Tuesday 12 October 2010

Ibex Indie hooded merino base-layer review


It's been a while since we were told to 'Hug a hoodie' but as we gallop headlong into the guns of winter it is time for me to urge you all to embrace the hood once more.

Hooded base-layers have a couple of neat tricks that deserve some attention as we start to think about keeping warm in the mountains. The main advantage of a hooded base-layer over a separate base-layer and hat is that you will never lose or forget your hood! Obviously in deep winter you may need to carry other hats as conditions dictate but having that first layer, always at the ready, in just the right place is a god-send and saves faffing around in pockets or your pack. If thermo-regulation is less of a chore then you are more likely to do it, keeping your body at just the right temperature to fend off sweat and heat loss. If your knitted hat is sewn into your base-layer then it's also one less thing to carry in your winter pack which, despite your best efforts, is bigger and heavier than your tiny summer UL satchel.


Hooded base-layers aren't always the easiest thing find though. For some reason the outdoor clothing industry doesn't see the need for them. While there are a few options if you search hard enough it was BPL that had the market almost exclusively 'sewn up' at one point with their legendary merino wool Beartooth Hoody. Seemingly always 'out of stock' some people resorted to stitching a balaclava to their base-layers while the rest of us signed up for e-mail stock alerts and waited and waited and waited...

Then I read that Andy Skurka was wearing an Ibex merino wool hooded base-layer, called the Indie, on his crazy Alaska-Yukon expedition. I hopped on over to Ibex's web site and liked what I saw. With a weight of 195g/sqm the Indie's 100% 18.5 micron New Zealand wool is a slightly heavier than the Beartooth's 150g/sqm but I don't usually wear merino until well into autumn and winter so the extra warmth and durability would be welcome. I pulled the trigger and ordered one.


The Indie has all the features I was looking for. Having a decent length in the body helps keep the top tucked-in in winter. The arms were also nice and long. This keeps your wrists covered when using ski or hiking poles or reaching up when scrambling. The 'thumb loops' I can live without. If the arm length is long enough then I've never quite seen the point of thumb loops. My size Medium tips the scales at 285g.


The hood is nice and snug. I didn't want anything too 'casual' that would blow down in a wind and pulling the zip up to the top cinches the hood nicely around your face. Add a Buff or face mask in deep winter for even more protection. Another benefit of a hood is the seal around the neck, especially useful for those pushing quilts into the colder months.


Above 10C (50F) I have found the Indie to be a bit warm, despite the venting offered by the 9in chest zip. It's in cooler temperatures that the Indie really shines. Changeable autumn days is the perfect environment for merino base-layers and the Indie's flexibility is welcome. On the way up the sunny side of the mountain you can push the sleeves up and pull the zip down for maximum cooling effect. Walking in and out of the weak autumn sun-light you can easily flip the hood up and down as required. On the wind swept summit ridge you can pull the sleeves down, put the hood up and pull on a wind-shirt for a really breathable but warm combination.

I've not had a chance to wear the Indie on ski tours in deep winter yet and it will be interesting to wear it alongside my Patagonia R1 Hoody, a slightly heavier, synthetic hoody that has achieved Holy Grail status in alpine climbing circles. The R1 should theoretically dry quicker but the Indie will stay warm when damp so it will be interesting to see which one wins although I have a sneaky suspicion that they might work best together as part of a system...

So I'm really pleased with my Ibex Indie so far. While not the one-base-layer-to-rule-them-all that I had initially hoped for it is still a very adaptable hooded base-layer that will stay part of my Autumn/Winter wardrobe for the foreseeable future.


Phil said...

Nice! I LOVE my BPL Beartooth hoodies, I find anything else a bit of a compromise really.

The thumb-loops are one of my favourite features - if you're using a waterproof mitt like the MLD eVENT flipper I can dispense with a liner glove without too much clamminess forming. Similarly the thumb loops can prevent the sleeves riding up when you push your arms into another clothing layer, and provide some cosiness for those of us that have delicate wrists (!)

Don't knock the thumb loops, man...

Hendrik M said...

Very nice review, Joe, splendid photos.

Unlike Phil, I think that while the Beartooth is good, it is not the be-all-and-end-all-of hoodys. Might try this one out as well, it looks nice and I find the Beartooth e.g. too thin - for me strictly something for the warmer months.

But didn't you forget something? Something like, Size and Weight ;) ?!

Martin Rye said...

Thumb loops are superb. My Beartooth ones fit my Kaza wind shirt ones perfectly.

Looks a good winter weight top. I find the Beartooth has its place and limits in the UK. Wet merino dries slow compared to other materials. Still a hooded base layer is great. I forgo a wooly hat outside winter if I take the Beartooth. So like Phil.

Don't knock the thumb loops

Anonymous said...

Great fit on the hood. Most of the hoodies have a lot to loose-fitting hood. If it is windy, then the head is cooled quickly.
I'm thinking to buy one.
Thank you for the good report and great photos.

Unknown said...

Cheers Joe, I might get one of those, I can't be bothered waiting any longer to BPL to find a manufacturer.

