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Reviews > Clothing > Shirts > SmartWool Lightweight Tee > Owner Review by Ray Estrella

SmartWool Lightweight Short-sleeved Tee
By Raymond Estrella
OWNER REVIEW
November 07, 2006

TESTER INFORMATION

NAME: Raymond Estrella
EMAIL: rayestrellaAThotmailDOTcom
AGE: 48
LOCATION: Orange County, California, USA
GENDER: M
HEIGHT: 6' 3" (1.91 m)
WEIGHT: 200 lb (90.70 kg)

I have been backpacking for over 30 years, all over California, and in many of the western states and Minnesota. I hike year-round, and average 500+ miles (800+ km) per year. I have made a move to lightweight gear, and smaller volume packs. I start early and hike hard so as to enjoy the afternoons exploring. I usually take a freestanding tent and enjoy hot meals at night. If not hiking solo I am usually with my wife Jenn or brother-in-law Dave.

The Product

Manufacturer: SmartWool
Web site: www.smartwool.com
Product: Lightweight Short-sleeve Tee
Style #: 14-610
Size: Extra Large
Year manufactured: 2005
MSRP: $60.00 (US)
Weight listed: N/A
Weight measured: 9 oz ( g)
Color reviewed: Green
Warranty: 100% Guarantee

At the peak

Product Description

The SmartWool Lightweight Short-sleeved Tee (hereafter called the SmartWool or shirt) is a loose cut t-shirt aimed at outdoorsy types. It is made of “100% superfine SmartWool” according to the manufacturer, yet inside the shirt near the bottom side is a tag that identifies it as 100% Merino wool. On the back of said tag are the laundering instructions. They are as follows. Machine wash cold, tumble dry low, iron low. DO NOT DRY CLEAN. (I’m a guy, brushing old mud from my boots is as close to dry cleaning as I get, they needn’t worry.) The material is much softer to the touch than cotton but not as slick feeling as nylon. I like it.

I bought my shirt(s) in a size XL to accommodate my height. It is a bit baggy on me because of it. The shirts are not offered in Tall sizes although I wish they were. It looks like any other t-shirt at first glance, (usually the only one I get from most people, especially female glancers) but upon more careful inspection it reveals itself to be quite a nice piece of work.

The stitching is some of the best I have ever seen on a t-shirt. (At $60.00 US for a tee maybe it better be.) All of the shoulder, arm and side seams are sewn with a serge stitch to create both a flat and extremely strong seam. I have had many shirts pull apart at the shoulder seams from my massive pipes…I mean my heavy backpacks. This shirt is still looking good as far as that is concerned. It has frayed along the edges of the seams where my shoulder straps have rubbed them incessantly, but none have pulled loose. The hems at the end of the sleeves and body look from the outside to have two rows of stitching, but upon examination inside it is seen that the two rows are done at the same time and interlock with each other apparently at every other stitch. This would seem to give it some redundancy in the event one of the threads gets cut, so as not to have it run.

To me, the collar in itself is an example of a sewing marvel. I made a t-shirt in school. The collar was the hardest part and the seam of it, while looking good from the outside (my mom was amazed), protruded inside where my delicate neck could feel it. (Ever read the Princess and the Pea?) The collar on the SmartWool is sewn with the same double-run as the hems, but they add an extra fold of material folded over again to both the collar and body before stitching them together. This results in a seam that looks kind of like it has split piping. It ends up being very strong and has retained its shape very well, not drooping like many of my shirts (and house plants) do.

Field Conditions

The SmartWool shirts have been used in San Jacinto State Park and Wilderness, San Gorgonio Wilderness and many areas of the eastern Sierra Nevada. The lowest elevation seen with them on my back was 400’ (122 m) in Palm Springs California, the highest being on Forrester Pass at 13,180’ (4017 m). The coldest temperature encountered was 28 F (-2 C) near White Mountain, the warmest many 90+ F (33 C) days in the regional parks of Southern CA. They have been worn in cactus covered desert locales, low elevation scrub and hardwood areas, pine forests and treeless rock up high. They have been rained on, hailed on and mostly sun baked in my pursuit of backpacking miles and hiker chicks. (So far miles-thousands, hiker chicks-1)

Observations

I bought my two SmartWool t-shirts, one short and one long sleeved, in late summer of 2005 as part of a move to find the best material to combat odor. With the 2005/06 winter season approaching I decided to search out some new to me articles of clothing to fight the funk. (Winter in my opinion is much worse for clothing-retained odor as I am trapped in layers quite often, along with the impossibility of washing on the trail.) I purchased three silver-incorporating pieces, one more chemical antibacterial treated item (I have many), and the SmartWool shirts.

