Smartwool Men’s Active Mesh Short Sleeve T-shirt review: you get what you pay for, and you pay a lot

The super-comfortable, high-stretch Smartwool Men’s Active Mesh Short Sleeve T-shirt boasts mesh vents and environmentally friendly materials

Smartwool Men's Active Mesh Short Sleeve T-shirt
(Image: © Pat Kinsella)

Advnture Verdict

A premium product (with a premium price tag to match), the Active Mesh short-sleeve T-shirt from Smartwool is a versatile top that supplies comfort and technical smarts in all sorts of outdoor scenarios, whether it’s being worn as a base layer or a stand-alone top. The material mix – merino, recycled polyester and lyocell – is both hard-wearing and high-performing, adding to the life of the garment and making it ideal for a range of pursuits, and the mesh panels on the sleeves and back facilitate excellent levels of ventilation. You can get multiple outings from this T-shirt in between washes, and it looks great too.


  • +

    Extremely comfortable

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    Excellent stretch

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    Mesh ventilation on sleeves and back

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    Made with environmentally friendly materials

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    Great odor management


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    No neck protection

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    Expensive for a T-shirt

You can trust Advnture Our expert reviewers spend days testing and comparing gear so you know how it will perform out in the real world. Find out more about how we test and compare products.

Meet the reviewer

best fleece jackets: Artilect Halfmoon Bio Pullover
Pat Kinsella

Pat has hiked all over the world, his adventures taking him to Mont Blanc, the roof of Western Europe; the Norwegian Alps; the highest peaks on Australia; and New Zealand’s Great Walks – among others. He’s an experienced tester of hiking footwear and gives each pair a thorough thrashing before reviewing.

Smartwool Men's Active Mesh Short Sleeve T-shirt: first impressions

T-shirts are ostensibly simple garments, but with the Smartwool Men's Active Mesh Short Sleeve T-shirt there’s more going on beneath the surface than you may realize. (There’s certainly more going on than I appreciated, until I started looking into why a T would have such a steep price tag.)


• List price: $75 (US) / £70 (UK)
• Sizes available: S / M / L / XL / XXL
• Weight: 150g / 5.3oz
• Materials: Front body & collar: Merino wool (53%), Lyocell (47%); Back body, sleeves & shoulders: Merino Wool (38%), Lyocell (33%), Polyester (29%)
• Colors: Twilight Blue / Light Gray Heather / Charcoal Heather

As you would expect from any item of clothing from US-based brand Smartwool, the main ingredient in this crew-neck garment is merino wool, and the benefits of this magic material are very well known: it breathes beautifully, wicks moisture away from your sweaty body like a dream, feels absolutely lovely next to your skin and – armed with naturally occurring bacteria-attacking enzymes – it doesn’t start to pong even if you wear it for multiple days in a row while hiking, biking, climbing, camping or any other high-energy activity. All of this makes it a great fabric for use in a top designed for demanding use in the outdoors. 

The downsides are equally well known, and chief among them is merino’s tendency to develop holes and deteriorate over time. This is an unsurprising failure point in an item of clothing made with natural materials, which will eventually biodegrade, but if you’re forking out serious money for a shirt (and this really is an expensive T by any measure), you do want it to last.

Smartwool Men's Active Mesh Short Sleeve T-shirt

The mesh elements on the sleeves and back make this T even more breathable than a standard merino top (Image credit: Pat Kinsella)

And so, with the Active Mesh short-sleeve T, Smartwool have introduced some other harder-wearing fabrics into the mix, namely recycled polyester and Tencel Lyocell, a material made with pulped wood (from sustainable sources).

These tougher fabrics are used to particularly good effect in places of high stress, such as the shoulders (which are prone to friction-related damage if you commonly hike with a backpack or daypack, or use a hydration pack when running or riding). And, not only does this material cocktail make the Active Mesh T more robust than a pure merino wool shirt, the poly content should also improve how quickly the garment dries.

To find out how it performs compared to the best hiking shirts on the market, I put the Smartwool Active Mesh short-sleeve T to the test in the field (and on the trails, and even on the water).

Smartwool Men's Active Mesh Short Sleeve T-shirt: on the trails

Smartwool Men's Active Mesh Short Sleeve T-shirt

The styling and sizing are relaxed, which, combined with the soft merino and flat seams, makes the Smartwool Men's Active Mesh Short Sleeve T-shirt very comfortable to wear for long periods of time (Image credit: Pat Kinsella)

A good-looking garment that works with a pair of jeans when you’re socializing as well as performing well on the trails, the Active Mesh short-sleeve T can be worn as a hiking shirt or a running top – or you can use it while kayaking, climbing, cycling, skiing or during any other outdoor sport or activity. With its excellent odor management and highly functional material composition, it’s particularly well suited for multi-day backpacking and bikepacking escapades.

Over the last few weeks I have been wearing this versatile top while hill walking and trail running in Devon, and during an epic day of paddling along a canal that runs along the seam of England and Wales.

Smartwool Men's Active Mesh Short Sleeve T-shirt

Mesh panels on the sleeves and back facilitate excellent levels of ventilation (Image credit: Pat Kinsella)

Although it’s short-sleeved, I think this T-shirt will work well as a base layer worn beneath a good fleece or puffer jacket between spring and fall, as even during the last gasp of winter I found that it supplied a decent degree of thermal protection to my torso, while not restricting my arm movements at all. During summer, of course, it will perform perfectly as an outer layer, especially because areas such as the shoulders have been toughened up with the use of the lyocell fabric (in the past I have found this to be a real weak spot with other merino tops I’ve worn while carrying a pack).

The styling and sizing are both quite relaxed, and this combined with the soft feel of the merino wool and flat seams makes this T-shirt very comfortable to wear for long periods of time. I was on the water for 10 hours when I wore this top for the very first time, straight out of the (environmentally friendly cardboard) box it arrived in, and after I’d finished kayaking I kept it on for the five-hour drive home because it felt so good. The following day it still smelt new, which is quite an achievement after the sweaty experience I had just put it through.

Smartwool Men's Active Mesh Short Sleeve T-shirt

The Smartwool Men's Active Mesh Short Sleeve T-shirt is expensive but it should stay looking this new for a long while (Image credit: Pat Kinsella)

Similarly, while subsequently wearing it for hikes, bike rides and even runs, I could feasibly have worn it repeatedly before really having to launder it. The mesh elements on the sleeves and back make this T even more breathable than a standard merino top, and add to the comfort levels.

My running activities over the last month have taken place during a particularly soggy February, and the performance of the recycled polyester in the T-shirt has been impressive. It’s less clingy than a pure merino top when it gets damp, and definitely doesn’t hold as much water, get weighed down to the same degree or take as long to dry after you get caught in a downpour.

Overall, while the initial outlay is heavy, this is a top that will serve you well throughout all four seasons and for many years of adventures, so it’s a decent investment.

Pat Kinsella

Author of Caving, Canyoning, Coasteering…, a recently released book about all kinds of outdoor adventures around Britain, Pat has spent 20 years pursuing stories involving boots, bikes, boats, beers and bruises. En route he’s canoed Canada’s Yukon River, climbed Mont Blanc and Kilimanjaro, skied and mountain biked through the Norwegian Alps, run an ultra across the roof of Mauritius, and set short-lived records for trail-running Australia’s highest peaks and New Zealand’s Great Walks. He’s authored walking guides to Devon and Dorset, and once wrote a whole book about Toilets for Lonely Planet. Follow Pat’s escapades on Strava here and Instagram here.