Last Updated on 27/08/2023
In this guide to the best moisture wicking shirts for hiking, we share our favorite tops to keep cool and manage sweat on the trail. You will learn about the different types of shirts that wick moisture and why it is so important in cool weather.
Moisture-wicking shirts are designed to pull or wick moisture from your body as it sweats and moves it to the outside of the fabric so it can evaporate. Different fabrics achieve this in different ways and we are going to take a look at how with each product.
The best moisture-wicking shirts for hiking with a backpack are all designed with the rough and tumble of the outdoors in mind. We see how well they are at reflecting UV rays from the sun and thus keeping you protected from sunburn. We also look at their performance, materials, sleeve lengths, tight versus loose fits, and how comfortable they are to wear and use.
We already have a great read on the best sun hoodies, but this guide includes a wider variety of shirts, t-shirts, and long-sleeve tops that can be worn underneath a backpack when hiking.
10 Best Moisture Wicking Shirts for Hiking with a Backpack
Arc’teryx Cormac Crew T-Shirt
- MATERIAL: 100% Ostria polyester
- STYLE: Short Sleeve or Long Sleeve T-shirt
- SUN PROTECTION: UPF 50+
The Arc’teryx Cormac Crew is one of the best moisture-wicking hiking T-shirts we have tested. It fits so well and feels so soft even when you are wearing a backpack or running a marathon. The comfort comes in the way of four-way stretch material that breathes and wicks moisture so that it never feels heavy with sweat.
Check out the location of the seams and underarm panels, which really articulate with your body and allow for total freedom of movement with the shirt lifting up or the sleeves riding up your arms. As well as keeping you dry and cool, this technical top also protects you from the sun with effectively UPF 50+. and if you want to cover your arms too, you can get this in a long sleeve option.
VERDICT: The Cormac Crew T-Shirt from Arc’teryx is extremely well made, comfortable, and perfect for multi-day hikes and high-performance sports. The downside of this shirt is the price which is way up there but the upside is you only need one or two for a multi-week trip. One of the best things about this shirt, when you are sweating, is that you can feel even the lightest breeze through the fabric.
Mountain Hardwear Canyon Long Sleeve Shirt
- MATERIAL: 100% Polyester
- STYLE: Long sleeve button shirt with collar
- SUN PROTECTION: Maximum skin cover
The Mountain Hardwear Canyon Long Sleeve Shirt is one of my favorite moisture-wicking hiking shirts, mostly because of how well it fits. It has a classic design as an outdoor style shirt with long sleeves that can be rolled up, a collar for added sun protection, double-breasted pockets, and a loose, breathable fit. It has some nice ventilation on the back, and it feels nice and cool in full sun.
The fabric itself has been woven with UPF-50 filter strands to assist with sun protection along with moisture-wicking fabric that does a great job at taking the sweat away from your skin and keeping you cool and comfortable, not to mention being wrinkle resistant too. The breast pockets use zippers instead of buttons, and these are also doubled up as chest vents for extra hot days. The looser fit also allows for more air to circulate your body – aiding in evaporation and ultimately cooling you down.
VERDICT: Like the other moisture control shirts on this list, the Canyon Long Sleeve Shirt from Mountain Hardwear is perfect for hiking with a backpack. The material feels very light but is also durable and protective from the sun. Even if you are dripping in sweat, this shirt never absorbs too much moisture and instead wicks it away to keep you cool.
Patagonia Capilene Cool Daily Shirt
- MATERIAL: 100% recycled polyester
- STYLE: Short Sleeve or Long Sleeve T-shirt
- SUN PROTECTION: Capilene Cool Daily
The Patagonia Capilene Cool Daily Shirt is another breathable and fast-drying shirt for hiking that feels and performs as good as it looks. Capilene Cool Daily technology helps to keep you cool in hot weather and has lots of stretch for unrestricted arm movement. It also features HeiQ Pure technology which is a silver-salt-based permanent odor-control additive that inhibits body odor microbes from growing so you can wear it for multiple days without causing a stink.
You can also get this shirt in a long sleeve option if you want to cover your forearms and also in a hoodie which you can layer over the top of the t-shirt. It feels much lighter than the original organic cotton t-shirts Patagonia is known for, but this technical shirt is made for the most active outdoor enthusiasts. Ultralightweight and compact too.
VERDICT: The Patagonia Capilene Cool Daily Shirt is one you can wear all day, every day, and never get tired of. Having worn one of these almost every day for six weeks on a trip to Nepal, I can say that this is one of the best moisture-wicking shirts for backpacking I own. Unlike cotton-rich t-shirts, this doesn’t show sweat marks hardly at all and dries in minutes – highly recommended gear. I also just love supporting this company that continues to lead the way in terms of how businesses should operate.
