water wicking t-shirts

one suggestion and one warning
I’ve got all sorts of wicking type shirts for hiking and paddling, from washable merino wool to polypropylene/nylon blends to neoprenes to various iterations of polyester, from $4 discount store specials to pretty pricey brand name stuff. My consistent “go to” shirt for warm weather outdoor activities for the last 8 years has been a style by L L Bean that ticks all the boxes better than any shirt I’ve owned.


Oddly, they only make them for women at the moment, though the cut is generous and gender-neutral enough that I think a lot of fairly trim medium to large guys could wear the black and grey one. The women’s L is 44" across the chest and the XL is 48". The design is a quarter front zip with long sleeves that can be easily pushed up out of the way if you want. The high collar protects agains sun on the neck and the fabric is SPF 40 rated and I can testify that it has protected me from burning even on all-day beach outings in the Caribbean and Florida, where I wear these shirts over a swimsuit for swimming and snorkelling. I got sun poisoning on the tops of both arms years ago in the Virgin Islands so these long sleeved SPF 40 shirts have prevented a recurrence.

The light thin poly knit has a sort of mesh texture on the inside that keeps the fabric from sticking to your skin and makes it transport sweat and dry out from soaking really well. The seams are flat and the stitching is soft so they don’t chafe at all, even under a PFD or backpack strap. There is a tiny secure zip pocket along the side hem that is a good place to stash a car key and ID when paddling. These wash like a dream – got my first one 9 years ago and have probably washed and machine dried it over a hundred times and it still looks like new.

I’m a cheapskate and have to admit it killed me at first to have to pay $40 for the first Bean shirt (they are now up to $50) but I have more than gotten my money’s worth and have not hesitated to buy two more over the years. They will probably outlive me. Another plus is that they look quite nice so I don’t feel like a scruff when I stop at a restaurant on the way home from paddling. They’re great for traveling – the first things I pack on any trip because they take very little room in the suitcase and you can wash them in the hotel sink and they will dry overnight and be ready to go again. They don’t hold odors or stains and even my oldest one has not faded at all. Have never found any shirts that are better for hot weather activities of any kind.

One warning about polypropylene (which is quite different from polyester) if you find wicking shirts made of it – it’s flammable and easily melts. The British Army discovered this to their dismay after issuing polypro undergarments to troops during the Falklands War – combatants in firefights ended up with the fabric melted to their flesh. I found this out myself 30 years ago when I wore Odlo wicking polypro longjohns (that I used for cross country skiing) to work as a construction electrician. I was standing inside a large power panel using a 4 1/2" hole saw overhead to drill conduit openings. I had rolled up the sleeves of my cotton workshirt exposing the polypro undershirt sleeves over my forearms. When the usual red-hot steel shavings from the hole saw fell onto that knit they instantly melted through and the hot plastic burned my skin underneath. Even a hot dryer can melt the stuff – a friend of mine had a dozen polypro liner sox that all melted into hard wads of white plastic when he ran them through a cycle in a laundromat dryer set on “high”. So if you get anything polypro, don’t wear it if you’re going to be around fire, sparks, stove tops or hot metal shards. Polypro is also notorious for retaining rank body odor, even after washing.

The pretend aleutians will scold you for not wearing sealskin.

Some geographical areas such as high
elevations can have a very wide range of temperatures in a short period of time. So can certain areas next to mountain ranges or in desert or even savannah type prairies.

In the spring time here, especially, it can be very deceiving, because the day may start out mild, progress to what many would consider stunning levels of heat by afternoon, 99ºF+ in the shade, then a thunderstorm system with pop up cells can move thru very quickly and drop temperatures 20ºF- 30ºF in a few minutes, and dump a lot of cold rain and hail, plus the windchill.

Not unusual here to have to deal with a 50º degree temperature swing in 12 hours, if you go anywhere. Even at home we’ve already seen days over a 100 and nights still going down to 48ºF before dawn - how the heck do you dress for that with just one outfit?

Then, it is typical, but not guaranteed, that the air temperatures may drop dramatically at sunset, all year. (One of the most fascinating things is to be traveling on foot or on a conveyance such as a bike or animal or open vehicle, and feel the dramatic differences in temperature just from going 50 yards up or down a small hill, at sunset, as the air flows change direction and the cooler current follows the downslopes and valleys. We also tend to get dramatic cooling breezes sometimes at night, off the Pacific Ocean blowing up into the Central Valley, then running into the wind coming downslopes from the Sierra.)

If you’re wearing cotton and it gets soaked through, and you’re thin, in great shape, and not with much body fat, the wind, after a period of time, can really chill you down to where, if you can’t keep moving nor keep your head warm enough, you’re going to get slow and sluggish and start to go hypothermic.

But if you’re in tech fabrics, and get rained on, you may still be able to generate enough heat vs. loss thru windchill, that you at least aren’t losing as much energy trying to keep your core and head warm enough to function.

There was a guy who got lost on a trail in the mountains last year while out with his running club, took a wrong turn while wearing just a running outfit, in the winter, and it snowed later, but he survived nicely overnight anyway, no doubt partially due to having good survival instincts, but the tech fabrics in the lightweight outfit (he was wearing shorts!!! and a very light windbreaker style jacket) no doubt kept him from suffering frostbite. Take a hat with you, those can be lifesavers, too. And wool socks or poly socks, not cotton, if you think your feet might have a chance of getting soaked.

already doomed
Probably already earned their scorn by slapping various colorful stickers on my SOF.

Champion C9
At Target.


Often on sale for $5 or so.

You can almost always find similar at TJ Maxx or Marshels.

dang it
I did the same myself this spring, to cover up some battle scars. It looks almost new again!

what is so neat about the west
is that when temps do get up there, it usually stays so much drier than here. Not that that’s a reason to use cotton. Frankly I don’t like cotton for any type of physical activity because of the weight alone, which any moisture just increases. But I was blown away at how much quicker things dry out. Freaking snow doesn’t even get that wet before it evaporates.

I agree wool is the better choice. They do have lightweight wool shirts and if you search you can find some at reasonable prices. Wool doesn’t smell like poly when you sweat. I have a couple I use when bike riding in the summer.