Best Hiking Shirts for Backcountry Adventures

Whether you’re looking for a long-sleeved shirt to protect you from the sun or a technical tee for summit missions and high-output hikes, our guide to this year’s best hiking shirts has you covered!

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The Best Long-Sleeve & Short-Sleeve Shirts for Hiking

Looking for the Best Shirt for Hiking?

You’re in the right place! In this guide, we will be covering the following:

    • How to choose a hiking shirt
    • The benefits of short sleeves vs. long sleeves
    • Our 8 favorite shirts for hiking
    • Our unbiased recommendation of the best hiking shirt this year

The best hiking shirts out there have little to zero in common with your average, everyday wear tee or button-up. Hiking shirts are not only lighter, more breathable, and cut in a way that maximizes comfort during athletic activities, they’re also built to withstand the rigors of the trail.

There are, however, a myriad of options available, so choosing the best hiking shirt for your needs, budget, and adventure type can be a tricky business. 

To help you out, we’ve put together a list of our 8 favorite hiking shirts. This includes everything from long-sleeve button-ups and base layers to ultralight, technical tees. At the bottom of our reviews, you’ll also find detailed buying advice to help you choose. 

REI Co-op Sahara

Editor’s Choice

REI Co-op Sahara Solid Long-Sleeve Shirt

This shirt ticks all the boxes. It’s lightweight, breathable, high-wicking, has the perfect amount of stretch, a decent UPF rating, and is tough enough to deal with a little rough treatment on the trails. 

The Sahara also has a handful of dialed-in, hiking-specific features that make it a fraction more comfortable and suitable for trail-time than most other long-sleeved shirts. The most important of these features are a durable antimicrobial treatment that helps to keep odors at bay and a vented back yoke that provides extra airflow between your body and backpack.

There’s also a duo of chest pockets and snap taps on the upper arms that let you convert to short-sleeve mode when necessary. 

The Sahara won’t thermoregulate or wick to the same degree as the technical tees featured below. However, if you’re looking for a standalone hiking shirt rather than a layering piece, this one’s well worth a place on your shortlist.

Bottom Line: A lightweight shirt that goes the extra mile to keep you comfortable, cool, and safe from the sun on your hikes. 

At a Glance: Our Recommended Hiking Shirts

  • Editor’s Choice:  REI Co-op Sahara Long-Sleeve Shirt
    “An ultralight, airy, versatile shirt with a few added features that make it especially suitable for time on the trails.”
  • Runner Up:  Arc’teryx Elaho
    “A snazzy but remarkably badass shirt that has a little extra stretch and underarm gussets for added mobility.”
  • Best Long-Sleeve Button-Up:  Columbia Silver Ridge Lite Hiking Shirt
    “With a dialed-in design and impressive temperature regulation, it’s easy to understand why this one’s been a top-seller for such a long time.”
  • Best Short-Sleeve Button-Up:  Marmot Aerobora
    “A lightweight, stretchy, stylish shirt that’s ideal for sweaty days on the trail.”
  • Best Value:  Patagonia Capilene Cool Trail
    “This affordable shirt’s ergonomic design, soft fabric, and mobility-enhancing features make it one of the most comfortable we’ve ever worn.”
  • Top Tee:  Smartwool Merino Sport 150 T-Shirt
    “This shirt combines a merino wool and polyester blend with awesome ventilation features to deliver outstanding temperature regulation.”
  • Best Long-Sleeve Tee:  Icebreaker Cool-Lite Merino Sphere
    “This uber-comfortable, performance-oriented shirt is the most versatile on our list, working well as both a cold-weather baselayer as well as a summer standalone solo layer.”
  • Best Budget:  Columbia Zero Rules Shirt
    “An outstandingly airy, featherweight shirt that comes into its own in hot conditions.”
hiker overlooking rock canyonns

The 8 Best Hiking Shirts

REI Co-op Sahara Long-Sleeve Shirt

Editor’s Choice

REI Co-op Sahara Solid Long-Sleeve Shirt

Choosing the best hiking shirt out there from such a wide array of worthy contenders was no easy task. In the end, however, we plumped for the shirt we found to be most versatile, practical, and well-suited to long days on the trails. 

The Sahara ticks all the boxes. Its nylon-spandex blend makes it both extra-rugged and durable, and a lot more mobile than most other long-sleeve button-ups. It’s also light enough to boast a barely-there feel, has a decent UPF rating, uses an effective antimicrobial treatment to keep odors at bay, and is available in both long and short-sleeve styles. 