Fjallraven Abisko Trekking Shirt
- MATERIAL: 84% Recycled polyester, 16% elastane
- STYLE: Long sleeve button shirt with collar and double breast pockets
- SUN PROTECTION: Maximum skin cover
The Fjallraven Abisko Trekking shirt is a rugged outdoor shirt that is thicker than some others but extremely effective at wicking moisture. The reason it is good for hiking, aside from its durability and moisture-drying capabilities, is that it is incredibly flexible. The shirt uses 84% recycled polyester and 16% elastane, which is a good combination for durability, comfort, and flexibility.
It has a slightly relaxed fit but isn’t baggy, and you will have to check their website to understand their unique sizing system. Even when wearing a backpack, you never feel restricted in this shirt, and it is really easy to cool down by opening a few buttons. We hate to say it, but it does look a bit old-fashioned, even in the short sleeve.
The Fjallraven Abisko is a comfortable all-around shirt with long sleeves that can be rolled up when needed, double breast pockets for carrying any immediate or essential items, and a collar that can be turned up for added sun protection. The material is thicker and so can feel heavier when fully saturated, but it will dry just as fast as any other.
VERDICT: The Fjallraven Abisko Trekking shirt is a great option for colder climates as it’s very comfortable. However, the fabric is a little heavy. While the shirt is marketed as a hiking shirt, its best use lies as a general outdoor camping shirt that will keep you comfortable at all times and in most environments.
The stretch feels amazing, so if you like to hike with your thumbs tucked behind your backpack strap, you never feel tightness around your elbows and shoulders. Over-engineered and built to last a lifetime.
Columbia Blood and Guts III Long Sleeve Woven Shirt
- MATERIAL: 100% Polyester
- STYLE: Long sleeve button shirt with collar and double breast pockets
- SUN PROTECTION: UPF 50+ OMNI-SHADE and OMNI-WICK technology
The Columbia Blood and Guts III is up there with the best moisture-wicking trekking shirt due to its breathability and flexibility. It has a large vent on the back, which promotes airflow better than any other shirt, I would say, although it isn’t much use if you are wearing a backpack.
The Blood and Guts III shirt is a looser fit than many of the others, allowing more breathing room around your body, especially in hot and humid climates. The shirt has long sleeves that can easily be rolled up and secured at three different arm lengths, along with an airy mesh back for added air circulation and comfort. It has two breast pockets for too for carrying any small and important items.
VERDICT: The Blood and Guts III Shirt from Columbia is one of the most well-ventilated here. Its loose fit allows more airflow, and its fabric uses the OMNI-SHADE and OMNI-WICK technologies to ensure maximum comfort and sun protection. You can hike, ramble, camp, or go fishing with this style of shirt and be comfortable and happy in almost any environment.
Nike Element Crew Shirt
- MATERIAL: 88% Polyester, 12% Spandex
- STYLE: T-Shirt
- SUN PROTECTION: Dri-FIT
The Nike Element Crew Shirt will allow you to hike almost moisture-free regardless of the temperature. This long sleeve T-shirt style is far more practical for running, trail running, or intense hiking than a button-up shirt. It allows your body to move more naturally without any resistance, while the looser fit allows for more air circulation around the chest. The downside is that it is less durable and can’t be unbuttoned like a shirt.
You can wear this as a standalone shirt for summer hikes or use it in winter as a base layer top – the thumb holes help you keep it in place when layering up or down. By using Nike’s Dri-FIT technology, this shirt is great at taking that sweat you are generating at wicking it away from the body to be cooled by evaporation, keeping you at the right temperature to keep on going. It does lack any pockets or adjustable sleeves, so that it won’t be quite as practical around a camping site; however, if you plan on moving a lot, this is a small trade-off.
VERDICT: While the Nike Element Crew Shirt can be used for any outdoor activity – it excels at higher-intensity exercise like walking up mountains. If you want a close-fitting hiking shirt that wicks moisture better than most other options, then this shirt is a great choice. Ideal for high-performance, endurance sports like long-distance hiking.
Carhartt Force Cotton Delmont Long-Sleeve T-Shirt
- MATERIAL: 60% Polyester, 40% Cotton
- STYLE: Long Sleeve T-shirt or Short Sleeve
- SUN PROTECTION: UPF 25+
The Carhartt Force Cotton Delmont Long-Sleeve T-Shirt is one of the most hardwearing moisture-wicking t-shirts for hiking because it is designed as workwear for people like construction workers. The lightweight material is the perfect balance between breathability and moisture-wicking. It uses three technologies in the way the fabric is woven; Force technology to wick sweat, FastDry keeps you cool by helping moisture evaporate faster; and Stain Breaker, which means that stains wash straight out.
