Your Ultimate Guide to the Best Hot Weather Hiking Shirts (2024)

Looking for the best hot weather hiking shirt?  The Jessie Kidden convertible long-sleeve shirt still holds the top spot on my list.  It’s inexpensive, comfortable, and looks great.

Over the years, I’ve hit the trails in just about every type of shirt you can imagine. From short sleeves to long sleeves, synthetic materials, to basic cotton.  You name it, I’ve tried them all. 

Each hike taught me something new about what works (and what doesn’t) when it comes to staying comfortable and cool on the trail.

The Jessie Kidden line of shirts, along with my runner-ups (Tacvasen short-sleeve shirts for women and the Tuna line of short-sleeve shirts for men) are all fantastic hiking shirts for hot-weather trails.  

This guide will run through the features of each, as well as what to look for in a hiking shirt in general. 

a shirt, leggings, and towel hanging on a clothesline with a green forest backdrop

The Best Hot Weather Hiking Shirts 

My Top Choice: The Jessie Kidden Convertible Shirt

Like I mentioned before, the Jessie Kidden Convertible shirt is my top choice for hot-weather hiking.  I love the way it looks and feels, and it won’t break the bank (you can find it for less than $30 on Amazon).  This shirt is available in both men’s and women’s styles. 

Quick Facts:

  • Sun Protection: UPF 50+ fabric 
  • Quick Dry & Breathable: Uses Omni-Wick technology to pull moisture away; this shirt keeps me more cool/dry than many of the others I’ve tried.  It’s also very lightweight 
  • Pockets/Loops: This shirt has two chest pockets and a sunglasses hanger loop. 
  • Vented back and roll-up sleeves:  I love being able to roll up my sleeves on muggy/cloudy days, or have them down to protect my lower arms from the sun.
  • Material: Made of 100% Polyester, and machine-washable
  • Size Range/colors: Available from x-small to xx-large, available in over 12 different colors
woman in Jessie Kidden convertible hiking shirt, one of the best hot weather hiking shirts
Image from product review on Amazon

Runner-Up For Women: TACVASEN Women’s Short-Sleeve Shirt

For those of you who can’t stand long sleeves in hot weather (more on this later), TACVASEN’s short-sleeve shirts are a great alternative.  It’s also got UPF 50 sun protection and is made from moisture-wicking polyester.  

I love the huge range of color options (over 30!), and that you can use this shirt for much more than hiking (it looks like a regular T-shirt). 

woman in a short-sleeved turquoise shirt
Image from product review on Amazon

Quick facts:

  • Material: Made of 100% stretch Polyester: quick-drying and moisture-wicking
  • Sun Protection: UPF 50+ fabric 
  • Collar Design: V-neck and short-sleeve design 
  • Versatile: This shirt doesn’t look like a ‘hiking shirt’.  You can wear it anywhere.
  • Available Sizes and Colors: Available from Small to XX-Large, over 30 color options
  • Machine washable

Runner-Up For Men: Tuna Fast-Dry Hiking/Fishing Shirt 

This short-sleeve hiking shirt from Tuna has it all: chest pockets, a vented back, and moisture-wicking nylon.

Quick Facts

  • Fabric: Made of 100% Nylon (another fantastic quick-dry fabric), UPF 50+ fabric, anti-static
  • Design: Has a mesh-lined vented back and two chest pockets
  • Size/Colors: Available from Small to 4x-Large (Men’s), 22 different color options
  • Uses anti-odor technology
  • Machine-washable
product image of a grey short-sleeved hiking shirt with chest pockets
Image from product review on Amazon

Long Sleeves vs. Short Sleeves: Which is Better?

The choice between long and short sleeves very much depends on the type of hike, the weather, and your own personal preference. Each option has its pros and cons.

Why I Love Long Sleeves

Long sleeves provide awesome sun protection, far better than sunscreen (no matter how often I reapply).  Also, long sleeves can prevent scratches from the underbrush.  Long sleeves are a great option for really sunny days or long, or multi-day treks. 

three hikers in front of a rock tunnel entrance in the Grand Canyon
I wore long sleeves and felt great on our rim-to-rim Grand Canyon hike, even though the temperatures were in the 90s for most of the day

Many people assume that long sleeves will be way too hot.  I’ve found that if you choose a lightweight, light-colored fabric, I notice very little difference in my comfort level on long hikes.

