How to Choose the Best Shirts for Hiking Shirts (Advice for Men & Women)

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If you are like me, a hiking shirt is last on your list of pre-hike prep. What is wrong with just using the plain cotton tees you have lying around? Is a hiking shirt necessary? How much research should I put into this purchase?

The truth is there are tons of differences between a regular shirt and a hiking shirt. A hiking shirt should be considered your first line of defense against harmful sun rays, water, hypothermia, and hyperthermia.

This is accomplished through breathable materials that wick away moisture and feature UV protection. That is more than even the most expensive cotton shirt can achieve.

So what are the most important features to look for in a hiking shirt? How can UV protection be evaluated? What are the best materials to look for and what styles might be right for you? Luckily we are here to answer some of these questions and more so you can go shopping with confidence.  

Top 6 Best Hiking Shirts

PRODUCTDESCRIPTIOIN 
Best Hiking ShirtMen's Columbia Silver Ridge
-UPF 40 Sun Protection
-Two Chest Pockets
-Roll Up Sleeves
-Omni Wick moisture relief
-Front Button Down Closure
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Best Hiking ShirtMen's Mountain Hardwear Canyon Pro Shirt
-Snap Closure
-UPF 30 Sun Protection
-Quick Drying
-Wrinkle Resistant
-Short Sleeve
-Flat Chest Pockets
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Best Hiking ShirtMen's Smartwool NTS Mid 250
-Zipper Closure
-Merino Wool
-Wicks Away Sweat
-Odor Resistant
-Thermoregulation
-1/4 Zip
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Best Hiking ShirtWomen's Columbia Trail Summit
-Omni Heat Thermoreflective
-1/2 Zip
-Omni WIck
-4 Way comfort Stretch
-Thumb Holes
-Reflective Detailing
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Best Hiking ShirtWomen's Eddie Bauer Infinity Scoop Neck Tee
-Moisture Wicking
-UPF 15 Sun Protection
-Odor Control
-Quick Dry
-Wrinkle Resistant
-Zip Pocket
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Best Hiking ShirtWomen's ExOfficio Bugs Away
-UPF 50 Sun Protection
-Insect Repelling
-Odor Resistant
-Hidden Zipper Pocket
-Roll Up Sleeves
-Mesh Lined Back Yoke
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Quick Answer: Best Shirts for Hiking


Things to Consider When Choosing A Hiking Shirt


What Defines a Hiking Shirt?

Lina Stock hiking in Argentina - best hiking shirt

A hiking shirt’s primary purpose is to keep you cool and dry on the trail, while also standing up against the elements. This is achieved through the use of synthetic material nylon which is the same fabric you will find in things like your tent and backpack.

However, unlike the nylon used in other gear, this fabric has a silk-like quality.  It is soft to the touch and extremely breathable allowing a slight breeze to penetrate the fabric.

The best hiking shirts are also lightweight and have moisture-wicking properties that keep the sweat from pooling on the skin like you will see with cotton T-shirts. This is especially important in cooler climates where a cotton t-shirt could be an invitation to hypothermia.

Because of these attributes, hiking shirts will also keep you from chaffing, reduce the “fabric noise” seen in other materials, and decrease overall pack weight. Not to mention they don’t retain body odor like cotton tees, allowing you to stay somewhat fresh on your long-distance journeys.  

The Best Hiking Shirt Materials

David Stock hiking in Patagonia

When you are deciding on a hiking shirt you want to look for materials that have the following properties: moisture-wicking, insulating, water, and windproof, breathable, and sun protection.

In today’s hiking shirts there are a variety of fabrics that meet these conditions. Here are some of the materials that meet these qualifications and where their advantages and disadvantages lie.

Merino Wool

Gone are the days of itchy wool sweaters.  The wool fabrics, merino wool, in particular, have fine fibers that make them extremely soft and breathable.  This material is naturally moisture-wicking and quick to dry without retaining odors. The only downside to this material is you will be paying a lot for the quality.

Polyester

Polyester is one of the most popular fabrics used in hiking shirts for its excellent ability to wick away sweat and dry quickly.  It is generally light in weight and extremely breathable.

