When searching for new gear (needed or not), two of the most important factors to me are comfort and versatility. When it comes to performance apparel, if I can find a piece that is comfortable and tough enough to take years of abuse while always performing like new, I am happy. In the base layer arena, I/O Bio makes some of the highest-performing, best-looking apparel I have used.
I/O Bio makes performance apparel from 100% Australian merino wool. I have used three products extensively over the past several years, and they have each performed well beyond my expectations. I will be talking about the Altitude Lightweight Short Sleeve, Contact Zip Long Sleeve, Contact Glory Zip (with hood).
Let me start by saying that the numerous advantages of merino wool over virtually every other material out there are expansive. Aside from being a natural fiber (from merino sheep), renewable, biodegradable, and easy to care for, the ultra soft and comfortable feel is amazing. Most wool has superb thermal regulation properties but can be itchy against the skin. Merino wool is extremely soft; it feels like wearing a thousand tiny, fluffy sheep filled with marshmallows – it is by far my most comfortable clothing. Back to that thermal regulation thing – so doe merino keep you warm? Yes. And it also keeps you cool! Let me explain – I/O’s merino wool has exceptional moisture management properties, wicking sweat away from the skin while keeping a ‘hollow’ property as it allows pockets of air to stay between skin and garment (see what I mean about the marshmallow thing). What I love about this is the wool will keep you warm when it is cold outside and cool when it is warm outside. Sound too good to be true? There’s more…
My favorite merino wool property: antimicrobial. This means you can run, bike, ski, hike, drink, climb, surf the web, surf a wave, mow, and then run again without washing your shirt…and you still won’t smell like some dude’s dreadlocks on day four of Bonnaroo. The odor resistance of merino wool is quite amazing – instead of getting into the science part of it, I will just say that it has something to do with merino’s complex chemical structure and ability to lock molecules within the fiber and other chemically, nerdy stuff. The easiest way to put it (much to my wife’s chagrin): I have not washed any of my I/O Bio garments in over a year – and I wear this stuff on almost every ride and run from the first days of fall through the end of spring. Oh yeah, it is that good.
I/O Bio merino wool is not cheap. I payed between $60 and $100 for each of the three pieces that I currently own. But I justify the steep price by knowing that I can throw the Glory Zip on at 4am, hike all day, staying cool at the base of the mountain, warm at the summit, and dry throughout. Then once the day is almost over, after having climbed up and down a mountain, sweaty, maybe grumpy, thirsty, and definitely hungry – I will head straight to the pub, without changing and without stinking. With fewer washes, these items will last a long time too. I have been abusing my three I/O shirts for four years and each looks and feels as it did the day I pulled it out of the box. I have been thoroughly happy with these versatile pieces and have worn them through mountain and road biking excursions, hiking in the Alps, drinking by the Salzach River in Austria (in the cool fall air), days of trail running, and just lounging around on the couch. If you are looking for a piece of clothing to get you from the trailhead to the summit to the bar at the end of the day, take a look at I/O Bio Merino. You won’t regret it.
My cow friend in the Alps. He smells like cow. I smell damn good.