Icebreaker vs. EMU merino wool for travel – 2 months into traveling

On January 27th, 2016

434943498_e8e3b10e78_zMerino wool has been touted as an ideal travel clothing material thanks especially to its breathability, odor resistance and fast-drying abilities. I stocked up on a few lightweight merino wool items before leaving for my trip two months ago, and I quickly gained a favorite among the brands and also learned some other benefits of the material.

There are numerous brands of merino wool products; Icebreaker, EMU Australia, Smartwool and Ibex are among the largest and most popular. My items are all Icebreaker and EMU Australia because I like their styles and fits. I found Smartwool’s pieces to be too itchy and mostly for cold weather, which didn’t suit my needs for Latin America.

These are the lightweight merino wool items I bought:
EMU Pambula Tee
EMU Dalmeny Shirt
Icebreaker Siren Tank (in two colors)
Icebreaker Villa Dress (in two colors)

After two months wearing these items almost daily, I’ve made several observations:

Itch factor
I’d worn merino wool sweaters and found them to be slightly itchy,  so I was curious how the lightweight merino wool would feel. At first, the shirts from both brands were a little itchy, but after just a wear or two, they felt fine. I find the Icebreaker version to be a bit softer and more comfortable.

I’d always associated wool with coats and cold-weather clothing, so I was curious to see how the lightweight merino wool held up in the hot climates and during outdoor activities. It turned out to be extremely breathable – never got sweaty or hot. I found this to be especially true with the Icebreaker pieces.

I always get a bit skeptical when clothing says it’s wrinkle-resistent – especially when it comes in a package and is wrinkly when I take it out. That was the case with these items, but I found that once you put them on, the wrinkles go away. They get wrinkly again after being stuffed in the backpack, but the issue is quickly resolved during wear. Again, the Icebreaker pieces overcame wrinkles faster and better than the EMU pieces.

This is one area where EMU beats Icebreaker, in my opinion. While Icebreaker’s styles are more athletic and simple, EMU offers a wider variety of styles that can pass for everyday or even work wear. This sets it apart from typical travel clothes.

However, a style downside of the particular EMU items that I bought is that they are see-through. This means I have to wear a cami under it, and since my cami isn’t merino wool it sort of defeats the purpose.

Icebreaker does have some non-athletic styles, such as the Villa Dress that I have, and they seem to be adding more.

All the items are lightweight and roll up small, but Icebreakers’ are significantly smaller and lighter.

This is the biggest downside of my EMU shirts. After one wash, the material pilled up (although this might have been due to being washed and dried in a machine), and I found that it stretched more easily and stains didn’t come out. Overall, the Icebreaker shirts feel more sturdy and durable.

Travelers, what have you found to be the benefits of merino wool? Do you have any favorite brands or items?

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Image: Michal Kulesza (
Image: Geraint Otis Warlow (flickr)