I always feel a little melancholy at the start of fall, with shorter days, cooler temperatures, and fluctuating weather marking the end of big summer adventures. But if there’s one thing I look forward to this time of year it’s unpacking my Kitsbow Icon shirt from the bottom drawer.
This might look like any old flannel button-up, but it’s actually a finely crafted, highly technical, and seriously cozy long-sleeve jersey. The worsted flannel wool crafted by Pendleton is, at once, soft enough to wear next-to-skin but so insulating that I’ve donned it, over a midweight baselayer, in full winter conditions. It’s also surprisingly breathable, as with all good wool, as well as warm even when wet. It’s tailored trim so there’s no excess fabric to flop around in the wind, and the sleeves are long for the riding position.
But what really sets it apart are the smart technical touches. At the shoulder hemline, stretch mesh-lined vents add mobility without extra fabric and also allow heat to escape when you’re going hard. The plastic snaps make cooling off quick and easy—a strip club yank on the lapel gets the whole front open in an instant—but they are also extremely durable and haven’t broken or failed in years of use. And the laser-cut Schoeller patches on the elbows and shoulders have shrugged off inadvertent contact with brush, branches, and even dirt and rock (yep, we all take the occasional tumble).
For its second edition of the Icon, Kitsbow has used lots of flashy colors. But I have the original plain gray, which I love for it understated versatility. I’ve worn it out ski touring, in the river to fish, as a layering piece for winter hunts, and as the ultimate travel top in places like Scotland and New Zealand, where the weather can turn in an instant and you’re just as likely to end up at a pub or museum as you are ripping singletrack.
At $195, it’s pricey, partly because it’s made in the U.S. But before you roll your eyes and dismiss this as dentist wear, think about all those cheap, cotton flannels you’ve bought and tossed over the years and how much, collectively, they cost you. And also consider how flimsy those cheap ones are and how they rip up and fall apart when you ride hard in them. Not so the Icon. Mine’s going on three years and it looks just like it did the day I got it, even though I’ve crashed hard in it, worn it virtually nonstop through winter (and laundered it accordingly), left it in smelly packs for weeks at a time, and stained it with pretty much anything you can think of: mud, dung, blood, you name it. And still, my Icon looks like new.
This piece falls into the old “Buy it right, and buy it once adage.” That’s true, but only partly so because given that I wear it so regularly, I’m occasionally tempted to get another Icon. But I won’t do it. Choosing between two perfect things would be too tough.