Even though this shirt is tough, it feels extremely soft and more like it is designed for sports than as workwear. It has a regular fit that is fairly loose and has lots of mobility in the arms and shoulders. You can get this in a short sleeve tee if you prefer, but the sleeves on this roll up nice and easy when things get serious.
VERDICT: The Carhartt Force Cotton Delmont Long-Sleeve T-Shirt is a tough outdoor shirt that works just as well for hiking. The material really does help to keep you cool by wicking moisture through the polyester and improving breathability with cotton. If you want a good value-for-money shirt that won’t get destroyed on a hike, then get yourself a couple of these.
Under Armour Tech Short Sleeve T-Shirt
- MATERIAL: 100% Polyester – UA Tech
- STYLE: Short sleeve T-Shirt
- SUN PROTECTION: UPF 30+ protection
I own several of the Under Armour Tech Short Sleeve T-Shirts, which I wear all the time for hiking, jogging, and exercising at the gym or at home. It feels particularly lightweight and breathable even when you are sweating profusely and dries out in minutes, even on a cool day (because it wicks instead of absorbing moisture). You can wear this under a long sleeve shirt or on its own with plenty of sunscreens on your arms.
The UA Tech fabric has a very soft, smooth, and natural feel to it, along with a UPF rating of 30+ to reduce those harmful UV rays and quick drying properties – giving you exactly what you need when hiking in a hot or sweaty environment. Under Armour released their UA Tech fabric over 25 years ago as a niche product used mostly by professional athletes and military types (it’s great under actual body armor) to become a global powerhouse in sports apparel. It’s easy to see why once you wear one of their products – it feels great on the skin and does a great job at wicking water away and keeping you feeling fresh.
VERDICT: The Tech Short Sleeve T-Shirt from Under Armour is a great t-shirt to load up on and get a few in different colors. They are really good value and last a long time. I have been using these shirts for over 20 years for travel, exercise, and even socially, and they are still in use due to their durability and comfort. Highly recommended to have at least one for those hot and heavy days.
Fjallraven Abisko Sun Hoodie
- MATERIAL: Recycled Polyester
- STYLE: Long sleeve T-Shirt
- SUN PROTECTION: Use of the hood and thumb holes to cover exposed skin
The Fjallraven Abisko Sun Hoodie is a simple moisture-wicking hiking shirt with a hood and UV-blocking fabric. This long-sleeve moisture wicking shirt maintains a slightly loose fit that allows air to circulate through the body while still removing sweat. The shoulder seams are sewn away from the shoulder area to reduce chafing whilst wearing a backpack which is well thought out.
The recycled polyester assists with keeping you comfortable by drying quickly when exposed to a light breeze or sun. It’s a very comfortable shirt to wear and does not stick to your body but rather maintains a loose fit. For sun protection, the Fjallraven Abisko utilizes a hood with a brim to cover your head and neck and keep the sun off your face, along with thumb hooks to ensure it covers your arms too at all times.
VERDICT: The Abisko sun hoodie from Fjallraven is a comfortable and fast-drying shirt to wear while hiking. It wicks moisture very well without being too tight or clingy, which will suit hikers who prefer a looser fit. It works best as an only layer on hot days but can be used all year round over a t-shirt or under one.
Craghoppers Pro Lite Long Sleeve Shirt
- MATERIAL: 100% Polyamide
- STYLE: Long sleeve button shirt with collar and a single breast pocket
The Craghoppers Pro Lite Long Sleeve Shirt is extra durable and extremely efficient at wicking moisture without super obvious sweat patches. It is the kind of shirt you can wear all day, every day, but still, look relatively smart once you put it through the wash. A great shirt to take backpacking when you need multipurpose clothing and a shirt that wicks moisture when walking about.
The fit is fairly close, which helps to wick moisture away, but it can feel a bit restrictive if you have wide shoulders. There is very little stretch in the fabric, so we do recommend ordering on the larger side if you have big muscles like me (joke).
Polyamide, which is a type of nylon, is a great material that is long-lasting, water resistant, and is often used in these types of outdoor garments as it can take a great deal of rubbing or repetitive movements without wearing away. It lacks any vents or mesh inserts and keeps things pretty simple in its design, but it does have a front pocket with a side zip for keeping anything valuable secure and close at hand.
