Rating: 4 / 5
In short: The Nomad isn't perfect, but until a better wool hoodie comes around, this is the best in its niche in terms of warmth, breathability, weight and features.
Introduction: Icebreaker's Nomad hoodie is a midweight hoodie made of 320 g/m^2 merino wool. Merino wool is an ultra fine non-irritating type of wool that is naturally resistant to absorbing foul odors. This is Icebreaker's 320 Sport weave, which is the slightly more breathable counterpart of their 320 Exp weave. The Nomad hoodie has a zippered neck hole, thumb loops and a relatively tight-fitting, balaclava-style hood. When I bought this, I was looking for a wool hoodie comparable to the Patagonia R1 hoodie. I think the Nomad is about the same, if not slightly warmer, in terms of warmth, but it fits significantly looser than the R1 in the same standard size, making it a better midlayer than a skin layer (I typically wear a size medium, and medium Icebreaker shirts typically fit me like size medium in Patagonia). If the fit were a little tighter, I could easily use this as a base layer because this particular weave of merino wool, like all Icebreaker wool, is luxuriously soft, like fine cotton. I could live in this shirt for every day of my life and be a happy man. Unfortunately, it is too loose to be a good skin-layer and requires a shirt to be worn underneath it.
The good: The hoodie works very well as a mid layer over a tight-fitting capilene or merino wool baselayer. It's also roomy enough that I can layer my Possumdown vest under it. The chest zip helps to vent off some heat when I'm very active or when I simply don't want to stop hiking to unlayer. Similarly, the thumb loops provide some hand coverage so I don't have to dig in my pack to get my gloves most of the time. The hood has an elastic face opening that hugs relatively tightly to my head. Besides providing better ear and neck warmth than the loose, gangland-style hoods that are so popular on college campuses, the Nomad's hood is tight enough that I can easily layer my Possumdown beanie hat OVER the hood. This provides even more warmth, and everything fits better than if I were to layer a beanie hat under the hood.
The bad: The features that emulate the R1 hoodie are not as well done here. Sorry, but Patagonia set too good of an example with their R1 hoodie for me not to be critical of the Nomad. Firstly, the hood, though form-fitting and resembling a balaclava, is not as tight-fitting as the hood of my R1. There's about a 1/4" gap around the sides of the opening all around my face where wind can get in. This gap may vary from person to person, but I'm comparing a medium R1 to a medium Nomad on my own head. Adding a beanie hat to the outside of the hood tends to elimate this looseness, however, so this is a problem I can live with most of the time. Another negative about the hood is the zipper, which is just too stiff and in just the wrong position. It comes up right on top of my chin and though this might make some sense, ergonomically (i.e. keep the mouth uncovered, but seal up the neck), I find that as I move my head around, the zipper works its way down to a point right under my chin, which causes unwelcome pressure there. Moving on to other features, the thumb loops are indeed a welcome feature, but Icebreaker designed the sleeves so that the main seam runs along the bottom side of the sleeves. This, while visually attractive (you can't see the seam) means that when I have my thumbs in the thumbloops, using the ends of the sleeves like fingerless gloves, there's a big fat non-flatloc seam right in the middle of my palm! This is poor planning, and I don't really understand why the seams aren't actually flatloc, but again, as with the shortcomings of the hood I've learned to live with this flaw since the seams aren't really irritating.
Recommendations for improvement: Tighter hood with more mouth coverage and an off-center zipper. Fix the seam placement on the sleeves for when using the thumb loops. A deeper chest zip would allow more versatility, although since merino is better at managing heat and moisture than fleece it's not as bad as it might seem. I would also like to see a more form-fitting version of this that I could use as a base layer.
Overall, if I want to use an all-wool layering system on a winter backpacking trip, this is an effective substitute to my R1 hoodie, despite it not being designed as perfectly as the R1. Since I more and more am falling in love with using merino clothing systems in winter time, the Nomad has become my go-to mid layer for cold weather hiking.