Tees on Test

Tees On Test - Summer 2019

OK so summer's here, the thermals are put away for another season and the tees come out to play.

So we figured let's take a look at a few offerings out there to decide what's good, bad and indifferent.

We recently had the opportunity to head off "Down Under" for a full six weeks, so what better test than this to put a few tees through their paces.

Plan was.....a lot of travel miles.  Driving and flying intermixed with walking and hiking in the rain forests, beaches and cities so the gear would have a real diverse set of circumstances to be tested in.

Washing would be hard.  Only when available would we be undertaking a "conventional" wash at a hotel or in a city launderette.

We decided to limit our tests to just a few lines and elected to take 5 tees to test based on brand hype, price point and fabric differentiation

1.       ODLO® CeramiCool Pro Run Tee

2.       Icebreaker™ Tech Lite Merino Wool Crewe

3.       AWD® Cool Smooth Tech Polo

4.       TriDri® Tech Tee

5.       Helly Hansen® Lifa™ Solen Tee

We wanted to test a few "real world" things to really see if the facts lived up to the marketing hype:

1.       "Travelability" - No such word we know but how well did each garment survive countless packing and repacking

2.       Looks - What does it look like on

3.       Durability - Day to day wear and tear.  Does it stack up in everyday use

4.       Tech Hype - Did the tee live up to its brand marketing hype

5.       Freshness - We wanted to put to the test the so called anti-bacterial capabilities because we couldn't wash them too often if at all.

6.       Weight and Feel - You want your summer tees light so how did they perform

7.       Value for Money - The end game!  If you're going to spend £50 on a simple tee.....it had better be worth it!

So we conducted rigorous tests on daily wear on each line and we'll do our assessments here in the same order as listed above

ODLO® Ceramicool Pro Run Tee

What is it?  A blend of fibres and ceramic to give a natural feel and look with added performance from the synthetic blended fibres.

Travelability: very good as you'd expect from a synthetic garment, the creases did appear.  

Looks: This tee probably of all we tested had a nice aesthetic appeal and the design and the looks were perhaps surprisingly appealing.

This had a more athletic fit to it which is normally the case with European brands and with ODLO® in particular.  Again, not an issue but do be aware that if you carry a touch more timber than you'd necessarily like, you may want to size up one.

It felt very soft next to the skin.  Fabric face has a very natural feel to it and the sleeve length was good and not too "baggy".  A good body length too which historically has been a good feature of the whole ODLO range.

This was certainly one we'd happily wear in exercise and as a leisure item without any concerns.

Durability:  Overall, very good.  It stood up very well.

Tech Hype: Designed to keep you cooler.............well we're not so sure.  It certainly wasn't excessively warm but was there a marked difference in our "core" temperature over the other tees we tried?  Not that we could determine.  Maybe in the lab but in the real-world, we really weren't convinced.

Freshness: It did pretty well.  With ODLO Zeroscent™ system which is a silver Ion process that kind of stops bacteria sticking to the fibres and is a known deterrent to bacteria, overall this was good.

It probably wouldn't have gone the distance and we felt it necessary to give it a freshen up at about a weeks wear or so.  It didn't smell so much but it just sort of felt "grubby" so a quick wash brought it back to life.  It then went the rest of the journey un-washed and stayed fresh.

Weight & Feel: We liked the feel a lot.  Less harsh than a pure cotton tee and with more character.  When wet, it didn't stick to the skin which was good and it dried pretty quickly which was probably helped by the synthetic fibre content that offered a good level of moisture performance.

Value for Money: This is always very subjective but at £40 for a Tee, the overall performance we'd say was borderline for the cost.  But we felt if you had only one choice on the table, then it's probably a good purchase to make.

Overall Rating: 7/10

Icebreaker Tech Merino Wool Crewe

What is it?  A blend of super-fine Merino Wool fibres mixed with a tiny amount of Nylon and Lycra for a bit of stretch and durability.  Ostensibly nearly 85% pure Merino.

Trevelability: Excellent.  Wool has a tendency not to hold creases anyway so even when removed from the darkest corners of your travel bag, this was good to go without any attention needed. Just put it on and let your body heat do the rest.

Looks: We fell in love with this one it must be said.  It hangs really well and the body length was perfect.  Not too baggy as it has a Euro cut and whilst regarded as a Slim Fit design, the size Large on a 40/42" chest sat very comfortably.  It looked new throughout its use but if you are borderline size wise then just go up one size.  It also didn't bobble at the neck which can be a common feature on men's tees with beard rub.

This was certainly one we'd happily recommend in active use and as a leisure item without any hesitation and this stood up very well to the rigours of our adventure.  You'd probably not choose it to play football in but for everything else including dinner.....perfect.

