Our mate Saphira recently got to test out the new Royal Robbins’ Bug Barrier Expedition Shirt over ten days of adventure in Tasmania. This is a high-tech shirt with a lot of functionality packed in. Let’s see how it fares.

As someone who usually just layers merino shirts for my top layer, the real question is whether I’ll think it’s worth switching to a more high-tech shirt. To test the Royal Robbins Expedition Shirt out, I wore it up Cradle Mountain and Mt Amos, around Fortescue Campground when the mozzies came out for dusk, and around town when I had run out of clean clothes to wear. Here’s what I thought.

Functionality & Design

My go-to merino layers are quick-dry and odour resistant, sure. But a thoughtfully designed long sleeve like this one has a bunch of extra features built-in that might pay off in the long run.

  • Bug-repellant

Using Insect Shield Technology (which uses the insecticide permethrin), this shirt protects you against everything from zika to malaria (even better, you’ll need less greasy bug spray).

  • Breathable

It’s designed for tropical conditions, with air vents to keep you cool. I used it in the exact opposite conditions – up Cradle Mountain in winds so strong they almost bowled me over. The shirt kept me at a nice regular temperature in between the blistering sun and gail-force winds.

  • Sun safe 

Full coverage design and SPF 40+ material.

  • Anti-wrinkle

So you can stuff it in your pack day after day and not look like the dirtbag you really are! I lived out of a small duffel bag for the week I was in Tassie, and I sure appreciated how crisp the shirt looked on day nine.

  • Durable

Adventures tend to be rough! No one wants a shirt that shreds itself at first sign of a bit of lawyer vine.

  • Odour resistant

All good tests require the tester to forego basic hygiene. I didn’t wash it the whole trip and it never failed a sniff test.

  • Quick-dry 

Absolutely essential when hiking. Cotton kills!

  • Modest

This is mainly important for female travellers in conservative countries – you can chuck it over your singlet if you’re checking out a temple.

  • Secret pocket 

A back-facing pocket for hiding your valuables while travelling. Very hard to spot.

What I didn’t like about this shirt is that it only had two ‘standard’ pockets – both on the chest. I don’t really know anyone who uses chest pockets over a normal one placed around your waist. It’s also got a pretty clunky Dad-Hiker™ aesthetic going on, but I guess Dads know that function trumps fashion.

This shirt is quite literally twice as ‘functional’ as my usual merino option. Although it looks a bit daggy, there’s really no situation where this shirt would fail me. It’s not far-fetched to say this shirt will do everything you need it to when you’re gallivanting about the bush or globe. I sure wouldn’t want to be stuck doing the Larapinta or hiking through tropical jungle in a t-shirt.

So the take away here is a high-tech shirt might be worth your while – depending on where you hike. If you’re heading somewhere humid or with a lot of sun exposure, somewhere infamous for bugs, or through thick bush or jungle, you’ll want a full-length shirt with repellent fabric like this one. It’ll protect you from the sun, insect-borne diseases, and gnarly scratches.

Also a good choice if:

  • You want a shirt that screams SUN SAFETY IS COOL!
  • You want to give the impression that you are a serious, no-nonsense hiker
  • You want to curate a look that says ‘I don’t keep up with fashion because I’m too busy hiking’

All of this is achievable in just one shirt.

Jokes aside, let’s launch into this shirt’s main feature – its bug-repellent material.

Bugproof-ness

Royal Robbins’ used Insect Shield Technology to make this shirt bug-repellant, which protects against Lyme disease, West Nile Virus, malaria, and other insect-borne diseases.

Insect Shield Technology is a fancy way of saying the shirt is treated with permethrin, a commonly used insecticide. The permethrin is so tightly wound around the fabric fibres that the shirt remains repellent for 70 washes (so it’s not leaching out hectically every time you chuck it in the wash).

I initially thought the shirt would only repel insects around the shirt, but it turns out the permethrin repels insects beyond the material itself and is effective around your body (though if the place you’re travelling in is seriously insect-infested or prone to ticks you’ll need additional insect-repellent clothing).

I had my doubts whether it would really work, but one afternoon at camp I chucked it on while doing some painting, and the mozzies didn’t stick around. They came, saw, and left. I wasn’t even bitten on my legs which is pretty impressive considering I didn’t even bother to button the shirt up.

Style

The shirt runs a little big – so if you’re a borderline size, go down. If you’re short like me (5’3/160cm) you may have to tuck on the regular. Men can choose between soapstone, grey or white, while women can go for bolder red prints as well as the more subtle soapstone. 

As a bonus, if you go for a neutral colour you’ll have a ‘Ranger’ costume sorted for the next fancy dress party.

Ethos and Sustainability

This is a well-made item and it’s going to last. Because it’s odour resistant, you’ll only need one wash per trip, so the 70 wash limit on the bug repellant fabric should give you several years of use. Beyond that, although it won’t be bug repellant anymore, I expect it would last upwards of five years. 

Royal Robbins’ aims to carry on their founders’ philosophy of minimal impact on the environment. Its parent company, Fenix Outdoor, is registered voluntarily with the Fair Labor Association which sets stringent regulations on textile production to prevent the most common abuses in the clothing industry (child labour, overworking, discrimination, non-living wages). You can access detailed audits of factories working for Fenix Outdoor to assess for yourself if the production is ethical. This level of transparency is both fantastic and unusual and is well worth supporting.

Verdict

If you’re looking for a shirt that ticks all the boxes, look no further than the Royal Robbins’ Bug Barrier Expedition Shirt. It’s especially worth considering if you’re heading to regions with insect-borne disease or tropical areas. This shirt isn’t missing anything. It’s a classic, all-round adventurer’s shirt.

Royal Robbins' Bug Barrier Expedition Shirt
This is a well-made item and it’s going to last. Because it’s odour resistant, you'll only need one wash per trip, so the 70 wash limit on the bug repellant fabric should give you several years of use.
Style60
Function95
Bug-proofness90
Pros
Literally does everything a shirt could do
Good for serious hikers who put functionality first
Transparent production chain
Cons
Unlikely to suit the style conscious hiker
Pockets aren’t well placed
82