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I know what you’re thinking: Here goes Outside, recommending an overly expensive piece of gear again. You’re right. I’m recommending a shirt that costs nearly as much as a ski jacket. But I stand by my recommendation, because the Kitsbow Icon ($235; men’s and women’s, XS–XXL) is the best flannel ever made, and you’ll use it so many times that the price tag won’t even matter after a few weeks.
This isn’t the first time we’ve recommended this shirt. Five years ago, former Outside columnist Aaron Gulley wrote his own ode to the Icon. Like Gulley and me, many people love the Icon for the same reason: Kitsbow took a standard piece of clothing and enhanced it with outdoor performance in mind. The result is a shirt you can wear every day from September through May (or longer if you live in San Francisco or Aspen, Colorado) and use for everything from day hiking to mountain biking.
Made from Pendleton wool, the Icon has a medium-thick build, so it’s warmer than a cotton long-sleeved shirt. The wool breathes well on its own, but Kitsbow added mesh-lined vents on each shoulder blade that help the shirt dump even more heat. Originally designed to be worn by mountain biker, the Icon is also ideal for backcountry skiiers, as it vents heat on the uphill and then keeps you toasty beneath a shell on the descent.
Schoeller patches on the shoulders and elbows reinforce areas where the garment tends to see wear. If you endo on your bike or superman on your skis, your Icon should be fine. Backpack straps haven’t rubbed a hole into my shirt’s shoulders, even after hours of use. I put the elbow patches to the test in a unique way, back when I was an editor at Outside. Our Santa Fe headquarters have desks with surprisingly rough surfaces that are notorious for destroying the elbows on editors’ shirts. (We started calling the phenomenon “Outside elbow.”) While some of my other shirts bit the dust, my Icon wasn’t fazed.
I can wear the Icon to work, because Kitsbow has dialed in both the colors and tailoring. The brand uses bright accents—oranges, reds, and blues—but keeps them looking totally professional, thanks to the way those hues mix with the texture of the wool. Moreover, with articulation built into the design, Kitsbow created a svelte cut that looks great with slim jeans and leather boots. The company also offers a relaxed fit, which is not quite as tailored and fits more like a shacket.
Perhaps one of the best reasons to love the Icon is because it’s made in the United States. At a time when the entire global supply chain is in total disarray (have you tried to buy bike parts lately?), it’s nice to know that this shirt won’t be stuck on some cargo ship for an extra month.