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Nothing gets abused like my shirts on an adventure – sure, my underwear gets worn as often and as hard but it’s (almost) always under something to protect it. Mostly I’ve given up on caring about t-shirts, instead I make it a point to buy cheap shirts locally when I’m on the move, wear them until they fall apart or start to stink (2-3 weeks usually), then give them away and buy new ones.
In India I picked up a couple great Nike shirts that held up to the rigors of hand washing and generally didn’t stink too much, but even after a lot of care back home, well… let’s just say I can’t really wear them in polite company because they look pretty nasty. Worse, even in India they were damn expensive, they did well in heat but were useless in the cold, and generally had a constant low-grade funk that wasn’t obnoxious but could get annoying. Similarly I had a couple North Face shirts that I thought might make the grade until they started to come apart at the seams and hand washing could no longer get rid of the smell – and that was after only a month!
Thus, it was with a bit of skepticism that I received a couple ExO Dri shifts from ExOfficio. I liked the idea, and I know ExOfficio “gets it” when it comes to adventure clothing, but was it realistic to think I could find a shirt to wear for a week straight without smelling and survive the horror of adventure? With a planned 20k+ mile ride around South America, I don’t want to put anything in my bag I can’t trust, so I needed to be sure.
Two months ago, ExOfficio sent me two (one long, one short sleeved) for free in a care package as a bit of appreciation for my abuse and review of their underwear. Last week, I bought two more with my own money because I’m sure – three short sleeved ExO Dri’s will be my starting wardrobe for South America.
How did I gain that confidence in two months of sitting around at home preparing for adventure? It’s simple, really… I wore one of the t-shirts they sent me. A lot. Like, almost all the time. I went an entire week without showering, wearing the shirt all day and sleeping in it all night (even working out in it for hours), and not even getting it wet in the sink (as I’m sure my friends appreciate, I did not socialize later in that week – I stunk, but my shirt didn’t).
It passed the test. Nobody but me knows what kinds of disgusting things I’ve done to it and they don’t run away screaming when I casually go “hey does this shirt smell bad?” They delicately sniff and shake their head in the negative, casually inhaling days of absorbed sweat and abuse as if my showering then putting on a dirty shirt somehow failed to violate the proper paradigm of cleanliness.
I had my doubts at first with the stitching (there is a LOT of it, in all sorts of weird places), but I can’t feel it at all on my skin and the stitching has held up so far with nary a thread loose. The shirt material itself is a really strange polyester/cotton blend that feels super soft, manages to feel surprisingly warm in the cold (in fact, I’ve never had a mostly polyester shirt feel so warm when put on in the cold), and yet breathe and feel cool when it’s hot. When wet it doesn’t cling or suck the warmth out of me, instead matching my body temperature well. It’s superior to the Nike Dry, Underarmor, and North Face shirts I’ve destroyed in every way.
Even the cut is pretty good – I deliberately got the Large so it’s a bit loose (comfort is more important than sexiness on an adventure, alas), but it manages to not look baggy at all, even though the sleeves go nearly down to my elbow and the hem is six inches below my belt when I pull it down. The tight hem on the sleeves sucks them in and the softness of the shirt allows it to bunch up a bit at the bottom without getting bulky, enhancing the appearance of the fit. In a proper fit I bet it’d look damn good.
While I wish they offered these in a true dark color (like a deep gray, blue, or black), the only real concern I have is that the cotton does push a tendency towards fraying and pilling, though it’s extremely minor. It mostly shows up in the collar, where I expect the major signs of wear will be over time. Still, to be able to look presentable, feel great, not smell, and enjoy the touch of my clothes, I’m in. We’ll see what the result of the long term test is when I get back from South America – and how many dirt and grease stains the light colors will fail to hide.
One final note: I’m honestly not sure if $40 is something I could pay for any shirt without buttons, even something as comfortable and able to shed stink as these. Luckily, you can buy “last year’s” colors for $26 from ExOfficio right now, which is what I did. ;)