One of my go-to hiking shirts is actually a cheap lightweight cotton long-sleeved shirt with elastic around the wrists. I’ve worn this shirt on our rim-to-rim hike in Grand Canyon National Park (with temperatures in the 90s for most of the day), on the Inca Trail in Peru, and on our steep and very hot trek to the Lost City in Colombia. 

This shows that sometimes, the best shirt doesn’t have to come from the most specialized outdoor shop.

Short Sleeves or Tank Tops

For some, short sleeves can be more comfortable for hot weather hikes.  Also, a synthetic short-sleeve shirt or tank top can be a great base layer under a light jacket without getting too bulky or hot. 

However, the downside of short sleeves is the lack of UV protection for your lower arms.  For me, I’ve found that if the sun is bright enough, I can apply sunscreen like crazy and still end up burned (maybe that’s not the case for you). 

I tend to use short sleeves on overcast days, especially if the weather is still hot or muggy.

In the end, the decision between short and long sleeves really comes down to personal preference.

hiker in tank top as seen from behind, backdrop of green forest trees and rolling hills

What Makes the Best Hiking Shirts?

I’ve found that the best hiking shirts have the following: 

Loose Fit

While occasionally I’ll wear a more tightly-fit tank top, I’ve found that for the most part, looser shirts are more comfortable just because they breathe better.

Breathable Fabric

You need a fabric that lets your skin breathe, cooling you down naturally.  Some of my favorite breathable fabrics are the following: 

Cotton

Cotton is comfortable and cheap (why it is so popular), although it does hold heat and moisture much longer than other materials.  Lightweight cotton shirts are perfect for easier hikes, especially if you know that you can change out of a wet cotton shirt at the end of the day.

man in a grey cotton t-shirt and black hat on a hiking trail
Kendall rocking his favorite grey cotton t-shirt

Linen

Linen’s has pretty good airflow, great for keeping you cool. Also, linen is surprisingly tough. It can handle being stuffed in a backpack or brushed against rocks without tearing. 

While not as fast as some synthetics, linen does dry quicker than you might expect.  Linen has a decent amount of UV protection due to its tight weave.

Bamboo

Bamboo is also a good choice for those who are eco-conscious. Bamboo fabric is a naturally breathable material, is moisture-wicking, and has the added benefit of being naturally antibacterial. It’s also a great choice for people with sensitive skin.

UV Protection

Ultraviolet protection is super important, and a great hiking shirt is the easiest way to prevent sunburns and the other negative effects of long-term exposure to harmful UV rays.

When it comes to SPF protection in hiking shirts, fabrics are rated with an Ultraviolet Protection Factor (UPF) value – the higher, the better. 

Most outdoor gear has a UPF of 30 to 50+.  I recommend going for the upper end (UPF 50+).  For me, if I’m going to invest in a real hiking shirt, I want to take advantage of the higher UV protection. 

Light-Colored Fabric

Opt for light colors. They reflect heat and light, which really helps keep you cool. 

Pockets and Small Details

I love wearing pants and shirts with lots of pockets.  This lets me keep my cellphone (which I often use as a camera) super handy and ready to pull out.

Other small items, like long sleeves that can be buttoned up and converted to short sleeves, hanger loops for sunglasses, and a vented back can make a huge difference as well. 

close-up photo of a button-down shirt chest pocket

Can I Wear Cotton?  Moisture-wicking Fabric vs Cotton

Synthetic materials that will wick moisture are often recommended over cotton (and there are good reasons for this).  However, I think there are hikes where cotton is totally fine.  Here’s a brief run-down of moisture wicking vs cotton. 

Moisture-Wicking Shirts

Pros:

  • Quick-Drying: This is one of the biggest upsides of moisture-wicking shirts.  This can be a big game-changer when you are sweating or hiking in a humid climate as it helps regulate your body temperature. 
  • Lightweight Fabric: Often made from materials that don’t weigh you down, they’re ideal for those looking to pack light.
  • Odor Resistance: This one depends on the specific shirt.  Some of these fabrics are treated or have natural properties that help combat odors, but some synthetic materials can retain odors more than cotton.

Cons:

  • Hot/less comfortable: Depending on the fabric, many synthetic shirts can feel hot and less comfortable than cotton.
  • Cost: These shirts can be more of an investment compared to basic cotton. 

