Best Men’s Hiking Shirts of 2019

JUMP TO: MERINO T-SHIRTS / SYNTHETIC T-SHIRTS / BUTTON-UP HIKING SHIRTS / TYPES / FABRICS / ADDITIONAL CONSIDERATIONS

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The great outdoors… it’s all the more great when you are dry and comfortable. And to help ensure you stay that way — especially during high energy activities like hiking — you want next-to-skin clothing that is breathable, moisture-wicking and quick drying.

For these reasons there are two fabrics that stand out: merino wool and synthetics such as polyester and nylon. Both merino wool and synthetics do a great job of moving moisture away from your body. But beyond moisture management, they each have their own strengths and weaknesses.

 

A merino t-shirt is my favourite hiking shirt for most environments, but your mileage might vary!

 

The key differences are:

  • Merino wool is softer and naturally odour-resistant, but it is also expensive and less durable.

  • Synthetic fabrics are cheaper and more durable, but they are not naturally odour-resistant and are — arguably — not as comfortable as merino wool.

Hiking shirts in this review are separated into three categories: merino t-shirts, synthetic t-shirts, and button-up long sleeve shirts. These categories should allow you to dial in your perfect setup depending on your preferences and the environments you plan to hike in.

 

Rocking a merino t-shirt in warm weather on the Pyrenees.

 

At the bottom of this page there is detailed information on merino wool, synthetics, and other critical things to consider before making your hiking shirt purchase.

If you love this review of the Best Hiking Shirts, then you'll likely love reading some of our other gear-fiend related pages:


BEST MERINO HIKING T-SHIRTS


MATERIALS: 87% merino wool, 13% nylon

STYLE: T-shirt (crew neck only)

UPF RATING: 20+

ODOUR RESISTANT: Yes

CLAIMED WEIGHT: 4.8 oz / 140 grams

PROS: Comfortable, Lightweight merino

CONS: Expensive

BEST FOR: Those who want the best merino t-shirt

MRRP: $$$

The Smartwool Merino 150 T-shirt is my favourite shirt for three-season hiking when I don’t require the extra sun protection of a collar or long sleeves.

Without a doubt Smartwool make some of the best baselayers for hiking, backpacking, and travelling. Their merino is comfortable against the skin and relatively durable for a non-synthetic material.

Smartwool use flatlock seams throughout this t-shirt. This is especially important through the shoulders and under the armpits, where the rubbing of your backpack or the movement of your arms are most likely to generate chaffing.

The 150 gsm material is lightweight, so that it dries relatively fast when sweat soaked or wet. It also makes this t-shirt ideal for layering. I tend to use a 150 gsm t-shirt for all three season backpacking. Then if conditions are cold, I can layer a heavier 250 gsm zip-up — like the to Smartwool Merino 250 Quarter-Zip Top (discussed below) — over the t-shirt and vent using the zip as needed.

While many people have reservations about the durability of merino products, we’ve found them to be easily durable enough for hiking and backpacking. In our eyes, the benefits of merino dramatically outweigh their downsides.

Instead of using 100% merino, Smartwool use a nylon core with merino wound around it. This is an approach being adopted by many merino clothing manufacturers. This approach retains the feel and benefits of merino against the skin, but increases durability.


MATERIALS: 87% merino wool, 13% nylon

STYLE: T-shirt (crew or V neck)

UPF RATING: 30

ODOUR RESISTANT: Yes

CLAIMED WEIGHT: 6.7 oz / 190 grams

PROS: Comfortable, Lightweight merino

CONS: Expensive

BEST FOR: Those after a merino V neck t-shirt

MRRP: $$$

The Icebreaker Tech Lite Short Sleeve is another awesome merino t-shirt that is perfect for hiking.

You’ll notice that the specs of the Icebreaker Tech Lite SS line up almost exactly with my favourite hiking t-shirt, the Smartwool Merino 150. So do the pros and cons. That’s because there is relatively little to differentiate these two shirts!

They both use a merino fabric with a nylon core. That is, the merino fibres are wrapped around the nylon core to increase durability. They both use 150 gms weight fabric that provides an ideal balance between breathability and durability. They both use flatlock seams. They are both well made and offered in a variety of colours.

I do have a slight preference for the Smartwool offering since I have had better experience over the years with the durability of Smartwool t-shirts. Although, this hasn’t universally been the case. Sometimes the durability of merino wool products can seem to differ between individual items even from the same manufacturer. But for the most part my Smartwool t-shirts have seemed to hold up better over the long term.

