There’s no bad weather, only bad clothing…

Blogging is a mostly lonely business. One slouches over the computer terminal in the oft bleary-eyed hours of the morning, and pounds out strings of words that on occasion resonate with a few other souls out there. A few write comments, an occasional inquiry or curiosity gets sent my way, and a few keep in touch, in response. But for the most part, it’s a solitary affair, not too different from standing butt deep in a river on an otherwise dreary day, casting, casting, casting…

So imagine my surprise when out of the bloggy depths comes a friendly email with an offer. It’s from a group that searched the internet blindly, happened to find me, and wanted to know if I would review their product – not just any product – no Acme lead-free split-shot, or arctic lip balm – no, no, no – I’m talking honest-to-goodness cold weather undergarments, real merino wool

Now, I must admit, I’ve never been much into dressing for cold weather. I remember reading about layering in my trusty Boy Scout Handbook and wearing the classic cotton long johns under cotton jeans for the infamous “Klondike Derby” camping trip (and wondering why I was still cold), but I never really understood how important it is to dress right and that in doing so, one could be pretty comfortable in down-right miserable weather. I’d just assumed being cold was part of fishing. I rejoiced when the big opener was mild and grin and bear it when winter wasn’t about to yield to April…

My intro to layering, circa 1970

So this email from a company by the name of RedRam was quite the blessing. It woke me up to something the Scandinavians have known and lived – that there’s no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing. The modern fly fisher’s corollary would be, learn how to dress for the weather and you’ll never spend a bad day on the water, comfort-wise at least. And while we’re on that topic, I’ll shamelessly recommend the following series of posts at my Examiner site to my fly fishing coterie on dressing for cold weather: part 1, part 2, part 3, and part 4 – all evidence of the fact that I now take this subject seriously.

Before I received the product samples, I hastily read up on the company supplying me with what would turn out to be the equivalent of cold weather manna. RedRam is a division of a New Zealand company known as Icebreaker, which pioneered the merino outdoor clothing category way back in 1994. It all started when our story’s hero, Jeremy Moon, was introduced by an American girlfriend to Brian Brackenridge, a merino sheep farmer she’d stayed with while hitchhiking around New Zealand. Brian showed Jeremy a prototype thermal tee-shirt made from 100% merino wool. Moon, was impressed…

“It felt soft and sensual, looked lustrous and was totally natural. It was nothing like the wool I had grown up with, which was heavy and scratchy. And you could throw this stuff in the washing machine.”

Moon saw opportunity in a market of synthetic fibers and decided to challenge it by making natural performance garments.  Synthetics dominated the outdoor clothing market at the time. “Don’t talk to me about wool. Wool is dead,” a buyer reportedly told Jeremy on his first sales call. And so, his company, to be named “Icebreaker”, invented the world’s first merino layering system, and was also the first outdoor apparel company to source merino directly and ethically from the growers.

A Merino Ram - company spokes-sheep straight from the Southern Alps of New Zealand.

So going along the theory that science and chemistry make life better, why buy merino? Well, it seems that mother nature has a habit of “bringing it” to modern science on occasion. Merino sheep, it turns out, have a bit of an edge in terms of “time in the field”. The breed dates back to the 12th century, when merino sheep arrived in Spain where the line was cultivated and refined. Merino thrived in Spain, becoming a prized royal flock whose wool was widely used in soldiers’ uniforms and as a mark of wealth and privilege in luxury clothing. By the 18th century, merino wool was a precious commodity, coveted throughout Europe like gold. In 1765, King Carlos III of Spain presented a select flock of his rare sheep to the German Elector of Saxony, thus beginning the spread of merino throughout the world.

Merinos  that supply their wooly shearing to RedRam and Icebreaker spend their days roaming high in the spacious Southern Alps of New Zealand. Their coats can handle all extremes of weather – from subzero temperatures in winter to scorching 90+ degree days in summer. And since merino wool is 100% natural, the product of grass, water and sunshine, and also renewable and biodegradable, it helps assure that blockage of the Straits of Hormuz, world domination by Dr. Evil, and other potential disasters, won’t interfere with our desire for comfort in the elements.