One concern about them was how they would feel. I always thought of wool being itchy like my old hiking socks from the 80s and wool button-up shirts of the same period. I decided to try it because of how soft and non-itchy the company’s socks are, of which I have 19 pairs of varying thicknesses and heights. I was pleased with the soft feel of the material. It is softer to touch than cotton.

When I first got the SmartWool shirts home I washed them. I washed them in cold water as recommended and then took them out to air dry. They smelled horrible! I think this is what it smells like in New Zealand when it rains, a wet sheep. I was thinking there is no way I am going to be able to wear this thing hiking. I sweat hard, especially while climbing which factors largely into almost all of my backpacking trips. After they dried the smell went away, but I was still concerned about how they would fare on the trail. It is hard enough finding hiking partners without adding Eau-de-sheep to my repertoire of olfactory offenses.

So I took them on a couple of day hikes where they proved themselves to be a non-smelly garment. What is more it seemed that they do not hold odors too much. The next use really tested this quality out. It was another day-hike at the end of October with a twist. The Cactus to Clouds hike was called the 5th hardest day hike in America by Backpacking Magazine, climbing from 400’ (122 m) elevation in Palm Springs to the top of San Jacinto at 10,834’ (3302 m) in a distance of 17 miles (27 km). With the 5 miles back from the peak to the Palm Springs Arial Tramway for a ride back down it is a 23 mile (37 km) hike that climbs almost constantly for a total of 10,700’ (3261 m) of gain. I wore both SmartWool shirts starting off at 4:40 AM. By 5:00 AM I was sweating hard enough to lose the long-sleeve shirt. Within another hour the short-sleeved shirt was soaked, a state that it would stay in for most the day. As I got above 9,000’ (2743 m) the wind was getting pretty cold so the long shirt went back on. I was still sweating and soaked it also. We took a rest when we attained the summit. I had to put a rain coat over both to keep from getting too chilled through the wet wool. I lost the coat on the quick descent to the tram station. As we were having a well deserved beer (OK, two…) while waiting for the tram both shirts were noticeably drying out while I sat there. And I noticed that I did not smell a fraction as bad as my hiking partner. I had to attribute that to the SmartWools as I bet I had sweated at least a quart (1 L) that day into my shirts.

I continued to wear the Smartwools off and on during the spring and summer of 2006, always being impressed with the inherent ability of the wool to actually win the battle of the B.O. Then I decided to do a torture test to the short sleeved shirt as I was planning on writing this review.

I am in the habit of bringing extra shirt, socks and underwear on all multi-day backpacking trips. At the end of a hard days hiking I try to find a lake to dip in to rinse off the day’s dirt and sweat. Then while I drip-dry I rinse out the days clothing and spread it to dry back in camp. Often the drying process will have to be completed on my pack during the next day’s hiking. On my recent four-day trip from Onion Valley to Horseshoe Meadow via Cottonwood Pass (east-side Sierra Nevada) I decided to wear the short sleeved shirt every day without benefit of rinsing out between wearing. I did bring the long sleeved SmartWool also but only wore it in camp to let the short sleeved shirt have a chance to at least dry out off of my back. Over the course of the trip I put in 58 miles (93 km) and 11,100’ (3383 m) of elevation gain in temps that got as high as 90 F (32 C) down near Horseshoe. The shirt was soaked every day of the hike. Here is a shot at the top of Forrester Pass. The shirt is pretty much solidly soaked. It is actually a lighter color than it seems.

At the pass


By the end of the second day it was getting salt lines on the front of it where my backpack’s shoulder straps ride. By the last day it had salt marks over the whole chest area. (Did I mention that I sweat a bit?)

At the end of the trip I purposely wadded it up and tossed it on the extra bed in my room in Lone Pine CA. (Dave had to bail mid-hike.) The next day after having a night to get back to normal (if I can ever be called normal) I unwadded it and gave it a good whiff. And another. I was major impressed. There was no pungent body odor even under the arms. It smelled dirty to be sure but was not “funky”, or sharp.

On the down side the shirt seem to be a little less durable than my other shirts. A little snag on the long sleeved shirt resulted in a tear in the sleeve near the wrist. And the short sleeved shirt is pilling on the back where my hipbelt rides and the shoulders, along with the edges of the seams as mentioned earlier.

The results of my experience with these has me determined to try some thicker models this winter. Stay tuned for the results.

Pros: Excellent wicking ability, quick drying, superb odor control.

Cons: Expensive, not as durable as other materials, does not come in tall sizes.

Heading for White

This report was created with the BackpackGearTest.org Report Writer Version 1. Copyright 2008. All rights reserved.

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