On T-shirts

A short story

At some point while in college I got annoyed at dealing with clothing. I played a little with washing things by hand and then decided to try an experiment.

I decided to go with only one set of clothing. That is: one pair of boxers, one pair of shorts, 1 pair of socks, and 1 t-shirt. At the time I never wore long-pants (I used warm tights and/or wind-pants in the winter), so this sufficed for all of my first-layer needs.

Well, it worked, I went a year this way, and I actually *liked* it. Every night I would wash my clothing by hand using Dr Brauners and baking soda, and hang it up to dry. As a bit of a cheat I had a sorong I would wear for the short remainder of the evening. In the morning I'd put the same clothes back on. The only thing that particularly annoyed me was washing socks.

I continued the experiment but with multiple socks for another year. More recently I've switched to having more like 3 shirts and 2 pairs of shorts and boxers - so I don't have to do laundry quite as often. I've gone kinda crazy/lazy, think I own 5 shirts now!

I also hiked the Appalachian trail with Jess, when I did so I used one pair of women's running shorts (for decency), one pair of compression shorts, and 1 t-shirt.
(Ice-breaker 200 weight tech-t)

An opportunity

In this time I had a rather unique opportunity to evaluate clothing. Wearing the same shirt every day you become keenly aware of how fast they wear out. It turns out that most t-shirts won't even last a year. In fact, some will barely last a couple of months!

I also got an opportunity to find out exactly how well different clothing dried overnight, and as I softened my initial experiment, how long they took to start to smell. So, here's some of what I learned.

The T-shirts!

First, material:
  • Plastics: Plastics can be the most durable option. Surprisingly, they can also be the least durable. The longest I ever had a shirt last was a bit over year. This was a Columbia shirt designed to dry quickly. The shortest I ever had a shirt was ~1 month, I forget the brand but it was also plastic. The key is that the first one was a very dense weave, the second felt almost like a sponge. The first shirt didn't ever snag on anything, the second snagged on everything, and each time pull a fiber out into a little loop that stuck out off the shirt. This meant the shirt looked absolutely terrible in NO-time. Be careful of the weave! Note that silver stitched in does help keep odor down, but it only gets it marginally better than cotton. The one like a sponge dried *okay*, the other dried as well as any shirt does.
  • Cotton: Again, it's all about the weave. A waffle-weave cotton shirt lasts fairly well (~6-8 months). It looks a bit hippy for some people's tastes, but works well for me. Surprisingly, a waffle-weave cotton will actually dry over night no problem, as well as many plastic shirts. Note that a waffle weave cotton is approximately the worst option for cold, and approximately the best option for the desert. A more normal weave shirt won't dry overnight, as a result I've never done more extensive testing on them.
    (Standard T-shirt, not waffle)
  • Marino Wool: This is my favorite option because it's the most flexible. The number one advantage is smell. Marino beats every other option for smell hands down. The biggest downside is lifetime. It loses to the good plastics, and it loses slightly to the waffle-weave cotton. Other great feature though is it's wicking properties, and the fact that it's warm and comfy when wet. It will keep you a touch warmer than some options, but regulates to that temp extremely well. On the AT I wore an icebreaker marino wool t-shirt, it was a bit used at the start. 1500 miles later I'd torn out both shoulders and sewn them back up. Overall the shirt performed beautifully.

(200 weight icebreaker tech-t)

Further notes:

Notes on wool: I wore smartool marino shirts for a little while, and then stopped. These do NOT last long enough, these would live 3-months or less and then get so full of holes I couldn't wear them in public. For wool t-shirts the best I've found are icebreaker 200 weight shirts. Note that the tech-t is the best looking as a normal t-shirt, but for backpacking it has those shoulders that I tore out on the AT. Icebraeaker makes raglan sleeve shirts, which should help the shoulders last a lot better when under the stress of a backpack.
(Smartool T-shirt)

Backpacking: For serious backpacking, a discussion of t-shirts is a little silly. A shirt serves to keep bugs and brush off your skin, block sun, and be decent for town. Maybe you might need it occasionally 'til you get calluses on your shoulders. IMHO, if you need it for bugs, brush, or sun, you need a long-sleeve shirt. For the AT you can easily tan enough to just go shirtless whenever you're on the trail for sun purposes. More and more I've been moving towards this model - and thus thinking of t-shirts as something for society. When you think this way things like raglan sleeves are for fashion, since you won't have it on most of the time with a pack anyway. I will say that wool makes a nice base-layer.
(really bad gnats while on the AT)

Edit: Sadly, it appears the Tech-T is no longer made, only the Tech-T lite, which is 150 instead of 200 weight - so the wear lifetime will be somewhat shorter, though it is cooler.

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