"Throw me some freakin merino wool..." Surely Dr. Evil's cat, Mr. Bigglesworth, could stand some warmth...

Merino sheep are shorn each year – then return to the mountains to grow more “underwear”. Unlike cotton and synthetics, they use very low-energy production processes. The garments that use this silky smooth, super light wool provide the warmth of a heavy sweater without any of the bulk, mainly because of merino’s finely crimped fibers, which create millions of air pockets to capture body heat. And no matter how active you get when wearing merino wool, it won’t get smelly. Synthetic fibers have a reputation to stink from sweat but Merino is far more efficient at releasing sweat and moisture.

My product was shipped to me neatly boxed and feather light, so light, in fact, that I wondered if the packer had forgotten to pack the stuff, and then, upon finding the individual packages, if this wool could possibly be all it was claimed to be. It was soft, smooth, and light-weight, and oddly, almost cool to the touch. I found the distinctive red tag, and sure enough, the bold “PURE MERINO WOOL” claim beneath the brand…

 

You'll look almost as good as you feel with RedRam undergarments on. They tend to have a slimming effect - heck, I lost 10 pounds with one wearing...

RedRam undergarments are available in a number of different styles and different colors. I was sent the tank top, long-sleeved top, long-sleeve zip top, and the leggings, but boxers and a short sleeve top can also be purchased.

I wore my RedRam undergarments on a number of fly fishing trips, ranging from several outings on beautiful Salmon Creek in Ithaca, NY, in the fall, to a day-long outing fly fishing for steelhead on the famed Salmon River in early December. Weather ranged from frigidly cold mornings – you know, the kind where you have to strip the ice from your guides on almost every cast – to pleasantly cool fall afternoons  and absolutely miserable wet and cold conditions.

Looking upstream on Salmon Creek, home to spawning Landlocked Salmon from Cayuga Lake...

In all cases, I never found myself uncomfortable – not from the scratchy / itchy feeling that wool has a reputation for, nor from being cold. In every case, I did find I didn’t have to layer as much as I originally thought and ended up peeling off layers as movement and/or daylight generated warmth. As thin as the product appears, be careful to not over-layer as this product not only wicks but insulates as well. I also found RedRam’s claim regarding merino wool’s ability to be odorless, even after a day of rigorous wading, to be spot on.

But these undergarments, as stated by RedRam, are truly “EVERYDAY WEAR”. They can be worn just as easily in the office as they can as a baselayer for rugged outdoor conditions.

I plan on adding to my inventory of this great product – more leggings, the boxers, and more of the zip-top which is great for dumping extra heat when the need is there. I also plan on trying the short-sleeve top in summer conditions. I’m curious how this great product’s claims stack up to a hot day wading the Susquehanna for smallmouth bass…

Stay tuned and tight lines…

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4 Responses to “There’s no bad weather, only bad clothing…”

  1. You make a fine salesman, Bob. Actually the products sound intriguing, better than the woolies I’ve been used to, and if I think of it when you colder weather comes (this year or next) I may may have to look ’em up.

    • stflyfisher Says:

      Thanks for the nice comment Walt. You should check out the product line – it feels like silk but locks in the warmth. It’s pricier than some of the blends and polyester out there, but well worth it in my opinion. I’m sold. Thanks, Bob

  2. Bob Stanton Says:

    Channeling Napoleon Dynamite: Lucky! It’ll be a (heh, heh)cold day in heck before synthetics can top quality wool as cold weather gear. I appreciate that you used the stuff several times before reviewing – many do not, infatuated by the joy of new stuff, they offer an out of the box “review” that tells little of worth. And hey, wasn’t that Boy Scout handbook an adolescent bible of sorts?

    • stflyfisher Says:

      Good to hear from you Bob and you are right on all accounts – merino wool is the real deal, I did enjoy testing this stuff thoroughly – and will continue to do so, and yes, that Handbook was full of real wisdom…

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