All of the Isobaa clothing I talk about in this review was sent to me, for free, in order for me to test it out and sum it up for you lovely readers. Getting the clothing in late July, I decided to take them on a jaunt to Snowdonia National Park as well as a few trips around Dartmoor and Devon. After all, if you’re going to fill your wardrobe with cosy merino, you need to know if it’ll do the job in challenging environments.
Okay can we just take a moment real quick to appreciate the name here?
Like, isobar as in the pressure lines on a forecast. And baa. As in sheep.
What’s. Not. To. Love?
Packaging and Purpose
I’m not down with owning a silly amount of clothes (or possessions) for the sake of owning things. If anything, one of my favourite activities is a regular culling of my belongings, moving them on to charity shops and willing eBayers. So the things I acquire need to have a purpose.
When Isobaa got in touch with me to see if I wanted to review a few of their products, I’d never heard of the brand. However, looking at their website, I could quickly get onboard with their ethos.
Isobaa are a primarily merino-based clothing company. They’ve chosen merino wool because it’s biodegradable, odour-resistant, moisture-wicking, thermoregulating and fast drying. The wool’s innate moisture management and antibacterial properties mean your clothes don’t smell as quickly so you don’t have to wash them as often as other fabrics. Less washing = less water waste + less wear from the machine.
Given that a horrific amount of micro-plastic fibres are released into the water system each time you wash synthetic clothes, knowing that when you do wash your merino, you won’t be contributing to this, is a rather pleasing weight off the mind.
But you already know the benefits of merino, right? You’re a bona fide adventure seeker well versed in the near-magical smell-free properties of this fine fabric.
So what makes Isobaa different?
Well, first, I immediately fell in love with their packaging.
Recyclable and recycled packaging
I don’t know about you, but it drives me up the wall when I order something online (look, is there any other choice these days?) and it arrives wrapped in multiple layers of plastic.
Things are changing, slowly. The National Trust and the SoA Author magazine both come in compostable potato starch wrappers. Green People delivered my sunscreen in a cardboard box with compostable, Wotsit-shaped starch foamy things — I don’t even know what to call them because I’d normally call them ‘polystyrene’. But this was stuff you could literally dissolve on your tongue (I tried, so you don’t have to).
But thus far, no clothing company have ever delivered anything to me in the kind of packaging that Isobaa did. The jumpers came in recycled brown cardboard takeaway-esque boxes and the socks were in brown paper bags tied with jute string. I was sold.
Fit and Feel
I struggle a lot with getting clothes that fit me. I am, perhaps, unusually slim with narrow hips and shoulders, and many clothes aren’t cut for my shape. When I was buying my last wetsuit, a brutally honest salesman suggest I look in the junior boys department…so, yeah.
The Womens Merino 260 Casual Hoodie in an XS was super roomy on me and long enough to almost cover my rear (I’m 5’4″, 164 cm). At first, I thought it was simply too big. But it is so lovely that I soon changed my mind — but I’ll get to that. The merino is thick and sturdy, with cuffs that don’t look like they’ll give up in a hurry and, get this, thumb loops. I’m all about thumb loops. I would have them in every top if I could. This hoodie is unlined and has lovely big zip pockets. When it’s zipped up, it’s amazingly form-fitting.
The Merino Crew Sweater was the real game changer. It’s the type of jumper that you put on and think, ‘yeah…well I guess this is just my life now, I’ll just be living in this, sleeping in this, probably showering in this.’ It hangs so perfectly, with a luxurious softness, that it immediately felt like home even though it too was slightly too big. It’s unbelievably soft and light but falls gently, as though it’s responding to some gravity all of its own.
Isobaa also sent me a few pairs of merino socks, one of which I gave to my sister who spends even more time outside adventuring than I do. She loves them, I love them.
The socks have a rougher texture than the tops, more traditionally wool-like. They’re toasty yet my feet didn’t get too sweaty hiking in them for several hours on an unusually hot Welsh day. They come in lovely muted colours as well, like all of Isobaa’s range.
