Icebreaker Shell+™ Merino Hooded Jacket and Pants: Tested

By Justin Walker 31 May 2023
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Icebreaker’s new Shell+ Hooded Jacket and Pants aim to prove merino wool can be more than just warm base layers. We put them to the test.

There’s little doubt regarding the high regard outdoor enthusiasts hold for the Kiwi brand, Icebreaker, and its excellent merino-wool based apparel; namely, its base- and mid-layers. It wouldn’t be much of a stretch (more on this, later) to say, though, that the iconic brand is not first to mind when wind- and water-resistant outer shell apparel is discussed. Well, it wasn’t, until recently, when the brand launches its Shell+ apparel, with its ingenious rethinking of how to utilise merino’s many advantages as a fibre suited to outdoor apparel applications. Intrigued? So were we… 


When I wrote, “it wouldn’t be much of a stretch…” I was, in fact, alluding to the reasoning behind Icebreaker’s new Shell+ technology; all about stretching – in this case, stretching merino wool – this new tech is what has resulted in this jacket and pants being made from merino wool fibre. This is something that would’ve been unheard of only a couple of years ago and what has resulted in Icebreaker’s first-ever wind- and water-resistant outer shell apparel.

The Icebreaker Shell+ is the result of a unique wool spinning process that pre-stretches those ultra-fine merino wool fibres before they are spun into, firstly, yarn and then, secondly, woven into fabric that contains a high level of thread density (read: very tight). It is the second part of this unique process – where the stretched fabric is released – where the magic happens. The yarn, once released from its stretched state, contracts to tighten up to the point where the resultant weave is tight enough to resist wind and a degree of water ingress (Icebreaker quotes “light showers”, while still offering a modicum of breathability for the wearer. Yep, clever!

Of course, a piece of technical apparel is more than just fabric and, again, the Icebreaker team has gone all-in on features that ensure this outer shell setup of jacket and the pants has all you need and offers plenty of versatility. These features include the jacket and pants being fully seam-sealed, to ensure no water ingress at the seams. The hood – again, reflecting versatility – can be used with or without a helmet (think: snowboarding, climbing, etc.) and can be adjusted via the toggled at the back. All fitment points – the hem (which also features a handy drop-tail for additional lower back protection), the sleeves (a standout, thanks to the push-button snap closures – the pants feature this nifty adjustment system on the waist, as well), are well thought-out and, most importantly, provide plenty of adjustability. 

The jacket also includes a two-way front zip to adjust for ventilation, along with high chest vertical zips that open to provide even more breathability. There’s also an internal pocket for additional stowage, along with two (zipped) hand pockets below the high chest zips, and – probably one of the most clever and welcome features – the jacket’s shoulder seams are offset to prevent wear/rubbing from backpacks. The pants add side zip pockets and a lower-leg zip to allow for easy fitment/removal of ski/board boots or hiking boots. Overall, the design of both the jacket and pants reflect Icebreaker’s long experience in designing apparel for the outdoors. Again, it’s very impressive on paper and when first worn, but how does it perform in the outdoors? 

In the field

Aus Geo ADVENTURE has had the Shell+ apparel for a couple of months now, and it’s been worn in conditions ranging from all that the wild south-west of Tassie can dish up, through to plenty of day-walks and overnight treks. Of the two items, the Shell+ jacket has seen by far the most use (the Shell+ pants we have lined up for some serious snow-season testing), and it has been quite impressive in the field.

The jacket’s overall fit is trim and snug, but it provides that without feeling too tight or restrictive; the articulated seams allow for plenty of movement when scrambling or lifting/raising your arms up. To this end, that drop-tail rear hemline has been great; being able to raise your arms up in inclement conditions without having to worry about cold air or rain hitting your exposed lower back is very welcome.

Speaking of rain, Icebreaker does say the DWR treatment on the Shell+ fabric is suited to “light showers” and this was borne out in testing when a couple of testers were caught out in afternoon rain. The MTB-based tester, in particular, was impressed with the jacket’s ability to withstand rainfall, with the droplets ‘beading-up’ and not noticing any wet-through sections of the jacket. During a day-hike we got caught out in a heavier shower but even then, it was only towards the end of an hour of heavy precipitation that the wearer noticed any moisture ingress.

The Shell+ fabric’s ability to withstand wind is impressive; Sydney’s recent howling-gale conditions have been a great test and the fabric’s incredibly tight weave (and those taped seams) has proven up to the task in terms of keeping the chill out. Breathability is always a variable that is hard to quantify, owing to how everyone’s core body-temp is different – as is the way they react to hot/cold conditions. Overall, though, it is well-controlled (especially in the jacket), and this is thanks to not only that innovative Shell+ fabric, but also the ‘extra’ ventilation possible through the two-way front zip and those high chest zip vents. At first glances, these looked like a gimmick but have proven to be anything but. 

We have noticed sweat/moisture build-up when wearing the Shell+ jacket and pants when tackling high-exertion activities, such as trail running and a hilly MTB course, but it has never been overwhelmingly ‘damp’ during those. 

The final word on the Icebreaker Shell+™ Merino Hooded Jacket and Pants

With two months of testing, you’d think we’d have a definitive answer on Icebreaker’s exciting new fabric technology. And we do – to a degree – but we are still very keen to continue testing the jacket and, especially, the pants over the winter. We believe that, if it performs as we expect in alpine conditions, that four-season performance will offset the hefty asking price.

Preceding our final review, we can report that, during late summer and spring, the Hooded Jacket has, by far, seen the most use, and it has performed very well, with a great mix of protection from the elements (notably wind) combined with a decent level of breathability. When the pants have been worn (in cold/windy conditions around camp and on a day hike) they have not disappointed, but we still think their primary appeal will be with the ski set. Speaking of which, we’re handing the jacket and pants over to our resident powder-hounds for winter and will return a full verdict once the snow season is under way. 

Articulated elbows and an athletic fit that still allows for base and mid-layers underneath all point to a cleverly designed outer shell.

What we can say, for now, is that Icebreaker has impressed with the application of a whole new technology to one of the world’s oldest natural fibres. For years, merino wool base- and mid-layers have been the go-to for warmth, breathability and comfort and now that same fibre can be viewed in a similar light in regard to outer-shell apparel, with an additional injection of toughness in the fabric’s ability to withstand rugged treatment in the outdoors.

Whether all of that is enough to convince you to shell out (excuse the pun) what is, as mentioned earlier, a seriously hefty sum (especially if you’re stumping up for both jacket and pants), will be up to the individual buyer. However, for those who do, you can be assured that you will get to enjoy some impressive new fabric technology that will, thanks to its versatility, provide all-season assurance in testing conditions.

RRP: $900 (Shell+ Merino Hooded Jacket); $720 (Shell+ Merino Pants). See Icebreaker for more info on the Shell+ range and other outdoor apparel.