Durability:  Wool by its very nature has a tendency to be somewhat delicate in general but the Corespun™ Technology that Icebreaker use that "wraps" the wool fibre around a synthetic core without and detriment to the garment, feel proved very good indeed.

Overall, it performed admirably even when carrying a ruck sack all day.  No bobbling or fabric abrasions at all.....we were falling in love with it!

Tech Hype: We've all heard the hype about Merino wool "wear it for weeks and it won't stink at all....blah, blah, blah".  Well we certainly put this one to the test on that front but we will admit to a high degree of scepticism over these much vaunted claims.

Wool as a natural fibre has this unique ability to adapt to the body's needs in terms of temperature control.  As an external layer it doesn't make you excessively hot and a lighter weave is great at keeping you cool.  There are no synthetic garments that perform as well but then Mother Nature has had a few million years of development over the manufacturers to perfect this ability.

Freshness: OK we're going to get a bit biased here now.........BRILLIANT!

With such a high wool content which actively stops bacteria clinging to the fibres, Merino Wool has long been a favourite of the traveller for this reason.  But was this all just brand hype?

Oh no it wasn't.........it was worn for 16 days solid every day for all or part of the day and became my personal go-to tee partly due to lazyness and partly because I just liked it on.  It did not smell at all. It looked as good as it did on day one and only went into the half way wash due to an unforeseen accident with a ketchup bottle!  I am convinced it would have gone the full 40+ days without a wash had Mr Heinz not intervened.

It dried in the room overnight and was good to go again the next day and was worn at some point on every day for the remainder of the trip.  The wool dried so fast we were extremely impressed.  Absolutely faultless on this front and a clear 10/10 because we can't give it 11/10.  40 Days sounds like a bible cliche but it really did do the work.

Weight & Feel: We took the 150GSM weight option of the Tech tee and it was ever so slightly heavier than most of the other tees we tested but Icebreaker do this tee in a 130GSM weight too.  That said the feel was superb and absolutely not itchy in any way even when hot and sweaty.  Anyone thinking wool is itchy.....think again.  Technology has moved on quite a bit.  When wet, it didn't clog and certainly didn't stick to the skin which was good and it's drying times were seriously impressive.

Value for Money: This is a toughie and as always is very subjective as it does depend on your budget.  At the best part of £60, it is seriously expensive for a tee but do take into consideration that Icebreaker is an ethical manufacturer and its Merino sourcing and animal welfare credentials are second to none.  In today's world, we should all look to where our garments originate and what environmental and social impact your clothing choices have on our world....it costs to be ethical.

However if you want to travel light, this tee by far out-performed anything else we tested by miles.  So to our mind, that makes it well worth your buck. You could easily purchase 3, 4 or 5 tees for the same price, but that takes up more room and we bet you'll revert to the Icebreaker Tech at every opportunity.

Overall Rating: 10/10 (sorry.....we can't fault it and I've got 6 of them now!)

AWD Cool Smooth Tech Polo

What Is It? This was our only Polo on test and is at the budget end of the spectrum. Polyester with a fibre weave giving it a soft flowing light appeal that is very effective.  This item is a huge golf favourite unless you want a name brand on your sleeve of course.

Travelability: As with all this type of synthetic Tech Tees, it travelled remarkably well.  It folds to nothing, can be stuffed in shoes and is good to go in minutes.  Nothing bad here at all.

Looks: Very nice but can show catches.  It's an athletic tee that sits well on the body and does what it says on the tin.  Very lightweight and relaxed with a very nice appeal.  But for the budget end of the range, we felt this looked very good indeed.

Durability: Primarily Polyester and Nylon which are both durable performance fabrics. That said this style of tee can be susceptible to pulls if you catch it and there's no recovery.  We went into a rain forest wearing one and came out with two small but obvious catches in the fabric so they are tough around the course but perhaps less so on your travels.

Tech Hype:  Polyester and Nylon are widely used in the Tech clothing arena and the fibres are exceptional at what they do.  The tees dry unbelievably fast even when soaked in sweat.  There is literally thousands of this type of tee on the market and all perform extremely well from a tech perspective.  The AWD Polo was no different and it did its job well but in our opinion did not perform as well as either of our natural fibre options on test above.

Freshness:  Tech Tees can ONLY offer anti-bacterial functionality with human intervention.  Synthetic fibres are and always will be, susceptible to smells as bacteria love to hold on to and sit inside the hollow synthetic fibres and when they do, there's no recovering.

To counter this, brands use a wash in anti-bacterial treatment that supresses this unpleasant effect.  It does work but to be honest, not for several days use without washing.  Additionally, this is a chemical additive that we should not be using so from an ethical perspective, we really should look at alternatives.  In summary, brilliant for a game of golf or as a corporate/team piece or tennis but less effective over a sustained period.