We also love the small details. With a vented back yoke that adds airflow in this famously air-starved portion of a hiker’s anatomy, a duo of chest pockets to store your essentials, and tabs that let you roll up the sleeves to convert to short-sleeve mode when temps are high. 

While this is a little less “technical” shirt than the Arc’teryx Elaho and not as high-wicking as the Columbia Silver Ridge, it’s far cheaper than the former and almost half the weight of the latter.

Specs

  • Type: Long-sleeve button-up
  • Material: 95% Nylon & 5% Spandex
  • Fit: Loose
  • UPF rating: 30
  • PROs

    • Snap front pocket
    • Lightweight, breathable, and rugged material
    • LAVA XL antimicrobial treatment
    • bluesign-approved fabric
    • Vented back yoke 
  • CONs

    • Not as quick-drying as polyester shirts

Bottom-Line: A lightweight, high-wicking, and tough adventure shirt with a few hiking-specific features that make it a pleasure to wear on the trail. One of the best backpacking shirts out there.

Arc’teryx Elaho

Runner Up

Arc'teryx Mens Elaho Long Sleeve Shirt

If you’re looking for a long-sleeve button-up but don’t want to lose out on the performance of a technical tee or base layer, the Arc’teryx Elaho might just provide the perfect solution. 

The Elaho is pretty much the James Bond of hiking shirts. It wouldn’t look out of place on a red carpet or country manor somewhere in the poshest portions of England but is surprisingly badass.

The shirt is made with technical Alatorre fabric (a nylon-elastane blend), which gives it a nice combo of being both stretchy and rugged. While nylon is typically not as breathable as polyester, Alatorre is the exception to the rule and transports body heat and sweat from inside to out quickly. 

While the Elaho has a slimmer fit than either the Columbia Silver Ridge or REI Sahara, its gusseted underarms and stretch mean it provides ample freedom of movement. 

All in all, probably the best lightweight hiking shirt we’ve had the pleasure of putting through its paces.

Specs

  • Type: Long-sleeve button-up
  • Material: 95% Nylon & 5% Elastane
  • Fit: Trim
  • UPF: 20
  • PROs

    • Stretchy material
    • Durable
    • Moisture-wicking and fast-drying fabric
    • Snap closures
    • Gusseted underarms
    • Zippered shoulder pocket
  • CONs

    • Low UV protection rating
    • Pricey (but worth the extra cost!)

Bottom-Line: A lightweight, svelte, and technical button-up that’s tough enough to deal with the rigors of a lifetime on the trails.

Columbia Silver Ridge Lite

Best Long-Sleeve Button-Up

Columbia Men's Silver Ridge Lite Hybrid Shirt, Columbia Grey/City Grey, Large

Looking for a performance-oriented, long-sleeve hiking shirt that’s capable of keeping you cool as well as protected against harmful UV rays during long days on the trail? If so, the Silver Ridge Lite is well worth a spot on your shortlist. 

The SR Lite is made with Columbia’s proprietary Omni-Wick and Omni-Shade technology. The former helps the fabric wick moisture away from the skin quickly and the latter prevents sun damage to your skin by blocking UVA and UVB rays. The fabric is also constructed with a ripstop weave, so it’s far more abrasion-resistant than standard synthetic fabrics. 

Compared to the other long-sleeve shirts on our list, the Sahara and the Elaho, the Silver Ridge is a little heavier. However, its affordable price and extra-durable fabrics make it a solid alternative and among one of the best shirts for backpacking trips out there. 

Specs

  • Type: Long-sleeve button-up
  • Material: Ripstop polyester
  • Fit: Loose
  • UPF: 40
  • PROs

    • Moisture-wicking and quick-drying
    • Men’s and women’s versions
    • Antimicrobial treatment
    • Rear venting
    • Chest pockets
    • Good sun protection
  • CONs

    • A little heavy

Bottom-Line: An incredibly comfortable shirt with a wealth of dialed-in, hiking-specific features.

Marmot Aerobora

Best Short-Sleeve Button-Up

MARMOT Aerobora Long Sleeve Shirt

It’s not often that we include a short-sleeve model on our list of the best shirts for hiking, but the highly impressive Marmot Aerobora forced us into a change of policy. 