But, this synthetic does have a tendency to retain smells. This is why most polyester hiking shirts will also come with some form of antimicrobial treatment that helps to neutralize the bacteria that causes the stink.

Nylon

Nylon is second only to polyester as the most affordable and widely used fabric in hiking shirts. It has similar abilities for moisture-wicking and is generally more resistant to tears and punctures.

However, cheaper nylons will have a gritty feel to them which means less comfort and more fabric noise. This can be avoided by looking for higher quality nylons. Hiking shirts with Cordura nylon are ideal.

What is Fabric Noise?

David Stock hiking in Greenland

When choosing a hiking shirt not all materials are created equally.  Cheaper nylon will have a grainy feel to it and lead to fabric noise. This is the sound you hear from the friction of the material rubbing against itself.

This can not only be an annoyance to your ears but can also cause agitation to your skin. When choosing the best hiking shirt, it is best to spend a couple of extra bucks on a higher quality fabric to prevent this “noise”.

Sun Protection

Lina Stock hiking the Lavena Coastal Trail in Fiji

You may be surprised to learn that even if you are wearing a long sleeve base layer you may not be fully protected from UV radiation. For example, a basic white cotton t-shirt can let in more than 20% of UV-Radiation penetrate through. Not great if you are intending extended exposure.

Luckily, some hiking shirts have picked up the slack offering sun protective capabilities. You will see this displayed through a UV Protection Factor, or UPF rating, which indicates how many percentages of UV-rays penetrate through the respective fabric.

A good UPF rating would be a 50 which means the hiking shirt will protect against 98% of UV-radiation. However, a UPF30 rating is adequate enough to receive The Skin Cancer Foundation’s Seal of Recommendation.

Pullover or Button Down?

David Stock hiking through a march field in Greenland

Another characteristic to consider in a hiking shirt is the basic style difference of a button-down or pullover. Obviously, the choice between these two styles is based completely on personal preference but it is beneficial to understand what the differences between the two are.

Button-down hiking shirts generally give you a looser fit meaning more breathability.  They also have the advantage of being able to open up for direct exposure to a breeze on an extremely hot day and pockets for extra carrying space.

However, pull over hiking shirts are not without their advantages as well. Due to using less material, they tend to be lighter in weight and you don’t have the potential hassle of losing a button while hiking. Pullover hiking shirts also don’t come with a collar that can rub against your neck.

Do I Need Pockets?

Lina Stock hiking the Channels in SW Virginia
Hiking the Channels in SW Virginia

Pockets are an awesome accessory to any hiking shirt, especially if your hiking pants don’t have any. They can give you quick access to things like a map, your phone, extra camera batteries or even snacks.

While they do slightly add to the weight of your hiking shirt and aren’t as stylistically adequate for normal use outside of hiking, they can give you a little added convenience on the trail.


Best Hiking Shirts – Our Recommendations


Men’s Columbia Silver Ridge

How to choose the best hiking shirt

This long sleeve men’s shirt features some of Columbia’s most renowned technologies built for prevention and protection while outdoors.

The signature wicking fabric in combination with the mesh-lined vented back makes the shirt breathable; the unique fabric works to pull moisture away from the body so sweat can evaporate efficiently and quickly.

The fabric is also treated with antimicrobial elements to protect against bacterial growth. Sun protection is featured within the fabric as well, providing UPF 40 sun protection against harmful UVA and UVB rays; this technology in particular works hard to prevent sunburns and long-term sun damage. 

SPECS:

  • UPF 40 Sun Protection
  • Two Chest Pockets
  • Roll Up Sleeves
  • Omni Wick Moisture Relief
  • Front Button Down Closure

Check Men’s Columbia Silver Ridge price at Columbia.


Men’s Mountain Hardwear Canyon Pro Shirt

How to choose the best hiking shirt

This relaxed fit shirt is made for the great outdoors and whatever adventure you can throw at it. It is constructed from lightweight, quick-drying, wrinkle-free fabric with abrasion-resistant properties that make it one of the best hiking shirts out on the market. 

