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Published Oct. 13, 2021

The best hiking shirts are comfortable, lightweight, breathable, and don’t hold moisture. You want something that you can wear for days at a time, is easy to layer, and is versatile enough to get you through the varying hiking seasons. 

There are a wide variety of hiking shirts, and many of them have specific qualities that help them stand apart from the rest. 

Almost any shirt can be worn for hiking, just as you can likely wear any shirt to go to the gym or out for a run. That doesn’t mean that they’ll all perform the same. The best hiking shirts are designed to be used during demanding activities like backpacking, mountaineering, and other outdoor activities. 

While we will highlight some of the best hiking shirts of 2021, we’ll also break down what to look for in a hiking shirt and how to choose the best shirt for you and your needs.

Things to Consider Before Buying a Hiking Shirt

With so many shirts to choose from, how can you pick the best hiking shirt for you? 

Use these five primary considerations to help guide your buying decisions.

Style

Like any shirt, hiking shirts come in a few different styles. The most common hiking shirt styles include: 

  • Short sleeve or base layer 
  • Long sleeve
  • Button up

Other features are possible within each of those styles, like UV protection or additional venting for breathability. The climate, type of hiking, and personal preference will all impact the style you choose.

Material

The materials used to make the shirt fabric will impact the wearer’s experience. The most common hiking shirt materials include: 

  • Polyester 
  • Merino wool
  • Material blends

There is not a wide variety of plant-based hiking shirt materials available right now. Some, like Tencel, can match the performance level of synthetics, but they’re not widely used in outdoor textiles yet. 

Synthetic fibers tend to be the most common material used for hiking shirts because of their durability and moisture resistance. Merino wool is a high-quality, natural fiber that is also antimicrobial. 

Blends of materials are often synthetic based but can sometimes include cotton or hemp. Blends that include materials like nylon or spandex will be more form-fitting and flexible than polyester. Just keep in mind that all synthetics will struggle with breathability to an extent and will not have as much odor control as a natural antimicrobial material.

Durability

How the shirt is made and what the shirt is made from will impact the durability. When you’re looking for the best hiking shirts, you need one that is strong and durable enough to hold up to active use and outdoor elements. The fabric feel can give you some insights into durability, but that is not always a concrete way to tell how durable a product is. Look at verified customer reviews, the company repair policy, and the materials used to make the shirt. Since you are wearing this shirt for outdoor and active use, it should also be a shirt that is durable enough to be washed regularly without losing integrity.

Comfort

If you are using a shirt for backpacking or even a day trek, you’re going to be carrying a hiking backpack. Hiking is a demanding physical activity, and you want to be as comfortable as possible while you do it. 

First, the material the shirt is made from will help with comfort. You want a fabric that doesn’t hold onto moisture. That’s why cotton is not recommended for hiking. It absorbs moisture and takes a long time to dry. The shirt’s flexibility and fit also contribute to comfort. How the seams are sewn together and where the seams land is also important to evaluate, especially for backpacking. Look where the pack will be sitting in relation to the shirt’s seams and avoid shirts that will rub or dig into your skin. Shirts with a flatlock seam are ideal since they do not overlap, so there is no bump or change in fabric width in the seam area. This prevents chafing. 

The fit of the shirt is mostly a personal preference. If you have a fitted shirt, it works well as a base layer and will move with your body. Then, a looser shirt is great for ventilation.

Protection

The final consideration when choosing the best hiking shirt for you is the level of protection you need. Do you need a shirt that includes UV protection? Do you want a long-sleeved shirt that’s light but will still protect you from bugs? What is the weather like? Do you need to bring multiple layers? The level of protection you need depends a lot on where and when you are hiking.

Best Hiking Shirt: Burgeon Outdoor Flume Base Layer

Burgeon Outdoor Flume Base Layer Burgeon Outdoor

Key Features

  • Fabric Materials: 91% Tencel, 9% Lycra 
  • Style: Long sleeve
  • Antimicrobial: Yes

Why It Made The Cut

The Flume Base Layer is our pick for the best hiking shirt overall due to its use of natural fibers without compromising durability or performance. It is naturally wicking, odor resistant, thermoregulating, and crazy comfortable. 

Pros

  • Comfort: Made with a flatlock stitch and four-way stretch for optimal movement and no chafing 
  • Odor Resistant: Natural materials that do not hold onto moisture or odors
  • Versatility: Great for hiking in any season
  • Design: Available in multiple designs for men and women 

Cons 

  • Care: Lay flat or hang to dry

Burgeon Outdoor products are made in-house in their Lincoln, NH location, and they use a holistic sustainability approach. What that means is that they invest in their community, products, and the environment. 