While many other manufacturers on our list only offer a crew neck, the Icebreaker Tech Lite SS is available as either a crew neck or V neck t-shirt. Also, if you prefer a more athletic fit then perhaps consider the Anatomica SS (available in crew neck or V neck). It has a 5% lycra component in the fabric which makes it slightly stretchier than the Tech Lite Short Sleeve.


BEST SYNTHETIC HIKING T-SHIRTS


MATERIALS: 70% polyester, 30% polypropylene

STYLE: T-shirt (crew neck only)

UPF RATING: 25

ODOUR RESISTANT: No

CLAIMED WEIGHT: 3.7 oz /105 grams

PROS: Ultralight, Quick drying, Long length

CONS: Expensive, Not odour-resistant

BEST FOR: Ultralight hikers, Taller guys, Warm weather

MRRP: $$$

The Arc’teryx Motus Crew SS is my favourite pick for an ultralight synthetic hiking t-shirt.

It is best suited for active use in warm weather. It is made with with a proprietary polyester/polypropylene composite fabric known as Phasic FL. The fabric is lightweight, highly breathable and has excellent moisture-wicking properties.

The main downfall of the fabric is that it is not naturally odour-resistant like merino and it doesn’t have a synthetic anti-microbial treatment applied either. This makes it less suitable for multi-day backpacking and more suitable for high energy day-use activities like day hikes and trail running. Although if your main use case is trail running, then you probably want to look for something with even more airflow — such as a lightweight mesh.

The Motus Crew SS provides decent sun protection, with a UPF rating of 25. Like most Arc’teryx clothing the Motus Crew SS provides a great fit, particularly for those with a taller and leaner build. I like that the cut is relatively long so that you don’t need to size up just to get extra length. Lastly, note that this shirt is only available as a crew neck.


MATERIALS: 100% recycled polyester

STYLE: T-shirt (crew neck only)

UPF RATING: 50+

ODOUR RESISTANT: Yes

CLAIMED WEIGHT: 2.6 oz / 74 grams

PROS: Ultralight, Wicks well, Drop tail hem, Recycled materials

CONS: Material is pretty thin which may impact on durability

BEST FOR: Ultralight hikers, Warm weather

MRRP: $$

The Patagonia Capilene Cool Lightweight Shirt is another awesome synthetic t-shirt for warm weather hiking.

The Capilene Cool Lightweight fabric is 100% recycled polyester. The fabric has been treated with Patagonia’s Polygiene coating that aims to prevent funky odours. The Polygiene coating is intended to be permanent and should not fade after repeated washing. It is also intended to have an environmentally friendly footprint. The anti-odour properties make this — arguably — a better shirt for multi-day backpacking trips than the Arc’teryx Motus Crew SS (which does not have any anti-odour treatment).

The Capilene Cool Lightweight is the lightest and thinnest of Patagonia’s Capilene Cool t-shirt range. The Capilene Cool Lightweight is made with a 2.3 oz/yd² fabric. That is much thinner than the 4.0 oz/yd² fabric used in their Capilene Cool Trail and Capilene Cool Daily t-shirts. Yet the Capilene Cool Lightweight sacrifices little in terms of durability — it is still easily durable enough for hiking and backpacking.

The fit is slim, but not too tight. A drop tail hem helps to prevent the t-shirt from riding up when you are carrying a backpack. The Patagonia Capilene Cool Lightweight is available in a range of colors. And with a UPF 50+ rating — it also has excellent sun protection properties.


BEST BUTTON-UP HIKING SHIRTS


MATERIALS: 100% polyester

STYLE: Button-up

UPF RATING: 40

ODOUR RESISTANT: Yes

CLAIMED WEIGHT: 8.0 oz / 226 grams

PROS: Soft fabric, Vents at the back, Sleeve roll-up tabs

CONS: Durability isn’t amazing

BEST FOR: Those who want a super comfortable long sleeve

MRRP: $$

The Columbia Silver Ridge Lite LS is a super comfortable and lightweight button-up hiking shirt.

It is the “Lite” version of Columbia’s popular Silver Ridge Long Sleeve Shirt. The “Lite” version uses a thinner and softer polyester fabric compared with the nylon found on the classic Columbia Silver Ridge. Both models have rear shoulder vents to provide ventilation. These obviously do not work that well when you have a backpack on, but they do help with airflow whenever your backpack is removed.

The Columbia Silver Ridge Lite is treated with an anti-microbial to improve odour-resistance. It also has all the features you want in a button-up shirt, including a collar with good coverage, two front pockets, and tabs to secure your sleeves when they are rolled up.

The Silver Ridge Lite has a UPF rating of 40. This should provide sufficient sun protection for most hikers in most environments. The shirt uses Columbia’s Omni-Shade technology, which consists of small titanium dioxide “dots” spread out across the fabric. These dots reflect the sun’s harmful UV rays, but are spread far enough apart so that they do not affect breathability.

