The Free Fly Apparel long sleeve and quater-zip.
My experience with bamboo has been fairly limited during my lifetime. I’ve attended jungle themed frat parties, seen a panda munch on some at the zoo, and (carefully) handled a split cane bamboo fly rod. There is something supremely satisfying about holding a stalk of bamboo, especially if you are a kid, the section is a few feet long, and your friends are around. But besides whacking your buddies, bamboo has tremendous practical uses as a building material, wind block, and textile. Some skate and snowboard manufacturers are using bamboo in their decks because of its flexibility and spring, and in Malaysia it’s used as a cannon for fireworks. Recently, especially in its native Southeast Asia, there has been a renewed interest in using it as a structural material for large buildings. Bamboo is one of the fastest growing plants on Earth, making it a fairly sustainable resource.
And at least one fly fishing-centric apparel company is making it the basis for their clothing: Free Fly Apparel based out of Charleston, South Carolina. Following two years research on materials and fabrics, Free Fly founder Tanner Sutton landed on the solution to his beef with performance clothing – performance sacrificed comfort, comfort sacrificed performance. What they landed on is a blend of Viscose from bamboo and polyester, with a little spandex thrown in for good measure. The result is a line of casual performance apparel that remains baby soft while sacrificing nothing.
The first thing you notice when handling or wearing a Free Fly shirt is how soft the material is. Imagine the pain and sting of getting whacked with a long piece of bamboo by a pre-teen who can’t control his strength – this is the exact opposite of that. We’re talking baby peach fuzz, kitten fur, bottomless pit of goose down soft. Free Fly hypes their product as the “softest performance shirts imaginable,” and although that is quite the statement, I’m not sure they’re wrong. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. The bamboo blend is also breathable, anti-bacterial (limits smelliness), and biodegradable. This is all great stuff, but the real appeal is the feeling of the fabric against the skin, which makes one feel all warm and gooey inside. Put one of these on after it comes out of the dryer and you might melt it feels so good.
Free Fly makes t-shirts, long sleeve t-shirts, Buff-like sun masks, socks, and quarter-zip pullovers out of their unique fabric. The long sleeve work for all seasons, but excels at keeping anglers cool and protected from the sun during the heat of summer. We tested the quarter-zip, which is an excellent all-around mid-layer for anything from chilly mornings on the river to cool mountain evenings around a campfire. Again, so soft on the inside you’ll never want to take it off. As a bonus, Free Fly has designed their apparel with offset seams at the shoulders; a great feature that limits any rubbing or chaffing if you’re wearing a backpack or messenger bag.
Bottom line: these guys are all about comfort and it shows.