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Reviews > Clothing > Base Layers and Undies > Helly Hansen LIFA Active Light Top > Test Report by Coy Ray StarnesHelly Hansen Lifa Active Light LS
Review by Coy Starnes
Initial Report: March 31, 2019
Field Report; June 7, 2019
Long Term Report: August 14, 2019
front view of shirt
I live in Northeast Alabama. I enjoy backpacking, hunting, fishing and kayaking. I enjoy hiking with family and friends but also hike solo occasionally. Most of my hiking has been in the Southeastern US. I hike throughout the year but actually enjoy late fall or early spring the most with some winter hiking mixed in. I don't like the hot and humid weather of summer unless I can escape to the mountains where it is cooler. My style is slow and steady and my gear is light. I will sacrifice weight for comfort and durability to a degree. A typical 3-season load for me is around 20 lb (9 kg) not counting food and water.
Initial Report: March 31, 2019
The HH Lifa Active Light LS is a lightweight, long sleeve base layer. The reason I say base layer is because this is where Helly Hansen lists it on the website. The website says, "With excellent moisture management properties, the LIFA Active Light products are designed to keep you feeling dry on those hot summer days." I do believe it can be worn as an outer layer, and with hot weather ahead I certainly plan on wearing it solo. It has an Ultraviolet Protection Factor (UPF) rating of 50 but warns that the value may be reduced by 35% when wet. My math says that would be a UPF of 32.5. A tag on the shirt mentioned S.Cafe and says it is a patented technology that offers a highly functional, comfortable and eco-friendly textile. I like the idea of using less chemicals in the manufacturing process as well as on the fabric itself. The website says the shirt features flat lock seams but not all are, however, the ones that are over the shoulders and near the neck are. In other words, the ones where a pack strap would sit are flat. I can say it has been very comfortable to wear so far.
The color is a dark grey, what I usually call it slate grey. It also looks darker in the photos I took than it does in person. It has quite a bit of bright orange trim on the upper arm and shoulder area as well as chevron strips near the sleeve ends. I would actually prefer more of the bright orange color on the back of the shirt for bike riding but hopefully what does show will help me be more visible to traffic.
back view of shirt
side view of shirt
Selecting my size and actual fit
First of all, the shirt fits great. It fits perfectly across my shoulders and is a good fit everywhere else except perhaps the sleeves. They are a tad long but not enough to bother me. When wearing the shirt the fabric is tight enough on my wrist that the shirt stops at the wrist with very little bunching of the fabric. The online sizing guide is quite interesting but appears to work. I enter several data points and it suggested what size I would need along with a percentage of the likelihood of a good fit. I entered my weight as 250 lb (113 kg) and height at 5’11" (1.8 m). I also selected average belly shape, broad chest, and that I wanted an average fit. In other words, not real tight or loose. It said I had an 83% chance of needing an XXL. I was slightly insulted... because I usually wear an XL. So, I decided to cheat a little and magically loose some weight. I entered the same data points except for my weight which I entered as 230 lb (104 kg). It still recommended an XXL but at only 53%. I went down to 225 lb (102 kg) and was in an XL. Now if only it were that easy to loose weight. But more importantly, it worked very well because my XXL is pretty much a perfect fit.
The care instructions are included on a sewn on tag on the left side down near the bottom of the shirt. They are: Wash inside out. Wash with similar colors. The rest of the care instructions were given with symbols. I understood the no iron one but the rest were a mystery. A quick google search of "care tag symbols" revealed that the 40 inside a bucket of water indicated wash in water at 40 C (104 F). The Xed out triangle meant do not bleach, the Xed out circle in a square box meant do not tumble dry and the Xed out circle meant do not dry clean. I would prefer all the care instructions be written in English but considering the tag covered at least 23 languages I can understand.
I am excited to test a long sleeve summer shirt. I must confess, I normally wear short sleeve shirts in warm weather. I am not against sun exposure but realize that I need to limit how much sun I get. I am especially interested in how well it works in really hot weather. My brain tells me it will be hot but I know a lot of desert dwellers actually wear clothing that pretty much covers them, usually in a lighter color than this shirt though. Besides the extremely comfortable felling of the shirt next to my skin, my other initial thought is that the shirt is pretty stretchy but not crazy stretchy which is probably part of the reason it feels and fits so well.
