Best Moisture Wicking Shirts for Boy Scouts

This reader wrote in with a question about wicking shirts for her two sons that are in Boy Scouts.

The thing that troubled me initially about this question is when the reader said that the Boy Scout leader insisted on the boys wearing “wicking shirts” for some reason.

Hopefully this information will help others make a more informed buying decision:

Best Wicking Shirts for Boy Scouts?


My two sons recently joined boy scouts and the leader insists on wicking shirts. 

I have one son who sweats profusely and one who doesn’t.  I don’t want to spend a bundle.

What do you recommend? They both wear about an adult medium shirt.



My Initial Reply:

Hey Barbara,

I’m not sure the Boy Scout leader really understands how and when a wicking shirt (or wicking undershirt) should be worn.

If you spend anytime on my site, you’ll see that wicking shirts do not help heavy sweaters, they make the problem worse. In looking at your note, I am not certain if you’re looking to purchase wicking t-shirts as outerwear or wicking undershirts as underwear.

Which one are you asking about? Let me know, and I’ll see what I can do to point you in the right direction.

Next to Skin Wicking Shirts

Barbara’s response:

I guess as t-shirts that can be worn next to the skin, with something like fleece used as layers. The leaders seem to have a heavy bias against cotton.

The boys’ troop does a lot of outdoor activities year round…not just summer and nice weather.

Thanks for any help you can offer!

Boy Scouts outdoor activities: wicking vs cotton shirts

Purpose & Use of Wicking Shirts & Undershirts

To be honest, it’s a little hard for me to simply recommend a wicking t-shirt without explaining further.

There has been a lot of confusion in the market about wicking undershirts.

Many companies have offered undershirts made from wicking materials (like polyester or nylon), however, most of them were not designed to fit tight/close to the body. This makes them utterly useless from a wicking perspective.

Also, for those undershirts that offer good wicking performance, the wetness gets transferred to the outer shirt more quickly. Although the wearer feels drier, they’re outer shirts soil more quickly. So in a regular day-to-day environment, wicking undershirts aren’t very practical to wear, especially for those who sweat more heavily.

If you’re looking at layering as a means of offering some sweat protection, then you’d likely be well served with any tight fitting performance t-shirt made out of polyester and either a standard Hanes undershirt over it, or some other t-shirt.

Walmart and Target carry many different types of performance/compression tees like this under various brands like Champion, Starter, etc. that normally sell for under $10. Most of these tees are really stretchy, so while they are close/tight fitting, they’ll be pretty comfortable to wear.

Although they cost a bit more, I’m a really big fan of Jockey undershirts. I just received a shipment from the company. Several are performance compression shirts that are made mostly out of polyester, and all fit close and comfortable.

Here are the wicking shirts/undershirt I received:

  • Sport Performance tee (80% polyester, 20% spandex)
  • S/S Performance tee (100% polyester)
  • Performance Mesh side panel tee (100% polyester)
  • Euro CoolMax tee (50% cotton, 46% coolmax polyester, 4% spandex)

The first three are made out of large amounts or all polyester. Even through they are comfortable, they definitely feel more synthetic on the skin.

The Euro CoolMax tee feels the nicest and most natural on my skin. Since it should provide good wicking performance, and it feels nice on the skin, I would recommend trying that one first and see how it performs for your sons.

Boy Scouts: Cotton vs Wicking Shirts

I mean no disrespect to the Boy Scout leaders, but just because a shirt or undershirt is made out of cotton, doesn’t mean that it will perform any worse or better than a wicking undershirt during some activities and in some situations.

Wicking undershirts don’t necessarily make you feel cooler. Plus, they won’t make you sweat less than some of today’s lightweight undershirts. I know this from personal experience and after evaluating hundreds of undershirts.

Compression/wicking t-shirts do help keep people feeling more dry, especially in high-performance conditions. Wicking fabric does not absorb moisture as much, and as a result, the undershirt or shirt will feel less heavy.

This is why athletes love wearing compression clothing and is why companies like Under Armour, Adidas, and Nike have done so well in building international mega-performance apparel lines.

If your sons are going to be doing activities where they are going to sweat a lot (all over, not just under the arms), I would definitely recommend purchasing compression/performance wicking t-shirts like the ones I mentioned above.

If the activities are more passive, then you might be equally well served with a lightweight fitted undershirt made out of natural fabrics or blends such as:

  • Cotton or a Cotton / Spandex blend
  • Cotton / Polyester
  • Cotton / TENCEL (or Viscose, Rayon, Modal)

Boy Scout Undershirts / Shirts: Recommendation Table

Weather / Activity ConditionFabric Recommendation
Moderate Temp, DryAny, including cotton
Moderate or Warm Temp, WetPolyester, Nylon, or similar blends
Cold, DryWool, Acrylic, Silk, Viscose/Rayon
Cold, WetWool, Acrylic, Silk

Hope the above helps you make an educated buying decision!

Let me know what you wind up buying and how well it works for your sons. I believe this information will be helpful for other readers as well, so I’ll be sharing it with my readers in the upcoming days.

