I was intrigued from the outset with the Snugpak pile shirt, as it goes against all of my experience of going for layers rather than one or two bulky items, in that it is designed to be worn on its own. The pile shirt has a thick pile for warmth, softie premier insulation and a high wicking outer called paratex light, the last two of which are unique to Snugpak, so I will give a quick overview of these from the snugpak literature. Softie premier insulation is randomised fine filament fibres that create extra voids and loft to trap warm air, whilst keeping the same weight as standard insulation. Paratex is a lightweight, highly windproof, and water repellent fabric. Exceptionally breathable and able to wick moisture away from source. It is said that this shirt will transmit 12 litres of moisture per metre squared per 24 hours, is windproof to 3 cubic feet per minute and has a temp rating of comfort: -5 degrees Celsius low: -10 degrees Celsius. This particular model of shirt doesn't come with a hood either (some models do) which suited me fine as I am not a lover of hoods, due to the fact that they tend to restrict my hearing and movement of my head.
The shirt also sports side venting zips, a decent size front map pocket, a muff type of pocket, thumb loops and a smock style zip. For those of you that have concerns about carrying this in your bergan or daysack, this all packs down quite nicely into its own stuff sack that packs down to a mere 13 (33cm) tall and 23 (59cm) in diameter and weighs in at 1 Kilo (this was a large size and I imagine would vary slightly between the sizes).
The first thing that I noticed about the pile shirt was the clever design on many of the small features of the shirt, primarily the fact that the shoulder and arms are one piece material, so there is less concern on the seams either rubbing from your bergan straps or indeed them leaking. The other little design feature that I liked was the little flap over the top of the zip at the neck to stop that irritating rub that you get from some zips when done right up to the neck. There is also a drawstring on the neck, so that you can tighten the neck to keep any inclement weather out, however I found this a nice enough fit without having to adjust this.
The shirt is an excellent length, not so long that you can sit on it, but long enough that it doesnt ride up, even when you bend right over. The two pockets are a good size with the map pocket being around 10 (26cm) deep by 10 (26cm) across and the muff pocket being even larger at around 15 (38cm) by 17 (43cm) across the front of the shirt. It is at this point that I came across my few negative points about the shirt, however they are rather minor. The first thing that I wasnt so keen on was the fact that there are six zips on this shirt, one at the neck, one on the map pocket, one either end of the muff pocket and one venting zip either side of the shirt. Of these the one on the neck and the two on the muff pockets had little nylon tags on them, whereas the other three zips did not have the tags making them harder to operate when wearing gloves (especially the map pocket zip which is also covered by a flap). This was easily rectified with some little lengths of cord but I am at a loss as to why they have thought of this little extra for some of the zips and not for others. The next thing around the pockets that I was disappointed over was the fact that both pockets are outside of the insulation layer, so other than utilising the windproof facility of the paratex, you are not going to get your hands warm in these pockets in an emergency. The last little negative point is that the openings for the muff pocket are a bit on the small side at around 5.5 (14cm) and I struggled slightly to get a gloved hand in there (to be fair I use NI gloves, so are slightly padded), so you are going to be a little restricted as to what you can put in this pocket
As mentioned, the shirt is fitted with thumb loops on the sleeves, which does get around the lack of insulation on the pockets to an extent, as you can either wear this as a conventional sleeve with your wrist through the larger hole, or put your thumbs through the smaller hole turning the sleeve into something resembling a pair of fingerless gloves. This worked surprisingly well whilst merely out walking as a test; however there is no extra padding or protection to the palm area of the sleeve, so I wouldnt be too keen to use this for prolonged heavy use as I can see this wearing quite quickly.
The shirt is also fitted with a zipped vent down either side of the shirt with the theory being that when you start to get a bit too warm in the shirt, then you just unzip the sides slowly until you find yourself at a comfortable level again. This really cuts against your logic to start zipping down to bare skin on a cold day, but this does actually work quite well, and I found myself slowly opening these vents throughout the day as I got warmer partly through exertion and partly through the sun coming out and the wind dropping.
The pile shirt is sold as water resilient, and as it had been a nice couple of days, I decided to test this water resilience by wearing it in the shower when I got home. Although not a power shower, it is quite powerful so this would resemble quite a heavy downpour and I was pleasantly surprised that it took several minutes before I started to feel the damp coming through. One top tip at this point is if it does start to rain, I would recommend closing the side vents as a sudden stream of cold water running through one of these is not a pleasant experience. After around ten minutes the shirt was suitably damp, but not soaked through so at this point I immersed the shirt in water to completely soak it to test how long it took to dry. I found that the best way to wring out the shirt was to turn it inside out as it is the thick pile that holds most of the water, after which I hung it up in an unheated conservatory to best simulate drying in field conditions. The following morning, I checked the shirt to find that it was still quite damp and that the seams where the material was thicker was still very wet, however in my younger day I have put wet clothes back on the following morning and the shirt wasnt so wet that I would have had any concerns as to wearing this throughout the following day to complete the drying process if needs dictated.
Another advantage to this shirt is that it is low maintenance in that it is machine washable and for drying it is recommended that you tumble dry, as it helps to keep the pile and the waterproofing, so you dont have to worry about special cleaning considerations.
In conclusion, this is a great shirt for those that like carrying what they need on their back and like to keep the weight down. This shirt not only doubled up as a vest, shirt and a coat but also packed up small enough to consider putting another one in my bergan as a top to either wear in a dry harbour area or even the following day as a dry set. The small little niggles that I did have, were outweighed by the things that I really did like about the shirt and some like the tags on the zips were easily rectified. I would also like to take this opportunity to thanks RVops for allowing me to test this shirt.
Snugpak Pile Shirt kindly supplied by RVOps