Cycling-Friendly Flannels and Bikepacking Button-Downs
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Are flannels the next best cycling garment? We think so. Whether you’re on a monthlong tour or a casual ride through town, a flannel is nearly always a safe bet—not to mention that a collar puts a little polish on any ol’ dirtbag. Here are our thoughts on eight of our favorite cycling-friendly flannels, including options from Anian, The Overland, Cascada, Kitsbow, Club Ride, and Search and State…
The term flannel has been used loosely—and incorrectly—for some time now. The days of your dad’s soft-woven wool or cotton button up flannel are long gone, as manufacturers have offered their own take on a classic. Flannel refers to the actual weave of the fabric, often made from thick wool or cotton that has a brushed finish. During the industrial revolution, there was an increase in mills processing wool, which eventually gained popularity among the working class. Nowadays, the outdoor industry has bastardized the term to define any button-down style shirt with a plaid-like pattern. So with that, we’ll toss the precise etymological definition aside for this roundup review.
While certainly not a traditional garment in the cycling milieu, flannels have been a primary part of our wardrobe for years, and are becoming increasingly common for the more relaxed cycling subgenera. A button-down is often all you need for an outer layer on a spring gravel jaunt, or late fall shred around your local singletrack. And it’s perfect for a bikepacking outing, whether riding in it, or tossing into a bag as an extra layer. A flannel or button-down also makes a relatively minimal kit inclusion to have something for a not-too-shabby look off the bike during a long tour. In summary, button-downs are easily vented to dump extra heat during a big climb, the collar and long sleeves can provide some extra protection from the elements, and it gives you the option of looking slightly less like a dirtbag when rolling into town for a resupply. Here’s what we look for:
Materials and Durability
A well-thought-out fabric blend is key to a good cycling-friendly flannel. Wool is great as it offers natural odor resistance, insulation (even when wet), and a decent level of breathability. There are also some 100% cotton blends that have their own benefits, such as SAS’s Japanese puckered cotton (read more about that below). Polyester blends offer excellent breathability and durability, but they aren’t made of natural fibers, and micro-plastics certainly have negative impacts on our environmennt.
Athletic-ish Fit and Cut
First and foremost, we find that it’s important to find a flannel or button-up shirt with a fit that’s not too baggy and can move with you as you ride. This, of course, becomes more important the more aggressively you ride. All of the flannels here offer more of a semi-athletic cut, which isn’t overly tight, but not too loose either. Some even offer stretch fabrics at the armpit and other more technical fabrics in places to offer specific performance benefits for cyclists.
Snaps are Something Special
Some of us here find snap buttons to be an integral feature in a cycling-friendly flannel. It’s crucial to be able to have the ability to button and unbutton on the fly, as you’re riding, with gloved hands. As Logan put it, “I sweat a lot and run hotter than most. Even in the dead of winter, I need to be able to tweak what’s vented. I often unbutton a few of the buttons or the entire front, and even the sleeves as I’m climbing, then button them as I’m coasting. Snaps are paramount; you can’t do this with typical flat buttons.”
We’ve put together a list of eight of our favorite cycling-friendly flannels from a variety of brands. Find our thoughts on each below, including key specs, material, sizing, weight, and a short review.
Anian Modern Melton
Tested by Miles & Emily
British Columbia-based Anian is not a cycling company. However, they’ve made it their mission to produce high-quality clothing and accessories using salvaged natural fibers and keeping manufacturing in Canada. Anian works closely with a textile recycling company in Italy to repurpose salvaged wool, which creates a far less impactful textile and means less waste in landfills. I find Anian’s business model is very attractive, and after a few months of humming and hawing, I purchased one of their woven wool garments for myself.
Traditionally used in pea coats worn by sailors, melton wool’s weave is so tight that it’s resistant to both wind and water. It’s breathable, insulating, and has a timeless, sharp look. Anian’s Modern Melton is manufactured from 80% recycled wool, 20% nylon, and made in British Columbia. Although it’s the heaviest and least packable flannel in this article, it’s the one I grab first when heading out the door for an urban cruise or for an evening walk. Due to its size and weight, I pretty much reserve the Melton for day rides, but would definitely consider it if I was heading out on a multi-week trip with some stopovers in towns along the way.
