When I hiked the Pacific Crest Trail in 2019, I wanted a sun shirt for the heat. I’d heard bamboo has a lot of the same properties as wool but doesn’t get as hot. Wool was my go-to choice for long-distance adventures for its anti-stink and warm-when-wet insulating properties, but I wanted something cooler. So I got to researching.
I typed “bamboo sun hoodie” into Google and ended up on Free Fly Apparel’s website. I had never heard of this fishing brand, and they definitely were not marketing to hikers. The anglers all over the site looked cool in more ways than one, but were they secretly overheating under that full-coverage hood?
I decided to give this unknown-to-me brand a shot. I bought the Bamboo Lightweight Hoodie, put it on, and started my PCT thru-hike. And after 2 months of wearing this shirt in conditions ranging from 100 degrees under the blazing desert sun to late-season snowstorms, I was sold. The lightweight sun hoodie had become my favorite trail top. Right up until I lost it.
In short: The Bamboo Lightweight Hoodie from Free Fly Apparel is a must-have for hot summertime pursuits in the sun. Like wool, it doesn’t stink as polyester shirts do, but it keeps you cooler than wool. Plus, it’s buttery-soft, so you’ll be happy to wear it for days on end. Nothing I’ve found hits the sweet spot between comfort and durability like this shirt.
- Material Ultrasoft, breathable knit
- Contents 70% Viscose from bamboo; 30% polyester
- Fabric weight (GSM) 145
- UPF 20
- Lightweight, cool, breathable
- Fitted hood is snug
- Durable material
- Won't keep you warm if you get wet
Free Fly Bamboo Lightweight Hoodie: Review
Unfortunately, after weeks of endless rain and snow, I picked up a thin polyester shirt in hopes of staying drier. That was a mistake. The sun came out one glorious afternoon, and I changed into that new dry shirt.
That ill-fated afternoon, I forgot my Free Fly Hoodie on the side of a mountain along the PCT. I suspect if I hadn’t lost the shirt, it would’ve lasted the entire 2,650-mile thru-hike.
I recently got another Free Fly Bamboo Lightweight Hoodie. Between that first hoodie and now, 4 years later, I’ve abused the crap out of countless other sun shirts. I should’ve bought a replacement Bamboo Lightweight Hoodie much sooner.
One Shirt Every Day, for 2 Months
I legitimately wore this sun hoodie every day for 2 months. I washed it occasionally, about once a week, but only when I could conveniently access laundry. Really, I never felt like this hoodie needed to be washed, unlike most polyester shirts I’ve worn since (or my socks, which were always the reason for doing laundry).
Much like wool, bamboo has natural antibacterial properties. If the smell is any indicator, this fabric doesn’t seem to let microorganisms proliferate. Thanks to an antimicrobial agent called “bamboo kun,” bacteria have a hard time sticking to bamboo fabric. I didn’t perform any scientific testing on the freshness of this shirt. But, I definitely monitored whether or not it smelled bad — and it didn’t.
You may have been able to find me in a laundromat somewhere in California, wearing only raingear, sniffing the armpits as I loaded the Bamboo Lightweight Hoodie into a washing machine.
Bamboo Fabric: Cooler Than Wool and Fresher Than Polyester
This sun hoodie’s fabric is the reason I could wear it every day for so long. It’s made of a knit material that’s 70% viscose from bamboo and 30% polyester. The bamboo makes this material incredibly soft and keeps you cool while staying fresh longer.
This shirt kept me the coolest in hot, sunny conditions of any hooded sun shirt I’ve worn. An ultrathin polyester shirt also does a pretty good job of protecting from the sun without building up heat, but I find bamboo does a better job.
Beyond its temperature-regulating properties, this fabric is just plain comfortable. It feels downright luxurious, nothing like the slippery feeling of synthetic fabrics. This fabric is buttery soft, and quite a joy to put on every day (or never take off).
Sun Protection on Par With the Best
Every shirt that claims to be a sun hoodie must protect you from the sun, but the Free Fly Bamboo Hoodie does this better than most. It has an awesome hood that overlaps under your chin to cover your entire neck. This hood fits so well that I use it to keep my hat from blowing off my head in windy conditions.
I hiked tons of long, hot stretches of the PCT with the hood pulled over my head and hands covered up to my fingers (yes, it has thumbholes). Even with temperatures in the triple digits, I never felt like I needed to roll up my sleeves or take off the hood to cool off. And when I did roll up the sleeves and remove the hood, I didn’t feel any cooler. This fabric breathes that well.
After 2 months of wearing it daily, the Bamboo Lightweight Hoodie showed no signs of wear. I’d rely on this as my only shirt for months, without hesitation. (And I did.)
Polyester is definitely the most durable material for a sun shirt. It’s more abrasion-resistant and doesn’t degrade in the sun like natural fibers. However, I’ve never been able to wear a polyester shirt for months at a time because it gets that old polyester smell, and the stink doesn’t even go away when you wash it.
I’ve also beaten the crap out of wool sun shirts in the past, and they all developed holes on the shoulders and back after about 2 months of wearing them with a pack. I expect this would happen eventually with bamboo as well, but in my experience, it doesn’t seem to happen as fast as with wool.
Free Fly Bamboo Lightweight Hoodie: Final Thoughts
Bamboo fabric isn’t a panacea. It’s definitely cooler than wool and less stinky than polyester. It also dries faster than cotton, and still insulates when wet, unlike cotton.
But, bamboo fabric doesn’t seem to keep you as warm when wet as wool does. If I expect to be hiking in cold rain, sleet, or snow, I’m still going to reach for a wool hoodie. But for hot and exposed under the blazing sun, it’s hard to beat bamboo.
And 4 years after buying my first Bamboo Lightweight Hoodie from Free Fly Apparel, they’re still the best game in town for bamboo. This time, I’m not going to take it off.