the size from your Seat measurement." I used this chart to come up with size XL, and that size gives a fit that's tight without being constraining and that does not cause bunching up when stretching my legs - in short, thoroughly comfortable. I'd prefer another inch or so (2-3 cm) of length, but as I have unusually long legs for my waist size I don't consider this a fault. The Leggings' waist matches my own.

Icebreaker's merino has a very soft hand, much gentler than synthetics, and never itchy even when wet. Whether it's the particular cut, with no seams along the bottom of the crotch or the middle of the seat, or just a lucky fit, I've encountered almost no bunching or other significant movement even after stretching or skiing. It's also nice not to have a seam chafing a particular body orifice. As I always wear mid-calf length socks when outdoors in the winter and tuck the bottoms of my base layer inside the socks, lack of elastic at the cuff hasn't bothered me.

These Leggings have always kept me warm, even on that bitter Jackson Hole backcountry day when I needed a hooded down sweater at every rest stop to keep from shivering. As with other merino garments, I rate their insulating ability as remarkable. While not nearly as heavy as traditional "expedition weight" synthetic underwear the tight knit and insulating properties of merino wool work wonders. I didn't, however, overheat on the spring days, even while hiking the Jackson Headwall, meaning that the fabric wicks extremely well.

One big reason I prefer wool underwear is odor control. As with other wool leggings the Icebreakers don't smell rank even after three days of hard exercise and exposure to sweat and other body odors. A washing in cold water, with other dark-colored wool items using a non-detergent soap (Woolite or Atsko Sport-Wash, in my case) and air drying in the bathroom remove any minor residue that the Leggings have retained. I air-dried a pair in the yurt, too, near the stove, and they dried overnight.

As noted, I believe that the seam design really makes these Leggings more comfortable during an active day in the snow. The fly, which for some unknown reason many manufacturers (Icebreaker among them; Skin 200 Leggings without the fly are also available) omit, is a second design feature for which I'm grateful several times every snowy day I wear the Leggings. The fly is easy to use (though a lefty might have some trouble) and is backed by enough fabric so that there's no danger of exposed skin under my outer layer if I'm careless buttoning up.

The Leggings have proven to be quite durable. After a half dozen washings I have found no loose threads, tears, pilling, distortion, discoloration, or loss of elastic in the waistband. There's minor shrinkage after each drying that's gone a few minutes after I put the clean Leggings on. Icebreaker recommends air drying, a wise precaution with all woolens. My Leggings have survived one accidental session in the dryer without noticeable ill effect.

Though not a major consideration for me in selecting a base layer, the Leggings are noticeably lighter in weight than many of their woolen and synthetic competitors. As a comparison, my expedition weight Capilene bottoms weigh more than twelve ounces (340 g).

Finally, the list price of the Leggings with Fly is lower than that of many other merino base layer bottoms I've seen advertised.

DRAWBACKS. Only two, and they are obvious. Both aren't unique to the Icebreakers. As is true of all wool clothing except maybe socks the Leggings should be air-dried, and they don't dry as quickly as many synthetic fibers even in the dry winter climate in the Rockies. This could be a problem if I needed to dry these Leggings on a damp backcountry day; at home the difference in drying method is immaterial. Despite my closing comment above about price, wool (high quality merino wool especially) garments usually cost as much as twice as much as some very usable synthetic counterparts. Based on MSRP this is definitely true of the Icebreakers. I consider that a worthwhile premium for superior comfort and performance.

Read more gear reviews by Richard Lyon

Reviews > Clothing > Base Layers and Undies > Icebreaker Skin 200 Leggings > Owner Review by Richard Lyon

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