What lies beneath: winter wear enthusiasts recommend their favourite thermal brands | Australian lifestyle

As someone who runs hot and hates cold outdoor activities like camping, I’ve never felt the need to own or have an opinion about thermals. But when I started talking to people about their favourite thermals for this week’s column, one name was mentioned more than others: Icebreaker.

The New Zealand outdoor brand has done a lot of research and development to create performance materials from natural fibres, including ultrafine merino wool which is lightweight and elastic, making it comfortable next to the skin. It can also hold a substantial amount of water before the wearer feels cold and wet, which is important for outdoor adventures. As a protein fibre it is much better than synthetic materials at regulating the body’s temperature.

The other thing to look out for when buying next-to-skin layering pieces is the construction of the seams. Ideally these will be minimal and have a flat finish, meaning there will be stitches running along either side of the seam compressing it. This reduces friction between the garment and your skin, which is helpful when wearing lots of layers.

The travel essential

The Melbourne fashion stylist Sophie Dawson layers thermal singlets and T-shirts beneath her outfits year-round. “Icebreaker singlets are great [for this] because they have thin adjustable straps and work under a lot of different clothes,” she says.

The singlets, which retail for A$79.99, are made from a stretchy, lightweight merino wool blended with a little nylon and elastane. Being longer through the body makes them easy to tuck into pants and skirts.

“Icebreaker make their thermals in different warmth ratings but I tend to layer lighter ones rather than going for the subzero layer,” she says. This makes them ideal for travelling. Thanks to thermals, she says, “I have done trips that go from 6C in London and Seattle to 40C in Morocco with only carry-on.”

Survival of the thickest

Second skin: a long-sleeve crew and polar long-sleeve half-zip top from New Zealand label Icebreaker

Michael Atkinson, the runner-up on season one of Alone Australia, also says his favourite brand of thermals is Icebreaker but he prefers the premium end of their range. “They don’t get holes as easily as cheaper merino thermals,” he says. “And they have extra-thick 300 gsm weight options which are very warm.”

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A scoop-neck thermal T-shirt from Australian brand Merino Country

This warmer weight is made from ultrafine 100% merino wool and includes the $329.99 long-sleeve roll-neck thermal top. Atkinson says they are comfortable because the material is super soft and the garments constructed to increase mobility and reduce friction.

‘It keeps me warm and cool’

The Newcastle-based electrical engineer Jemima Jackson’s favourite thermals are scoop neck T-shirts by Australian brand Merino Country, which retail for $115. “They are as good [at] keeping me warm in an air-conditioned office as they are at keeping me cool under my hi-vis on site,” she says. “I also have the thermal bottoms for cold nights when camping.”

Jackson wears the T-shirts daily and has found them “as hard-wearing as polyester undershirts when cared for properly”. She washes hers in the washing machine and line dries them.

‘The silk adds a luxurious touch’

“I only wear natural fibres so I was thankful to discover Hanro’s merino wool and silk blend thermals,” says Jeremy Hershan, designer and founder of Sydney label Haulier. He appreciates that the Swiss brand’s styles, which start at about $140, are simple and minimal, making them ideal for layering.

“The nature of the fine merino means that moisture is drawn away from the body and the silk adds a luxurious touch,” he says. “I am big on utility and function and these do exactly what it says on the tin.”

‘The silk adds a luxurious touch’: woollen silk thermal garments from Hanro’s fall/winter 2024 collection Photograph: Supplied

‘I throw it on under a puffer jacket’

The writer Victoria Pearson discovered her favourite brand of thermals by accident. “My husband has [a Uniqlo] Heattech long-sleeve T-shirt that I’ve taken to wearing on early morning walks,” she says. “I throw it on under a puffer jacket during a Sydney cold snap and it does the trick.”

Made from a blend of synthetic materials and viscose and retailing for $24.90, she likes it because it’s lightweight and form-fitting, so it’s “perfect for layering under your other shirts, knitwear or outerwear”.

“I throw it in a cold wash with other dark-coloured clothes. It doesn’t lose its shape and line dries really quickly,” Pearson says.

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