VERDICT: The Pro Lite Long Sleeve Shirt from Craghoppers is designed and made with the outdoors in mind. It’s ideal for a long day’s hike and also for wearing to the pub or restaurant at the end of the day. While it’s lightweight and breathable, you can wear this all year round to wick moisture when you’re hiking, even in winter.
Guide to Moisture Wicking Hiking Shirts
Moisture-wicking fabrics are not new, in fact, nature has been providing the elements necessary for plants and animals forever, with silk, wool, and cotton being prime examples. We have been using these to turn into fibers and subsequently into items of clothing for as long as humanity has been around, too, being modified in hotter areas to increase their moisture-wicking abilities.
While these fabrics are still in use today, newer, cheaper, and more specific fibers have been produced artificially – different types of polyester, spandex, and nylon that do the same thing but are far cheaper than some of the natural products.
In terms of moisture wicking – what actually happens is the fibers absorb the moisture and move it down the strand away from the source of moisture and then is evaporated, so the fibers don’t become saturated. But because the fibers are so fine, moisture-wicking fabric never becomes heavy or saturated. The more efficiently a fiber can manage this process, the dryer you will be.
Moisture Wicking Material
You can get moisture-wicking hiking shirts in a number of different materials. Some work better than others, and in general, we try and stay away from heavy cotton blends, which tend to hold water instead of wicking it. Here is a rundown of the moisture-wicking properties of different materials:
Polyester is an artificial material primarily derived from petroleum but can also be produced from recycled plastics and natural oils such as palm oil. Long chains of polymers are produced to derive many different types of polyester. Different blends are then used to create different properties. A cheaper blend will feel like wearing plastic that does not breathe, while a more refined and more costly blend can feel smooth and soft and keep you very dry.
Many hiking shirts are made with polyester due to their moisture-wicking performance and is very lightweight.
Nylon is also an artificial fabric, made along the same process as polyester; however, its properties are slightly different. Nylon stretches much better and is stronger than polyester, too, in terms of tearing strength. The stretchiness of nylon makes it great for sporting and exercise ranges of clothes like leggings. It is not as effective as moisture removal polyester, and often the two are mixed together for combined benefits.
One of nature’s wonders – merino wool, comes from the merino sheep and has been used for centuries as clothing. Wool is heavier and more expensive than polyester but still has its advantages. Merino wool has inbuilt antimicrobial properties, which will help keep your skin healthy, and is great at taking moisture away from your skin. Due to its naturally high performance, it’s often used as a wool sleeping bag liner or as a base layer against the skin in colder environments as it never feels clammy against the skin and is very soft and comfortable to wear.
Another natural fiber – cotton is a plant grown and then spun into fibers for use in almost any garment imaginable. While not as cheap as polyester, cotton breathes much better, allowing more air to be closer to your skin. It’s also very hypoallergenic (which means it doesn’t cause allergies) and, therefore, great for people who suffer from hay fever or other issues. Cotton doesn’t wick water that well and relies on its breathable fibers to cool you down, and is often worn very loosely.
Flannel is a type of fabric usually made from cotton. It is thicker than normal cotton blends due to the threads being wrapped around each other when being made. This thicker material is very common in shirts for farmers and outdoor people due to its durability, comfort, and moisture-wicking abilities. It’s better suited to colder climates and less intensive exercise.
Shirt Styles That Promote Moisture Wicking
Deciding between a long-sleeve and short-sleeve shirt or a button-up shirt and T-shirt isn’t easy if you don’t know what to expect. They all have their benefits, and most people already have a preference, but here are some of the reasons we might choose each one:
Long sleeve shirts
Long sleeve shirts are fully buttoned, zip or snap shirts that have a long sleeve that you can roll up your arm if needed, along with a collar and breast pockets to resemble a business shirt loosely. They are a very common style and are often used by those who love being outdoors. A looser shirt for hotter climates allows air to circulate and cool you down, while a closer fit in colder climates will move that moisture away from your skin, keeping you comfortable.
Short sleeve shirts
Short sleeve hiking shirts are identical to long sleeve shirts but with shorter arms. These can be more comfortable for people who are outside a lot but not always in the sun. The lack of arms gives better freedom of movement but also increases sun risk on your arms. The reduced amount of fabric makes them lighter and more breathable but no better at wicking perspiration.
T-shirts are a simple and effective style of shirt for hiking in. Athletes or long-distance runners will prefer this style as buttons and collars are just things that get in the way when you are moving fast. While they do lack some sun protection in the arms – the comfort and ability to move unimpeded make them enduringly popular.