While their products are top of the line in quality and functionality in the mountains, their Flume Base Layer stands out. It is made from natural Tencel fibers that are soft and breathable. Although it is a long-sleeved shirt, it is the perfect first layer during Spring, Summer, and Fall. 

The naturally wicking material ensures that even on extended treks, your shirt is odor-free, and you stay dry as you hike. Beyond the material itself, the design is perfectly functional for physical activities like hiking and trail running. ​​The back of the shirt is slightly extended to prevent the shirt from riding up, and the thumb loops improve hand coverage. 

There are no worries about chafing with the flatlock stitch, and the flexibility of the fabric allows for freedom of movement and an ideal fit. There are two designs, a crewneck, and a ¼ zip, that come in both men’s and women’s sizes. 

The Burgeon Outdoor Flume Base Layer is the best hiking shirt for all seasons, and it will quickly become your favorite outdoor shirt. Burgeon also offers lifetime repairs.

Best Long Sleeve Hiking Shirt: Patagonia Long-Sleeved Capilene

Patagonia Long-Sleeved Capilene

Key Features

  • Fabric Materials: 50-100% Recycled Polyester 
  • Style: Long sleeve
  • Antimicrobial: Yes

Why It Made The Cut

The Patagonia long sleeved Capilene shirt is a lightweight and durable hiking shirt while also being affordable. You get the benefits of a synthetic polyester fabric while using recycled materials. 

Pros

  • Sun protection: UPF rating of 50
  • Versatility: Good for use on the trail and on water
  • Comfort: Stretch, breathability, and odor control

Cons 

  • Sizing: No slim fit offering

The Capilene design is one of Patagonia’s most versatile of their technical shirts. While their shirt does have an excellent UPF rating, there was a voluntary recall of this specific shirt in 2021 due to a labeling mistake. However, the shirt itself still performs at UPF 50. 

It is a quick-drying material that, in the 2021 season, was made from 64% recycled polyester. In other seasons it is made from anywhere from 50-100% recycled materials. The stretch of the shirt and the seam design makes for comfortable use while you’re hiking with or without a pack. 

The shirt material utilizes HeiQ® Pure odor control and antimicrobial fabrics to prevent the shirt from holding onto odors. This specific shirt design is made for men and has a relatively loose fit.

Best Hiking Shirt for Men: Smartwool Merino 150 T-Shirt

Smartwool Merino 150 T-Shirt Smartwool

Key Features

  • Fabric Materials: 87% Merino Wool, 13% Nylon 
  • Style: T-Shirt (crew neck)
  • Antimicrobial: yes

Why It Made the Cut

Smartwool Merino wool shirts are an amazingly versatile fabric, especially as the first layer of your hiking wardrobe. It is comfortable to wear during warm months and a durable natural fiber. 

Pros

  • Comfort: Intentional design to prevent chafing 
  • Lightweight: Breathable and easy to layer
  • Durability: Blend of merino wool and nylon 

Cons 

  • Protection: UPF 20 and short sleeves 

Smartwool makes some of the best hiking shirts and baselayer options you will find on the market, and the Merino 150 T-Shirt is one of those. The blend of merino wool and nylon helps it have a higher durability than wool does alone, but it is still lightweight and comfortable to wear against your skin. 

Like most of the hiking shirts on our list, the Smartwool Merino 150 utilizes the flatlock stitch to enhance comfort for the wearer, especially when wearing a backpack. It is a shirt that is light enough and dries fast enough that it can be used either as your only shirt on hot days or as the base layer on colder ones. 

They also make a Merino 150 T-Shirt for women, but we chose it as the best hiking shirt for men because of the sizing and overall fit. If you’re someone that loves Merino products but wants a shirt that will last longer and is more durable, then the Smartwool 150 is a great option. 

Best Hiking Shirt for Women: Fjallraven Bergtagen Thinwool LS W

Fjallraven Bergtagen Thinwool LS W

Fjallraven Bergtagen Thinwool LS W Fjallraven

Key Features

  • Fabric Materials: 100% merino wool
  • Style: Long sleeve
  • Antimicrobial: Yes

Why It Made the Cut

We chose the Fjallraven Bergtagen Thinwool shirt as the best hiking shirt for women because of the durable and soft design that is designed to fit women’s bodies. It is warming when it is cold and it is cooling when it is hot. It’s the perfect combo in a hiking shirt. 

