Putting one foot in front of another on a well-trodden path during the long, balmy days of summer is one of life’s simple pleasures. You take in the fresh air and delights of nature, rucksack on your back and boots on your feet as you stride out… but how much thought do you give your T-shirt when hiking or walking?
If you usually grab the nearest cotton top in your drawer, it may be time for an upgrade, according to those in the know. “On any hike, your T-shirt is the one item that spends most time next to your skin, so it’s really important that it can wick away moisture,” says Wiggle outdoor buyer, Nancy Bailey. But that’s just the tip of the iceberg.
The latest hiking tops feature everything from recycled coffee to wood pulp, and sun-blocking UPF to cooling properties. It’s time to say goodbye to sweaty backs, pongy pits and rucksack rub and hello to an infinitely improved hiking experience…
Best hiking t-shirts
Icebreaker Cool-Lite Merino Amplify Short Sleeve Crewe T-shirt
Not normally a merino wool fan? Try this. The ‘130 featherweight’ fabric in this odour-resistant top is superlight, cooler and softer than pure merino wool. The secret? Cool-Lite: a blend of 50 per cent merino, 35 percent TENCEL and 15 per cent nylon. TENCEL is a brand name for lyocell, an environmentally sustainable fibre made from wood pulp (usually the fast-growing, low-maintenance eucalyptus), which can absorb 50 per cent more water than cotton. This impressive lightweight top also has mesh at the back and under the arms, underarm gussets for more freedom of movement, offset shoulder seams for less pack rub and a dropped back hem and would work well for layering year-round.
Verdict: Lightweight, breathable and excellent quality.
Berghaus 24/7 Short Sleeve Tech Baselayer
This one punches well above its weight for the lowly price tag. Made from Bluesign-approved polyester ARGENTIUM fabric that’s kinder to the planet, the simple-looking top is lightweight, quick-wicking and drying, odour-resistant (thanks to its silver-ion technology that gives permanent odour protection), breathable and stretchy. Close-fitting and a good length, with flat-locked seams for comfort with a pack, it comes in a wide range of sizes (men’s XS–XXXL or women’s 8–20) plus colours to suit every taste, from bright yellow to purple, and is a great choice for those on a budget.
Verdict: comfy and great value.
Best green option
Patagonia Capilene Cool Merino Shirt
Synthetic and merino wool both have their merits (synthetic is hard-wearing and can be stretchy; merino is less stinky) but a mix of the two can give you the best of both worlds. Ratios can vary, but this superlight (88g for the women’s) new design is a good balance, at 65 per cent Responsible Wool Standard (RWS) certified merino wool and 35 per cent Capilene, or recycled polyester. The sleeves are designed for better movement and fit and the back dips slightly on the women’s. It’s also Fair-Trade-certified sewn and one per cent of sales go to eco causes. This top would work well for layering throughout the year, too.
Verdict: Lightweight and Fair Trade.
Mammut Mountain T-Shirt
The relaxed fit, bold graphics and colours plus rolled-up sleeves (women’s version) means this looks great in the pub post hike, but it’s pretty technical too. It features drirelease fabric, which wicks moisture and dries four times faster than cotton. The 14 per cent cotton (that’s blended with 81 per cent polyester and 5 per cent stretchy Spandex) helps give it a more natural, cooler feel against the skin than some, though, while an antimicrobial treatment keeps whiffs at bay. All this combines to make this a useful sporty summer T. Mammut’s a member of the Fair Wear Foundation to protect those involved in their clothing’s production.
Verdict: Stylish and sporty too.
Helly Hansen LIFA Active Solen T-Shirt
Perfect for hot, sunny hikes, this lightweight crew neck features S.Café technology, which infuses recycled coffee grounds into the fibre to give permanent, chemical-free sun-protection of UPF 50+ (ultraviolet protection factor, giving you UVA and B protection), whether the top is wet or dry. The tiny pores on the coffee grounds also absorb odours and help the top dry ‘four times quicker than cotton’. Meanwhile, the durable, double-layered LIFA Active fabric wicks moisture really speedily, so this top does dry impressively quickly, helping avoid pack rub. Long-sleeved versions are also available, giving you the option to use less sunscreen.
Verdict: sun-safe and durable.
