June 14, 2011

Icebreaker Sock Review

I am not an environmentalist (I love my 3/4 ton crew cab 4x4 truck), but I recently started thinking about where some of my workout gear comes from.  Take something simple like socks.  When I started running, my local running shoe store put me into Balega socks.  Decent socks that I’ve got a lot of miles out of, but I found out they are made out of poly-something-nylon-stuff with a fancy trade name.  It only takes one Google search to find out that poly-something-nylon-stuff is terrible for our planet.  And it’s really not just socks I’m talking about.  It’s shorts, shirts, compression gear, hats, gloves, baselayers, anything made from ‘tech-fabric’.  We’ve practically been brainwashed into thinking this is the only acceptable alternative for workout gear.

Poly-stuff is made from petro-chemicals, these synthetics are non-biodegradable, so they are inherently unsustainable on two counts. Nylon manufacture creates nitrous oxide, a greenhouse gas 310 times more potent than carbon dioxide. Making polyester uses huge amounts of water for cooling, along with lubricants which can become a source of contamination by themselves. Both processes are also energy hogs.  The main raw materials are described as follows:
  • Purified terephthalic acid – PTA – CAS-No.: 100-21-0
Synonym: 1,4 benzenedicarboxylic acid,
Sum formula; C6H4(COOH)2 , mol weight: 166.13
  • Dimethylterephthalate – DMT – CAS-No: 120-61-6
Synonym: 1,4 benzenedicarboxylic acid dimethyl ester
Sum formula C6H4(COOCH3)2 , mol weight: 194.19
  • Mono Ethylene Glycol – MEG – CAS No.: 107-21-1
Synonym: 1,2 ethanediol
Sum formula: C2H6O2 , mol weight: 62,07

The raw materials are produced by large chemical companies which are sometimes integrated down to the crude oil refinery where p-Xylene is the base material to produce PTA and liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) is the base material to produce MEG.

WTF?   I don’t want some long-chain petro-chemical mad-scientist experiment on my feet or next to any of my skin.  Look at those ingredients again:  Acids and glycols.  Nasty.  Probably looks like this:

Give me something simple like Merino wool.  It works like this:
Sheep eats grass, farmer shears sheep, Icebreaker sews it into socks.

Icebreaker does something else cool.  They sew a tag in your shirt or pants that has a unique code printed on it.  The code is used to trace the clothing through the manufacturing process all the way back to the sheep farm that produced the wool. (I wonder what oil well my poly socks started life in?).  I decided to test the BAAcode:

My shirt came from the Branch Creek Station in south western New Zealand.  I watched a great video and found out these interesting stats:
LOCATION:  Cardrona Valley, South Island, New Zealand.
STOCK NUMBERS:  9,000 merino, 200 Hereford cattle.
AREA:  6,700 hectares (16,556 acres).
ALTITUDE:  600m at homestead.
MERINO FIBRE PRODUCTION:  30,000kg (66,138lb).  “It’s a typical high country station: not much of it has been developed, so the sheep are usually roaming the back country.” 

I also learned about the Stations rancher: "My grandfather bought Branch Creek after he came back from the First World War. Issi and Glen's four kids, including five-year-old twins, are the fifth generation of the family to live here. Running this farm has always been a family affair. The grandkids love being out on the property, and I think they're privileged to be growing up on a farm. They're feral kids, really - they need all this open space."
So, now I’ve convinced you that wool is the simple, sustainable, and clean way to go.

That leaves us at THE BIG QUESTION:  How do they work?  Robin will tell us:

Chuck is an engineer and he knows all this technical stuff, he lives for the details and tech data, me I’m more of a try it and see if I like it kind of girl, So I’m going to tell you the story of many socks, and you can make your own decision on wearing wool socks for all weather extremes.
Let me start by saying, I’m somewhat of an Imelda Marcos of socks, especially technical socks.  I have about every brand of technical cycling and running sock made, Defeet, PI, Sock Guy, Champion, Smart Wool, Wigwam, you name it, I have it.  Until recently I had never tried IceBreaker socks.  

Since IceBreaker socks are all wool, I was leery of trying them in the hot, humid Midwest weather.  I love the wool socks that I have, but they are all thick and hot and have only been good for use in the winter months.  I have tried them in early spring and late fall and they were still too hot, so I was not enthused to try the IB socks in the summer time. The IB socks are much thinner than any of the other brands that I have, so I thought that maybe they would be ok. They have been my favorite socks for the last few cold months, but I still was not ready to give them a try in the heat.  Then something happened that encouraged me to try them in the hot weather.  I have been having foot problems for over a year and I finally may have found a cure.  My doctor had some orthotics made for me and he thought that if I used them religiously in a few months my foot would quit hurting.  The good thing was the first time I wore them, no foot pain and again the second and third time no pain and even better, no foot pain ever when I wore them.  The problem was the pain was gone, but I kept getting a giant blister on the bottom of my right foot, it was the size of a half dollar and it really hurt.  I tried body glide, Vaseline, and every brand of sock I had, still I got blister after blister.  Soon I was limping around with blister band aids on my foot.  So the only thing left to do was to try the IB socks, I was not optimistic, I knew they wouldn’t make a difference.  So I put them on one morning and went out for my morning run.  I ran a mile, no problems, two miles still no problems, I knew by the third mile my foot would be hurting and by the forth it would be bleeding.  Three miles came and went, I soon passed the 4 mile mark, still no blister, then it was mile 5 and 6, no blister, I finished the 7th mile and my foot felt good. I couldn’t believe what I was not feeling.  I sat down on the curb and took off my shoe to look at my foot, no blood, no skin hanging off my foot, it was perfect, no problems at all.  My foot felt great, it didn’t hurt and my feet weren’t on fire.  At this point, I thought, this has to be a fluke, I can’t believe I didn’t get a blister.  So the next day I put on my IB socks and went out for another run, guess what, no blisters and no hot wet feet.  That is the story of the day when IB socks became my favorite socks ever. 

I now have a drawer overflowing with socks that are not being worn and I keep wearing the same few pair of IB socks over and over again.  My next test for the socks is to see how long they last when they are the only socks I wear for all my workouts.

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