The great outdoors have always been an irresistible lure for mankind to outrun, out-climb, out-hike and outdo one another. As much as it’s an alluring playground offering great beauty, it can also become a danger zone if you’re not adequately equipped for nature’s challenges.
Hiking being a physically demanding activity, requires the right attire to keep you feeling comfortable under different types of weather conditions. Let’s look at some characteristics of the best hiking shirts.
Hiking Shirts Characteristics
There are three basic requirements for hiking shirts materials:
- it dries quickly
- breathes easily and
- wicks away moisture and perspiration to keep you feeling cool and comfortable while doing all that walking.
Sophisticated synthetic blends such as polyester and natural fibers like merino wool are highly sought-after by manufacturers as they satisfy all the three basic requirements for making the best hiking shirt.
Depending on your hiking needs, polyester and merino wool offers different advantages. Polyester, being lighter than merino wool, is the obvious choice when it comes to traveling and hiking in hot, humid weather where you’re not expecting major temperature drops at night.
On the other hand, merino wool possesses better temperature regulation and has the amazing ability to keep you cool in warm weather and warm in cool weather even when it’s wet. Hence, merino wool is perceived to be the ideal hiking shirt material if not for its heavier weight than synthetic polyester.
Comfortable shirt seams
At first glance, shirt seams may seem like a negligible, if important at all feature. However, the comfort and performance-enhancing properties of a good hiking shirt are usually in the details.
The seams in hiking shirts should be flat and shouldn’t rub against your skin as they’re usually the layer of fabric directly in contact with your skin. As such, many manufacturers employ flatlock seams as they do not have materials bunching up on the underside of the fabric. Thus, the hiking shirt with flatlock seams is more comfortable to wear.
Imagine your shirt seam chafing (or worse causing a rash) at your shoulder or neck with the sun beating down when you’re outdoors. In physically-demanding activities like hiking, you need all the comfort there is.
Let’s face it. Nobody likes that feeling when clammy shirts wet with perspiration clings to the body. And when you hike in under hot and humid conditions, you’re most probably going to sweat a lot.
The best hiking shirt is designed to ensure that your sweat, moisture and humid air leave your body quickly and cools you down faster. Sewing lightweight mesh panels in areas of frequent sweat build-up (eg. upper back, along torso, under armpits) is a common method of designing hiking shirts with better breathability.
The speed of drying goes hand in hand with breathability. However, why is drying speed an important feature for good hiking shirts? That’s because it affects how well the shirt can keep you cool.
Or more accurately, it’s the evaporation of the sweat off the shirt that keeps you cool. If a hiking shirt dries slowly, this means that perspiration and body heat gets trap and build up inside the shirt – not a very cooling or comfortable prospect.
Well, when you’re engaged in strenuous activities like hiking, sweating is part and parcel of the deal (that’s why it’s good to wear hiking shirts that dry fast and breathe). Without coming across finicky, it’s also fantastic if your hiking shirt has antimicrobial properties that neutralizes unwanted odors that sweat may bring.
This feature is especially useful when you go on a long hike for several days and may not have the luxury of having many changes of clothes. Not having to deal with funky-smelling hiking shirts means a more enjoyable time outdoors.
Many hiking shirts made of synthetic materials have been specially treated to offer antimicrobial protection. However, bear in mind that the antimicrobial feature may wear off over time.
UPF (Ultra-violet Protection Factor)
We’re all familiar with the SPF (Sun Protection Factor) in sunscreens. UPF (think SPF in outdoor attire) sounds like a sophisticated feature that only top-end hiking shirts would have.
Some manufacturers use special dyes or fabrics to boost a hiking shirt’s UPF. So what does it mean when a hiking shirt is indicated to have say, UPF 30? This means only 1/30th of UV rays from the sun is hitting your skin. Fashion items are not allowed to list its UPF rating unless it’s 15 and above.
So you can rest assured that the UPF rating on your hiking shirt means that it’s specially manufactured to offer extra protection under the sun.
Fit and comfort
Fabrics that make you itch, seams that gnaws at you or restrictive cuts are all uncomfortable distractions when you’re hiking.
Though fit is subjective and can vary for different people, it’s generally a good idea to choose a hiking shirt that isn’t too tight (restrictive in movement) or too loose (which can cause your shirt to be easily caught in branches and other stuff sticking out in inconspicuous places).
Far too often, we’ve put up with baggy, frumpy outdoor attire, thinking that it should always be function over form. Style? Well, who cares about that when we’re crossing that stream or has a 10kg worth of camping gear on our backs?
However, that doesn’t mean we need to throw style out of the window when we’re hiking. Having stylish hiking getup means you appear more ‘together’ (think looking good in photos) even if you feel that your lungs are bursting after having hiked up that mountain. Moreover, stylish hiking shirts are abundant nowadays. You just have to know where to look.
For some inspiration to kick-start your hiking shirt shopping, take a look at the following recommendations we’ve lined up for you.
