Solumbra, Ultra Athlete Shirt and Pants – Long Term Review [600+ consecutive days]

Sun Precautions "Ultra Athlete Shirt & Pants"
Sun Precautions “Ultra Athlete Shirt & Pants”, stone colour

Greetings Adventurers!

This is my first long term review of the Ultra Athlete Shirt and Ultra Athlete Pants sun protective garments made in Seattle Washington by Solumbra.

I first reviewed these two garments in August 2013 and in mid 2014 I decided to start wearing these two garments full time, until they gave out, I no longer like them, or I decide to start testing something else. So far, now 600+ consecutive days later, none of those three things have happened. When combined together with my original white colour non full zip, and my current stone colour full zip shirt, I have over 800 days wearing an Ultra Athlete Shirt.

Most of the specifics of these garments, such as weight, can be viewed in my initial review. I am not going to rehash through all the specs and such within this review, instead I want to focus on these two garments from the perspective of wearing them daily over the course of a year and a half.

The purpose of this long term usage test was not to see how the garments would perform in regards to thermoregulation – that is already known, but rather how the fabric and construction would hold up to long term use. As I have mentioned previously when talking about Solumbra garments, I have encountered other hikers that have been wearing the same Solumbra shirt for twenty plus years while out on the trail. Getting used on-trail for four or five months by PCT hikers is a great testament – but getting used for 500+ days at a time, well that puts things into my world of usage and testing.

So, how have these two pieces of garments lasted? Read on!

Why Wear Sun Protective Clothing?

Author (along with his father) wearing the Sun Precautions Ultra Athlete Shirt and Paths on the PCT near Big Bear California.
Author (along with his father) wearing the Sun Precautions Ultra Athlete Shirt and Paths on the PCT near Big Bear California.

There are many reasons why long distance hikers, day hikers, those out on the open water, hunters, skiers, and just about all other outdoor adventurers, should wear sun protective garments. Spend any amount of time hiking the PCT through Southern California with Solumbra sun protective garments and one can quickly begin to see, feel, and experience, the value of wearing sun protective clothing.

Hikers are taught, or learn the hard way, to not wear clothing that is made from cotton. No worries of that with the Solumbra sun protective garments – the Ultra Athlete garments are made with 96% Nylon, 4% synthetic, and the vent mesh is 100% Polyester.

I do not want to get into the ‘how it works‘, as I expect most will not care about the science behind things, so I will simply point you to the patent that protects the Solumbra fabric. It contains all the technical details on the ability of the fabric. While reading through them (what can I say, the science/tech side of things does interest me, so yes, I read patents as I enjoy learning things) there were a couple of interesting things I discovered. One is that the white colour “blocks less UV than any other color“[0007] (very interesting!) and, in fact, the darker the colour the higher the sun protective factor is, and in some cases a massive difference, as referenced from [0015] which states, “black fabric having a sun protective factor of 450… white sun protective factor of 40“. Where one has to take into account sun protective factor and thermoregulation due to the fabric getting hotter from the sun, would be an interesting bit of additional data that I would love to someday see studied. From personal experience wearing both the white and stone colours of the Solumbra/Sun Precautions garments, I found the white to cause my skin to get a bit hotter than when the stone, however I found my overall body temperature seemed to feel lower while wearing the white, in truly hot temperature (115°F and above) conditions. The simple fact is, such high temperatures, no matter what you are wearing, sucks.

There are also those who need to wear sun protective garments for medical reasons. While very few hikers have to deal with the worst of the worst issues such as porphyria, they are out there, and for them, seeking out the best protection they can get is essential. For the vast majority however it is about the long-term skin damage prevention, such as melanoma, which is becoming a very real issue and is now considered the most dangerous type of skin cancer. As my father has continued to tell me, “I wish I would have been smarter when I was your age“. He has had surgery twice to remove melanoma, having spent all of his life in the hot sun of Southern California, and being diagnosed with porphyria he/we struggle with that as well. Only recently has he started wearing Solumbra shirts and for a guy that has worn t shirts his entire life, he has started to admit that wearing the long sleeve solumbra shirts is nice and something he should have started doing years ago. There are numerous other medical conditions where wearing sun protective clothings is vital to the on-going health of hikers/adventurers.

Ultra Athlete Pants:

In my initial review I stated that I was ready to make the change to using the Ultra Athlete shirt on a full time basis, but not the pants. I never really explained that.

