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The search for a non-itchy t-shirt

February 16, 2021 — BarryK

This quest has been ongoing for about 20 years, still not resolved. When hiking, I still wear a cotton t-shirt, for the simple reason that it is soft and not prickly against the skin.

All of the online advice is not to wear cotton, as it does not wick sweat away from the skin very well, and is slow to dry. However, most of that advice comes from the USA and Europe, from people who hike in cold and wet terrain. In hot, dry, low-humidity, conditions, I don't really see cotton as being a disadvantage. Even in cool dry conditions, or conditions in which you can keep rain off yourself, perhaps cotton will still be OK.

Maybe. I am just expressing an opinion here, based on using cotton only. My experience with fibres that have good moisture wicking properties is just about zero. And that is due to unfortunate experience whenever I have tried to wear one of those type of t-shirt...

Over the last 20 years I have purchased just 2 of those supposedly moisture-wicking t-shirts. The first was a white one designed for sports people, such as tennis players. I tried to wear it, it felt so itchy, ended up giving it to a Salvos shop.

The second one is a Columbia t-shirt, with "Omni-Wick advanced evaporation", 100% polyester. It is still in the closet. Every now and again, like once a year, I try it on, and it feels so itchy that I put it back into the closet.

Latest attempt to wear it was last week. Then recalled people raving about merino base layers, with super-fine fibres. These are supposed to be non-itchy, for example, this chap reckons they are great:

https://australianhiker.com.au/gear/wilderness-wear-cumulo-merino-long-sleeved-tee-top/

...that is the Wilderness Wear brand, made with Australian Merino 17.5 micron fibre wool.

There are other websites that rave about the Icebreaker brand, made with wool from New Zealand, 17 - 19 micron, also claimed to be non-itchy. See their sales pitch here:

https://www.icebreaker.com/en-au/move-to-natural/is-merino-itchy.html

...hey, looking good! So, a couple of days ago, went into Paddy Pallin, a specialist camping/hiking/travel store in Perth, WA, which, coincidentally is having a clearance sale on Icebreaker t-shirts.

I found one that was just the right size, short-sleeve, reduced 40% to only AU$79, tried it on.... and guess what, it felt prickly against my skin.

I told the sales assistant about this issue, and he said that he also owned one and it was prickly at first but improved after a few washes. ...hmmm

Not impressed. Firstly, $79 for a t-shirt!!! And it is still itchy.

So, I walked further up the road to Macpac, another specialist store. Tried on this one:

https://www.macpac.com.au/macpac-limitless-short-sleeve-tee-%E2%80%94-mens-/119051.html

img1

...felt OK against the skin. Passable anyway. Not as soft as cotton, but not registering as prickly. Registering as less soft against the skin, but not prickly. Only the first impression. I did read somewhere that the experience of prickliness can increase in hot conditions, so we shall see.

Member price is AU$53.99, so bought it. I cringe at these prices though. The fabric is a blend of nylon and polyester, with mesh structure in places for ventilation. There is a seam along the top, so arguably not optimum for backpackers, however seamless at the waist, which is just what I wanted for wearing the waist bag.

The main worry that I have about these itchy fibres is that the fibre-ends stick into the skin and irritate it. Apart from feeling itchy, that can cause long-term skin problems, such as rashes.

It remains to be seen whether the fibres in this newly-acquired t-shirt will remain below the threshold of causing any skin problems. Will wear it on the next hike. 

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