Back in my Outward Bound days, I couldn’t wait for my inaugural visit to the school’s northernmost outpost in Maine. I was a young, impressionable paddle geek, and the school’s Greenville base beckoned, with its maverick instructors and easy access to some of the state’s finest paddling. Upon arriving, one of the first things I noticed was that everyone owned the same bug shirt. In a region where biting insects vastly outnumber their mammalian brethren, this was no small detail. I ordered mine the next day. Since then, I have donned my Original Bug Shirt hundreds of times.
The fabrics used in the Original Bug Shirt have an exceptionally tight weave that stops mosquito bites; the microfiber is 100% effective and the cotton, 99%. Both fabrics are also virtually windproof and block 98.9% of UVA and UVB rays. The microfiber is available in four colors: Sandstone (the company’s best seller), Ivy Green, and Camouflage; cotton is offered in Natural. The Natural and Sandstone are considered the least attractive to bugs. Cotton is more moisture-absorbent than microfiber and thus might be considered cooler, but if it gets wet it stays damp longer. Personally, I prefer the cotton as it wafts a comforting sweetness, even after weeks of continuous use.
The Original Bug Shirt comes in two styles: Original and Elite. Both feature high-quality construction and in each the densely woven protective fabric is used where the shirt drapes over the chest, back, and arms. Panels of polyester no-see-um mesh are used at the sides and underarms for venting. When it gets hot, I’ll often wear my bug shirt without an undershirt; I find this comfortable—the mesh panels keep me cool—and effective—I’m still fully protected.
The same mesh is used at the front of the hood to cover the face. The mesh is black to make it easier to see through, but observing the world through it can take some adjustment; I’ve come to think of the diffused view as a pleasing ethereal sheen to all that I see. When the bugs abate, the face panel can be unzipped and tucked out of the way, above your face in the Original and below in the Elite. The hood is designed with enough extra room for a visored hat, which will keep the mesh a bit farther from your face. The shirts are made long to allow for tucking in, though the adjustable waist cord is non-stretch, so it stays put if you cinch it up outside of your pants. The shirts stuff into their zippered front pockets to keep them compact and handy when not being worn.
The Elite has several design updates over the Original. The zipper for the mesh face panel has two sliders, allowing for incremental opening at any point along the zipper line to better accommodate eating and using binoculars or a camera. (However, if the bugs are still fierce when you get hungry, I recommend experimenting with eating lunch inside your shirt!) The Elite also has an adjustable knit cuff, which creates a better seal around the wrist. My favorite Elite update is the addition of an adjustment cord at the back of the hood, which addresses the only complaint I have of my 17-year-old Original: When I don’t wear a cap, the hood has a tendency to slip into my line of sight, requiring regular correction.
Early in our courtship, I convinced my wife to accompany me on a paddling trip deep into Quebec and Labrador. We wore our Original Bug Shirts for 30 days straight and, simply put, they saved our hides!
Donnie Mullen is a writer and photographer who lives in Camden, Maine, with his wife, Erin, and their two children.
The Original Bug Shirt Company sells the Elite online for $69.95 in microfiber, $75.95 in cotton, and $79.95 in Camouflage. The Original sells for $59.95 in cotton and $65.95 in microfiber. A shirt sized for children and pants are also available.
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