Let’s face it, it’s been hot and sunny since Boris Johnson ordered lockdown in late March. I’m writing this exactly six months later, in September, and it’s 24 degrees outside. When I took Isobaa’s delicious merino to Snowdonia, I thought I’d at least have a chance to test it in the cold.
Snowdonia was between 23 and 28 degrees every day. I know.
However, I have a secret weapon, previously known as a weakness. I have Raynaud’s Syndrome — an inconvenient, genetic condition whereby my body overreacts when someone opens a fridge, making it suck all the blood from my hands and feet, and sending it whirring around my vital organs to keep them warm.
Long story short, I get very cold, very quickly. Teeth-chattering cold. White fingers unable to operate door handles cold.
So I took the opportunity to jump, bikini-clad, into many a North Welsh llyn (that’s lake to you and me).
I’m all for wild swimming and I’ve learnt that the more you do it, the easier it is to get over the initial affront, look back at your companions shivering on the shore and shout, ‘it’s all right once you’re in! ‘ More importantly, amongst the towering, rugged mountains of Snowdonia, there are few better places to be than gazing at them from the water.
Nonetheless, within fifteen minutes I would get so cold that I’d have to fumble my way out and immediately huddle in Isobaa’s hoodie or the crew sweater. It didn’t matter which, because they are both unbelievably cosy and, for me, their slightly oversized nature was absolutely what I needed.
Early morning campsites
We were camping in Snowdonia and even the persistent sun couldn’t quite get going before 9 am. Again, I found myself reaching for the 260 hoodie, even though I’d thought it would be just too big. Instead, I found it incredibly easy to pull on for the disproportionately long walk to the toilet block.
Because it’s so damn comfortable, the 260 hoodie is ideal to chuck on literally any time you feel a slight chill skittering across your skin. Put it over a sports bra after your run or wear it as a mid-layer on a winter hike. The hood is roomy too, easy to get over a hat.
So — does it smell?
Of course, it’s all well and good that Isobaa have created some lovely, cosy clothes that are made well and frankly, would suit anyone.
Part of the point is that you shouldn’t have to wash your clothes as much. Washing not only uses water and energy, it also wears out clothes faster. And Isobaa ain’t cheap. To get years of wear, you’ll want it to last.
Because I’m a dedicated reviewer, I’ve been wearing the 260 hoodie and the crew sweater frequently over the last six weeks.
While wearing one or the other, I have:
– Gone hiking
– Put them on straight after swimming in lakes
– Put them on after getting changed from sea swimming
– Hugged a donkey
– Stopped the sweat chilling me after an inadvisably hot, hilly run
– Sat on a windy beach eating fish and chips
– Had three BBQs
– Used them as cushions outside
Here’s the god’s honest truth: I have yet to wash either and, crucially, neither of them smell at all.
I mean, I know y’all think I’m a bit grim, but this is essentially Gonzo journalism.
It’s not just my nose either, they have been independently verified as ‘not smelling dirty, sweaty or gross’.
I can honestly say I’m a true Isobaa convert. Each of the products feels and looks exceptionally well made. It’s the tiny things that do it for me really. The thumb loops on the 260 hoodie have end stitching and are seamless, so ultra-comfortable. The zip cage at the top is soft merino. The zip itself is substantial with just the right level of stiffness.
On the crew sweater (aka the jumper of dreams), the fabric is so soft and lovely to wear that I never want to take it off. It hangs better than any jumper I’ve ever owned. The contrast of the grey against the orange is a wonderful way to bring a jaunt of colour to a neutral shade (there are other colours, too).
I will do a sock review including other socks I’m obsessed with, but suffice to say, they’re just as wonderful.
Isobaa clothing, like all high-quality merino brands, comes at significant cost. If you want to invest in clothing that you can genuinely wear over and over again without washing (or smelling) though, then this is a brand to take seriously. These won’t fall apart any time soon, their fibres are biodegradable and you can air them rather than wash them every time you get a bit sweaty.