After all the hikes, all the flights, and all the hours hitchhiking in the middle of nowhere this shirt has been with me for 75,000 miles. That’s five trips to China, two field summers of field work in the densest, nastiest sub-tropical forest you can imagine, ten trips to the bottom of the Grand Canyon, thousands of miles hiked, and more than a couple fly fishing trips. If you could put all the trips end on end, the miles this shirt has covered would wrap around the earth three times. All the better, my RailRiders Adventure Top hasn’t even lost a button.
AT A GLANCE:
RailRiders Adventure Top
PROS: Light, comfortable, ridiculously tough
CONS: Vented all the way to the cuff, some might prefer a higher collar.
SHOULD I BUY THEM: YES.
Here is a list of things you see when you look at RailRiders catalog: hikers, adventure travelers, divers, competitive sailors. Here is a list of things you won’t see when you look at a RailRiders catalog: climbers. Why is this? This quote from my review with a quote from my review of the RailRiders Versa-Tac/X-treme Adventure Pants explains it pretty well:
Outdoors gear has bifurcated recently: Some brands have moved away from performance towards “life style” gear (looking at you, North Face), while those that have kept producing top notch gear have a more alpine focus. This leaves hikers in a rough spot. You can either buy crap that will fall apart quickly, or gear that is really designed for climbing in mind. This climbing based gear generally works fine, but, since the demands of hiking and climbing are different there is always some compromise. Hikers, especially those who work off trail, need gear that handles brush well, not gear that allows us to reach for that next hand hold.
This is RailRiders niche, and they serve it very, very well.
So RailRiders wants to be your go-to company when you need comfortable gear you can use outside forever. This brings us to the specific shirt in question: the RailRiders Adventure Top.
Technically, I own an older version of this shirt (two of them, actually), the main body of which is made of a 1.5oz 100% nylon material. About a year ago RailRiders switched to a 1.5oz nylon/polyester blend. This is the same material that RailRiders uses in their VersaTac Light shirts, and has proven incredibly tough in that application. All the better, this nylon/polyester blend is much softer and more comfortable than the traditional 100% nylon. Assuming my Adventure Top dies one day (EDITORS NOTE: not a safe assumption), I will happily upgrade to the new version.
Both shirts also feature a nylon mesh (for increased breatheability) running along the sides, arms, and cape. We’ll talk more about this mesh below in the features section.
The materials have held up very well over extensive use. My field work in China consists of pushing through nasty new growth sub-tropical forests, and my time in the US is spent mostly hiking near my home in Phoenix, AZ. Put simply, this means I spend most my time pushing through thorny bushes; and, with the exception of a couple of snags along the mesh, the shirt has survived unscathed. The nylon does stain when subjected to heavy sun screen and insect repellent use, but then again, what doesn’t?
The Adventure Top is a simple shirt– just the way I like it. It has a single front pocket, which is closed via two velcro tabs:
The pocket is not very large:
Moving up, the Adventure Top has a mock collar, closed with three buttons.
Entry and exit from the shirt are easy, even if you have a giant head like me. Further, since the collar sticks up slightly, a reasonable about of sun protection is offered to your neck. Combined with a good wide brimmed hat you can leave the sun-screen at home.
Like most shirts in this category, the Adventure top is caped and vented along the back.
More interesting, the Adventure Top offers full ventilation along the torso and arms, starting at the bottom hem and running continuously to the cuff. Obviously, this type of venting RADICALLY helps with keeping you cool. While a few other companies have started doing this recently (Mountain Hardware comes to mind), its important to remember that RailRiders pioneered this type of design, and in my opinion, still do it better than anyone else.
So far, I have proven to you that yes, this shirt is a shirt. It probably hasn’t been the most exiciting read. To really show you how special the Adeventure Top is, lets compare it to the competition:
1.) Columbia “Something-or-Other”
This shirt from Columbia is currently discontinued, but THIS is pretty close. Regardless, this shirt represents the most stereotypical outdoors shirt: button-up, caped back, roll-up sleeves. The Adventure Top is an improvement on this design in a few distinct ways. First, the venting on the sides makes the Adventure Top considerably cooler in the summer. Second, I prefer the “t-shirt” design of the Adventure Top to the button up of this shirt, as more buttons are just more places for the shirt to fail. Finally, the materials used in this shirt are really thing and haven’t held up well to use.
2.) Mountain Hardware Canyon
Very similar to the Columbia shirt, the Mountain Hardware Canyon makes a couple important improvements. Most importantly, Mountain Hardware added venting on the sides. Second, they added a pop up sun collar underneath the main collar.