Field Report; June 7, 2019
out for a day hike in the Helly Hansen Lifa
Field Test Locations and Conditions
I did the most testing while riding my bike but did manage a couple of overnight hikes and several more day hikes. Most of my testing was during mild springtime weather but I distinctly remember one cold 12 mile (19 km) ride at 47 F (8 C) and a few much warmer rides at around 90 F (32 C). My May 13th overnight hike was approximately 4 miles (6 km) with a high of 81 F (27 C) and a low of 66 F (19 C). My June 3rd overnighter was also about 4 miles (6 km) and saw a high of 88 F (31 C) and a low of 61 F (16 C). There was no rain on either backpacking trip.
Field Test Results
The Helly Hansen Lifa has served me well during all my riding and hiking activities. I looked at my recorded rides and it shows I went on 15 rides in April and 13 in May (I missed a week and a half in May with a pulled hamstring). It protected me from the sun and was comfortable to wear on my bike. I feel it was excellent at helping me stay cool. I actually wore a different shirt on a few rides in similar conditions because the Lifa happened to be in the wash pile and it was like night and day as far as how wet my other shirt would get while the Lifa would be almost dry at the end of every ride. I usually ride about 10 miles (16 km) to get in a good workout, however, my longest ride was 22.6 miles (36 km) on April 23. It wasn’t a hot day but the route was very hilly and I was riding a comfort type bike with big tires. The temperature during the ride was around 68 F (20 C) and the shirt was practically dry during the entire two-hour ride even though I would wipe sweat from my brow occasionally.
a short break on the Hayes Nature Trail
The Lifa also proved to be a good hiking shirt. Since both overnight hikes were similar in length, location and weather conditions I’ll just cover the last one. I usually avoided the hottest part of the day when day and overnight hiking unless circumstances dictated otherwise. For example, I left the house at around 3 PM on my last overnight hike which happened to be the hottest part of the day. However, since I was hiking in the woods, 88 F (31 C) wasn’t too bad, and while I did work up a pretty good sweat, I was comfortable. I did sweat a lot more cutting some firewood with an ax but at least by then it had cooled down considerably. The shirt did not tear as I carried several arm loads firewood and also included one green log from a downed tree across the trail. I cut it into a 6 foot (2 m) length and carried it across my right shoulder back to the campsite. I bet it weighed over 50 lb (23 kg) and my right shoulder was still tender two days later. Anyways, the shirt didn’t seem any worse for wear and dried within an hour as we went about cooking supper on the fire.
I slept in and wore the Lifa hiking out the next morning. We spent a lazy morning in camp before hiking home so by the time we got back at 11 AM it was getting hot and was also very humid. My pack was around 30 lb (14 kg) and the hike home was mostly uphill. I took the shirt off shortly after I got home and it was just a little damp around the neck and under-arms.
Care and durability of the shirt
The shirt still looks great and I can’t find any stains, picks or worn spots. I usually wore the shirt two or three times before washing except after the overnight hikes when I washed it after one wearing that amounted to two days. I washed it along with my normal clothes and then air dried it. If I was able to hang it outside on a warm sunny day it would be completely dry in less than an hour. On days I had to hang it indoors it took a couple of hours to dry but is still very fast drying. I estimate I’ve washed the shirt about a dozen times so far and it still looks almost new. I will say that after a couple of days wearing the shirt it did develop an odor. Once, when I went for an early morning bike ride with my wife, I put the shirt on and she commented, you already stink. I had taken a shower and the rest of my clothes were freshly washed. That’s all for now.
Long Term Report: August 14, 2019
Testing Locations and Conditions
Most long term use occurred in Northeastern Alabama other than a week's worth of testing in Phoenix Arizona. Conditions at both locations were hot to hotter, and the humidity has been brutal here locally. Even in Phoenix, the humidity was higher than normal during our visit, but thankfully temperatures were slightly cooler according to my daughter. I wore the shirt on two more short overnight hikes to the local holler on July 29th and August 12th. It didn’t rain either trip but I sweated enough that it felt like it. However, as during my earlier testing, I wore the shirt more while riding my bike than anything else. I did wear it several times mowing my grass which takes me about 2 hours, part riding and part push mowing. The warmest testing was at 104 F (40 C) and the coolest was around 75 F (24 C).
shirt protecting me from sun....dust protecting my feet.