Emily’s Thoughts: I didn’t buy my Modern Melton thinking it would be used for biking. Typically, I don’t buy $200 shirts to ride in, and would much rather spend that money on streetwear or food. Wearing it to work turned into wearing it on daily walks, which morphed into the perfect layer for a surprise winter on the west coast. Since then, it’s become a layer I know I can count on, offering a consistent barrier against the elements in a wide range of conditions. Compared to many cycling-specific button-ups I’ve seen, it’s also way less busy and much more classy. And I appreciate that Anian offers the same colours and styling in the men’s and women’s versions.
It’s worth noting that Anian offers lighter weight button-ups that would be easier to pack on a bikepacking trip, but they are mostly made from recycled cotton, and not nearly as impressive (although still very nice) as the Modern Melton. The Modern Melton is offered in a variety of timeless colours and comes in both men’s and women’s sizing.
- Size Range: Womens: XS – XL / Mens: S – XXL
- Material: 80% recycled wool, 20% nylon
- Weight: 580 grams (W’s Small) / 690 grams (M’s Large)
- Place of Manufacture: Canada
- Price: $189 CAD (~$147 USD)
- Manufacturer’s Details: AnianMFG.com
Cascada Land Wool Shirt
Tested by Miles
The Cascada Land Wool Shirt is by far the most comfortable flannel I’ve worn. Although the name suggests a wool construction, it’s actually 77% polyester and 16% wool, with 7% elastan for some stretch. The combination is soft, stretchy, and quick-drying, perfect for long days on the bike that call for a little protection from the cool air.
There are a few subtle details that set the Land Wool Shirt apart from others I’ve worn. First, the elastic cuffs feature the same brushed fabric that is comfortable next to skin and also keeps any unwanted slop at bay. The snap buttons hold tight but are easier to deal with when it comes time to remove or air out. The fit is slim but it worked well with my medium build, and the length works but some may find it too short.
Compared to the others I’ve worn, the Cascada Land Wool Shirt offers a great combination of warmth and breathability. It provides enough insulation for cool mornings but isn’t overkill once you start moving. I brought it to the South Chilcotin Mountains this fall and ended up wearing it almost all day, and although I may have not benefited from having a collar in the backcountry, I’m certain I must have looked very professional out there to the bears.
The Cascada Land Wool Shirt comes in five different colours: yellow, teal, maroon, blue, and print; and five sizes. Although Cascada has a few women-specific items, the Land Wool Shirt is only available in men’s sizing.
- Size Range: Mens XS – XL
- Material: 77% Polyester, 16% Wool, 7% Elastan
- Weight: 292 grams (M’s Medium)
- Place of Manufacture: Italy
- Price: €110 (~$130 USD)
- Manufacturer’s Details: Cascada.cc
Photo by RJ Sauer from the South Chilcotin Mountains
Club Ride Go Long and Daniel Flannel
Tested by Logan
It’s hard to round up cycling-specific flannels without mentioning Club Ride. I bought my first Club Ride shirt (the Jack Flannel) back around 2014 based on a recommendation from a friend. I liked it immediately for its breathability and comfort on and off the bike. Fast forward nearly six years and I’m pretty sure that it’s now officially my most ridden-in article of clothing. It has a few battle wounds from snags and brambles, but it’s still going strong.
For this roundup, I reached out to Club Ride, explained that shirt, and asked for a couple of their newer models to try out and compare. Find specs and reviews of both below. But first, let me clarify, Club Ride no longer makes a shirt that’s exactly the same weight as the Jack Flannel. Instead, the Go Long has a slightly lighter weight fabric, and the Daniel Flannel is a little heavier. They also both contain a small percentage of spandex for stretch now, which the older model did not. That said, both of the newer models have the same set of features I came to love about the original: snap buttons, vented pits, a zippered hip pocket, reflective details, and a great fit.
