I have a confession to make. I'm known for being hard on gear, and my sweat can sometimes ruin technical clothing. Luckily for me, both of these qualifications got me tabbed to do some gear testing, i.e. fishing, in our new product line Free Fly Apparel.
If you've never heard of Free Fly Apparel, let me give you the quick rundown. Free Fly is based in Charleston S.C., and manufactures high quality bamboo clothing. If you're not familiar with bamboo as a textile, prepare to be enlightened. I was totally oblivious to the benefits of bamboo clothing before trying on a Free Fly shirt, but I can tell you the hype is true. Bamboo is super soft, breathable, moisture wicking, and amazingly comfortable. It also doesn't retain odor, even after multiple days use. Seriously. It's amazing...
For the gear test, I took the men's Bamboo Midweight Hoody and outfitted my girlfriend in the women's Bamboo Hoody on multiple fishing excursions from late May through July. We wore them on both salt water and fresh water fly fishing trips from South Carolina to Montana, and also on some small stream hike-in locations locally here in Utah.
My first trip was redfishing in Charleston, South Carolina. If you've ever been fly fishing for redfish, you know that the best days are when the sun is high in the sky and the wind is flat. It's no surprise that the shirt performed beautifully due to Free Fly being based there. However, what was surprising to me is how cool the shirt kept me in hot, sticky conditions. The shirt wicked my sweat, breathed beautifully, and best of all, never stuck to my skin. Unfortunately, the guide we lined up ended up being less than a professional so we only got one of the three planned days here, but it was super comfortable all day long.
It was a tough day, but one good cast quickly turned things around.
For my next trip, my girlfriend and I went to our favorite local stream for a couple days in the end of June. Late June was super hot this year in our area, but it's an amazing time to fish big dry flies. Both of the days we fished were in the high 80's to low 90's. Both the men's and women's Bamboo Hoody performed beautifully. We enjoyed all the same benefits mentioned above, but also had awesome UPF protection. Prior to this shirt, I was a fan of the buff to keep the sun off me, but I've always felt like it was less than ideal. My major complaints with the buff are they are hot, less than comfortable, and will fog your glasses when worn over your face. I also get a sunburn line sometimes where the buff ends and my crew neck of my shirt begins. On this trip, I tossed the buff and wore the hood all day. It kept the sun off our faces, necks, and heads while keeping us cool all day long. However, the most amazing thing about the shirt was the lack of odor. I wore the Bamboo Hoody for two days of hard walking, fishing, and camping without the shirt stinking. It didn't even retain the odor from the campfire.
Do you see my face? The sun couldn't really either. The hood also shaded my eyes, helping me to spot this bruiser sitting in a pocket on the bank.
More big dry fly fun... I had a great couple of days.
My girlfriend's favorite features were the hood, the thumb holes in the sleeves to keep the sun off her hands, and how lightweight and cool the shirt was even in hot weather and waders. She was also excited to have a fishing shirt that she thinks is "cute" and has good color options.
For the last test, we wore our shirts for a day of fishing that also includes an 8 mile round trip hike. The walk into this stream is straight downhill the whole way, but the hike out can be grueling due to the afternoon heat. The day we went was especially hot due to it being July and there wasn't any breeze in the canyon. Again, the shirts performed as advertised. We walked the full 8 miles in 90 degree heat while carrying our packs, and the shirts protected us from the sun, wicked away our sweat, and didn't stick to us once. They also didn't smell at the end of the day, which was crazy considering the gallon of sweat they wicked off me. If I had worn my Patagonia or Nike Dri Fit hoodies, I own both, I would have had a hard time getting them off due to the amount of sweat in them and both would have smelled like a European nightclub.
Notice that the shadows are directly under the trees? The sun was beating down on us all day.
Even after a four mile hike, the shirt stayed as soft, dry, and comfortable as it was when we got out of the car.
The Rocky Mountain Bighorn Sheep in the background came over to check out my shirt. They liked it.
In review, here are the Pros and Cons. The pros are everything discussed above and have listed below:
|Lightweight|| ||Quick Drying||Wicks Sweat|
|Breathable||Doesn't Stick to You||UPF Protection|
|Comfortable||Odor Resistant|| ||Natural/Sustainable|
Cons - I don't really have any. The shirts held up really well and did everything they are advertised as doing.
My only other comments are on sizing and bug protection. Sizing is mostly true to size with the caveats described below. Bug protection is only a wish list item.
Sizing - I'm 5'-11" and 190 lbs with moderately wide shoulders. In most shirts, including most Free Fly shirts, I wear a large. However, in the Bamboo Midweight Hoody, I went up to an XL due to the way it sits on my shoulders. In my other Free Fly shirts (Lightweight Long Sleeve, Drifter, and Motion T), everything fit true to size. Note: the bamboo will shrink slightly when you wash them. If you're on the large side of being between sizes, I recommend going up a size.
Bug Protection - These shirts are not advertised or manufactured as being insect free. If Free Fly manufactured them with Insect Shield (Permethrin), they would be the holy grail of fishing/hiking/outdoor shirts. I sprayed mine with Permethrin myself and they were awesome.