Most common materials used in moisture-wicking shirts:

  • Polyester: Polyester is lightweight and quick-drying, the one downside is that it can sometimes retain odors.
  • Nylon: Nylon is also very durable and quick-drying, although it can feel less breathable than other fabrics.
  • Merino Wool: This natural fiber is awesome at temperature regulation and moisture management.  A Merino wool shirt does tend to be more expensive.  
  • Bamboo: Bamboo fabric is soft, breathable, and has natural antibacterial properties.  Bamboo fabric tends to be less durable than other materials.
woman in a synthetic-blend T-shirt, standing on a rock overlook in the Grand Canyon
Esther wore this blended synthetic shirt during our Grand Canyon hiking

And Cotton Shirts?

Despite what some people say, cotton can be a great choice for certain hikes. It’s breathable, cheap, comfortable, and perfect for hikes without big temperature changes.

Pros of Cotton Hiking Shirts:

  • Comfortable: Cotton shirts are comfortable and soft, and cotton is what most people already have in their closet. 
  • Breathable: Even though there are some great breathable synthetic fabrics, it’s hard to beat the breathability of simple cotton. 
  • Affordable: Cotton is cheap and great for those on a tight budget or who are just getting into hiking.

Cons of Cotton Hiking Shirts:

  • Moisture Retention: Cotton’s major downside is that it holds moisture against your skin.  This isn’t as big of a deal for short hikes where you can change clothes right afterward but can be very uncomfortable on long days, especially those with cooler temperatures in the morning/evening. 
  • Longer Drying Time: Once wet, cotton shirts take a long time to dry.
  • Weight: Wet cotton gets heavy, something to think about if you’re out on long treks and trying to keep your load weight down.
  • Temperature Regulation: In cold weather or when wet, cotton loses its insulating properties.  I never wear cotton for winter hikes. 

Bottom Line: Against popular opinion, I use my cheap long-sleeved cotton shirts all the time, with a few caveats.  I never use cotton for cold-weather hiking or if I’m unable to change out of my sweat-soaked shirt right after my hike.

The Right Gear for Warm Weather Hikes

In addition to having a great hiking shirt, don’t forget these other hot-weather hiking essentials:

Choose Good Hiking Pants

While hiking in jeans is feasible for shorter/easier hikes, for anything steep or humid a good pair of moisture-wicking leggings or convertible hiking pants is a better option.  It’s an especially good idea if you plan to do any hiking in colder weather or are trying to stay dry hiking in wet weather. 

Good Hiking Boots are a Lifesaver

I used to hike in my old tennis shoes.  While this works just fine when you are starting out, I really recommend investing in a good pair of hiking boots.

Hiking boots tend to be waterproof, they protect your ankles, and they wear out much less quickly than regular shoes.

I love my Colombia Newton Ridge boots and have used them for years. 

close-up photo of leather-colored Columbia hiking boots with red laces

Wear a Hat or Sunglasses

This really helps take the sun strain off your eyes.

Sunscreen is a Must

Wearing sunscreen isn’t just about avoiding sunburns, it’s also about long-term skin health. I always go for the higher SPFs (50+).

Also, be sure to remember to carry along chapstick with SPF protection.  That’s the one piece of skin protection I always forget (I get sunburned lips all the time).

How to Stay Safe on Warm Weather Hikes

Even with the right gear, it’s super important to follow some safety basics while on the trail.

Stay Hydrated

Water is one of the most important things you will carry.  I always carry at least two liter reusable water bottles, especially if the weather is hot.  You can also use a hydration bladder.

A good rule of thumb for how much water to carry on your hike is about a half-liter of water per hour of moderate hiking in mild weather. 

Definitely up the amount in hotter conditions or more strenuous trails.  If I’m hiking in 90+ degree weather I’ll often crank through a liter of water per hour. 

Hike in the Cooler Hours of the Day

Plan your hikes during cooler parts of the day. Early morning and or late afternoon are great times to go (just make sure to keep track of sunset time).  

twisting switchbacks of the South Kaibab trail during the early sunrise hours.

Go With a Friend (or at least tell them where you are going)

To be honest, I do a lot of solo hiking, although I try to stick to areas with good cell reception.  You at least need to let someone know where you are going and what time you will be back.

Know Your Limits

Listen to your body.  If you start feeling sick (nausea, dizziness), stop hiking.  Find some shade, sit down, and eat and drink.

In Summary

Finding the right hiking gear, including the perfect hiking shirts, is always a process.  Our final recommendation?  Try out a whole bunch!  Short on money?  Head over to your local thrift store and see what you can find.  I’ve found so many fantastic deals for cheap.

Whether it’s about staying cool, dry, protected, or simply feeling good while you tackle those miles, the right shirt can make a significant difference!

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