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Long-term review: Sierra Designs Long-Sleeve Pack Polo

It’s back! After it was disappointingly dropped for the 2015 season, the Sierra Designs Long-Sleeve Pack Polo is in stock again, creating the perfect opportunity for a review.

This is my go-to shirt for 3-season backpacking in sun-blessed locations like the Rockies, Sierra Nevada, and Southwest. Its optimal conditions:

  • Daytime high temperatures above about 55 degrees F
  • Abundant sunshine
  • No or low bug pressure

A long-sleeve hiking shirt is Item #2 in my Core 13, a tight collection of backpacking clothing that can be mixed-and-matched to create appropriate systems for all 3-season conditions.

I have worn this top for about one-hundred days. Why it is a favorite? Free helps, although I get lots of backpacking clothing for free, and very little of it sees such extensive use. This shirt has everything I want:

1. Sun protection.

I’m more wary of sun exposure now than I was in my youth, given that I have increasing wrinkles around my eyes and that Amanda recently had a near-cancerous mole removed from her back. With its long sleeves, high collar, and fabric that blocks about 95 percent of UV rays (anecdotally, not tested), the Pack Polo allows me to be outside in the sunny West without subjecting my skin to excessive sunlight.

To round out my coverage, I wear a Headsweats ProTech hat and sunglasses, and apply sunscreen to my hands and face.

2. Air permeability

The polyester fabric has off-the-charts air-permeability. Seriously, you can feel air move through the fabric when walking; with any wind, the effect is even more noticeable. Due to this high air perm — plus a buttoned chest opening for extra ventilation — I can stay relatively cool even while hiking hard in warm temperatures and under an intense sun; the shirt also dries very quickly.

There are two downsides of a polyester fabric with high air perm, however. First, I am more easily chilled in cooler temperatures. When wearing the Pack Polo, I notice that my mid-layer fleece shirt (Item #4 of the Core 13) gets more use, notably on cool mornings and on high ridges and summits. Second, the polyester is less odor-resistant than merino wool, although its anti-odor bamboo treatment puts it far ahead of my untreated polyester tops.

Patrick demonstrates what does Goddard Creek, a heinous 5-mile bushwhack in Kings Canyon National Park, does to clothing that isn't durable. My Pack Polo, which has gone down Goddard twice in its one-hundred days of use, is not pilled, picked, or threadbare.

Patrick demonstrates what does Goddard Creek, a heinous 5-mile bushwhack in Kings Canyon National Park, does to clothing that isn’t durable. My Pack Polo, which has gone down Goddard twice in its one-hundred days of use, is not pilled, picked, or threadbare.

3. Durability

Given its light weight and its high air perm, I was originally concerned about the durability of the Pack Polo. My worries proved entirely unfounded.

After one-hundred days in the field, my shirt is not pilled, picked, or threadbare, and has no loose threads. My use included two 5-mile bushwhacks down the chaparral-choked Goddard Creek in Kings Canyon National Park, which is at least as heinous as any brush in Alaska.

4. Looks

When backpacking, I prefer to look sharp — not sloppy, and not like I’m about to go on a safari. The Pack Polo meets this requirement.

Three instances when there are better picks

The Long-Sleeve Pack Polo is not ideal for all 3-season conditions. Specifically:

1. Eastern woodlands

Due the thick tree canopy and lower elevations, sun exposure is much less intense in the East, and thus the sun protection afforded by a long-sleeve shirt is less necessary. Instead, find more comfort with a short-sleeve shirt, which is Item #1 in the Core 13. For you, Sierra Designs offers a Short-Sleeve Pack Polo with identical features and fabric.

2. Pacific Northwest

It’s similarly shady in the PNW’s temperate rain forests, but temperatures are generally cooler; it also rains even more. The Pack Polo would work for windows of warmer and drier weather, but for normal PNW conditions I tend to prefer a short- or long-sleeve lightweight merino wool shirt, like the Icebreaker Quattro Polo Shirt.

Peak mosquito season in the Yukon Arctic. The ExOfficio Halo Shirt, which is permethrin-treated and made of tightly woven nylon, kept bites to a minimum.