This article has been updated, re-written, and republished. The original comments below have been maintained for historical purposes.

9 thoughts on “Best Moisture Wicking Shirts for Boy Scouts”

  1. Undershirt Guy,

    “Wicking” – in t-shirts or other clothing – is a misnomer since they do not “wick” like a candle wick does. The undergarments/base layers that your Boy Scouts and their parents should seek out are available at ski shops, running shops, bike shops, outdoor stores (REI, Cabela’s etc.), and similar establishments.

    They are best known as or called “base layers” and should be purchased in both shirts and long johns. The fabric content, as Mike D. and Ron P. already noted, should be mostly (65-90%) polyester, although nylon, spandex, and other materials are occasionally present as well.

    These polyester fabrics can be formulated to optimize insulation (for colder weather and lower activity levels) or for “moisture management” (transferring sweat and moisture from the skin to the outside air during exertion like cycling, cross-country skiing, running, etc.).

    Fabrics can also be “tuned” to achieve a blend of these characteristics as well as antimicrobial (“no-stink”) and other qualities.

    Patagonia, Duofold, Ski Skins, Allen-A, Terramar, Mountain Hardwear, REI, and a number of other companies make these base layer undergarments in different weights and blends to accommodate different activity and temperature levels as well as differences like gender and individual metabolism rates.

    The only natural fibers to consider in base layers should be wool (usually Merino for its non-itch capability) or silk.

    NEVER WEAR COTTON WHEN IT IS WET, COLD, or WINDY. (Cotton holds over 100% of its own weight in water inside the fibers, and releases the water from the outside of the fabric first, leaving heat-conductive water next to your skin the longest, causing hypothermia and other problems.)

    I hope this helps your readers. I’m a former ski patroller and long-time outdoors person, outdoor specialty salesperson, and cyclist, whence comes this knowledge, BTW.

      • You are most welcome. For those who cannot wear polyester or other synthetic fibers, silk is the best natural fiber for moisture transfer and keeping a dry layer of air next to the skin (the entire purpose of wearing “performance base layers).

        Wool is the next best in natural fibers, and most base layers are made from Merino wool because it is the least itchy/scratchy of the natural fibers.

        Both silk and wool hold significantly less water within their fibers than cotton (silk holds about 20% of its weight in water and wool holds about 40%) so are much, much warmer when wet than cotton (over 100% of the fiber’s weight in water is held within the fibers).

        BTW, When I was an Acting Scoutmaster (back in college, before I turned 21) we suggested wool army surplus clothing and old nylon hosiery for scouts and families who were on limited budgets.

    • I grew up with “thermal underwear,” which often got damp from sweat, and I always needed to take them off when indoors, which was most inconvenient.

      I took to wearing two pairs of pants instead, which sometimes created problems with belts. Many years later I inherited from my father one pair of Allen-A Ski Skins. I vouch for these as a base layer.

      They never get damp, and I can wear them both indoors and outdoors.

  2. Mike D. is correct in the boy scout’s recommendation against cotton. This is mainly for cold weather or prevention against hypothermia.

    The scout training is in layering their cloths and undressing and dressing to prevent saturation while working hard then resting in cold weather. This is also if for getting wet unavoidably in questionable weather in deep back woods country.

    A lot of this is covered under Wilderness Survival…

    • hey ron! thanks for chiming in here! yeah, i totally get it now. a saturated, cold, clammy, wet cotton undershirt is definitely not something you want to be wearing in the deep back woods country.

      i just hope that the boy scouts leaders/trainers are making it clear about when it’s best to wear moisture wicking undershirts.

      it’s one thing to say you shouldn’t wear cotton undershirts in taxing cold/wet weather situations (i.e. in training for wilderness survival) and it’s entirely different to say to avoid cotton undershirts altogether.

      see, when this reader wrote in originally, my impression was that the boy scout leader insisted on moisture wicking undershirts in all conditions. that, in my personal and humble opinion, is a very narrow minded generalized statement.

      the leaders hopefully put that recommendation in the proper context and don’t dissuade the boys, young men, and parents from wearing cotton undershirts altogether.

  3. The reason the Scout leaders have a bias against cotton is because it will not keep you warm if you get wet, other materials will.

    There’s an outdoors man’s phrase “Cotton Kills”. In my experience moisture wicking shirts do dry faster, but for the most part it would be overkill to make you buy a weeks worth of them.

    When I was in scouts we spent many more days just hiking/camping than we did out on the water. A polyester, or poly blend shirt, with no cotton, should work just fine.

    • thanks mike! i really wasn’t sure why the boy scout leader was so adamant about moisture wicking shirts.

      but to your point, a poly or poly blend fitted undershirt would be good to wear if there were a chance of the boys getting wet. just want to make sure that people know that not all “moisture wicking”-labeled undershirts are created equal.

      if it’s really important to stay dry, then finding an undershirt made out of a large portion of polyester or nylon would likely be best since it will not absorb moisture.


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