As much of the US is baking in record high temperatures, us coastal dwellers in Western Washington have only had to endure a few days of 90 degree plus temperatures this year. That’s fine with me. Give me mid-seventies in the summer and I’m happy.
When I was preparing for a recent to trip to the WEROCK competition in Goldendale (located in Eastern Washington – the hot side of the state), the forecast was for 100-degree plus temperatures. I knew my standard of dress (t-shirt and jeans or shorts) would not be the most comfortable and practical clothing to wear for two days of photographing a rock crawl event (even though that was what most people wore). I wanted clothing that would accomplish several things.
First, I wanted clothing that would help me to stay dry. Naturally, in warm temperatures, even with moderate activity (like walking) a person is going to sweat (if you don’t, you’re in big trouble). If you’re wearing cotton fabrics, your sweat will absorb into the fabric and stay wet. This may not be too bad when it’s hot, however once the temperature cools down, with wet clothing, your body temperature will down also. The other choice is to wear a synthetic product such as nylon and other similar fabrics. Instead of trapping the moisture in the clothing, the synthetic fabrics allow the moisture on your skin to evaporate and thereby cooling your body while staying dry. The quick drying ability of the proper fabric would also make it ideal for the cooler seasons.
Second, I wanted clothing that would provide protection from the sun. A standard t-shirt only provides an SPF rating of 5-10. With recent discussions of the possibility of the chemicals in sunscreen being a cause of skin cancer, I would prefer to have most of my protection from the sun come via my clothing versus protecting my self through chemistry.
And last, I wanted clothing that would travel well. After a day on the trail, your clothes can become quite dirty. I wanted clothing that could be easily washed out in pretty much any body of water and when hung, would be dry the next morning. Try this with a cotton t-shirt or jeans. Having the ability to wash out your clothing is a great feature for multi-day outdoor outings because it minimizes the amount of clothing that you need to pack.
So with these features (and my budget) in mind, I went shopping. The first stop was REI, Inc. (yes I know they probably don’t support 4×4′s and off-road motorized sports but they have quality outdoor clothing and equipment useful for all outdoor activities). I looked at several of the long sleeved, SPF rated, synthetic shirts they had in stock. If you’re cheap like me (or should I say a bargain shopper) you may have some sticker shock on the range of prices for such clothing.
With my budget in mind, I purchased the REI Sahara Tech® Long-Sleeved shirt. Of course, there are other brands, including Columbia®,, ExOfficio®, Mountain Hardware®, to name a few. My choice was based on past experience with private-labeled REI products – value priced and good quality.
Most important for me is a proper fit. With most clothing, an XL means girth, not height. I’m 6 foot 2 inches and finding clothing that extends beyond the belt line can be a challenge. Luckily most outdoor clothing manufacturers understand this concept. The Sahara Tech®, shirt had an excellent fit in both the length and the sleeves.
Some additional features that I liked about the Sahara Tech® shirt included the vented mesh back and armpits, large chest pockets that includes a concealed zippered pocket to keep important things from getting lost, SPF rating of 40+, and button tabs to keep the sleeves rolled up.
For the bottom half of my body, I wanted the same clothing characteristics. I ended up purchasing a pair of zip off, nylon of Suisse Sport®, pants from Big 5 Sports close out rack. These pants allow you to convert them from pants, to shorts and back again in minutes. Ideal when the temperature fluctuates throughout the day. The pants also feature zippered hip pockets and practical sized cargo pockets on the thighs.
So after wearing the clothing for two days in 100-degree temperatures (one day cloudy, hot and humid and the second day sunny and hot), all I have it say was that is was very comfortable to wear. I stayed nice and dry, no absorption of sweat into the fabric (and I sweated a lot). I did not use any sunscreen on my torso or arms and did not get sunburned (I did use sunscreen on my face, head and neck to be safe). I was able to keep important things like my driver’s license and cash securely in the zippered chest pocket. At the end of a very dusty day, I washed the shirt and pants in the sink of the hotel with a little laundry detergent and hung it dry. The next morning, the clothes were dry; had very few wrinkles and had no odor from the previous day.
Would I buy more clothes of this type? Yes I would. I can see myself using these shirt and pants nearly year round for all my outdoor activities. When worn with an Underarmor® style shirt and/or long underwear, this would be a quick drying alternative to cotton in cooler temperatures. If you have ever been outdoors and wet at the same time, you will appreciate this feature, especially if you have to spend an unexpected night outdoors.
If you have outdoor gear you would like reviewed, please contact me at via Email
UPDATE: August 9, 2006: After the third day of wearing (and one washing) the Suisse Sport®, pants, the stitching that holds together the belt buckle on the integral web belt came undone while removing the pants. Luckily it came undone in my tent so I can sew it back together.