Performance Wool Apparel by Ibex

If the thought of wearing woolen long johns still makes you itch, you must not have experienced the softness of Merino wool. "Gear Up" from our November 13, 2007, /SW eNewsletter/

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I remember wool. I remember getting a rag wool sweater for Christmas many years ago. I remember thinking it should've come with a warning label: Turtleneck not included. The sweater was so itchy that I could only wear it over a long sleeve shirt. I wore it a few times to appease whoever gave me the gift and maybe a few other times when it was really cold. But it mainly spent a lot of time in my drawer. Despite its well-known insulating capabilities, especially when wet, where it had a big advantage over cotton, my fabric of choice, I avoided wool from there on out.When I discovered polypropylene in the early part of this decade, I figured that was the final nail in the wool coffin, at least in terms of athletic apparel. Fleece, as it's more commonly known, had all the softness of cotton, and the insulating properties of wool.However, much to my surprise, wool hasn't faded away. In mid-October I got an email announcing the latest line from Ibex, a Vermont clothing company founded in 1997 by sheep farmer Peter Helmetag and John Fernsell. Ibex specializes in clothes for outdoor sports and uses environmentally-friendly New Zealand Merino Wool.An upcoming fall regatta in Annapolis seemed a good opportunity to give wool a second chance. I was particularly intrigued by a pair of ¾-length long johns and a medium-weight pullover. I added a hat and a baselayer top for good measure and sent off my request.The IRC East Coast Championships, Nov. 2 through 4, proved the perfect regatta to test cool-weather gear. We had lots of wind and, while the sun shone brilliantly for two of the days, the temperatures never got above the mid-50s. As advertised, the long johns and the top were soft enough to wear next to your skin, and the hat didn't itch one bit. The pullover, the Shak Sport, was great around the house and certainly nice enough for a casual office setting or night out. It's a solid piece of clothing, weighting in at over 1 pound in a size large, and probably best suited for casual wear.The ¾-length bottoms were my favorite of the bunch. Somewhere between a pair of tights and soft pair of long underwear, they proved to be a perfect baselayer for a cool day of sailing. I loved the fact that they were long enough to keep my knees warm, yet didn't cover my calves.After three days of sailing, I was stunned to find that the long johns and top didn't smell one bit. Plenty of companies tout the anti-stink qualities of their clothing, but none has ever delivered like Ibex. The final test came at the washing machine. Like most men, I avoid any clothing that asks for special care in the laundry room. I was concerned with Ibex's instructions to avoid the dryer. However, by the time the clothes came out of the washer, they were practically dry, even the beefy Shak Sport. I laid them one on top of the other for a night and they were ready to wear. The Shak Sport retails for $135 and the ¾ johns for $70. The top came in at $60 and the Vega hat retails for $35. For more, www.ibexwear.com