Pros

  • Channels Moisture: Insulates when wet and dries quickly
  • Versatile: Great as a base layer for all seasons
  • Active Fit: Freedom of movement

Cons 

  • Colors: Only two color options 

The Fjallraven Bergtagen Thinwool LS W hiking shirt is ideal for hikers who delve into several mountain sports. From mountaineering, backpacking, and skiing, this shirt does it all. It is a lightweight material for summer days, especially since it is 100% wool which naturally cools and channels moisture away from the skin. That way, you won’t get too hot while wearing a long sleeve, but you’ll have the sleeves’ added sun and bug protection. 

It is also ideal for cold-weather layering as it does a great job of regulating body temperature and can still insulate when it is wet. The shirt’s versatility makes it a top choice for hiking shirts, especially when choosing from ones made from natural fibers. 

The Bergtagen Thinwool design uses a fine merino jersey knit that makes the shirt lightweight, comfortable against the skin, and flexible. The thin design makes it easier to layer and prevents the sleeves from bunching under a jacket or another long-sleeved shirt. 

Best Hiking Shirt for Backpacking: Vaude Rosemoor Longsleeve

Vaude Rosemoor Longsleeve vaude

Key Features

  • Fabric Materials: 100% FSC-certified wood fiber
  • Style: Long sleeve
  • Antimicrobial: Yes

Why It Made the Cut

Although all of the hiking shirts on the list can be used for backpacking, we chose the Vaude Rosemoor as our best backpacking shirt because of the versatile, universal use with natural temperature regulation and eco-friendly manufacturing. 

Pros

  • Eco-Friendly: Made with natural fibers in a closed loop production system
  • Universal: Fast drying, temperature regulation, and durable
  • Easy Care: Machine washable 
  • Comfort: Soft and flexible fabric 

Cons 

  • Availability: Unsure about shipping in the United States

Vaude is an outdoor clothing brand that is devoted to a sustainable production model. The Vaude Rosemoor Longsleeve shirt not only uses natural fibers, but they are a durable, high-quality, and resource-conserving fabric that won’t shed microplastics when washed (because there are no plastics in this shirt). 

The natural wood fibers feel as soft as silk on your skin, and the unique cellulose fibers are naturally moisture regulating and keep you cool and comfortable as you hike. It is a flexible and comfortable material that allows for complete freedom of movement and is loose-fitting enough to remain breathable. Plus, it will have no trouble drying out in your backpacking tent overnight.

Vaude makes top-quality products, and their Rosemoor long sleeve is one of the best and most universal shirts for backpacking. 

Methodology

After logging thousands of trail miles and spending countless nights outside, one thing that I’ve learned is that you need a reliable hiking shirt. The hiking shirt you choose needs to last you for days on the trail. Especially if you’re anything like me, and only bring one base layer when you backpack. 

As someone who gravitated towards synthetic materials, I’ve begun to learn that many natural materials work just as well, if not better than fabrics like polyester and nylon. Yes, synthetic materials have many amazing benefits, but they tend not to be as easy to keep odor-free, and they aren’t as eco-friendly. 

Some of the brands that popped up on the list may surprise you, but that’s because I went for the highest quality and most sustainable products on the market. The primary considerations I took into account included: 

  • Durability: How long will this shirt last? Does the company have a repair policy? Are the materials going to rip easily when hiking? 
  • Sustainability: Does the company use sustainable materials and production processes? Are they a company that I want to support with my money? Are they investing in practices that help us protect the wild spaces we enjoy?
  • Comfort: Does the shirt fit well? Is the material flexible? Will the fabric be enjoyable to wear? Is it breathable? Does it dry quickly? Will it channel moisture away from my skin? Does the shirt have a flatlock stitch? 
  • Versatility: Can I wear this shirt for several seasons? Is it easy to layer? Will it work in hot and cold weather? 

I also considered other factors, like ensuring a material is anti-microbial, odor-resistant, and level of protection (sleeves, UPF, etc.) when making my picks.

FAQs

Q: What is the best fabric for hiking?

Many sources will say that polyester or other synthetic fibers are the best for hiking. While these can work quite well, as long as the fabric you are wearing is breathable, temperature regulating, antimicrobial, and can channel moisture away from your skin, that is the best fabric choice.

Q: Why is cotton bad for hiking?

Cotton holds onto moisture and is incapable of insulating when wet, making it dangerous for certain climates because it takes a long time to dry.

Q: Are dri-fit shirts good for hiking?

Dri Fit shirts can be used while hiking and they can work well, especially in the hot summer months. They are moisture wicking which is important for a hiking shirt, and they are lightweight.

Final Thoughts

The best hiking shirt for you depends a lot on the climate you are hiking in, how often you plan to use it, and what level of comfort you are seeking. When you’re shopping for clothes specifically for outdoor recreation, durability, comfort, and protection should be a top priority. A part of that durability should also be how repairable the shirt is to ensure that you are getting the most out of the product you purchase.

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