The Best Collared Shirts for Hiking

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The year was 2017. The United Kingdom, my home country, had just voted to leave the European Union, the Trump administration had imposed a controversial travel ban on several majority-Muslim countries, and Iraqi and Kurdish forces had finally retaken Mosul from the Islamic State group. Meanwhile, I was in a thrift shop in Paso Robles, California, trying to decide if I should purchase a sheer flannel shirt with glitter woven into the threads. 

I was buying the shirt as part of a hastily-thrown-together attempt to bikepack into Big Sur while a world-famous stretch of Highway 1 was closed to cars. I’d still have to share a section of that road with automobiles, though. Thanks to a study in which a British researcher rode for over 200 miles, some of them with a long wig on to make him appear more feminine, I knew that drivers gave more space to cyclists who they thought were women. Building on that study, and my refusal to get a haircut more than twice a year, I opted to buy the glittery shirt for my bikepacking trip. Maybe it helped: I survived the trip with a minimal amount of “coal rolling” from the drivers of central California, and in the process, I discovered my new favorite outdoor outfit. 

I’d always been partial to a flannel shirt for sitting about drinking coffee or beer, but I’d never really tried a lightweight button-up shirt for higher-exertion activity. For years afterwards I held onto that shirt, prizing its ability to protect me from the sun and still allow me to feel the cold air on my chest as I sweated up mountains in Colorado or across the deserts of California. 

I still have that shirt, but I’ve since discovered a bevy of other outdoor button-ups that don’t require you to sort through the rusted farm implements and pleather cowboy boots of a Paso Robles thrift store. They’ve become my uniform when I travel for my work as a conflict and border reporter as well as when I hike on my own time. I really appreciate the ability to switch between long and short sleeves simply by rolling up the arms, ventilate my chest on hot days, and enjoying protection from the wind and sun without having to work out what to do with the hood of a hoodie for the 90 percent of the time that I am not wearing it. If you too are looking to benefit from the finest in outdoor haberdashery, here are a few of my favorite collared adventure shirts. 

astroman shirt
(Photo: Courtesy)

If you’re looking for a super lightweight summer flannel, you can’t go wrong with the Astroman. There’s little it can’t do: I’ve worn mine for work travel to the jungles of the Thai-Burmese border, on a paddling trip on the Colorado River, and to a meeting with the president of the Republic of the Marshall Islands. The Bluesign-approved nylon/spandex blend is featherweight-light, and cool enough for hikes on triple-digit days or climbs up south-facing routes, all while keeping the sun off your back. The plaid design avoids the “wrong kind of British guy in the tropics” vibe, which is a big concern for me and a major reason why nobody should wear a collared outdoor shirt with those hiking umbrellas that ultralighters use. 

kuiu mesa

The one downside of the Astroman is that it doesn’t really have many pockets: I’ve come to enjoy a couple of pockets on a shirt as they allow me quick access to a map, my satellite communicator, or the notepad and pen that I like to carry so people know I am a “serious” journalist. Kuiu’s Mesa Long Sleeve offers chest pockets, as well as tabs to secure your rolled sleeves and a vented back that boosts airflow I’ve worn this on backpacking trips in the Southern California summer, reporting jaunts to the South Pacific, and while distributing humanitarian aid in the Sonoran desert. I really appreciate the athletic cut, and I’d probably wear this for more formal meetings if I hadn’t opted for the “park ranger green” variant. 

Black long-sleeve shirt
(Photo: Courtesy)

The Silver Ridge is a classic of the genre. Like the Mesa, it’s very lightweight while including pockets, a vented back, and snaps to secure the sleeves. It also has a very clever closure system, where the top two buttons are snaps, and the rest are more traditional buttons. Admittedly, this prevents you from ripping off your shirt Chippendales-style before you go for a wilderness swim, but on the plus side, it also prevents your shirt getting pulled open by a branch or your pack and still allows you to quickly adjust your level of chest ventilation. It also has a hanging hook for drying, which I used on a recent trip and greatly appreciate. The cut is a little more boxy than the Kuiu Mesa, but on the plus side, that only helps it vent better.

Jackson Ridge long-sleeve shirt
(Photo: Courtesy)

If you’ve made it this far, you’re probably thinking “hold up a second, it’s decorative gourd season mother****er, why would I need all these summer shirts?” Don’t worry, even when the sun abandons you, the collared shirt has your back (and neck, and arms). For chill autumnal hikes, I really enjoy the Mountain Hardwear Jackson ridge: a solid-color canvas work shirt that feels as natural to wear in the coffee shop as in the campsite. Unlike a lot of high-end outdoor gear, it can stand up to serious abuse and you won’t shred the shoulders or elbows if you find yourself carrying lumber or bushwhacking to retrieve an errantly-thrown dog toy. (Caveat: It is cotton, so it’s better suited for casual hikes and camping trips. Don’t count on it to keep you warm if the weather turns wet or you sweat it out, but unlike more high tech fabrics, it won’t be ruined by a few errant campfire embers.)

plaid flannel
(Photo: Courtesy)

Tragically, Kitsbow’s aptly named Icon Shirt, which is as close to perfect as any item of apparel I own, is no longer available. Instead, if you are seeking classic flannel vibes I’d suggest looking to Howler Bros. Their shirts all feel perfectly soft right out of the box and have a more athletic cut than some flannels. Howler Bros. offer pretty much every flavor of flannel known to mankind, from western snaps to classic cuts with a reinforced right shoulder for all that shooting hunters are doing at this time of year. My preference is the Quintana, which both looks great and keeps me warm well into the autumn. It’s a polycotton blend, so it’s not really suited for high-mountain antics, but the warmth, fit, and softness make it a perfect choice for weekends in the woods. 

Sadly, despite much effort on my behalf, I still have not been able to find another glittery shirt, so you’ll still have to cruise the thrift stores out west for those. While I can’t really promise you any more certainty as we stare down the barrel of another election year, at least some of these classics are still as reliable as they ever were.