And mentioned, the Club Ride Go Long shirt is a hair thinner than my O.G. Club Ride shirt, but it seems to have a slightly tighter weave, which puts it in almost the same temperature class. It’s one of those shirts that can be worn comfortably in warmer 70-80°F temps, or used as a layer to add a little breathable wind protection in the 60s. And that’s how I generally use it. As mentioned, I run pretty hot, so I find that this over an ultralight, long-sleeve merino base layer is the perfect combo, even in temperatures down in the 50s.
Another factor that makes the Go Long a very versatile piece is that it packs up really small, certainly smaller than all the other shirts listed here. Using the old fruit comparison, I’d say that my men’s size medium rolls up and compresses into the size of a hearty apple. That makes it an excellent shirt to have in the seat pack for off-bike city exploring on a longer tour. I used to carry an old ultra-thin polyester thrift store “western” style shirt from the 1970s on bike trips. I always thought it was the ultimate piece of gear; it weighed nothing and packed up to the size of a fist. The Go Long is kind of that, although slightly larger and more technical. As far as on-bike performance, like the Jack Flannel, its breathes and vents well with a mostly polyester fabric, perforated material at the armpits, and quick open and close snaps.
The Daniel Flannel is a little heavier than both the Go Long and the older Jack Flannel. It also has a slightly different, soft, brushed texture that’s, well, more like flannel. I’ve only gotten a few rides in with the Daniel, but so far I really like it. It offers a good combination of warmth and breathability, which is often a tough balance. I’ve found it to be best suited for temps hovering in the upper 40s to mid-50s when used with a thin merino base layer. As for packability, the men’s medium rolls up and compresses into the size of a small cantaloupe.
All in all, I’ve been impressed with both the Go Long and the Daniel Flannel. I immediately found the same qualities that I love about the Club Ride Jack Flannel, in two different weights. Many of you might have noticed—and be wondering about—their products’ place of manufacture. According to Mike Herlinger, Club Ride’s founder, he searched for a while to find the ideal material, which eventually led him to meet Rupesh, who owns and operates a textile facility in Mumbai, India. As it happens, this factory also mills its own fabric on house, and apparently, finding a mill and textile manufacturer in the same location is a rare opportunity to eliminate a major step in the supply chain. Mike added that Rupesh’s company goal was to become BlueSign certified. After spending some time at the factory, Mike and Club Ride helped facilitate this goal by funding an on-site water treatment facility to manage the fabric dying process.
- Size Range: Men’s S-XXL
- Material: Go Long: 95% Poly / 5% Spandex; Daniel: 92% Polyester, 2% Spandex
- Weight: Go Long: 190 grams; Daniel: 347 grams
- Place of Manufacture: India
- Price: $90 (Go Long) / $100 (Daniel)
- Manufacturer’s Details: Go Long / Daniel
Tested by Logan & Virginia
The Kitsbow Icon is a longstanding favorite among a few of us here. Cass and Virginia both have one of the previous versions that have seen countless miles and loads of everyday use. Since then, Kitsbow moved to our home state in the Appalachian Mountains of North Carolina (stay tuned as we’ll be paying them a visit when it’s safe to do so), where the current iteration of the Icon is now handmade to order by a relatively small shop. That’s the obvious answer to the main question that people usually ask when considering this shirt: Is this shirt is worth the hefty investment? After all, if you’re going to drop $220 on a flannel shirt, you want to know it’s good for the long haul, right?