The Aerobora is a great option for hikers who like their clothing to be as packable, breathable, lightweight, and comfortable as possible. It’s made with stretchy polyester for unrestricted freedom of movement, has flat-felled seams, packs down to a tiny bundle when not in use, and uses AirExchange performance fabric for added air permeability. 

All of the above makes the Aerobora ideal for summer hiking, but its sleek and stylish appearance means it wouldn’t look out of place in the office or on a night out on the town. 

Specs

  • Type: Short-sleeve button-up
  • Material: Polyester
  • Fit: Regular
  • UPF: 25
  • PROs

    • Flatlock seams
    • Fast-drying and breathable 
    • Stretchy fabric
    • Chest pocket
    • Moisture-wicking
  • CONs

    • Low UPF rating
    • No rear vents or antimicrobial treatment

Bottom-Line: A nicely stretchy, super-comfortable hiking shirt that’s versatile enough to wear just about anywhere. 

Patagonia Capilene Cool Trail

Best Value

Patagonia Capilene Cool (1)

What makes a hiking shirt great value for money? 

For starters, it has to score well in every metric – toughness, breathability, mobility, and comfort. Next, it has to have a handful of hiking-specific features that make it more comfortable and practical for use on the trails. Finally, it has to offer a similar level of performance to most of its competitors but at a more reasonable price.

This, folks, is the Patagonia Cool Trail in a nutshell…

This crew neck shirt is light, highly breathable, and as comfy as they come. It also has a tagless design, articulated sleeves and underarm gussets for extra mobility, and a HEiQ Fresh treatment for odor control. 

While we prefer the Icebreaker Cool-Lite for layering due it is superior temperature regulation and softer next-to-skin feel, the Cool Trail is a far more affordable choice. Its mobility-enhancing features are also sure to provide added appeal to buyers who find most regular or athletic fits a little too restrictive.

Specs

  • Type: Long-sleeve crew neck tee
  • Material: Recycled polyester
  • Fit: Regular
  • UPF: N/A
  • PROs

    • Lightweight
    • bluesign-approved and Fair Trade Certified
    • HEiQ Fresh Durable odor control
    • Articulated sleeves and underarm gussets
    • Tagless design
    • Moisture-wicking
  • CONs

    • No ventilation panels
    • Less breathable than merino-synthetic fabric

Bottom-Line: A very well-made and carefully designed shirt that’s ideal when worn either as part of a 3-piece layering system or on its own. 

Smartwool Merino Sport 150 T-Shirt

Top Tee

Smartwool Men’s Short Sleeve Shirt - Merino 150 Wool Baselayer Performance Top Black Medium Black

This merino wool tee is a true workhorse and probably the most comfortable of the bunch. 

The Sport 150’s merino wool and polyester blend mean it excels in every metric, combining awesome moisture-wicking capacities, natural odor resistance, and thermoregulation with impressive durability. It also dries quickly when wet and is more resistant to abrasion than other shirts that use a higher percentage of merino wool. 

A few non-standard features make the Sport 150 just a little better for hiking than its closest competitors, namely its use of rear vents and strategically located mesh panels that boost airflow in all the right places. Whether you’re on a hot summer hike and or wearing it as a baselayer in 3-season conditions, these add-ons will help keep you cool and sweat-free.

All of the above also makes the Sport 150 a more versatile choice than our list’s other short-sleeve tee, the Columbia Zero Rules, which is better suited to standalone use in searing temps and too thin to serve as an effective baselayer in three-season conditions.

Finally, the “ultrafine” merino wool fibers with which this hiking shirt is constructed provide superb next-to-skin comfort. 

Specs

  • Type: Tee
  • Material: 56% Merino Wool & 44% Polyester
  • Fit: Regular
  • UPF: N/A
  • PROs

    • Lightweight
    • Moisture-wicking
    • Naturally antimicrobial
    • Flatlock seam construction
    • Mesh inserts
    • Rear vents 
  • CONs

    • Pricey

Bottom-Line: An incredibly comfortable tee that offers all the awesomeness of merino wool combined with the durability and quick-drying capacity of polyester.

Icebreaker Cool-Lite Merino Sphere

Best Long-Sleeve Tee

Icebreaker Merino Men's Sphere Long Sleeve Crew Neck Shirt for Travel Or Hiking, Merino Wool

The name Icebreaker has become virtually synonymous with high-performing, outstandingly well-made merino clothing in recent years. And in the Cool-Lite Merino Sphere, we find a perfect example of why this brand’s popularity has skyrocketed worldwide.