Looking back I think the main reason for not being ready to use the pants full time was a matter of both cosmetics and my love for the Montbell Dynamo pants (1500+ days of use). At the time I only had the white colour Solumbra pants, and while they are awesome for road running, they just do not work, for me, out on the trail, which is where I spend most of my life. It basically came down to (a) they just drew too much attention around town because of being horrifically dirty looking from being out on the trail, and (b) the white colour pants are also, well, rather see thru, so wearing anything but white colour briefs just made things all too obvious – when the white pants got wet they were even worse – and lastly, (c) with the white colour pants, the ventilation slots are surprisingly obvious to even the casual looker and resulted in a lot of people staring at my strange looking pants  – with the stone colour you cannot even tell the ventilation slots are there. While these issues are not an issue out on the trail, when wearing them, everywhere, every day, things are a weebit different.

In addition to the white and stone colours, Solumbra, at this time, also offers a graphite and desert khaki. A pair of the Solumbra Active Pants in indigo are something I would love to try out and will likely acquire later this year for around the town use.

So let us talk durability in regards to the pants.

After 600+ days of using them the pants have zero cuts, zero rips, zero threading problems, and zero anything else wrong with them. Simply put, when it comes to durability an +excellent+ rating needs to be given.

When it comes to colour fade, I have not noticed any fading of the stone colour, with either the pants or shirts. Sadly the same cannot be said of the kiwi colour shade scarf I purchased, which I have used a lot while out on the trail, as it has faded probably sixty percent of its original colour, which is a bummer because I really like this kiwi colour they are using. But, the stone colour seems to not be fading.

So let us talk about features that are beyond the SPF100+ and ventilation slots, which are the two obviously highlights of the Solumbra Ultra Athlete Pants.

First, the elastic waistband and draw cord. I ordered a size large when I bought them. I was part of the way through losing 130+ pounds at the time I bought them. I have had to tie two knots into the draw cord and should probably tie a third one. If I am not wearing a base layer under them they are a bit loose. I typically wear my original pair of Patagonia Capilene 3 (had them a bit over 8,000 miles) as a next-to-skin layer and wear the Ultra Athlete Pants over them, until it gets too hot for both layers. If it is cold and windy I will slip on my Montbell Dynamo Pants over the top of the Ultra Athlete pants. When it is too cold for that combo I will slip on a pair of Montbell Thermawrap Pants. With that three/four layer setup I can easily go down into the teens(f). I am now around the 150-pound (147kg) mark when I step on the scale (probably should add on a few pounds, to be honest) and I think if I were to order another pair of the pants I would get them in size medium. The elastic hem at the top of the pants has not shown any signs of stretching.

One of the things I truly miss from my Montbell Dynamo pants are pant cuff zippers. At first I thought they were the stupidest things ever, but having used the Dynamo pants for 1500+ days, I came to realize just how nice they were. No having to take off your gaiters, untie your shoes, take of your pants, put on a pair of shorts, put your shoes back on, and put your gaiters back on. Those cuff zips make it so you can just unzip and pull your pant legs right over your shoes. While the bottom of the Solumbra Ultra Athlete Pants do have elastic cuffs, they are just not wide enough to pull over my size 11 shoes. So I think if I had any one ‘wish list’ feature on the Solumbra Ultra Athlete Pants, it would be to have leg cuff zips.

The Ultra Athlete Pants have front side pockets and one back pocket, and as these pants are designed for running they are zippered pockets.

To wrap up things on the pants, The stone colour Ultra Athlete Pants have far surpassed my expectations. I did not think they would hold up to 500, or even 600+ days, of day after day use, but it proved me wrong – and I like it when that happens. The stone colour has proven to be a much better day to day colour over the white, though if I were to buy a pair only for road running events, I would pull out my original pair of white ones and use them.

Overall I am super impressed with the Solumbra Ultra Athlete Pants.

 

Ultra Athlete Shirt:

Solumbra Ultra Athlete Shirt, while surveying a trail route in the Mojave Desert.
Solumbra Ultra Athlete Shirt, while surveying a new hiking route through the Mojave Desert.

A top quality sun protective shirt is where the real magic begins to happen – and the Solumbra Ultra Athlete Shirt is by far the top sun shirt in the world for athletes and adventurers!

I originally acquired a white colour and half-zip shirt. I used it, liked it, and reviewed it. My father called me one day and wanted one so I mailed mine down to him and got myself a second shirt, this time in stone colour, the full-zip version, and in size ‘tall’ so that I could get a bit of extra length on the bottom of the shirt. I have been very happy with making the switch. The white is great for road running, and for what my father uses my original shirt for, fishing, but I found the stone colour is better for out on the trail.

At this point in time the colouring of my stone coloured shirt has not faded. If anything it has gotten a bit darker, due to the massive amount of days on trail and the constant dirt and grime that comes with being on-trail a lot, but it is not what I would consider hiker trash dirty. The stone colour has handled these things much better than the white colour I started with. Unless I was buying a shirt for only road running, I would not buy another white coloured version of this shirt. For on the trail, I suggest going with the stone, or maybe the blue sky colour, if that is available for your preferred size, but I really do feel that the stone colour is the best option for us folks hiking the trails.

