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…

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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?

  • Kitsbow Icon V2 Shirt
  • Kitsbow Icon V2 Shirt

Kitsbow Icon V2 Shirt

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. But 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 the details with them.

  • Kitsbow Icon V2 Shirt
  • Kitsbow Icon V2 Shirt
  • Kitsbow Icon V2 Shirt
  • Kitsbow Icon V2 Shirt
  • Kitsbow Icon V2 Shirt

The size medium, pictured here, is slim fitting without being too skinny, though Kitsbow recommends sizing up if you’re in doubt as to what will fit you best. And I’d agree. Arm length is good too, so the shirt doesn’t feel too short when you’re riding. For me, the overall fit works really well but has just one downside. Given that the cut of the arms is fairly fitted, it’s not especially comfortable to sleep in, so I use the shirt as a pillow instead. Did I mention that I pretty much live in my clothes?

  • Kitsbow Icon V2 Shirt

Since the time I’ve had it – about a year – it’s no exaggeration to say I’ve worn this the Icon almost every day that the temperatures have been cool. I’ve worn it predominantly 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 doesn’t pollute the oceans like many synthetic fabrics when you wash it), 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. This is going to be a 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. 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.

  • Kitsbow Icon V2 Shirt
  • Kitsbow Icon V2 Shirt

Before finishing this write up, I should explain those unbecoming holes, as shown above, but 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.

Pros

    • 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

Cons

  • 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

Wrap Up

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, given where it’s made and the materials used. 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 can’t be matched by a normal 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…

  • Kitsbow Icon V2 Shirt
  • Kitsbow Icon V2 Shirt
  • Kitsbow Icon V2 Shirt
  • Kitsbow Icon V2 Shirt
  • Kitsbow Icon V2 Shirt

Photography by Nancy Crowell.

  • Wow. Beautiful shirt, but… doesn’t it seem like the “bikepacking” marketing machine is doing to bikepacking what it did to Harley Davidson? I thought bikepacking was about “simple. effective. utilitarian, and accessible,” no? Not trying to be a curmudgeon here but… $220 for a flannel shirt? You’re approaching and then surpassing Calvin Klein.

  • Cass Gilbert

    I’d never claim that you ‘need’ this shirt to go bikepacking… Yes, it’s extremely expensive. But it’s made in the US from US materials, by a small manufacturer. And it will last for years and perform in a way that matches anything technical you might own, which for some people, will make it worth those extra dollars. I’m all for accessible gear and getting out there with what you have. But if you’re going to spend this kind of cash, at least you can rest assured that this product will definitely deliver.

  • Mr Sun

    220 bucks!!! maaaannn… be serious… all of us are NOT rich !! i prefer a thousand time go to buy some carhartt flanel or used things^^

  • Jake Kruse

    I own a pendleton flannel that I snagged on eBay years ago, 100% wool and MUSA. It is the best shirt I own by far. I have ridden miles and miles and miles in it and combined with a shell it has kept me comfortable over an extreme temperature range. Best of all and a point I often like to brag about, I have never washed it. It seems to repel all odors better than any other wool clothing I’ve ever owned. If the Kitsbow price tag is a bit much for you (like it is for me although I’m sure it’s an awesome shirt) I’d recommend hunting down a second hand Pendleton shirt and it will be just about as awesome. I bet the $180 you’ll save will help you ignore any aspects where it doesn’t quite measure up to the Kitsbow.

  • Cass Gilbert

    Carhart stuff is awesome. And I believe it’s still made in the US, though the company is a lot larger of course. And there’s no doubt that second hand purchases are the best. The Icon is kind of like the custom bike of the flannel shirt world (if that analogy isn’t stretching things a bit)… No, you don’t need it. But I bet you’d enjoy it if you decided you wanted to own one.

  • Cass Gilbert

    Agreed, I’m amazed by how Pendleton wool is and how hardwearing it is, whatever the elements. I used to be into merino, but I never found it lasted long enough. This is a whole different beast.