The Columbia Silver Ridge Lite is already pretty lightweight for a button-up long sleeve hiking shirt. But if you want to shave off even more ounces, then consider the Columbia Featherweight Hike Shirt. It is made from an ultralight nylon fabric, has only one chest pocket, and doesn’t include the rear shoulder vents.


MATERIALS: 73% nylon, 27% polyester

STYLE: Button-up

UPF RATING: 30

ODOUR RESISTANT: No

CLAIMED WEIGHT: 8.2 oz / 233 grams

PROS: Awesome sun protection collar, Zippered chest pocket, Sleeve roll-up tabs, Bluesign approved fabric

CONS: Not a great fit for wider guys

BEST FOR: Those who like lots of venting, Those who want a collar with good sun protection

MRRP: $$$

The ExOfficio Air Strip LS Shirt is the hiking shirt for those who love venting!

The shirt has a large mesh panel across the back and two mesh side panels under the arms. These allow venting at the rear (when you aren’t wearing a backpack) and under your arms as you walk. There is a velcro tab on the rear of the shirt that allows you to secure the back vent in an “open” position to maximise venting — but obviously this isn’t particularly useful when you are wearing a backpack!

Each of the main chest pockets are secured with a velcro closure. However the right chest pocket has a “hidden” zippered pocket behind it. This is convenient if you have valuables or smaller items and you want store them with the added security of a zipper.

Above the left chest pocket there is also a small utility loop (also secured with velcro). It was originally designed for securing a fishing rod while tying on a fly, but it is particularly useful for carrying things like sunglasses when they aren’t in use.

But the best part about the ExOfficio Air Strip LS Shirt is the collar. It has a third flap that is tucked away and hidden when the collar is folded down. But when the collar is unfolded the additional flap provides a significant amount of additional coverage and sun protection for your neck. This collar, coupled with the significant amount of venting, makes this long sleeved shirt a particularly good choice if you are hiking in the desert or other environments that do not provide decent protection from the hot sun.


MATERIALS: 52% nylon, 48% polyester

STYLE: Button-up

UPF RATING: 30

ODOUR RESISTANT: No

CLAIMED WEIGHT: 7.0 oz / 198 grams

PROS: Lightweight for a button-up, Sleeve roll-up tabs, Zippered chest pockets, Bluesign approved fabric

CONS: Slightly flimsy collar

BEST FOR: Those who like a slightly stretchy fabric

MRRP: $$$

The Patagonia Sun Stretch LS Shirt is another uber-comfortable synthetic button-up shirt. It is lightweight, moisture wicking and quick drying — and therefore perfect for hiking.

As you would expect from Patagonia, this shirt is ethically manufactured. In particular, the fabric used in this shirt is bluesign approved, meaning it has come through an environmentally and socially responsible supply chain.

The lightweight fabric is highly breathable. Although there are no armpit or rear vents on this shirt, the two vertical zippered pockets are mesh on the inside and can therefore act as small vents when unzipped. There are sleeve roll-up tabs that allow the shirt sleeves to be secured when rolled up. The fit of this shirt is relatively roomy since the cut is a bit wider and more boxy, rather than slim and lean. So it is potentially better for those with wider shoulders or who prefer a looser fit.

One small downside is that the collar is quite flimsy. So it doesn’t do a very good job at staying upright when unrolled to protect your neck from the sun. But this is only a minor issue.

The best part about the Patagonia Sun Stretch LS Shirt is that the material looks so good. You can almost get away with this shirt in the pub or restaurant as easily as you can out on the trail.


MATERIALS: 100% nylon

STYLE: Button-up

UPF RATING: 30

ODOUR RESISTANT: No

CLAIMED WEIGHT: 8.2 oz / 233 grams

PROS: Bug protection, Zippered chest pocket, Sleeve roll-up tabs, Bluesign approved fabric

BEST FOR: Those who want bug protection

MRRP: $$$

The ExOfficio BugsAway Halo Check LS Shirt is a 100% nylon long sleeve shirt that has been pre-treated to deter insects such as ticks, midges, mosquitoes, flies, and more.

The Halo is part of the ExOfficio’s “BugsAway” range of clothing. These garments are pre-treated with permethrin, an odourless insect repellent that has been approved as safe for use in clothing.

Although it is in fact possible to treat your clothing at home with permethrin, ExOfficio saves you that hassle by selling these clothes pre-treated. ExOfficio’s permethrin treatment lasts a lot longer than home treatment, however it is not permanent. ExOfficio claim that it should last up to 70 washes. So if you want to retain the insect repellent properties longer term, then after a while you will have to occasionally re-apply permethrin to your garments.