Peak mosquito season in the Yukon Arctic. The ExOfficio Halo Shirt, which is permethrin-treated and made of tightly woven nylon, kept bites to a minimum.

3. Bug season

Because the Pack Polo is made of a loose knit and has no permethrin treatment, it offers no protection from biting insects like mosquitoes and black flies. Instead, you want a a bug shirt, which is Item #3 in the Core 13. Note: With an at-home permethrin treatment, you can convert the Pack Polo into a bug shirt.

Sizing notes

The Sierra Designs Long-Sleeve Pack Polo seems to runs slightly small. I’m 6′ and 160 lbs, and consistently a medium, sometimes a tight small. I wear a Medium in the Pack Polo, and I wouldn’t want it to be any smaller. If you tend to be a larger medium, I’d recommend a Large. I can’t speak to the other sizes, but it’s reasonable to think that all of the sizes are skewed. Call customer service to confirm.


Disclosures. I am a product consultant and brand ambassador for Sierra Designs, which supports my insistence to provide only genuine product recommendations, i.e. if the Pack Polo were a crappy product, I wouldn’t have written this review. Also, this post contains affiliate links, commissions from which help to support this content.

21 Responses to Long-term review: Sierra Designs Long-Sleeve Pack Polo

  1. Shawn K. February 28, 2016 at 11:37 pm #

    Thanks for the review. It seems odd that the LS Polo Shirt was dropped from the SD catalog, but I’m glad it’s back. I like reading that the product description matches your experience in the field. I’ll probably buy a SS Polo Shirt when I decide to replace my running T.

    I hope you don’t mind a mini-review of another Sierra Designs shirt. I recently bought the LS Solar Wind Shirt, which seems very similar. From your description of the polo, I believe the inner arms & back of the Solar Wind Shirt use the same fabric. The rest of the Solar’s fabric is a much tighter weave, but I believe it’ll breathe well enough for all but the hottest weather. Anyone wanting a little more warmth than the LS Polo offers might want to take a look:

    http://sierradesigns.com/product/long-sleeve-solar-wind-shirt

    • Andrew Skurka February 29, 2016 at 9:07 am #

      Hi Shawn –

      I didn’t even read SD’s product description on the website — I’ll have to now, to see how closely the comments match up.

      Re the Solar Wind Shirt, I think your comments are spot on. I wore that shirt for a month straight last April in southern Utah for product testing, and I’d agree that it is a more comfortable shirt for cooler temperatures because most of the shirt is made with fabric that is less air permeable. My chief complain was that they used buttons instead of snaps, so opening the chest to vent is more of a process than it should be. The “wind shirt” label is entirely inappropriate, because it’s really a straight-up hiking shirt. I suppose it could be worn as a second layer, but frankly I’d prefer a fleece for that.

  2. Matt February 29, 2016 at 9:24 am #

    Sizing is definitely off across the board. I’m a large in most shirts, occasionally a medium (but rarely) and I came across one of these at REI the other day in an XL for dirt cheap. It was skin tight.

    • Andrew Skurka February 29, 2016 at 9:29 am #

      Skin tight all over, or in particular spots? This is definitely a slimmer fitting shirt (e.g. torso, arms), which is part of the reason I like it — my dress shirts are all Extra Slim Fit, and they’re probably still not slim enough.

      • Shawn K. February 29, 2016 at 6:58 pm #

        Re: Sizing – In addition to actual measurements, I like the way ExOfficio adds additional descriptors to their sizing options.

        http://www.exofficio.com/garment-info/sizing

        Sierra Designs might consider something along the same lines, especially as they continue to grow their catalog. I like to buy off the rack, but I don’t have any stores near me, so I have to use online information for many of my purchases.

      • Scott Nelson May 20, 2016 at 10:13 pm #

        I bought one of these shirts and it is a slim fit. One area that surprised me was how slender the forearms and cuffs are. It is pretty tight to push up the sleeves on a warm day. And no one has ever accused me of Pop eye forearms (more like Olive Oil arms). I modified the sleeves by splitting the bottom of the sleeve seam and sewing on a tab with snaps. Like the shirt overall.

        • Andrew Skurka May 21, 2016 at 8:24 am #

          If you send me a photo of your modification I’ll post it here.