+1 for thumb loops, though. I'm with Phil on that one.

Nielsen Brown said...

I have a BPL hoody which suffered in Lapland last summer, I now have an Ibex hoody and whilst the BPL hoody may be finer the Ibex hoody is available and like my other Ibex clothing it is of the highest quality. The Ibex hoody is the one I am using now, I am saving the BPL hoody for special occasions. BTW the way I also use a Smartwool hoody in the darkest of winter as it provides a level of warmth unsurpassed by all other hoody's and it has a GT stripe.

Thanks Joe for the review, and like Phil, I also like thumb loops.

hrXXLight said...

He Joe

Thanks for the great review and the excellent photos of the Ibex hoody. It's a great alternative if you won't buy the BPL Beartooth, but both have the problem of the expensive shipping.

I'm still looking for a hoody for some trips in winter and autumn.
Hope to find something in the next time.

Joe Newton said...

Phil - I'm not sure I knocked the thumb-loops I just don't find I use them. I know you and others use the long sleeves and thumb-loops as a kind of minimalist glove and if you can get away with that then that's one less thing to carry :-)

Hendrik - the Beartooth is legendary and for some is perfect for summer. Personally I find merino too warm to wear on summer days and prefer an ultra thin synthetic. On longer hikes I might carry two shirts and one would be the Indie, probably worn in camp and for sleeping.

Martin - merino's slower drying than synthetics is a my only concern with winter coming. I'll run some tests side-by-side with things like the R1 hoody and see conclusions I come to.

Rio - thanks. The hood has a proper technical fit and definitely stays put in the wind!

Mark - I would have gone for a Beartooth on several occasions in the past couple of years if they had been in stock when I either had the need or funds! The Indie was in stock so that's where my money went and I'm very pleased with it.

Roger - I agree, the Ibex quality is very good indeed. I actually had an even heavier merino hoody last winter, an Icebreaker I believe, but returned it after a day after I nearly BOILED to death in it!

Benni - yes, the shipping to Europe is just as expensive from Ibex as it is from BPL. Sometimes I just suck it up and accept it if it's an item that I cannot find anywhere else.

Unknown said...

For once I am reasonably content with my base layers so have no need of anything else, but reading your reviews with the artfully detailed imagery is a genuine joy. I don't use thumb loops either - just never seem to need them and they annoy me. I can see why others do but they're not for me.

I also have an issue with merino's slow drying but I find that, even putting it on a bit damp gets it dry quickly, even in the winter. I'd rather I did not have to but there you go. In any event, my really cold winter base layer is about to change to something a mite heavier.

Anonymous said...

I got more and more envious of you guys as I read this post, but yes, there is a womens version too!
Happy days, I'd certainly give one of these a go.

Joe Newton said...

Maz - HOORAY! Someone else who's not enamoured with thumb-loops! :-)

Helen - you ladies are lucky when it comes to hooded base-layers. Smelly Hansen and Patagonia both offer them for the fairer sex but not the men.

Unknown said...

I recently picked up a Eddie Bauer First Ascent Hangfire Hoody. It's fleece, and heavier than the Patagonia R1, but should make a nice warm base or mid layer for chilly Lapland and/or Minnesota. Nice fitting hood too: http://www.eddiebauer.com/catalog/product.jsp?ensembleId=37539

There's also a girlie version, Helen! In arctic commando white.

Phil said...

Dare I mention another option?


I'm due one of these in for test, mainly as it has thumb-loops...

Joe Newton said...

Mark - the Hangfire looks good as a mid-layer. I have a similar fleece hoody by Mountain Equipment, the Shroud.

Phil - just look what you started! ;-)

I'll be interested to hear what you have to say about silk as a base-layer. I always thought it was good but I remember reading some pretty dismissive articles over at BPL.

Unknown said...

Excellent post Joe. I'm with Phil on the thumb loops but you have a great point about length and wrist coverage. Like Mark I'm looking at First Ascent stuff.

Keep posting your points of view. It always makes for interesting discussions and it challenges me to examine what I think and why. Thanks for that.

Basti said...

hey Joe, great review and very artful pictures.
I was also thinking about buying a hoody. But because of my slightly oversized head I was never really lucky with the hoods they had. Maybe I should try a merino one, too?

Thinking of my long gone school days, I always thought thumb-loops were just made for girls to look even more girlish? For me they are not long enough to give that extra warmth they promise. And not using them leads to wind blowing through the thumb-loop-hole. So what's the point with them?
I prefer the classic cuffs. Maybe even adjustable ones for more comfort and the option of better venting when I want it.

Nielsen Brown said...

I used silkbody LS Top (no thumb loops) last weekend under my Paramo top, it provided the ideal level of warmth without overheating. The hoody is an interesting development

Joe Newton said...

Harttj - the funny thing was my point of view about the thumb-loops was quite ambivalent. I just said I could live without them. I don't mind them being there and I know there are lots of people who use them. Their inclusion doesn't effect the performance of the product for me so I'm ok with it. It's the hood to me that is the important element.

Basti - no problem with the size of the Indie's hood. I've got a real melon on me and the hood fits fine!