The Halo includes many of the features found on other ExOfficio shirts (including the ExOfficio Air Strip LS Shirt — also included in our review but not treated with permethrin). These features include two chest pockets with velcro closures, one hidden pocket behind the right chest pocket with a zip for extra security, sleeve roll-up tabs, and an epic collar with an hidden flap for added sun protection (see our review of the ExOfficio Air Strip LS Shirt above for more details on these features).

One important difference is that the Halo uses snap closures instead of buttons to secure the front of the shirt and the wrists. This might be preferable for two reasons. First, snap closures are less likely than buttons to tear off. Second, the shirt can be a bit faster to take off. But whether snaps are a strength or a weakness really comes down to your personal preference.


TYPES OF HIKING SHIRTS

T-SHIRTS

T-shirts are awesome for warm sunny days! Like the weather on this day hiking near Cape Otway, Australia.

They are lightweight, comfortable, and perform well in hot weather. And if the weather gets cold you can simply layer additional clothing on top easily.

They are made from both merino wool and synthetics.

The downside of a t-shirt is that it provides little protection from the sun or biting insects.

BUTTON-UP SHIRTS

These are generally made from lightweight synthetic materials and usually provide quite a lot of ventilation.

Most button-up hiking shirts have a collar and long sleeves (but some short sleeve options are also available). A collar and long sleeves provides better protection from the sun and insects compared with a t-shirt.

Some have mesh flaps for added ventilation and most have chest pockets for carrying small items.

ZIP-UP BASELAYERS

I’ll often layer a lightweight merino t-shirt with a slightly heavier 250-weight Merino 1/4 Zip.

These have a quarter-zip or half-zip at the neck line to allow venting. When zipped up they often have a collar that helps with sun protection or trapping in warmth.

Most have long sleeves but some short sleeve options are available. They can be made from either merino wool or synthetics.

It is possible to use these as your baselayer (i.e. hiking shirt, but it is more common to use one as an insulating midlayer (i.e. wear it over your hiking shirt and under your fleece or down jacket). For example, I generally use a Smartwool Merino 250 Quarter-Zip Top to layer over my Smartwool Merino 150 T-shirt.

LONG SLEEVE BASELAYERS

I’ll sometimes carry a long sleeve baselayer for sleeping or for additional warmth in really cold conditions.

These have long sleeves and a crew neck. The crew neck does not allow venting. This makes these types of baselayers more suitable for cold weather where you won’t require the ventilation offered by a t-shirt or shirt.

Nonetheless, some long sleeve baselayers can be made from highly breathable synthetics which makes them a possible alternative to a t-shirt since they provide additional sun protection for the arms.

They are generally lighter than a zip-up baselayer because they don’t include the zipper or extended collar, but they provide less versatility.


FABRICS FOR HIKING SHIRTS

The most common fabrics used for hiking shirts are merino wool, polyester, and nylon.

MERINO WOOL

The glorious merino sheep!

Merino wool is a natural fibre, obtained courtesy of the merino sheep. Merino wool has amazing properties that make it perfect for use in hiking clothing.

It is moisture wicking, quick drying, naturally odour resistant, and soft to the touch. In fact, because merino wool is so soft, it is not itchy like regular wool.

The downside of merino wool is that it is expensive and not quite as durable as synthetic fibres.

  • Cons of merino wool:

    • Expensive

    • Not as durable

  • Pros of merino wool:

    • Moisture wicking

    • Quick drying

    • Naturally odour resistant

POLYESTER

Polyester is a man-made synthetic fibre that is moisture wicking and quick drying. It is not as soft as merino wool, however it is much cheaper to produce.

Polyester is commonly used in hiking t-shirts and next-to-skin baselayers because of its moisture wicking properties. It is sometimes blended with nylon to add strength, since nylon fibres are much stronger than polyester ones.

One downside of polyester is that it isn’t naturally odour resistant. It also absorbs oils (including body oils!) but not water, which means that washing it doesn’t always remove the stink. Some manufacturers will treat polyester hiking shirts with an anti-microbial to try and improve odour resistance.

  • Cons of polyester:

    • Not odour resistant

    • Not as soft as merino wool

  • Pros of polyester:

    • Moisture wicking

    • Quick drying

    • Cheap

NYLON

Nylon is a manmade synthetic fibre that is very strong and resistant to abrasions. It is reasonably good at wicking moisture since it absorbs very little water (3-4%), but not quite as good as polyester. Nylon can also feel cold when wet and doesn’t dry as fast as polyester. For these reasons nylon is less desirable for next-to-skin clothing than polyester.

