Sure, it’ll make you look like a middle-aged outdoors Dad (hey wait, that’s me!), but this is a high-performing shirt that is perfect for keeping the sun off your skin and the mosquitoes away from your blood. It also wicks away moisture (aka sweat) like a ceiling fan.
It might seem counter intuitive to wear a long-sleeve shirt on hikes when the weather gets hot and a short-sleeve one in Winter, but that’s generally how I roll. Why? That damn southern sun of ours gets pretty intense from about November onwards and sunscreen is no match for a proper 50+ UPF physical barrier.
And then there’s the mosquitoes (and sand flies and gnats and flies) that also love it when the heat sets in.
This is the niche filled by the Royal Robbins Bug Barrier Expedition Long Sleeve Shirt (say that to your friends after a few rounds of campfire drinks). Henceforth, it shall be known simply as ‘The Shirt’.
Like so many others here in Australia, my planned summer of bushwalks, canyoning, kayaking and climbing got cut short by the savage 2019-2020 bush fires that devastated so much of Australia.
Spare a thought for the local communities and native flora and fauna who bore the brunt of this conflagration before you read on. Then make a donation to your preferred charity and send a letter to local MP to tell them to get active on climate change and fund local community resilience.
After that pause, you can turn your attention to my somewhat limited outdoors tests: a few climbing trips in Sydney’s Sutherland shire and some bushwalks in the Main Range area of the Snowy Mountains.
There are three things you want in a summer-oriented, long-sleeve hiking shirt: sun protection, heat management and moisture wicking. Anti-bacterial odour management is a bonus.
I’m pleased to say The Shirt delivers on all accounts. I suffered no sun burn despite some exposed high-country hiking in very-high to extreme UV situations. And that protection helped me to keep a bit cooler to, as did the light fabric and ample ventilation slits – noticeably cooler than my other travel-oriented LS shirt.
The Shirt dries out very quickly – after slogging off track up to Rams Head North, I was huffing, puffing and sweating like a pig. However, the shirt never got clammy (except on my back – due to carrying a backpack) and any sweat quickly wicked away.
I also made a point of not washing the shirt between walks. I then submitted it to the ultimate test: my partner’s acute sense of smell. She wrinkled her nose a bit but had to admit that, remarkably, it smelt OK. Something to consider if you’re travelling or doing multi-day hikes. Or perhaps if you just don’t like doing laundry.
The shirt is impregnated with a synthetic insect repellent that seems to work. The mosquitoes stayed away as a friend and I climbed into the dark at a crag overlooking the Georges River, an estuarine environment that mozzies breed in like rabbits. Blood sucking rabbits.
Style and fit
OK. Most of the reviews you’ll read on this shirt will call out the styling. It’s daggy. It’s true: you probably won’t be wearing this out to dinner unless you had to. But if you can handle the myriad pockets, strange chest vents with velcro fasteners (which contribute to heat management) and the standard soapstone (aka beige) colour then you’re all set for a high-performance hiking shirt experience.
The fit is pretty good – I’m about 180cm, slim/athletic build and got the medium. Fits a-ok and moves quite well too – I even climbed a few moderates in it, flashing a gymnastic, grade-22 climb.
The shirt’s fabric handles abrasion remarkably well. I wore it on the aforementioned Grade 22 climb, which involved squirming along a sandstone wedge. On my back. The shirt was no worse for wear, to my surprise.
As for the bug barrier, it’ll handle about 70 washes. Assuming you keep this shirt confined to the warmer months, that’s actually a lot of use. About five years by my calculation, and probably more.
Here are the maths:
- Use it 3 months a year and wash once a week: 12 washes
- Time to reach 70 washes: 5-6 years
It’s expensive (AU$140 rrp) and a bit daggy but this is a quality shirt that will see you through many years of hot-weather adventures. You could save some $$ by getting a cheaper option with less ventilation and no bug barrier.
Consider this: I’ve got my first multi-day NZ hike coming up in 2021 and this will be one of the first items to go in my pack. I’m also keen to try it on some canoeing and kayaking adventures as a substitute for a rashy.
I was provided the Bug Barrier Expedition Long Sleeve Shirt for review purposes and got to keep it. The views are entirely my own.