Not all good gear needs to be expensive! One of my favorite hiking shirts I picked up last year, it has the very odd name 32 Degrees by Weatherproof (what on Earth could this mean?). I actually bought it at Costco in one of each color, white and black, on sale for $4.99.
I was originally thinking they would make a good everyday undershirt…soft, comfortable and inexpensive.
After wearing and washing them I realized they would make great hiking shirts: they are lightweight (4oz), they hang dry very quickly (overnight) and would therefore dry quickly after working up some good back-sweat (nice image!). Unfortunately, these colors are both very poor choices for backpacking (black=too hot, white= not for long).
Luckily, the Google was kind and I found them being sold at Macy’s in several other colors and just today I noticed they added tons of colors. While not $4.99 at Macy’s they were on sale for a still reasonable price of $10.99 (free shipping over $25 at this time).
As most know, you can easily drop $40 or more for name-brand technical hiking shirts which advertise themselves as fast drying, comfortable and moisture wicking. I have my share of Patagonia, Smartwool and Icebreaker and they are great products…but I just can’t stomach full retail. Almost any polyester fabric will be fairly comfortable and quick drying. The moisture wicking capabilities of these name brands are always a bit suspect…there’s really nothing that will dissipate the moisture from a backpack pressing against your back all day. Ultimately, I’m much more interested in how quickly it dries whether during a lunch break or overnight after a hillbilly rinse in the river.
People will sometimes bring up durability…at $5-$12 im ok retiring it after a couple seasons or one rough summer. I had an Icebreaker shirt (full retail =$65) I loved that started to develop small holes after one summer, so spending more might not solve that problem. Even when a shirt lasts several years, I’m usually ready to retire it because it looks terrible from all the miles of sweat and stains…much harder to justify when you remember how much you spent.
One of the best articles I’ve read about lightweight backpacking gear on a budget was written by Pmags on his great blog Pmags.com (he finds all sorts of useable gear at Costco). Plus, his whole website is a wealth of information, especially for comprehensive overviews of the Big 3 long trails.