The Cool-Lite offers all the usual awesomeness of merino wool – excellent temperature control, next-to-skin comfort, moisture management, and natural odor control. On top of that, it throws in added durability and thermoregulation courtesy of its 35% TENCEL and 13% nylon content. 

All of the above makes this hiking shirt ideal for year-round use – it’s great as a baselayer in winter, spring, and fall, and awesome as a standalone layer when you need decent sun protection and added air permeability in hot conditions.

This is a pricier option than the Patagonia Cool Trail and lacks a few of that shirt’s features, like underarm gussets and articulated arms. However, the Cool-Lite’s ability to regulate body temperature and superior breathability make it a better pick for high-output hiking.

Specs

  • Type: Long-sleeve crew neck
  • Material: 52% merino wool, 35% TENCEL, 13% nylon
  • Fit: Regular
  • UPF: 25
  • PROs

    • Lightweight 
    • Durable
    • Highly breathable and moisture wicking
    • Antimicrobial
    • Flat shoulder seams eliminate chafing on backpack straps
  • CONs

    • Pricey
    • Low UPF rating

Bottom-Line: The Cool-Lite offers great thermoregulation, awesome next-to-skin comfort, and is impressively durable to boot.

Columbia Zero Rules

Best Budget

Columbia Men's Zero Rules Short Sleeve Shirt, Black, Large

If you’re looking for a lightweight, technical summer tee that won’t break the bank, the Zero Rules shirt is well worth considering. 

The Zero Rules is made with impressively tough, zero-interlock polyester fabric and uses the brand’s proprietary Omni-Wick, Omni-Shade, and Omni-Freeze technologies, each of which provides all the attributes a great hiking shirt needs. 

The Omni-Wick technology shifts your sweat in a hurry, the Omni-Shade helps to prevent UV rays from damaging your skin, and the Omni-Freeze technology works to keep you cool in toasty conditions by decreasing the fabric’s temperature. 

This shirt also has an effective antimicrobial treatment that keeps odors to a minimum, flatlock seams, and a chafe-free label. While we’d opt for the Smartwool 150 or the short-sleeved version of the Icebreaker Cool-Lite if buying a shirt for layering or year-round use, this one’s perfect for summer hiking.

Specs

  • Type: Tee
  • Material: 100%Polyester
  • Fit: Active
  • UPF: 30
  • PROs

    • Ultralight
    • Affordable
    • Omni-Wick, Omni-Shade, and Omni-Freeze technologies
    • Antimicrobial treatment
    • Chafe-free seams and labels
  • CONs

    • Too thin for three-season hiking

Bottom-Line: This ultralight shirt’s awesome breathability, solid sun protection, and high-wicking fabric make it ideal for hiking in hot conditions. One of our favorite hiking t-shirts for summer!

How to Choose the Best Hiking Shirt

Material

Nothing impacts more on a shirt’s performance than the material it’s made with. Below, we’ve added a short at-a-glance overview of various material types and what they have to offer. 

hiking shirt drying out in the sun
Materials for a hiking shirt are hugely important as they play a critical role in wicking and moisture retention.

Merino wool

Merino wool is generally considered to be the perfect fabric for hiking shirts, socks, underwear, and pretty much everything else you wear aside from your rain gear. This is because it’s breathable, odor-resistant, moisture-wicking, quick-drying, and lightweight. 

Merino is also a thermoregulating fabric, meaning it helps to keep you cool when temps are high and warm when temps are low. 

The only downsides to merino are that it’s (darned!) pricey and less durable than synthetics. That said, most merino shirts integrate polyester or nylon to increase longevity and make them less vulnerable to rips and punctures. 

Synthetic Materials (Polyester and Nylon)

The two most common synthetic materials used to make hiking shirts are nylon and polyester. 

Both of these are cheaper and more durable than merino, and also quick-drying, breathable, and moisture-wicking. On the downside, they’re not as soft to the touch and are far less odor-resistant. 

Of the two, nylon is the most durable and abrasion-resistant option, while polyester is the most breathable.  

Cotton

Cotton is a super-comfortable fabric and, when dry, is also highly breathable. The trouble with this fabric, however, is that it can hold up to 25 times its own weight in water because it has virtually no moisture-wicking capacity. And when it’s wet, it loses nearly all of its breathability, too. As such, cotton’s only a good option for lazing around camp or very low-intensity hikes. 