Long sleeve T-Shirts
Long sleeve T-Shirts have extra sun, wind, and rain protection on the arms but provide the same freedom of movement and comfort as a regular T-shirt. These are great when out in the direct sun for extended periods of time and serve as the foundation for any layering system when hiking.
Sun Hoodies are thin hoodie-style outerwear that covers your entire upper body and thus protects it from the sun. They are often worn against the skin too, and are designed to remove water from your body and keep you totally covered from the sun.
Close Fit Vs Baggy Shirts for Moisture Wicking
It may seem like an obvious answer to some, but this is such a common question that gets asked in my hiking group. Here’s what we think:
Close-fit shirts are often used for exercise as their primary benefit is to take the sweat you generate and move it away from your skin to be evaporated as quickly as possible. They are also great when worn under other clothes, such as a jacket or hoodie, as they keep your skin dry and comfortable.
Regular fit shirts
Regular fit shirts aim to make any user feel comfortable but still achieve their purpose. They are more likely to be the only shirt being worn and use a combination of airflow and moisture-wicking to keep you cool and comfortable.
Baggy fit shirts
Baggy fit or loose-fitting clothes are used when it’s quite hot, and you require the air to flow around your body and evaporate moisture as it builds—often used in hotter and dryer regions like a desert or plains.
When we are hiking, sun protection is always a very good idea, and sun-blocking shirts are one of the most reliable ways to protect your skin. You should also wear a sun hat, wear sunscreen and reduce exposure in the middle of the day. By blocking the sun with a shirt, we should be reducing our core temperature and therefore produce less moisture. This will keep us more comfortable while hiking, both in terms of sweatiness and also temperature.
We all create odors, especially on our skin, and when we exercise for long periods of time, it is part of the natural process. In time, odors can become something worse, like a rash or even an infection. Therefore, it’s important to reduce odors and the bacteria that produce them. We can reduce the odors we create by removing the moisture away from our skin before the odor formation process begins, keeping us not only feeling fresher but maintaining healthier skin too.
Merino wool is the best material if you worry about body odor or only have one or two shirts for a multi-day hike. It doesn’t hold odor and even helps to mask your odor (at least for a few days).
Why wear anything that’s uncomfortable? Comfort should always be a big factor in your choices for clothing and apparel, as when you are feeling comfortable, you are better able to focus on other things. Different body shapes and different people cause some to wear close-fitting shirts while others choose a baggier fit. A softer fabric like Under Armor Tech also goes a long way to making you feel comfortable in your clothes.
When discussing breathability – we are focusing on the fabric’s ability to allow air to circulate. Polyester and other artificial fibers don’t do this very well. Yes, they move moisture away, stretch, and are very lightweight, but they don’t breathe that well. Cotton is the king of breathable clothing. Hence it is a fiber of choice in very hot countries, and when worn as a loose fit, a piece of breathable fabric will allow the moisture to evaporate right on your skin – keeping you cool.
Freedom of Movement
Whether your shirt is super tight-fitting or baggy and very loose – good freedom of movement is key. Being able to move your arms and shoulders around without hindrance makes an outdoor job much easier. Even putting on a backpack with a poorly fitting shirt can be a challenge so it’s important that whichever one you use should allow you to move as freely as possible.
If your shirt doesn’t wick moisture when hiking, it can become saturated and start sticking to you can be awkward and uncomfortable.
Many of the shirts in this guide have vents, usually at the back but also under the arms and in the breast pockets. They are not overly effective when you have a heavy backpack on, and you are slogging it up a steep hill, but when you rest at the top, the vent will allow your body to cool much faster, especially if there is some wind about.
Button-up shirts provide the best ventilation because you can open just one button or all of them, depending on how wide you want your front vent to be. While not essential, vents are a great way to cool down while leaving your shirt on and keeping safe from the sun.
Which is the best type of moisture-wicking shirt and material for hiking?
Everyone is different in their body shape and style of hiking. While some like to day hike for an hour or two, others tend to carry their home on their back for weeks on end. Add to this climatic variation, and it’s hard to determine any one overall ‘best’.
For multiple-day hiking – a long sleeve button-up shirt made from a polyester blend is a very good choice due to its flexibility, almost complete sun protection, added vents, and good freedom of movement is the solid choice. Higher speed day hiking or trail running with a small backpack may be better suited to a T-shirt style like the Nike or Under Armor as the freedom of movement is outstanding, but sun protection and other features are lacking.
A great moisture-wicking shirt with sun protection properties will ensure your hiking is comfortable while keeping you dryer and fresher, something that is always appreciated at the end of the day or the end of your hike.
We hope you found this guide to the best moisture wicking shirts for hiking useful let us know what you think in the comments.