  • Andrew Squirrel

    This is a great recommendation for those living on a tight budget. I used to do the same but was never happy with the fit of all the old Pendletons I purchased or was given. I dunno if its because people used to be shaped differently but I could never get a good combination of not too long, not too wide, sleeves not too short. Every one of my vintage Pendletons was extremely ill fitting and felt even worse when I was bent over on my bike. Fast forward to today, I am going to come out and say it… I own 5 Kitsbow Icon shirts (5x V1 & 1x V2) and by some miracle the Medium size fits me more perfect than any shirt I have ever worn. These things have completely changed my life, I wear them daily in the late fall, early spring and winter (Pacific Northwest) during my bicycle commute and on weekends. I know this sounds absurd but after I bought the 4th Icon I completely gutted my closet and gave most of my winter clothing to friends since I never wanted to wear anything besides my Icons. They have held up fantastic including the first one which I purchased in 2014 and shows no signs of wear. I also wanted to add that the snaps and articulated shoulders are what really sold me on the Icon. Having that shoulder flexibility and ventilation is key if you plan to use a Pendleton on the bike. The snaps make it extremely easy to get more air flow if you find the temperatures rising. I loved the snaps enough that I actually found the part number for them and started sending them to other casual cycling clothing manufacturers begging them to switch over from regular buttons (http://www.kajitech.jp/en/plastic_snaps/sungrip/). I know I probably sound like a Kitsbow shill but I’ve never felt this much love for a piece of clothing in my entire life.

  • Angel Herrera

    i’ve got a nice one in baby blue/grey plaid that i thrifted for $20 a few years back. i’m set for life i think. great review tho i’ll pass.

  • Allen

    Hi guys, I think there is an important point being missed here. Flannel is made of cotton, in inclement weather cotton can kill you. Wool on the other hand is one of the most durable and versatile materials, and it will keep you warm when it is wet, cotton won’t. It’s the tech gear we old timers use to rely on. This shirt obviously holds a lot of possibilities, Wish I good afford it, but the way our economy and wages have been manipulated, can’t afford much of anything other than dreams these days.

    Thank you Cass, always enjoy your reviews and stories!

  • Mr Sun

    yes that’s it^^ i’m truly not against this product too… but…
    For me biking and mostly travel by bike is a way of life, a way to get the f… out that mad consumering living… that shirt is truly great i think… but… you see what i mean ?? And it’s not to critisize your work Cass^^thanks again^^

  • Cass Gilbert

    That’s a good point. I guess I think of flannel as a style rather than a particular material. But you’re right. A lot of cheap flannel shirts are going to be made from cotton rather than wool.

  • Allen

    I always thought of a flannel shirt and a wool shirt as two different things. But according to Wikipedia, there is a wool flannel. I stand corrected… I’ll remember that when it comes to flannel sheets and underwear.

    Over the years I lost my wool shirts for one reason or another (I’m hard to fit, need tall sizes), I would really like to have a couple again for their versatility and utility in outdoor adventurers. It really is hard to beat wool. Happy trails!

  • Sean

    I think folks are missing the point. Yeah its expensive, and not for most bikepackers. But you can bet if I spent as much time bikepacking and traveling as Cass does, I would own one or two. If you are out for a overnight or a few days and your gear fails or stinks, no big deal. If you are out for a few weeks or months…. Nice write up Cass, I always look forward to your reviews and trip reports.

  • ranger S2

    Would you pay a similar amount for a mid-weight technical coat/jacket? That’s easy to do for a quality product with this many features. Don’t think of it as a shirt, but outerwear. That’s what finally convinced me to pick up a Surly long sleeve wool jersey after months of fretting about the price. It instantly became one of my favorite pieces of clothing, ever. It never seems to smell, no matter what.

    Thanks for the review. Had I just come across it myself, I’m sure I’d have had similar thoughts as Chris. It’s good to know high quality is still a goal for some companies.

  • RuwenG

    Looks great, and I love clothing that can be worn all day and isn’t specific for one activity.
    How tall are you? I’m skinny 6“2 but with long arms so not sure if M would fit?

  • Frank

    Hi.
    I’m a fan of Cactus from NZ.
    They make a good flannel shirt that I can recommend … it’s quite hard wearing. And it’s half the price …

    https://www.cactusoutdoor.co.nz/clothing/tees-and-fleece/supershirts/checked-flannel-shirt-mens.html

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