Roger - hmmm, another nod for silk as a base-layer? Maybe there is something in it. Looking forward to hearing Phil's views.

Anonymous said...

Oh noes, you just made me order one...!!
It'll be nice and cozy on the coming winter tours.

Oh, and I also don't find much use for those thumb loops.

/ Karl

ROBERT said...

Hi Joe,

Both your articles and comments by others are always interesting.

Type of activity, ambient temperature and an individuals metabolism have so much bearing on type of baselayer material and its weight (g/m2).

Martin is so right: “Wet merino dries slow compared to other materials.” There is nothing like wet wool make one feel uncomfortable – and cold!

Normally I only use a baselayer spring through to Autumn, come winter I only wear a single layer when walking and put on another layer at lunch stop or in camp. I use Buffalo in winter and hence just the one layer.

Last December I tried an experiment – I put on one of my 200 gsm Woolpower Ulfrotte baselayers under my Buffalo Mountain Shirt. I started my walk to Bynack More from Glenmore Lodge and admittedly it was not cold at -7˚C but the time I reached the bridge across the Nethy at Bynack More (1 hour in to the walk) my loop stitched Merino wool baselayer was soaked – literally. I took off my Buffalo and wrung out the Ullfrotte before stowing it in my ruck. The rest of the day I was very comfortable and just donned another synethic layer (Montane Toasty) on Bynack More when I stopped for lunch.

Unless I was carrying out a relatively static activity – such as fishing – I can’t ever see the need for a hoody! Then we are all different.

Folk like me that run very hot are probably better off with synthetic tops – and Helly Lifa is excellent. For day hikes and just one to two day overnight trips the smell factor is not really an issue – and no issue at all if solo! Merino or indeed my old Lambswool baselayers are fine on their own or under a windshirt come April. Silk is fine for sleeping in but for me worse than wool for walking in.

As I said we all have different metabolisms – I run so hot that membrane waterproofs are useless – they are “waterproof” but certainly not “breathable”. That is why for me it is Buffalo in Winter and Paramo or Buffalo techlite for three seasons.

Enjoy your hoody!

Best wishes,

Rob fae Craigellachie

Joe Newton said...

Karl - good job. Should I ask Ibex for a commission? ;-)

Rob - thanks for reading. I run hot too, real hot. That's why in the 'dry' winter (Dec, Jan, Feb) I wear Vapour Rise next to the skin or with a synthetic mesh under-shirt if it's really cold. I often carry another 'weather resistant' layer like a Pertex windshirt or ultralight softshell as a 'storm' jacket and a big fat down jacket for stops. Once March rolls around and the ambient and snow temperatures start to rise then I need 'waterproof' layers. I will be experimenting with Paramo this year. I also switch from down to synthetic fills for my insulation pieces. Last winter I remember ski guiding in -17C and dry snow in February and +10C and rain in April. I've learned that there isn't one garment system that works for me in those variable conditions.

Anonymous said...

Great review :)

Hiking in places where it can drop well below freezing even in late August, I am always on the hunt for great gear to keep me warm! I love the looks of this hoodie, particularly the way the hood fits.

Chris (i-cjw.com) said...

Added to my list for Santa!!

Eugene Smith said...

Thumbloops aren't a make or break feature for me with my BPL Beartooth, it was the deliberate thinness of the merino wool, a perfect next to skin baselayer for most of the trips I do in the mountains. I can hike/run briskly up steep trail in nothing but the BPL Beartooth hoody in temps (40-50F) and stay warm enough to keep moving without overheating, but not too warm. Frankly, the thumbloops are great for wiping snot off my nose and aiding my arms into my Montbell down parka without bunching, some benefit is found in the morning when getting started on trail. I could see the Ibex Indie being a nice compromise if I was needing something warmer, but I think the BPL Beartooth has the warmth to weight ratio pretty well dialed in for active use. Too bad it's not available. Thanks for the great review Joe, loved the photos. I may put this on my list of things to get in the future.

Anonymous said...

After a super-fast delivery, I've been able to lay my eager hands on the Hoodie.
Having only tried it on for a couple short walks, I can only agree with your verdict, Joe - Slightly too warm at the moment, but that warmth will certainly come in handy as winter creeps in on us.
I like the longer cut of the body, and the hood is great, a snug fit without being too tight. Personally, I'd prefer to be without the thumb loops and have slightly shorter sleeves, but that's a matter of taste, I guess.
It's not really a street-ware stylee piece of clothing, but (when the hood is worn) rather makes me look like something out of a particular Woody Allen movie. Oh well, I didn't buy it to use on High Street any way...
This'll come in very handy on those chillier outings than will soon be here.
Thanks for the tip, Joe, and for the great write-up.
/ Karl

Joe Newton said...

Mike & Cal - the hood is great. It's snug fit ensures it stays on in the wind.

Chris - I reckon Santa wears one under that red suit!

Eugene - if you can get away with wearing wool all year round then the Beartooth is the one to go for, if it was available...

Karl - I'm glad you like it and found my review useful. The weather here now is at the point where I'm wearing my Indies on every trip at the moment. They're working beautifully.