Saturday 31 July 2021

In Praise of Hiking Shirts

Paramo Katmai shirt. Pacific Northwest Trail, 2010

This summer I’ve been testing two t-shirts for The Great Outdoors (see reviews here and here). Now, both t-shirts are fine but using them reminded me why I don’t normally wear t-shirts in warm weather, but much prefer a long-sleeved shirt with front opening, pockets and a collar. 

This wasn’t always the case. Through the 1980s and 1990s I wore t-shirts or long-sleeved base layers on warm weather walks. On those trips I also used a waist pack to carry small items I wanted quick access to – hipbelt pockets on packs were in the future. I never found the latter as roomy, useful or accessible as a waist pack though but once I was carrying lighter loads and taking my pack on and off wasn’t a chore to be avoided I stopped bothering with a waist pack and carried the same items in pack pockets. 

On the Arizona Trail, 2000

Then, sometime in the 1990s, I tried a long-sleeved synthetic conventional shirt designed for general travel but that I thought might work for walking. It was a revelation. Big pockets, sun and insect protection, ventilation, versatility, comfort.. How had I ever worn anything else! Since then I’ve worn such shirts every summer and on every long walk. Until I tried this summer’s t-shirts I took hiking shirts for granted. But wearing a t-shirt I missed having all their features. 

Paramo Katmai shirt, Colorado Rockies, 2019     

I don’t often see anyone else wearing a hiking shirt, especially in the British hills, so to promote them I thought I’d post this article I wrote for The Great Outdoors in 2019. I’ve only included the shirts I recommended that are still available and I’ve updated the prices. Otherwise the feature is mostly unchanged. 

In the High Sierra, 2004

Hiking Shirts Review

In warm weather a hiking shirt is often cooler and more comfortable and versatile than a wicking base layer. Good hiking shirts (often called trekking or travel shirts) can provide protection against sunshine, biting insects and breezes. The best materials are woven nylon and polyester. Whilst they don’t transport moisture quite as well as wicking base layers these thin synthetic fabrics absorb very little water and dry fast. I find a loose fit gives good air flow and reduces dampness as well as being cool and comfortable. Short sleeves are airy and cool but useless against insects and hot sunshine so I prefer long sleeves, which I can roll up when I want cooler arms.

If the weather does turn stormy hiking shirts are also surprisingly effective worn under other layers, as I found on the GR5 Through the Alps in 2018 during cold, wet weather. You can wear a wicking base layer under a hiking shirt if necessary too. 

On the GR20, Corsica, 2005

While hiking shirts are ideal for hot weather walking abroad – as well as the GR5 in the Alps I’ve worn them on the Arizona Trail, the GR20 in Corsica, and the Pacific Northwest Trail, and in the High Sierra, Death Valley and for trekking in the Himalaya – I like them for British summers too. I wore one on my Scottish Watershed walk, which was more wet and windy than warm, and it performed well. I’ve also worn one on the TGO Challenge.

I find the best shirts are ones with large pockets. Much of the year I wear a windproof or waterproof jacket over a base layer and carry small items in the jacket pockets. Shirt pockets are great when it’s too warm for such a jacket. As hiking shirts are also somewhat wind resistant I find them good substitutes for a windshirt/base layer combination when it’s too hot for the latter.

Paramo Katmai shirt, Death Valley, 2016

Although often made from high-tech materials hiking shirts are not very technical garments and style is more a matter of personal preference than performance. I find loose-fitting shirts with big pockets closed with Velcro or studs – buttons can be fiddly – and long sleeves that roll up easily the most versatile.

Hiking shirts are quite light and can also be carried to wear in towns and when travelling. Many are made from crease resistant fabrics and can look surprisingly presentable after days in a rucksack. I find rolling the shirt rather than folding it is the way to minimise creasing. Because they dry so fast sweaty synthetic hiking shirts rinsed out in camp will usually be wearable the next morning.



Synthetics are lightweight, breathable, wind resistant, non-absorbent, fast drying and have high sun protection factors. Many are made from wicking fabrics and have anti-insect treatments too. Polyester/cotton is a little more absorbent and slower drying but very comfortable and still a good fabric. Cotton alone is ok on warm days but dries slowly and feels cold when damp.