But because of its strength, nylon is commonly woven together with merino wool or polyester. It can also be woven in such a way that it has wind and bug resistance properties. Some button-up hiking shirts therefore use nylon in high quantities (sometimes even 100% nylon).

Although nylon isn’t naturally odour resistant, it isn’t as bad as polyester at retaining odours.

  • Cons of polyester:

    • Not odour resistant (but better than polyester)

    • Feels cold when wet

  • Pros of nylon:

    • Durable and strong

    • Moisture wicking

    • Wind resistance

Whether you opt for merino wool or synthetics will depend on: your budget, your demands for durability, and your personal preferences. In some cases manufacturers will use a blend, e.g. merino wool wrapped around a nylon core. This can offer the best of both worlds… merino wool against the skin but the added durability of synthetics.

Note: If you are interested in reading more about merino wool and synthetics, then check out our detailed article on the topic.


ADDITIONAL CONSIDERATIONS FOR HIKING SHIRTS

SEAM CONSTRUCTION

A “flatlock” seam is sewn so that the two pieces of fabric coming together are not overlaid. This means that there isn’t additional fabric protruding on the underside of the garment.

Example of a flatlock seam on a Rab hiking shirt.

If seams aren’t flatlock sewn, then the additional fabric can create a rubbing point against your skin. This can lead to chaffing or blisters.

The best hiking shirts are sewn with flatlock seams. They are especially important around the shoulder and hips where you backpack straps and waistbelt will create additional pressure.

Some manufacturers also use “forward sewn” seams on the shoulders. These move the the seam away from the top of the shoulder, i.e. away from where your backpack straps create the most pressure.

ODOUR RESISTANCE

Odour resistance is a useful property, especially if you plan to do multi-day backpacking trips. Merino wool is naturally odour-resistant, so if you opt for a merino hiking shirt then that will be an added benefit.

Unfortunately synthetics don’t offer the same natural odour resistance. Some manufacturers treat synthetic fibers with an antimicrobial coating to increase odour-resistance, so that is something you may want to look out for. However antimicrobial treatments don’t always live up to their promises and they will fade after repeated washing anyway.

BUG RESISTANCE

Depending on where you are going to be hiking, the bug resistance of your hiking shirt might be important to consider. If you require bug resistance then look for a shirt with long sleeves.

Woven fabrics are also more effective at keeping bugs out than knitted fabrics. But woven fabrics are less breathable and less flexible, so there is a trade off to consider.

Sometimes it’s just your eyes, mouth and nose that the bugs are after!

In addition to choosing fabrics that keep bugs out, you can consider chemical treatments. Some manufacturers pre-treat their clothing with permethrin — an odourless insect repellent approved safe for use.

The most notable ranges of permethrin treated clothing are ExOfficio’s BugsAway range (see our review of the Halo shirt above) and Columbia’s Insect Blocker range.

Permethrin doesn’t last forever though — it washes out over time. Most manufactures claim that their treatments last through 50+ washes.

However you can actually treat your clothing at home with permethrin. This includes re-applying permethrin to garments that were previously treated by the manufacturer, as well as just treating any item of clothing you may want to make bug resistant. But a home treatment of permethrin won’t last nearly as long as a treatment applied by the manufacturer. You can expect your home treatment to only last through five or so washes of the garment.

WASHING CARE

When it comes to washing, merino wool requires slightly more care than synthetics. But the amount of care required is sometimes overrated. In most instances, you can throw your merino wool clothing in the wash with your other clothes, just try to be sensible and be sure to avoid excessive heat. Ideally, wash them using cold or warm water, and usually with a medium spin, rather than trying to thrash them to shreds using a fast spin cycle.

Due to it’s odour-resistant properties, merino wool doesn’t need to be washed as often as synthetic either, so try to only wash your merino wool garments when they actually need it. It will prolong their lifetime.

You can even throw good quality merino wool in the dryer, if you really need to. Just be sure to keep the temperature on low! A hot dryer cycle will leave you with a shirt five sizes too small. Although, it is always better to air dry your garments if possible.

Both synthetic and merino wool dry pretty fast. So if you have a day to spare then it is likely possible to just dry them naturally. Although, avoid direct sunlight if it is very hot though and don’t hang garments if they are very wet (they might stretch!).

Having said all that, always follow the manufacturer’s care instructions shown on the label (sort of…).


MORE INFORMATION

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Happy hiking and take care out there in the wild!

 

A view of Mt Cook as seen from above Mueller Hut, Aoraki National PArk, New Zealand.