Unfortunately neither of these two additions are executed well. First, as you can see in the picture above, the sun collar falls down all the time, making it basically useless. Second, the venting material is so dense that it doesn’t vent well at all. Most important to me, I’ve just never been able to find one of these shirts that fits me well: due to their alpine focus Mountain Hardware designs all their clothes to be tight though the shoulders, which I have never found to be very comfortable.
3.) Kokatat Paddling Shirt
An outside the box option comes from the paddling company Kokatat. Well vented, with a zip up, ridiculously high collar, the Kokatat Paddling Shirt is one of my favorite all time pieces of outdoors gear. Unfortunately they don’t make it in his configuration anymore.
3.) Other RailRiders Shirts
Not surprizingly, most of the best Adventure Top alternatives come from RailRiders themselves. A few options stand out. The Adventure Top’s closest cousin is problably the Equator HT
This shirt is excellent, offering RailRiders built in insect repellent (which works well for the first 70 washes or so), a flip up collar, and an extra pocket. It’s a great shirt, but I’ve never found these features to be worth the 20% price premium. It also looks way “less normal” if you are using it for travel. Next is the VersaTac Light:
In their current configurations, the VersaTac and Adventure Top have a lot in common: they are both made of the same material and feature basically the same venting. However, despite these similarities, and having spent hundreds of hours in both, I have come to STRONGLY prefer the Adventure Top. While the additional pockets of the VersaTac are nice for travel, the extra material across the chest causes this shirt to be warmer. This might not matter where you live, but in the middle of a Phoenix summer every single degree matters. As such, my VersaTac has been basically relegated to travel duty, where it excels.
So, we’ve talked about the shirt, gone through the features in detail, compared it to the competition, and come to the conclusion that the Adventure Top is the best shirt out there. But, there are some downsides. First and foremost, this:
As established above, the venting on this shirt goes all the way down the the cuff on the sleeve. This sounds great, and 90% of the time it is. BUTBUTBUT if you, for some reason, end up in some poison ivy/oak/summac these vented areas offer no protection, leaving a hilarious (if painful) rash that is perfectly aligned with the venting. Obviously venting vs protection is a compromise, but to me a logical solution would be to vent the areas between the hips and elbow (where nearly all the heat dissipation happens), and protect the forearms and lower edges of the shirt (where almost all the contact with sharp and poisonous things happens). Not a deal breaker, but seriously annoying.
Also, a little more sun protection on the neck might be important to you. I personally prefer the more modular option of wearing a buff when the sun is low, and removing it once the sun gets above my hat line, but you might not agree. If so, the Equator HT is a good option for you.
TAKE HOME MESSAGE
Imagine you are at a bar (or on Tinder, or Snapchat, or whatever fool thing the kids are doing these days) and you pick out the hottest guy/gal there. You walk up, buy them a drink, and right away you can tell this person is not only hot, but also amazing. Even better, they seem interested in you. You head home and a week later you try a real date. At the date you talk, and the person seems interesting, adventurous, and amazing. They have stories of all the things they have done around the world, all the adventures they have gone on, and all the close scrapes they have had. But all along something is pulling on you: you know in your heart you just don’t have much in common. Sometimes you call, and they mysteriously don’t answer. You throw out date ideas, but it never seems like what they want to do. Together you push things along for couple of months before you finally realize, that it doesn’t matter how great they are if they aren’t right for you. You break up, and head back to the bar, just to see that everyone you find there is just like they were.
To people who hike and travel, this is what the outdoors gear looks like right now. Walk into REI and you are confronted with mountains of truly amazing stuff. Arc’teryx, for one, is making the sexiest alpine gear ever made. But here’s the problem: no matter how good their alpine gear is, you aren’t climbing K2 this weekend. Instead, you are going hiking. Or maybe, traveling. Or maybe, doing some field work. As such, their gear will never really be made for what you do, and because of this fact, it will never really be right for you.
That’s where the Adventure Top is different. This shirt has hiking and traveling in its very DNA. Would I climb a 8000m peak in it? No, there are better pieces of gear for that. But, if you told me I needed to pack my bags right now to rut around Central Asia, or trudge through some jungle, or push through a cactus on some overgrown trail, there is nothing else I would pick.
WHERE TO BUY
Normally, I would link to my Amazon page here, but RailRiders is a great little company, so I suggest you buy directly though them by clicking HERE.
ADVENTURE TOPS IN ACTION
I bought all the shirts you see here with my own money and Rail Riders has given me no incentives at all to do this review!
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