Long sleeves are more versatile than short sleeves as they provide sun and insect protection when rolled down. Most long-sleeved shirts have tabs inside the upper arms to hold the sleeves in place when rolled up.


Chest pockets are useful for carrying items such as compass, phone, GPS, notebook, sunglasses, snacks and more. Zipped security pockets are useful for passport, tickets and money when travelling to and from the wilds.


Collars can be turned up for sun protection. Some shirts have extra flaps for this.


Many shirts have mesh vents covered by flaps in the upper back. These are ineffective when wearing a rucksack.


Shirts should be long enough not to pull out when tucked into trousers.




Paramo Katmai Light   210 grams (M) £75  *****   Best Buy

Katmai shirt on the TGO Challenge 2019

Likes:    silky fabric, roomy pockets, wide cuffs, quite light

Dislikes: nothing 
Fabric:              Parameta A polyester 
Front closure:    buttons 
Pockets:            2 Velcro-closed, 1 zipped security, 1 zipped map 
Cuffs:                Velcro 
Vents:               none 
Sizes:               men: S-XXL, women: XS-XL (Socorro Shirt – no Velcro pockets) 

This shirt has been my favourite for over a decade now and my first one has worn out after many long-distance walks. The latest version is exactly the same design and fabric as the original, the only difference being that it’s now available in a check pattern as well as a plain colour.

The Katmai Light is made from Paramo’s Parameta A polyester, a silky feeling fabric that draws perspiration away from the skin and spreads it over a large area to provide fast evaporation. In hot weather this helps to keep you cool. In cold weather it helps keep you warm by drying fast. The fabric is wind-resistant and has an SPF of 50+ and a dense weave that deters biting insects. The shirt is very comfortable to wear.

The design is excellent. The sleeves have wide Velcro-closed cuffs without the usual open slit so when closed biting insects are kept out. When the cuffs are open there’s good ventilation and the sleeves are easy to roll up. There are no tabs to keep them in place, but I haven’t found this a problem.

The pockets are the best on any shirt I’ve tried. There are two roomy bellows pockets on the chest easily big enough for GPS, smartphones, notebooks and more. Velcro tabs make these pockets easy to access compared with ones with buttons. There’s a zipped security pocket inside one of them. There’s also a big map-size pocket with a vertical jetted zip that’s almost invisible.

The hem is straight cut, and the shirt is long enough to stay in trousers when tucked in. The weight and packed bulk are low. The fabric resists creasing extremely well even when screwed up in a rucksack for several days.

I can’t fault this shirt. Studs rather than buttons on the front might be an improvement but I haven’t found the buttons awkward.


Alpkit Woodsmoke Mountain           380 grams (L)             £65   ****   Recommended 


Likes:              warmth, stud fastenings, cost 
Dislikes:          not that light
Fabric:             95% Thermo-Tech polyester/5% spandex 
Front closure:   studs 
Pockets:          2 stud-fastened chest 
Cuffs:              studs 
Vents:              none 
Sizes:              men S-XXL, women 8-16 

The Woodsmoke is different to the other shirts reviewed as it’s designed as a mid-layer and it’s quite warm. Rather than one for coolness on sunny days it’s an excellent lightweight alternative to a microfleece. In the heat it’s still reasonably cool, though not as much as thinner shirts, partly because the fabric isn’t very wind resistant.

The shirt is made from Thermo-Tech, which is a polyester with hollow fibres that trap air for warmth. The fabric is thicker than other shirt fabrics and quite stretchy, so it doesn’t restrict movement. The fabric is brushed and very soft, feeling very comfortable against the skin. It wicks moisture away too and dries fast. A Polygiene treatment stops it from stinking.

The design is good. All the fastenings are studs rather than buttons, which makes opening and closing them very easy. The pockets are quite roomy though they won’t close over a large smartphone.

The cost is quite low, the weight on the high side. I think it should be compared to microfleece tops rather than thin shirts, however. For year-round wear it’s a good choice.