The Ultra Athlete shirt comes with multiple air ventilation areas. A quarter way up the chest you have horizontal ventilation. Vertically, on the side of the garment, are additional ventilation areas. There is a horizontal ventilation slot on the back of the shirt, up at around the armpit level. And there are armpit ventilation areas as well. These ventilation areas allow airflow into the shirt unlike any other top garment I have ever used. As you move air flows through these ventilation areas and helps cool down your core body. If you are wearing a next-to-skin layer, the air flow helps evaporate the moisture as it reaches the outside of your NtS base layer, rather than just soaking into the next layer of clothing.

When it comes to layering, I would say that about 85% of the time I have used the Ultra Athlete Shirt as a L2, with NtS/L1 typically being an Icebreaker Tech T-Shirt which I have reviewed previously. In warmer conditions, or when trail running, I tend to wear the shirt as a NtS layer, or as a L2 over a Mountain Hardwear WickedCool tank. If things get cold I will slip on a wind jacket over the shirt and that resolves the cold air blowing through the shirts ventilation slots.

The features of the Ultra Athlete Shirt include the already mentioned ventilation areas, elastic arm cuffs, a half-front horizontal zipper, a very durable YKK zipper, and a foldable collar.

Because it is designed as a running garment it does not have a bottom hem draw cord, something that many hikers like in order to help retain heat on colder days. I look forward to a day when Solumbra might offer that, as well as felled seams, a two way zipper, and maybe even a lowset shoulder seams. None of these are detractors, by any means, and it is becoming harder to find full zippered shirts that offer those features, but I can keep wishing, eh. Again, these are not features typically associated with running garments, so they are sort of outside the scope of this garments intended use, I suppose.

So let us talk durability in regards to the shirt.

After 600+ consecutive days, and over 800+ days total of wearing the shirt, it, like the pants, have zero cuts, zero rips, zero threading problems, and zero anything else wrong with them. They too, when it comes to durability receive an +excellent+ rating.

Normally I tend to treat my hiking gear with the utmost of tender loving care. I decided to not do that when it came to this shirt. I really wanted to test this thing. It has gotten beaten and battered more than anything else I have used. And it has survived. Super impressed with the Solumbra Ultra Athlete Shirt.

Washing/Cleaning:

People are always praising the ExOfficio Briefs for dealing with smell, myself included. The Solumbra garments are very likely the most resilient garments I have owned when it comes to the stink factor. Being mostly Nylon, one would tend to think they would not be all that friendly when it comes to hiker trash smell. Oddly enough, that is not the case.

Over the last 600+ days, I have regularly washed the garments with washing machine, but by far not as regular as the average person washes cloths. They have, of course, gotten countless trail washings – soaking and scrubbings in rivers, waterfalls, etc. Sometimes with a couple drops of bleach, but most often not.

The top does have a couple of permanent stains from food that I missed cleaning off (eating in the dark) but thankfully the stone colour shirt hides them fairly well.

 

Videos:

Here is a short b-roll video I shot a couple  years ago, it shows the white colour Ultra Athlete top/bottoms:

 

Below is a video from earlier this year (2015), also b-roll footage, wearing the stone colour ultra athlete top.

 

Further Reading:

Sun Protective Clothing – wikipedia

 

Where To Buy:

Solumbra Ultra Athlete, Shirt – Full Zipper, Men
Solumbra Ultra Athlete, Shirt – Half Zipper, Men
Solumbra Ultra Athlete, Pants – Men
Solumbra Ultra Athlete, Shirt – Full Zipper, Ladies
Solumbra Ultra Athlete, Pants – Ladies
Solumbra Active Pants
Solumbra Fingerless Gloves
Solumbra Ultimate Crusher Hat
Solumbra Sade Scarf
Solumbra Helmet Drape

 

Promo Code:

Yep, that is right… I have another promo code!

Solumbra/Sun Precautions has been super kind and has provided my readers a very very rare 20% off promo code!

Use “HIKELITE” during checking, or over the phone, and receive 20% off your order!

(note it is not “hikelighter” but “hikelite”, promo code length issue on their end)

I personally want to thank Solumbra/Sun Precautions for extending this gracious offer!  Now all you adventurers go take advantage of this!!