Long Term Test Results
First thing I will say is that Helly Hansen Lifa is a fast drying shirt. Not only that, I had to work hard to get it more than slightly damp. I noticed this especially on several bike rides when I would labor uphill, sweat dripping onto the frame of my bike, only to have it nearly dry off on the following downhill section. My longest ride since my 22.6 miler (36 km) covered earlier was 16.4 miles (26.4 km). I rode fairly early to beat the heat but it was 86 F (30 C) by the time I finished at around 10 AM. The humidity was 76% and my phone even warned me of a heat advisory while I was riding. I did manage several 12 to 14 mile (19 - 23 km) rides. I average about 11 mph (18 kmph) so most rides were about an hour to and hour and a half long. I won’t cover each ride but will say this, and you can quote me... "If this shirt were a brighter color it would be the perfect summer riding shirt". It isn’t skin tight but is trim fitting enough that it doesn’t flap in the wind. The sleeves are plenty long and cover all my arm including my wrist. This proved to be great for sun protection but a little aggravating when I wanted to check my Apple Watch ride application. The shirt tail is also plenty long and never crept up during my riding, or any other activity for that matter.
ride stats from a ride, not real
hot but check out the humidity
I wasn’t able to test the shirt much during my Arizona trip but did wear the shirt on three one mile walks. On two of the walks we left early in the morning. It was around 84 F (29 C) and I was trying to keep up with the wife and daughter while pushing the baby in the stroller. It seemed like the wind was always blowing and as soon as I would stop I would stop sweating and the shirt would go from pretty damp to almost dry in just a few minutes. On the hottest walk the temperature was 104 F (40 C) and I was by myself. I invited the family but they declined. It was even windier than on the other walks and I never did really break a sweat even though I was walking fast and stopped at the playground to do some body weight exercise for about 15 minutes. I didn’t wash the shirt during the trip and it was a little ripe by the time I washed it a week later at home.
I probably sweated the most when on my two overnight hikes. I left late in the afternoon and hiked home early the next morning both times. Since it doesn’t really cool down much until sundown it was 88 F (32 C) as I left on the July 29 hike and 92 F (33 C) when I started the August 12th hike. The low temperature both nights was about 75 F (24 C). Fortunately, the 2 mile (3 km) hike to my camp was mostly downhill but at these temperatures and wearing a 25 lb (11 kg) pack I still sweated a lot. However, once down at the creek I cooled off by wading in the creek and splashing my face with the cold creek water. This wet the shirt even more but it mostly dried while I set up camp and was completely dry before turning in for the night a few hours later.
I wore the shirt while kayaking twice. On July 5th I joined some family (kids mostly) for a 4 hour float down Big Wills Creek, about an hour drive from my home. We were on the water at 10 AM and finished the paddle just after 2 PM. The creek was unusually low and I worked hard freeing other paddlers as well as myself on several occasions as we got stuck on rocks. Everyone but me slathered on sunscreen at the start. We were in the shade most of the time but I should have put a little on my face, legs and feet as they got a little pink. However, my arms and torso did not even hint of burning.
paddling on Big Wills Creek
The other paddle was on Guntersville Lake on July 30th. I was selling a kayak and offered to let the guy test it out. I hauled two kayaks down to the lake. We launched during the hottest part of the day at 1 PM. Due to the 95 F (35 C) temperature we only paddled about 30 minutes, long enough for him to decide the kayak was a good one. Anyways, the Helly Hansen Lifa provided much needed sun protection while I loaded the kayaks, spent some time chatting about kayaks and then paddling. After the short paddle we talked kayaks some more before loading them again, this time on separate vehicles.
I’ll be honest, this has been the first time I have ever worn a long sleeve shirt in the summer other than a few times while camping, and this was for bug protection more than anything. Even then it would be late in the afternoon after the hike in. I have been completely surprised that this shirt wasn’t hot. Obviously, I will feel hot in any shirt when the temperature and humidity are high enough but the Helly Hansen Lifa was so evaporative I felt I was as cool or cooler while wearing it than I would be in a short sleeve tee-shirt. I know it didn’t stick to my skin like a wet cotton tee does. The durability of the shirt has been fine, and to be expected since most of my testing was not in places it would get snagged. Considering it is a synthetic shirt the stench factor was not bad either, but when I wore it several times before washing it got a little ripe. When I had the energy I would rinse it in the sink after a ride. This helped but the best fix was a machine wash. Speaking of which, I’ve washed it at least a dozen more times and as before, I always line dried it. It hasn’t shrunk and still looks practically new. Overall I am very impressed with the performance of the shirt!
This concludes my testing of the Helly Hansen Lifa Active Light LS. My thanks to Helly Hansen and BackpackGearTest.org for this testing opportunity.
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Reviews > Clothing > Base Layers and Undies > Helly Hansen LIFA Active Light Top > Test Report by Coy Ray Starnes