Durability

Hiking shirts have to be able to deal with a little more rough treatment than your average daywear. 

Generally speaking, natural fabrics are more likely to tear than synthetics. However, most shirts made with natural fabrics, like the Icebreaker Cool-Lite and Smartwool Merino Sport, typically include polyester, nylon, and/or spandex to increase stretch and ruggedness.

Some shirts, like the Columbia Silver Ridge Lite, use a “ripstop” weave to add extra ruggedness.  

Comfort

In our experience, natural fabrics like merino offer the most impressive next-to-skin comfort, with polyester-based shirts coming in second and nylon, which is a little tougher, coming in third. 

Two hikers checking directions
Merino wool shirts offer the best “next to skin” feel

Whichever material the shirt’s made from, the features most conducive to comfort are “flatlock seams” and a tag-free design. 

“Flatlock” seams are seams that are sewn directly together where each piece of fabric ends. This helps to reduce the risk of chafing caused by standard overlapping seams. Tagless designs, on the other hand, eliminate neck/hip tags for itch-free comfort.

The fit of the shirt is another key contributor to comfort. This, of course, is highly subjective so when buying be sure to read the product specs to find the fit you prefer – slim, trim, regular, athletic, and so on. That said, it’s worth noting that looser fits can often cause chafing if the material is so loose that it bunches up between your back and backpack. 

Types of Hiking Shirt

Tee, long-sleeved tee, or button-up? Below, we provide a brief overview of the benefits and drawbacks of each style of shirt:

T-shirts

  • Lightweight
  • Ideal in hot weather
  • Thinner material allows you to layer them more easily
  • Less sun and bug protection

Button-ups

  • Superior ventilation
  • Loose fit
  • Long-sleeved models provide added sun protection 
  • Collar protects your neck  
  • Often include mesh panels for added ventilation and chest pockets for storage

Long-Sleeved Baselayer/Tee

  • Versatile – can be worn as standalone shirts or as a baselayer, making them ideal for year-round use
  • Most have an athletic fit
  • Usually made with high-wicking, breathable fabric
  • Typically stretchier than button-ups
  • Less ventilation than a button-up

Antimicrobial Qualities

Shirts that have antimicrobial properties work to repel bacteria and thus reduce body odors.

hiker with water hiking coastal trail

Merino wool is naturally antimicrobial, but shirts made with other fabrics sometimes use treatments to enhance their antimicrobial properties. A good example is the Patagonia Cool Daily, which uses HEiQ Fresh Durable odor control technology in the fabric. 

Sun Protection (UPF Rating)

Whatever time of year you’re hiking, the sun’s harmful UV rays pose a serious threat to your skin. To protect yourself against sunburn and skin damage, we recommend choosing a shirt with a high UPF rating (UPF 30 – UPF 50), particularly if you plan on hiking in mid-summer or in the snow (the white stuff reflects and intensifies the sun’s rays).

Features

Hiking shirts aren’t typically blessed with many features. There are, however, a few that can make a big difference to the shirt’s suitability for life on the trails:

  • Gussets – These are inserts of extra material placed in the underarm to provide better freedom of movement. 
  • Rear Vents – These improve airflow in the portion of the shirt most prone to saturation with sweat. 
  • Pockets – Rarely found on baselayers, but a common feature in other styles of shirt, these are handy for storing small items you don’t want to keep in your pack or pants pocket. 

Last update on 2021-10-16 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

Kieran James Cunningham is a climber, mountaineer, and author who divides his time between the Italian Alps, the US, and his native Scotland.

He has climbed a handful of 6000ers in the Himalayas, 4000ers in the Alps, 14ers in the US, and loves nothing more than a good long-distance wander in the wilderness. He climbs when he should be writing, writes when he should be sleeping, has fun always.

Kieran has taught mountaineering, ice climbing, and single-pitch and multi-pitch rock climbing in a variety of contexts over the years and has led trekking and mountaineering expeditions in the Alps, Rockies, and UK. He is currently working towards qualifying as a Mountaineering and Climbing Instructor and International Mountain Leader.

Kieran’s book Climbing the Walls—an exploration of the mental health benefits of climbing, mountaineering, and the great outdoors—is scheduled for release by Simon & Schuster in April 2021.

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