Haglofs Salo LS                                    210 grams (L)       £70     **** Recommended


Likes:                            stud fastened roomy pockets, bluesign approved fabric, quite light 
Dislikes:                        costs slightly more than alternatives 
Fabric:                           Climatic 93% polyamide/7% elastane 
Front closure:                 buttons 
Pockets:                        2 stud-fastened chest 
Cuffs:                             buttons 
Vents:                            mesh liner across back, holes under arms 
Sizes:                            men S-XXL 

Haglofs’ Salo shirt has big roomy pockets that swallow smartphones and GPS units. They’re stud-fastened and so easy to use. I really like them. The bluesign approved fabric has a silky feel and is treated with a PFC-free wicking treatment. On warm days I’ve found it comfortable. There are tiny ventilation holes under the arms. I don’t think these make any significant difference. Work hard and I still get sweaty armpits. The fabric does dry quickly, which I think is more important. There’s a long vent in the back with a mesh panel under it. This is flattened by a rucksack so only of any use – and that’s not much – when you’re not carrying one. There are inner straps for keeping the sleeves in place when you roll them up. The fabric is quite stretchy, so the shirt moves easily with you.

The Salo shirt is quite light but a little more expensive than some alternatives. However, it does have some of the best pockets.


Columbia Silver Ridge II                240 grams (L)             £60      ****   Recommended


Likes:                             Velcro-closed pockets, cost 
Dislikes:                         pockets could be a little bigger
Fabric:                           nylon 
Front closure:                 buttons 
Pockets:                        2 Velcro-closed chest 
Cuffs:                             buttons 
Vents:                            mesh liner across upper back 
Sizes:                            men XS-XXL

The Silver Ridge is a shirt that’s hard to fault and which has a lower price than similar ones, making it excellent value for money. The fabric is quite thin and surprisingly wind resistant. It feels pleasant next to the skin. It has a UPF 50 sun protection rating and Columbia’s Omni-Wick treatment for good breathability. When damp it dries quickly.

There are two chest pockets. They close with Velcro patches rather than fiddly buttons and so are easy to use. They’re quite roomy. My smartphone will just fit inside with the flap closed. A little more room would be nice, but they are more useful than the pockets on many shirts.

There are sleeve tabs for keeping them in place when rolled up. The back has vents at the sides rather than across it, with a mesh panel inside. This is more effective than a vent completely covered by a rucksack though it still doesn’t make much difference. The collar has an extra flap inside so it can be turned up higher for extra sun protection.


Kathmandu buzzGUARD Kangsar               190 grams (M)                 £70    ****  Recommended


Likes:                            lightweight, Velcro-closed pockets, insect repellent 
Dislikes:                         nothing
Fabric:                           nylon 
Front closure:                 buttons 
Pockets:                        2 Velcro-closed chest 
Cuffs:                             buttons 
Vents:                            mesh liner across upper back 
Sizes:                            men S-XXL 

One of the lightest shirts tested the Kangsar is also one of the only two with an insect repellent treatment. The fabric has a wicking treatment too. It’s quite thin and comfortable to wear. In warm weather it does let moisture through quickly and dries fast when damp.

The design is good. The pockets are big enough for a smartphone and close with Velcro tabs. There’s only one tab per pocket though, which isn’t quite as secure as the double tabs found on other shirts. There’s an extra flap inside the collar so it can be turned up high for good sun protection. There are big vents either side of the upper back, with a mesh panel inside. These do let some damp air out as they aren’t completely blocked by a rucksack. Tabs in the sleeves keep these in place when rolled up.

The Kangsar is pleasant to wear and does everything I require from a hiking shirt.




  1. Great piece and I love them myself for warmer weather.

  2. I totally agree with you there Chris. In 35 years I have only worn a t shirt once (GR5), much preferring the versatility of a long sleeved shirt. My favourite for many years (Mountain Hardwear Canyon) is very difficult to find now.

    1. The Canyon was one of my favourites but hasn't been available for years as far as I know. I have an old rather sorry stained one!

  3. Interesting! Never been remotely tempted by a proper "hiking shirt" (have tended to go for polo shirts in warmer weather) but saw the short sleeve version of the Columbia in TK Maxx for £15 and couldn't resist. Of course the temperature has since plummeted and it's been raining solidly ever since so not used it yet...

  4. I bought a cheap Regatta shirt last year. It's not perfect (a couple of iffy seams rub) but it's been great, and I've reached for it regularly in the hills this last year.