Few things are cooler than dueling ninjas. Few things are warmer than dueling merino wool ninja suits.
Merino wool is widely regarded as the ideal base layer for its ability to adjust its properties to differing situations. It keeps you warm when it’s cold outside, it breathes well when it’s hot outside, and it wicks away sweat when you’re exerting yourself. Heck, it doesn’t even pick up body odor.
As a big fan of merino wool, I’ve always said that if I could drape my whole body in it, I would. Turns out that I can. Two companies, I/O Bio Merino and Airblaster, both offer one-piece baselayers made entirely of merino wool to provide warmth for snowboarding, skiing, mountaineering, infiltrating castles, and other cold-weather pursuits.
Ninja suits. Made of what is arguably the finest performance material ever. Excellent.
The two suits share a host of similarities: Both are made of the soft wool of the Merino sheep; both are full-length, one-piece suits; and both have tight-fitting hoods, thumb loops, and drawstrings around the waist. Both companies make men’s and women’s versions.
A friend and I first tested the Airblaster Ninja Suit on a Summit of Mount Shasta, a 14,162-foot volcano in Northern California, and then took the I/O Bio Contact Pilot Suit on a weeklong trip through Colorado’s Rocky mountains.
On Mount Shasta, the Airblaster proved more than capable of handling the temperature swings that come with the higher elevation. When using it as a base layer, my tester found that he didn’t need any other layers under his shell jacket and pants to provide further insulation. The thin merino provided heat when it was cold and kept him from overheating when he started pushing uphill toward the summit.
In the Rockies, the temperatures dipped below 30 degrees at night, but the I/O Bio Pilot suit did a great job of keeping me warm. The form-fitting hood and thumb-looped sleeves kept warm air in the suit. The merino wool wicked away sweat and made it through the whole week without picking up any odor. The stitches started to show some gaps after a week of abuse, however, which doesn’t inspire confidence in its durability.
You’re probably wondering: “How the heck do you go to the bathroom in these things?” Glad you asked, because each suit tackles that problem in very different ways, and therein lies the main difference.
I/O Bio’s Contact Pilot suit sports a U-shaped zip that runs from the front of the waist (think belt buckle region) down under the legs up to the back of the waist. Airblaster’s Ninja suit uses a zipper that goes around the waist from the left to right and a brief-style opening in the front to accommodate the standard male peeing posture.
After extensive testing, I found that the Pilot Suit has the slight edge in convenience; the u-zipper stays out of the way a lot easier than the Ninja Suit’s butt flap, the positioning of which keeps you on guard with the slight yet terrifying chance of crapping into your pants.
However, the danger factor in zipping the Contact Pilot suit up just about negates any other conveniences. If you’re squatting in the snow at high elevation, or even if you’re trying to go about your business in the middle of the night and you’re only half awake, there’s way too much of a chance for an accidental reenactment of There’s Something About Mary. The women’s version has the same mechanism, but women may find such dangers to be more easily avoided.
Airblaster’s Ninja Suit’s pee-hole and behind-the-back zipping style pretty much eliminate any chance of bloodletting. I declare it the winner by a deuce.
Airblaster Merino Ninja Suit
WIRED Regulates temperature in cold weather. Lots of insulation in a thin package. Easy to poop while wearing it.
TIRED Material feels a bit scratchy. The fit is baggy.
I/O Bio Merino Contact Pilot Suit
WIRED Soft wool feels great on skin. Form-fitting. Doesn’t pick up body odor.
TIRED Shows wear after a few uses. There’s a very real danger of zipping up your goodies after dropping the kids off at the pool.
Photos by Keith Axline/Wired