This is a limited time promo code… do not hold off buying and losing out on saving 20%

 

In Closing:

I could say a whole lot more about my love for the Solumbra/Sun Precautions Ultra Athlete Shirt and Ultra Athlete Pants. 600+ straight days of wearing them have resulted in me proving just how amazing they are. With over 800 total days of wearing the shirt, I am just blown away. Want to know if I plan on trying out something else now that I have used these shirts for as long as I have? The answer to that is no. The Ultra Athlete Shirt has become as much a part of my as my glasses that I put on every morning. Until they make a better version, or I buy a smaller size due to all of my lost weight, I think I have shirt that will last me well beyond 2000 days of use.

Thanks for reading,
+John Abela
HikeLighter.Com

In accordance of USA Federal Trade Commission 16 CFR, Part 255: I hereby declare that at the time this article is published that I am a sponsored hiker of Black Rock Gear, Montbell US, Suluk46, Sun Precautions.

10 thoughts on “Solumbra, Ultra Athlete Shirt and Pants – Long Term Review [600+ consecutive days]

  1. Thanks john. I ordered the shirt in stone large long. I will let you know how it works with me. I am in Yucatan for three months a year so sun protection is a must. Thanks for the discount code as well. It worked fine.

  2. John I got a white Railrider shirt – wore it once! Hated how when I sweated I got so clammy. I see you get around this with merino T under shirt. Wouldn’t that be too hot? I need to find a sun shirt solution – maybe long sleeve merino T (NZ Icebreaker). Wore that on JM trail but was quite hot at times. However it did a wonderful job getting sweat away from my skin.
    Also what do you do for sun gloves? Thinking about a normal pair of ladies dress gloves with finger tips cut off?

    1. Hey Rob,

      There is a link to the Sun Precaution fingerless gloves I use in the “Where to buy” section. Have been using them on and off since February of 2014. They can get a bit hot/sweaty and I wish they breathed more along the lines of the OR Spectrum Sun Gloves, but they are way more durable than the OR ones.

      As I mentioned in the shirt section of the article, regarding getting hot: “In warmer conditions, or when trail running, I tend to wear the shirt as a NtS layer, or as a L2 over a Mountain Hardwear WickedCool tank.“. The entire purpose of the Ultra Athlete shirt is to prevent exactly what you suffered with the RR shirt. The ventilation system is the unique aspect of this shirt – beyond being the best rated SPF athletic shirt on the market – and is pretty much designed to be worn NtS in most situations.

  3. Thank you very much for your follow-up review. I have been looking for a shirt and pants to replace my current hiking clothes and I think this may be it. I just checked on the Solumbra site and they make versions for women too. I have been a user and big fan of their hand covers for years and my hiking friend uses some of their other products for protection. I can also attest to the quality and longevity of their products

    1. Hello Linda, yes you are correct, they do offer versions of the Ultra Athlete shirts/pants for ladies (though only the full zip shirt).

      I have updated the “where to buy” to include links to both. I am usually on top of this kind of thing, thanks for pointing that out to me.

      btw, I bought my scarf (which I use as a quasi bandana) in the kiwi colour… soooooo freaking love that kiwi colour. I could so see me buying a shirt in the kiwi colour, but sadly not available for the men’s version… but, it is for the ladies ultra athlete shirt!!

      I do own a pair of the Solumbra Handguards – they are usually inside my zpacks multipack, for quick access, as there are times when they are just nicer to wear than a pair of full on gloves. Much more breathable, obviously. I stopped using them because they did not offer good enough coverage while using hiking poles, but as I have switched to using the zpacks staff, that is no longer an issue – at least for both hands lol

      Thank you so much for stopping by and taking the time to share your story!!

    1. Oh wow, I cannot believe I did not include that in the article/review Frank!!

      I need go back and add a section on this, but to quickly address it for you:

      The fabric works well against those flying needles whose name shall not be named.

      The very essence of the design of the fabric (super tight weave, reference the patent link in the article) makes it good at this. How the solumbra fabric compares to the fabric of the Bug Shirt I am not sure – back in early 2013 I tried working with them to bring to market a lighter weight hiker-friendly version, but that process stalled out – they are 85 grams heavier than the Solumbra full zip shirt.

      I can remember getting seven bites from those-that-shall-not-be-named last year, and every time was when I had taken off my solumbra shirt and was only wearing a tshirt. Four of those happened out on the trail and three in my backyard. I cannot remember a single time when I got bitten while wearing the shirt. And for whatever reason, last year seemed like there were more bugs flying around than any other year in my 20 years in the Redwoods.

      1. I had forgotten about those creatures as well. We have a few here in canada. Almost no one will camp or hike in may in Ontario due to the little pests. I use deet – Muskol and have found it very effective for decades. I wonder will it damage the shirt? Muskol does demage some plastics. I usually put it onto clothing to let the vapours work rather than on my skin directly. If I put it on the shirt or pants hopefully that will be ok. Rubbing a bit into your hair works well as hair is just another hat.

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