Summer is here—and this summer is supposed to be a warm one! In order to stay cool and comfortable on trail, you want to wear the right kind of apparel. Leave the cotton shirts at home. Ideal trail shirts—especially if you’re going to be out for multiple days or weeks—are breathable, fast-drying and odor-resistant. These are typically made of wool or synthetic materials, with a surprising amount of thought and technology going into their construction to ensure comfort, durability and performance. They can be a little pricier than a typical shirt, but you’ll certainly consider it a worthy investment when you’re trekking down the trail cool and content. Our gear team hit the trail earlier this year to try out some of the latest offerings in high-tech hiking shirts. Here are five of their faves.
Finding a good tank to wear while hiking is a lot harder than it seems. Most tanks sport thin straps that can dig into shoulders once a pack is added to your back. Not the merino wool Ibex Essential Tank. I loved its wide, low-profile straps which kept me comfortable, regardless of whether my pack was on or not. In addition, the tank has a high neckline. This is perfect for sunny days when you want to stay cool but don’t want to sacrifice too much coverage. I liked not having to worry about getting sunburnt on my chest, as well as the added guarantee that I wouldn’t get chafed by my favorite pack’s high chest strap. Additionally, I appreciated having something really basic—sans designs or embellishments—that I could wear for everything from long treks to gym workouts. W’s $75 Tester: Cassandra
The search is over. This is the base layer I’ve been looking for. I was immediately drawn to the fun mix of colors and shapes, which are eyepoppingly beautiful and supremely crafted in high-quality wool. Before I even put on my Kari Traa Base Layers, I just want to roll my hands and face around in its ridiculous softness. I found the slim cut to be flattering and form-fitting, hugging all the right places and staying on them when stoking a fire, carving turns or even fly fishing. Dare say, I actually felt sexy (gasp) in what my gramps would refer to as his long johns. Nothing sags, but nothing is tight and cumbersome. What’s more, they do a great job of concealing problem zones (e.g., muffin-tops or junk in the trunk) with the complimentary lines and forgiving 4-way stretch. W’s $60–$110 Tester: Tami
I love having a dependable hiking shirt that I can wear year-round—warm or cold, dayhike or a multi-day trek. And that’s just what the Smartwool Merino 150 Pattern Hoody was made for. Lightweight and made of merino wool, I was able to wear this on its own in nice weather without worrying about overheating. It even helps block the sun, which means I can wear less sunscreen. As soon as the weather turned cold, I just flipped up the hood and added a vest and I was toasty warm. I loved the seamless shoulders and extra-long cut in the back. It fit well and felt great even when I added my heavy pack on top. I especially liked that this top is a lot more feminine than most women’s hiking apparel. The peach color is very flattering on nearly all skin tones. W’s $100 Tester: Cassandra
Whenever I wear this shirt, I think about Marty McFly’s futuristic jacket from Back to the Future II. After jumping into a pond, he climbed out of the water, pushed a button on the jacket and it instantly dried itself, with a little computer voice saying, “Your jacket is now dry.” Ok, nerd moment over, that’s how fast the Smartwool Merino 150 Tee dried after working up a sweat on some of my spring hikes. Made of super-soft merino wool, this comfy tee provided excellent mobility and breathability, both on its own and under jackets. I liked the offset shoulder seams—a smart design feature for eliminating pressure under pack straps. Plus, its natural odor-resistance let me wear it day after day without it getting funky. M’s $80 Tester: Eli
Recently, I’ve been enjoying hiking in long-sleeve shirts for their improved versatility over t-shirts. When it’s cool, I can roll the sleeves down and button up; when it warms up, I can roll the sleeves up and unbutton for more ventilation. Also, long-sleeve shirts are definitely an advantage during the early summer mosquito season. At first glance, I didn’t even peg the ExOfficio Toreno for a hiking shirt, with its stylish cut. A closer look revealed gusseted underarm vents and a mesh back vent. It’s performance on trail was exceptional, allowing complete freedom of movement and superior breathability. Plus, its fast-drying, wrinkle-free and odor-resistant qualities let me go from hiking trail to downtown bistro without needing a change. M’s $100 Tester: Eli
These reviews are based on the individual experiences PCT: Oregon’s gear team. Reviewers include hiking guidebook authors Cassandra Overby, Tami Asars and Eli Boschetto. All items were tested in a variety of weather and temperature conditions. Personal results may vary. For more information on PCT: Oregon gear reviews, click here.
This post contains affiliate links. All purchases made through these links help support the costs and operations of PCT: Oregon.
Main photo: Cassandra Overby enjoying a day outdoors in her Smartwool 150 Pattern Hoody.