          I’m definitely in the Olive Oil camp on arm size, which is why this shirt works as well as it does for me. But it’s definitely a slim fit and will not work for thicker guys.

  3. Jared March 3, 2016 at 12:27 am #

    I always hesitate to buy a collared hiking shirt. It seems like it could be annoying with a pack and straps, and I don’t really see any advantages. Do you actually “pop” the collar for sun protection? Or is it mainly for style? Thanks for the review.

    • Andrew Skurka March 3, 2016 at 5:49 am #

      Since I normally wear a caped hat in sunny conditions I do not need to pop the collar as much, but will if it is exceptionally sunny, eg lots of snow travel. This makes it mostly a look thing for me — I think a collared shirt looks better.

  4. Sam A. March 7, 2016 at 4:35 am #

    Hi Andrew,

    Thank you for the review. I have some of the short sleeve pack polos, and love their style and comfort – they are quickly becoming my go-to shirt off the trail as well as on. I am about 6’4″ and slim, so the large fits well for me. I ordered some of of the long sleeve shirts and expect to be equally satisfied with them.

    I’m wondering to see what comments you may have regarding the concealed pocket in the front of the shirt. Have you used it? I have not found the extra bit of fabric to be uncomfortable. I have not used it yet – perhaps when the weather warms up I’ll stash a credit card/bus pass in it to free up my shorts pocket.

    • Andrew Skurka March 7, 2016 at 6:46 am #

      You’re proportional to me (but taller) and you’ll like the L/S. I wore the 2016 version out yesterday and had forgot how slim-fit it is. It’s essentially tailor made for me (6′, 160 lbs, 40-inch chest, 30-in waist) but I can understand why a few others have complained about the fit — if my arms had more girth, it might be a tough squeeze.

      Re the pocket, I NEVER use it and I’ve recommended to the designer that it be removed so that the retail price can be dropped by $5.

      • Shawn K. March 8, 2016 at 11:10 pm #

        “Re the pocket, I NEVER use it and I’ve recommended to the designer that it be removed so that the retail price can be dropped by $5.”

        – Thank you!

  5. gary March 9, 2016 at 8:07 pm #

    Great review. What other LS shirts do you know of that are comparable to the the SD pack polo? -i’d rather not spend 75$ on a shirt but i might have to.

    • Andrew Skurka March 10, 2016 at 7:23 am #

      I hear you on cost. I hate paying what seems like an exorbitant amount for anything, particularly clothing since I often get it for free. But when I find something that I really like, I am willing to bear the cost, and then I use it until the final thread falls off my body. I have a few running tops and shorts, in particular, about which I feel this way. They fit me perfect, performed exactly as I wanted them to, etc. I literally wear them every day, and wash them daily when I take my post-run shower.

      Anything with wool is going to be $60+, even on sale.

      You can get pure polyester athletic L/S shirts for as low as about $25, but you probably won’t be happy with them.

  6. eliz March 14, 2016 at 10:42 am #

    Do you wear the shirt in medium or large?

    • Andrew Skurka March 14, 2016 at 10:50 am #

      I’m a medium. If I were any bigger (6′, 160 lbs, 40-inch chest) I would up-size.

  7. Ronnie April 4, 2016 at 11:27 pm #

    Any equivalent for females?

    • Andrew Skurka April 5, 2016 at 8:48 am #

      Unfortunately, not perfect equivalents in the SD line.

  8. Kathryn June 6, 2017 at 9:09 am #

    Thanks for sharing all your wonderful experience. I could not find the SPF factor for the Pack Polo, even on the shirt labels. I am concerned that non-labeled fabrics are sometimes as low as SPF5. Could you please comment: tanning experience would do 🙂

    • Andrew Skurka June 6, 2017 at 11:29 am #

      A test is required to publicize the SPF rating of any fabric, and most companies decide that the test is not financially worthwhile. Personally, I have moderate skin (not sensitive, but not Mediterranean either) and I’ve never been tanned, nevermind burned, through any hiking shirt, including the Pack Polo.

      • Kathryn June 6, 2017 at 4:24 pm #

        Thank you again, that is very helpful as my current high SPF shirts are OK for day hikes, but this shirt seems better designed for backpacking.

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