There’s a reason why what I call the "safari shirt" hasn’t changed substantively since Hemingway was shooting elephants in it: The lessons learned from a hundred or more years of use across the wildest hot-weather terrain in the world are every bit as valid today. And while I have a whole closet full of these kinds of shirts, one of my favorite’s is Outdoor Research’s SoDo ($68).
A month or so ago, I headed into the Mojave Desert for a couple nights of backpacking and the SoDo was the only on top I took. During the day, when temps climbed well into the 90s, I rolled down the sleeves and protected my arms with its SPF50 coverage and turned up the collar to keep the sun off the back of my neck. Hanging in the shade, I simply rolled the sleeves all the way up. And when night’s cooling temperatures arrived, made colder by the strong gusting winds, I rolled them back down and took advantage of the nylon shirt’s wind resistance.
Some safari shirts pack so many pockets you don’t want to wear them anywhere but into the bush, but the OR version has just two pockets and once of them is zippered and hidden behind a flap. The effect is much more subtle and gives the shirt a chameleon quality—you can wear it to dinner, wear it to travel, and you don’t need a pith helmet accompaniment.
The SoDo has mesh arm pit vents and mesh lining on the shoulders to enable a skoch of circulation. It’s not huge, but it helps. And the nylon dries reasonably quickly, though not in an instant. Indeed, as the styling of the shirt makes it more versatile, so does the weight—the SoDo isn’t the lightest or fastest drying shirt in my closet, but whatever it gives up in the hottest temps you get back in the cooler ones. Very rarely is it overwhelmed; much more common is that it’s the one and only shirt you need.