Aside from fact that it’s made in the USA, there are a few other factors that give the Icon a premium price tag. First and foremost are the materials used in its construction. The Icon is made with high-end Pendleton wool, a fabric that’s been woven in Oregon since 1863. It also features elbows and shoulder panels made from Schoeller 3X Dry, a fabric that’s not only dirt and water repellant, it’s also pretty tough. Second is the Icon’s design. One question we regularly get is, “Mind if I ask where you got that shirt?” As a matter of fact, I heard that just two days at one of our local trailheads. But hey, it’s a sharp garment… and it comes in both men’s and women’s cuts, each with the same detailing and a perfect fit. Speaking to that, I’d call the Icon a fairly slim fit, as it runs slightly small to size. I usually wear a medium button-down and chose to get a large as I’d heard that they ran a little slim. That said, Virginia’s women’s medium fits true to size.
The Kitsbow Icon also has a couple of other features worth mentioning. Aside from the easy-to-use snap buttons throughout, the Icon also has shoulder vents and longer than usual double-snap plackets that make rolling up sleeves ever easier. I’ve found the long plackets to be a really nice, albeit not-so-obvious perk to this shirt that allow quick ventilation and the ability to quickly roll up sleeves over the elbows. Many of the other shirts that I’ve tried here have relatively short plackets, for what it’s worth.
As for a temperature reference for this shirt, it actually has a pretty wide range. Obviously, everyone is different, but the medium-thin spec Pendleton wool seems to breathe pretty well in mildly cold weather. And, it’s also surprisingly warm when the mercury drops. Just the other night we tackled a night ride up to a viewpoint to check out the “Christmas Star” in its full glory and rode back down when the temps were near 40°F. I wore a thin merino under layer and the Icon and was never really cold, even on a long 30-minute gravel descent. At the same time, I’ve worn it on sweaty climbs in the upper 50s and just had to unbutton the front and roll the sleeves to manage the temperature. It’s a truly versatile garment that’s not only usable in a variety of conditions, it seems nearly invincible. To me, it’s kind of a “if could only bring one top” kind of piece. It’s something I’d probably pack if I was on the Alone TV show. All that said, it’s not the lightest or smallest packing shirt of the bunch. My men’s large rolls up and compresses to the size of a large cantaloupe, and Virginia’s women’s medium to that of an average sized cantaloupe.
- Size Range: M’s XS-XXL / W’s XS-XXL
- Material: Pendleton Wool, 3XDRY (shoulders/elbows)
- Weight: 466 grams (M’s Large); 374 grams (W’s Medium)
- Place of Manufacture: North Carolina, USA
- Price: $220
- Manufacturer’s Details: Men’s / Women’s
Pearl Izumi Rove
Tested by Logan
Last fall, Pearl Izumi introduced a lineup of adventure-gravel-casual clothing that included a nice merino wool T-shirt, and the wrinkle-resistant, snap-button Rove button-down shirt. I used both of them almost exclusively on our scouting rides in Colombia when working on the Ruta Chingaza route. The Rove quickly became a favorite for several reasons.
While the Rove comes in several different color combos, I oddly chose the lumberjack-red colorway. Note that I’ve never been a fan of red shirts, but I figured it would fade, and it isn’t really too bright, but still vibrant enough to be seen out on the road, which is a pretty good balance. It also has a few reflective accents, to boot. Fitting its lumberjack-flannel inspiration, the Rove also has a nice brushed finish, and a relatively slim fit, which is quite comfortable while riding, as well as off the bike. I’d consider it one of the best fitting shirts in this roundup, as a matter of fact. Unlike the Club Ride and Kitsbow shirts, the Rove doesn’t have any added vents, but it handles heat and moisture surprisingly well. It’s not too heavy, yet not too thin, either. During our Colombia trip, I was wearing it while riding in temps that varied between 55-80°F. It also packs down pretty well. I’d say that my men’s medium rolls up and compresses to the size of a large grapefruit.