Less than $50
Mountain Hardwear Men’s Coolhiker
Shipping weight: 4 pounds
- Cool. QTM ZERO Technology on the back and sides of the shirt lowers fabric temperature when you sweat, offering cool comfort outdoors
- Polyester and spandex blend dries quickly and will gently stretch with you, offering maximum freedom
- No uncomfortable chafing with flatlock seams
- Has antimicrobial properties to keep you feeling fresh all day
- UPF 25 for extra protection from the sun’s harmful UV rays
- Mountain Hardwear Men’s Coolhiker is available in four colors
- Can be worn all day comfortably while hiking or working under the sun
- Some people wear this for running outdoors and wish that the shirt comes in luminous colors such as green or yellow for higher visibility at night
Men’s River Gorge Long Sleeve Hoodie
Shipping weight: 2 pounds
- A long-sleeved hoody design for extra protection from the elements outdoors
- Men’s River Gorge Long Sleeve Hoodie is made of 100% polyester that’s quick-drying
- Zippered pocket keeps your valuables secure
- UPF 50 for extra protection from the sun’s harmful UV rays
- Perfect for a range of outdoor activities such as hiking, kayaking, camping or fishing
- Available in four colors
- The perfect combination for keeping the sun off and looking cool
- Hoody design is great for keeping out the sun during the day and keeping warm at night
- A range of stylish and beautiful colors to choose from
- Long sleeves can sometimes be a little too warm for continuous walking under the sun
Columbia Bahama II L/S Shirt
Shipping weight: 1 pounds
- Mesh-lined cape vents on shoulders to keep you cool and for added breathability
- Very versatile with buttons on the upper arm to easily convert to short-sleeved design
- Columbia Bahama II L/S Shirt is available in four colors
- Made of durable, lightweight nylon which is fast-drying as well
- Omni-Shade UPF 30 for extra protection from the sun’s harmful UV rays
- Super comfortable to wear with the shirt’s relaxed fit
- Dries very fast when wet and doesn’t show embarrassing sweaty patches
- Light and airy, almost like having a personal air conditioner
- Many complained about its large fit. So if you’re a woman or has a slight build, consider buying half a size or one size smaller
- Some people complained that the fabric seems to be too heavy and thick when the shirt is new and it takes several washes to soften it
Columbia Women’s Silver Ridge Long Sleeve Shirt
Shipping weight: 8.8 oz
- Columbia Women’s Silver Ridge Long Sleeve Shirt features Omni-wick Advanced Evaporation to keep you cool and comfortable
- Has strategic side stretch panels to ensure freedom of movement
- Zippered chest pocket to keep your valuables safe
- Can easily roll up the long sleeves and secure them with the sleeve tab holders
- Built-in UPF 40 for extra protection from the sun’s harmful UV rays
- Available in four colorsPros:
- Very versatile for both outdoors and indoors use
- Great for traveling as it wrinkles very little
- A wide range of stylish colors to choose from
- Makes a fantastic layering shirt with a tank top underneath
- Lightweight and stylish with an amazing fit
- Sizes run a little small so order one size bigger if need be
- Some ladies complain that the pocket isn’t well placed and looks awkward with something inside
More than $50
Berghaus Explorer Eco L/S Shirt
Shipping weight: 0.52 pounds
- ECO yarn dying utilizes less water and chemicals
- Berghaus Explorer Eco L/S Shirt is made of polygiene permanent odor-free technology to keep you feeling fresh all day
- UPF 50 with for extra protection from the sun
- The sun collar can also be raised to protect your neck
- Two button-down patch pockets with one with zippered closure to secure your valuables
- Can be easily converted into a short-sleeved shirt by securing the rolled-up sleeve with the button
- Available in five colors
- A very versatile shirt that can be worn for many outdoor activities or about town
- Very lightweight and doesn’t take up much space in the luggage
- Has a rather snug fit that can be a little restrictive when engaging in physical activities outdoors
Black Diamond L/S Stretch Technician Shirt
Shipping weight: N/A
- Made from lightweight cotton-poly blend
- Black Diamond L/S Stretch Technician Shirt has a little stretch and climbing-specific gusseted underarms for ease of movement
- Two chest pockets with button-down feature
- Very lightweight and great for traveling
- Two front pockets are useful for quickly taking out handphone or compact camera
- Rather narrow sleeves which can be difficult to wear for people with bigger arms
- Has a rather snug fit which bigger-sized people may have difficult finding the right size
More than $100
Arc’teryx Bernal Flannel Shirt – Long-Sleeve
Shipping weight: 1.1 pounds
- Made of SawyerTM cotton blend that’s soft, lightweight
- Classic front-button closure for easy putting on and removing
- Arc’teryx Bernal Flannel Shirt – Long-Sleeve is stylish with a laminated chest pocket of a different fabric
- Gusseted underarms for more freedom to move
- Long sleeved design offers protection from the sun during the day and cold at night
- Perfect for cooler days and mountain town living
- Available in three colors
- Casual, stylish pattern is very different from the often frumpy look of performance wear
- Looks good enough to wear on a night out as well
- Very comfortable to wear when staying in cooler highlands
- The collar makes it hot and uncomfortable to wear when hiking under the sun
- Doesn’t seem to be able to dry quickly
Hiking shirts can make a difference between a memorable trip and an uncomfortable misadventure.
We hope you now have plenty of resources to help you snag some really good ones that suit your outdoor needs. Have any good suggestions we missed out on? Be sure to share your stories and favoring hiking shirts below, and we may feature them in a future article. Happy shopping and hiking!