Q:

How well does merino wool underwear hold up against body odor?

I hike and cp a lot—and for long periods—during the middle of the hottest days of the year (with no access to showers). I’m wondering what you’ve heard about Icebreaker underwear and how well they are about odor. Katherine Greenville, SC

May 21, 2009
Outside
Outside Magazine

The Bodyfit 150 Atlas Tank

A:

Well, that’s a tough one. It’s true that some of today’s clothing items are more smell-resistant than they used to be, but there are limits. Most of you remember that dark blue long underwear that was so prevalent in the 1980s. With that stuff, bad smells would chemically bind to it like hydrogen to oxygen molecules. Whew. Nasty.

I’ve never done an extended stink-proof test on my Icebreaker stuff. Over the course of a few days it always seems fine, and it is billed as naturally odor-resistant. It doesn’t have an anti-microbial finish, but the merino wool isn’t prone to absorbing odors. That’s due to several factors. For one, wool’s ability to absorb moisture keeps the skin drier, so the microbes don’t find as much moisture in which to grow. Its texture and subatomic charge is different from synthetics, so it doesn’t tend to attract odor-producing bacteria. And it’s able to “hold" bad smalls and release them in the wash, rather than releasing them all the time.

Icebreaker’s lightest piece is the Bodyfit 150 Atlas Tank ($40), a sleek, sleeveless piece that would work well in hot weather.

Some fabrics also employ add-on odor-defeaters. Patagonia, for instance, uses a process it calls “Gladiodor," in which natural amino acids added to the fabric coating basically eat bad smells. Find it in the Capilene 1 Crew for $38. Some of Marmot’s base layers like the Lightweight LS Crew ($39) use natural cocona fiber, which is billed as naturally odor-fighting.

But nothing is perfect, and in time you will smell. Take two base layers if you can, and keep one as dry as possible while exchanging them daily. And wash things out in water when you can. In time, you will embrace the naturalness of it all.

Filed To: Gear Guy, Base Layer

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