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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.