- Size Range: M’s S-XXL / W’s XS-XL
- Material: 100% polyester
- Weight: 258 grams (M’s Medium)
- Place of Manufacture: Vietnam
- Price: $80
- Manufacturer’s Details: Men’s / Women’s
Photo by TJ Kearns in Pisgah National Forest
Search and State Field Shirt
Tested by Logan & Virginia
If you’re a regular reader, there’s no doubt you’ve seen the Search and State Field Shirt on the site before. Last year, it quickly become one of our favorites. Virginia and I both have one and they perform and look great on the bike, at camp, and around town. The Field Shirt is constructed from a lightweight puckered Japanese cotton that creates a permanent textured surface. This texture (think seersucker in a square pattern versus stripes) creates pockets of air between the fabric and the skin, facilitating heat dissipation and air circulation, making it a great performance piece. The cut of the shirt is also thoughtfully tailored for cyclists. With a slightly elongated rear hem and sleeves, this garment is well designed to accommodate a rider’s stretch.
Like all Search and State apparel, this shirt is cut and sewn in midtown Manhattan. It features reinforced buttons, a custom utility label, and is available in several colors, which change from season to season. Speaking of seasons, it’s worth noting that this isn’t a super warm shirt and can be ridden in temps ranging from 60-75°F. Search and State also makes the Midweight Flannel (mustard color shirt shown above-right) that’s a little thicker, but also made from Japanese cotton.
The Field Shirt not only performs well, it also looks pretty sharp and pretty unique. The fabric moves beautifully, and the subtle texture of the puckers picks up light that complements the fibers’ rich, saturated hues, which SAS always has a knack for picking cleverly. This shirt’s lightweight, packability, look, and superb functionality make it hard to beat. For reference, my men’s large rolls up and compresses to the size of a large grapefruit, and Virginia’s size small to the size of a regular grapefruit. Our only wish is that it had snap buttons, which would make it hands down the one to beat for three-season use.
- Size Range: Men’s S-XL
- Material: Puckered Japanese Cotton blend
- Weight: 197 grams (M’s Large); 176 grams (M’s Small)
- Place of Manufacture: NYC, USA
- Price: $145
- Manufacturer’s Details: SearchAndState.com
Photo by TJ Kearns in Dupont State Park
The Overland: Pitch Overland Longsleeve Shirt
Tested by Miles
In December 2019, The Overland stepped away from their sister-company Morvélo to breathe a bit more life into the brand. Jack, their marketing guy, explained that they have lots of cool projects in the pipeline—more sustainable sourcing, ‘waste’ insulation, fully recyclable construction, and more. Between Morvélo and The Overland, there are four full-time and two part-time employees. It’s a small team and they like it that way.
Here’s how they describe the brand. “The Overland has morphed into much more than gravel and bikepacking. It’s grown into a brand that has multi-functionality at its core, enabling people to reduce the amount of clothing they buy because the clothing will perform multiple functions. It’s cycle clothing that can be used day to day and also for running, climbing, and roaming outdoors. This evolution is driven because we are following our heart and beliefs.”
The Pitch Overland Long Sleeve Shirt is part of their latest release, designed to act as a technical all-round adventure sports top. The polyester / lycra blend fabric is treated with DWR, making it stretchy, water-repellent, and quick-drying. Unlike Anian’s Melton, the Overland Long Sleeve is designed with cycling in mind and features reflective details as well as two side pockets that can be accessed while riding. It’s a great lightweight option, perfect for warmer weather pursuits, and easily packs away in a bag while not in use. Although the exterior fabric feels technical and durable, the inside face is brushed, more like a traditional flannel, for a soft next to skin feel.
In terms of fit, it’s definitely on the slimmer side of things. I’m 6’1” with a medium build, and can pretty much always count on anything large fitting me just right. I’ve been wearing a large Overland Long Sleeve and I’m definitely happy it has some stretch, and might suggest sizing up depending on your body size and shape. The entire Overland lineup is unisex, and they have a detailed sizing chart on their website to help you out.
- Size Range: Unisex XS – XXL
- Material: 92% polyester, 8% Lycra
- Weight: 340 grams (large)
- Place of Manufacture: Italy
- Price: £95 (~$120 USD)
- Manufacturer’s Details: Overland-Store.com
Do you have a favourite collared shirt for bikepacking? Let us know in the comments below.
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