Weight & Feel:  Exceptionally lightweight.  It really is something that is superb to wear if you are getting sweaty and wet over a short period.  It's also dead easy to wash as it dries very fast indeed.  You could easily wash it in a machine and put it back on from out the washing machine, it'll dry very, very quickly.

It feels very nice against the skin.  You can't really fault it.  When sodden as often it was, it did cling a bit to the skin but the drying speed was very impressive so that wasn't really an issue.

Value for Money: At around £15, you could buy three or four of these tees for the cost of one Icebreaker as tested above so the value for money compared to these was very good.  It did its job well but you do need more of them on a long multi-day wilderness hike.  Good UVF capability though as is uslly the case with synthetic fabrics.

But this is a product whose origins stem from oil and again taking the ethical path, we should all consider where our clothing comes from.  Our throw away culture has to change and a twenty quid tee only encourages that approach.

Overall Rating: 6/10 for this adventure, 8/10 for active one day use but as a Team/Corporate piece, it blows much of the competition out the water.

TriDri Tech Tee

Why?:  So why take this one at all?  Well quite simply we decided that we'd test a budget tee against all the others to support or dispel the beliefes that cheap doesn't work.  The facts were that we could repeat everything stated above for the AWD Polo Tee and copy and paste it here for the TriDri.  You can pick up this very good tee for around £10 or less in some cases therefore from a value perspective, it was an absolute winner.

But all the other points listed above in the AWD test apply almost verbatim so we're not repeating them here.

If you are after a synthetic Tech Tee then without any doubt the TriDri is as good as any top tier brand name and has countless more colours available and they do a Women's version which many brands don't.

Overall Rating: 6/10 for this adventure (8/10 for active one day use)

Helly Hansen LIFA Solen SCafe

What Is It? We had the opportunity to test the new Solen range from Helly.  Helly Hansen Lifa™ is a trademarked Polypropylene based fabric that is designed to create what the market says is the driest tee on the planet.  Polypropylene does dry very fast indeed, faster than Polyester.  

Travelability: As with the Poly based options, this travels well but with the jacquard effect fabric face and seriously light construction, it does come out looking a bit crumpled from the bag.  That said though, it ironed itself out probably faster than any others we tested.

Looks: This is a super light tee with classic aesthetic appeal.  It's sold as a leisure piece and as an outdoor workhorse.  The key differentiators with the Solen are that it has a 50_ UPF sun protection rating even when wet PLUS it has integrated Coffe Grounds within the physical fibre that siginficantly help the anti-bacterial capabilities.....BTW you can't smell coffee and it doesn't wash out! It does hang well and sits nicely on the body.  To be fair, this didn't rock our boat initially but it certainly proved itself.  As a tee on the beach and hacking through teh rain forests it was excellent.

Durability: The HH Lifa™ was probably the most susceptible to catches due to the fabric finish being a slightly waffled affect.  Extremely light and very un-restricting but we'd probably say not too tough.

Tech Hype: Quite simply bang on the money.  HH sell this as a dry tee and that's exactly what it did almost to perfection.  I don't think we need say more.  Superb.

Freshness: HH has had a long standing reputation that is somewhat unfair, with the term "Smelly Helly" from way back when they first launched.  Certainly early days of the base layer which Helly invented, there were some issues but fabric technology has moved on. In our humble opinion, the freshness rating of the HH Solen was very good indeed and the internal tech did seem to do it's job really well.  It wouldn't go the distance but was better than the  and TriDri options but not as good as the natural fibre options tested here.  A backpackers delight for sure though.

Weight & Feel: Weight was superb.  It's so light it's amazing to be honest.  Feel was not a smooth fabric face due to the nature of the jacquard fabric finish, which is quite deliberate to help move moisture off the skin and accelerate drying times but the feel is not noticeable at all, it's just the fabric technology at work.

Value for Money:  At £35 for the long sleeve and £25 for the short sleeve, it's pretty good market value.  The question is does it offer better value than the  or TriDri options and the answer is yes.  It certainly has a performance edge without doubt and a far wider range in the Solen collection.

Overall Rating: Easily an 8/10 for adventure and travel with a close 7/10 for everyday leisure appeal albeit that's a personal preference.

Who Are We?  Middle aged ardent travelers with a passion for the great outdoors.  What qlualifies us to comment on this?  Experience and a wealth of brand knowledge over nearly 20 years in the technical apparel industry.  Why should you listen to us?  You shouldn't necessarily.  This is simply our personal findings from our recent trip that we thought some people may find useful.