Today’s travel and expedition shirt is not just a piece of tough material; it’s sunscreen, bug repellant, and a cooler for your core. It has moisture wicking properties, can be worn as naturally to dinner, the office, or on a steaming jungle trek. No travel kit is complete without one. This guide will help you find the best travel and expedition shirt for your needs.
UPF: Ultraviolet Protection Factor (UPF) is how fabrics are measured in their ability to block UV rays—a little different from SPF’s measurement of when skin reddens. In the US, UPF ratings are given by the American Society for Testing and Materials or the American Association of Textile Chemists and Colorists. Testing for this number is stringent and the number tracks similarly to SPF protection, but they are not the same. If anything, UPF is better since there’s no need to reapply. Darker colors block UV better than light.
Insect protection: The big word in insect protection is Permethrin. It’s a chemical used to treat shirts to repel bugs. Permethrin is used in all new British and US military garments and is making its way into outdoor apparel via a company called Insect Shield – a third party fabric treatment company that integrates the chemical safely into clothing. Don’t worry: your skin has a hard time absorbing Permethrin, making a safe additive to your clothes. Permethrin can bleed in the wash so it’s a good idea to wash treated clothes separately.
Fabric: Just like there are different shoes for different environments, there are different shirts.
Cotton: 100% cotton = not adventure ready. It’ll soak up sweat and water like a towel. Make sure your cotton shirts are blended with some kind of synthetic for wicking properties.
Synthetics: Polyester is the most common of synthetic for moisture wicking. The material dries quickly, doesn’t absorb smell, and is lightweight. Some companies offer “cooling” synthetics, or fibers that cool the skin when wet.
Merino Wool: Merino wool shirts are causing a stir in a market dominated by synthetics because of its softness and anti-stink (anti-microbial) properties as well as new technology that allows the fibers to reach unprecedented micron sizes. Merino wool is a great choice if you’re not going to be doing a lot of laundry on the trail. It dries a little slower, but keeps the skin warmer – important if you’re hiking in cool temps.
Design: Different designs appeal to different crowds. A shirt with many pockets is great for fly fishing after work. Not for running. A synthetic polo is perfect for both.
Baselayers/wicking Tees: Lightweight and comfortable, Baselayers/wicking tees are great for hiking and outside activity. The main purpose of these shirts is moisture management although they also offer sun protection and a bit of warmth.
Polos: Perfect for summer meetings and for runs, synthetic polos are becoming a regular staple of office wear. Many times polos have moisture-wicking design built right in.
Button-ups: Most outdoor-branded button-up shirts have UPF built into the design, making them great for travel. Many button up shirts offer convenient pockets on the chest for fly fisherman or hikers needing to store maps and other trinkets. And of course, these shirts are designed to look outdoorsy meaning your color selections will likely revolve around flannel.