SPECS:

  • Snap Closure
  • UPF 30 Sun Protection
  • Quick Drying
  • Wrinkle-Resistant
  • Short Sleeve
  • Flat Chest Pockets

Check Men’s Mountain Hardwear Canyon Pro Shirt price at Amazon


Men’s Smartwool NTS Mid 250

How to choose the best hiking shirt

This stylish long sleeve hiking shirt gives you the maximum sun protection with a UPF 50+ rating along with excellent breath-ability. The front zipper allows for extra ventilation in hot weather or extra warmth through the raised collar in the cold.

It is made from 100% Merino Wool which is naturally moisture-wicking and odor resistant without being itchy. The flatlock seams prevent chaffing while providing excellent comfort and the stretchy fabric allows for a shapely fit.

Whether you are looking for a hiking shirt to use as a base layer or single layer the Smartwool NTS is a strong choice if you can fit it into your budget. 

SPECS:

  • Zipper Closure
  • Merino Wool
  • Wicks Away Sweat
  • Odor Resistant
  • Thermoregulation
  • 1/4 Zip

Check Men’s Smartwool NTS Mid 250 price at Amazon


Women’s Columbia Trail Summit

How to choose the best hiking shirt

The Women’s Columbia Trail Summit shirt is a must-have! It’s designed for those cool moments and is great for when you are just starting your hike off in the morning and for those cool moments in the late afternoon.

It supplies you with a warmth of a much thicker base layer from a thin fabric that isn’t overly hot for hiking or bulky. The Women’s Columbia Trail Summit shit will be your goto hiking shirt!

SPECS:

  • Omni Heat Thermoreflective
  • 1/2 Zip
  • Omni Wick
  • 4 Way comfort Stretch
  • Thumb Holes
  • Reflective Detailing

Check Women’s Columbia Trail Summit price at Amazon


Women’s Eddie Bauer Infinity Scoop Neck Tee

How to choose the best hiking shirt
With its moisture-wicking, sun protection, and odor control technologies along with gentle stretch, this polyester/spandex jersey-knit scoop-neck T-shirt is perfect for hiking and travel. Finished with tonal topstitching and an on-seam secure-zip pocket for keys or ID at the left hem.

SPECS:

  • Moisture Wicking
  • UPF 15 Sun Protection
  • Odor Control
  • Quick Dry
  • Wrinkle-Resistant
  • Zip Pocket

Check Women’s Eddie Bauer Infinity Scoop Neck Tee price at Amazon


Women’s ExOfficio Bugs Away

How to choose the best hiking shirt

Ready to explore hidden gems in a new city or tackle a new trail? The ExOfficio Women’s BugsAway Brisa Relaxed Fit Long-Sleeve Shirt is up for the ride.

Head outside with confidence—the insect-repelling BugsAway feature will protect you from bugs like mosquitoes, ticks, and fleas for up to 70 washes.

The UPF 50 rated fabric blocks the sun’s harmful rays. A hidden zipper pocket secures passports and other key travel items while the roll-up sleeve tabs and mesh-lined back yoke improve airflow so you’re more comfortable at every leg of your journey.

SPECS:

  • UPF 50 Sun Protection
  • Insect Repelling
  • Odor Resistant
  • Hidden Zipper Pocket
  • Roll Up Sleeves
  • Mesh Lined Back Yoke

Check Women’s ExOfficio Bugs Away price at Amazon


Divergent Travelers, Lina & David Stock, hiking in Patagonia

Not finding what you are looking for? Check out our favorite places to go shopping for travel gear.

  • Shop Columbia – The industry leader in outdoor apparel and products; You can find anything from great jackets, gloves, hats, shirts, and travel pants.
  • Shop REI – They offer some of the best outdoor gear around. We love REI since they have a year Love it or hate it no questions guarantee.
  • Shop Moosejaw – Has a huge selection of outdoor gear at killer prices.
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About Lina Stock

Lina is an award-winning photographer and writer that has been exploring the world since 2001. She has traveled to 100 countries on all 7 continents. Member: SATW, NATJA, ATTA, ITWA



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