Kitsbow Icon V2 review: a shirt to live in
The best clothes are those you can ride in, wear to your local coffee shop, and maybe even use as a pillow, reckons Cass Gilbert. Adding a sense of style to his bikepacking wardrobe, he comes to the conclusion that the technically cut, Kitsbow Icon V2 flannel shirt is here to stay, patches and all…
Last year, as part of our Gear That Lasts gift guide, I waxed lyrical about Kitsbow’s uber expensive Icon V2 Shirt. A year later and with several more trips to its name – from bikepacking in South America to general trail riding in New Mexico – I can report that it’s faring just as well, and fully deserves a more in depth review of its own. 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?
But first, why is it that the Icon V2 costs all those greenbacks? A big factor is likely that, aside from being sewn in the States by small company, this is a shirt that’s also made with premium Pendleton wool, a material with an especially rich pedigree; Pendleton wool has been woven in the USA since 1863, after a Brit decided Oregon was the very best place to rear sheep and weave wool. Fast forward a hundred years and its reputation seemed sealed; even the Beach Boys were fans, initially naming themselves the Pendletons, in honor of the company’s fabled Board shirt.
Hardy material aside, it’s Kitsbow’s design what really sets it apart for bikepacking, or indeed general mountain biking. The Icon V2 is packed with some very neat technical detailing, including Shoeller 3X Dry Panels everywhere you’d hope to find them; there are elbow pads and epaulettes, to protect the shirt in the event of a trail spill. The latter is a little stiff and feels a touch military when first worn, but softens up nicely over time. There are also articulated sleeves and cuffs, and a perforated stretch gusset tucked away behind the shoulders. My favourite feature is the snap buttons. Given the warmth and thickness of Pendleton wool, I tend to wear the Icon at the start of the day. When I begin to overheat, I pull the shirt open as I ride, Superman style, and let it billow in the wind. Being able to do this, along with the vents, helps make it much more practical for riding than other shirts. And, despite all these bike-friendly features, the whole ensemble is subtle enough not to stand out in any way except to cycling aficionados, who (after gasping at the price) always tut approvingly when I run through its detailing with them.
The size medium, pictured here, is slim fitting without being too tight and skinny, and arm length is good too, so the shirt doesn’t feel too short when you’re riding. Kitsbow recommends sizing up if you’re in doubt as to what will fit you best and I’d agree. For me, the slim fit works really well but has just one downside. Given that the cut of the arms is fairly fitted, I don’t find the shirt comfortable to sleep in, so I use the shirt as a pillow instead. Did I mention that I pretty much live in my clothes?
Since the time I’ve had it – about a year – it’s no exaggeration to say I’ve worn the Icon almost every day that the temperatures have been cool enough. This includes extended stints at high elevation, where UV rays are notorious for adding premature years to both body and gear. I’ve scrunched it into a ball and squeezed it into a seatpack, or strapped it to my saddlebag on dusty dirt roads. Wool is a great material. It’s natural (so it won’t pollute the oceans, like many synthetic fabrics when you wash them), keeps you warm when it’s damp, and never seems to smell. Drying time isn’t as slow as you’d expect, though it’s obviously not as quick as fleece.
I’m a creature of habit, and once I find something that works, I’ll wear it until it’s all but worn out. I can see this is going to be a real challenge with the Icon V2; I’m honestly shocked by how new it still looks. Having scrutinized it from top to bottom at the time of writing this review, the shirt remains in perfect shape and its colors as vibrant as ever, as you can see from these pictures. Speaking of which, whilst the pattern changes each year, the design largely doesn’t, which is always a good sign that a company has got things right. The 2018 version is almost the same, albeit with more mesh on the back and an extra button on the cuff, while the original Icon ($195) – with less technical features – is still available too.
Before finishing this write up, I should explain those unbecoming holes, as shown above, that are now hidden tactfully behind patches. I only have myself to blame: they’re the result of jamming the shirt between my bike and the tailgate of a truck, in an effort to protect the downtube on an especially bumpy Bolivian road (that will teach me for catching rides up hills). Initially, I was heartbroken to see the damage. But then I reflected that as sad as I was to have inflicted such unnecessary wounds on a shirt as fine as the Icon, a few patches add character and imbue it with a story of its own. And this is a shirt I intend to have for a while, travel patina and all.
- Incredible build quality
- Uses super classy and hardy Pendleton wool
- Lots of technical features for biking, subtle enough that they don’t shout ‘biker’away from the trails
- Undeniably expensive (which is not always the same as poor value)
- Price: $220
- Sizes: XS-XXL
- Colors: 3, changing yearly
- Materials: Pendleton wool and Shoeller 3X Dry Panels
- Place of manufacture: USA
- Contact: Kitsbow
Without question, $220 is an awful lot of cash to throw down on a humble flannel shirt; only you can say if it’s worth digging deep in your pockets and making that investment. But rest assured at least that it’s been tested thoroughly, both for bikepacking and looking sharp in coffee shops (well, in my mind’s eye, at least). I love the cut, the quality is top notch, wool is a great natural material, and the technical features ensures the Icon V2 feels tailor-made to mountain biking in a way that simply isn’t matched by a standard flannel shirt. What’s more, I reckon it’s good for a lifetime of casual use, or a good few years of obsessional wearing. Just don’t jam it between your bike and the tailgate of a truck on a Bolivian backroad…
Photography by Nancy Crowell.