Montane Dart Zip T-Shirt
Have you considered a slight collar for a little more sun protection, and a quarter zip to add ventilation and help cool you down when necessary? The supersoft knitted fabric on this one is 100 per cent recycled APEX ECO polyester, which wicks and dries quickly and includes Polygiene permanent odour control, allowing you to reduce your pack weight by taking fewer tops on multi-day trips. You’ll get UPF 40+, flat-locked seams and a fairly relaxed fit too. This smart-looking T also doubles up nicely as a cycling top and is a good-value choice.
Verdict: Smart and supersoft.
If you like the sound of this, you could also try: Mammut Aegility Half Zip or Decathlon Mountain Walking Short-Sleeved T-Shirt MH500
Salewa Alpine Hemp T-Shirt
A great option for traditional T-shirt fans, this new top gives great all-day comfort, has a relaxed fit and features 23 per cent hemp fibres blended with 55 per cent organic cotton for a cool feel. Recycled polyester (22 per cent) provides stretch, even in the seams. Reinforced Durastretch (polyamide and elastane) panelling in the shoulder area helps wick moisture caused by your backpack. Why hemp? Well, it’s breathable, thermo-regulating and can absorb a lot of moisture before it feels damp, plus it’s durable. It’s eco-friendly too, (soon to be grown in the Dolomites for Salewa) using much less water and fewer chemicals than cotton.
Verdict: Eco-friendly, breathable.
Keela Insect Shield T-Shirt
With Lyme disease from ticks an issue in the UK these days, not to mention pesky midgies, mozzies, ants and the like, this top could be useful for forays closer to home, as well as to more exotic destinations. How does the technology work? The treatment, which lasts for 70 washes, contains permethrin, which affects the nervous system of insects when they come into contact with it. The close-fitting, predominantly cotton T has a bit of stretch and also protects against UV light. As it’s cotton and quite short in length, it works best without a backpack. The faint chemical odour disappears after the first wash.
Verdict: Good bug protection.
Páramo Cambia Short Sleeved T-shirt
This reversible T works well in both hot and cool conditions. Wear the smooth surface of the polyester Parameta T+ fabric on the inside when it’s hot. This way, more of the fabric touches your skin, absorbing moisture fast and helping it spread across that inner surface to aid cooling, before evaporating. Wear the more textured side next to your skin in cooler conditions to wick moisture away more quickly, so you avoid that chill when you stop moving. You also get SPF25+ equivalent UV protection, flat seams and a bit of stretch in this recyclable, Fair Trade top (there’s no anti-pong treatment though).
Verdict: Cool and versatile.
Columbia Zero Ice Cirro-Cool T-Shirt Columbia
If you’re going somewhere hot to hike, or tend to overheat easily, this T might keep you walking comfortably for longer. The brand–new cooling technology features tiny blue rings, visible on the inside of the top, along with snowflake images. These rings provide a greater surface area of material to help absorb moisture, plus react with your sweat to lower the temperature of the fabric and help cool you. Meanwhile, Omni-Wick technology helps excess sweat evaporate quickly, to avoid a soggy T. Made from 100 per cent polyester (around half of it recycled), this simple crewneck has plenty of stretch, but no anti-whiff treatment.
Verdict: Good for hot days.
Arc’teryx Remige Shirt SS
A very lightweight, highly breathable and wicking top in Arc’teryx’s signature understated style, this comes in some refined colours that help give it a look to justify the price. It’s great on comfort, thanks to its soft, natural-feel Thalden polyester fabric; super-smooth (merrow-stitched) flat-lock seams and under-arm gussets for better range of movement. It also offers excellent (UPF 50+) sun protection while its DAO (durable anti-odour) finish helps keep pongs at bay. With a roomy fit and decent length it’s a good option for fans of the classic T-shirt look (the men’s version has a slight v-neck).
Verdict: Comfortable, stylish and breathable.
Picture Hila Tech T
& Picture Rockers T
If street cred’s important, these tops tick that box. They also tick the eco box, as this company’s a certified B Corp that’s on a mission to fight climate change. The tees are made from 93 per cent recycled polyester, plus elastane for stretch. The Rockers uses a very thin, almost mesh-like, fast-wicking Dry Now LT Air material on the upper section, with a thicker, softer, knitted bottom half. The Hila has the Dry Now LT Air all over, making it superlight and perfect for fast hikes and runs in the heat. These include a Dry Feel anti-microbial treatment, plus flatlock seams.
Verdict: Stylish and sustainable.