There is something to be said for starting out with the intention of making the best it can possibly be. And not in a bragging or loud way, but just getting down to it, working through a design, finding the best components and then assembling it as well as can be done. Really, it’s not an impossibly difficult task to set about creating the best possible product, but in a world where the main focus is to make things as cheaply as possible and at the same time maximise profit, it is definitely a different way of thinking.
What is a mountain shirt? My definition would be along the lines of “a thick and sturdy shirt providing warmth and coverage for outdoor activities”. So it needs to keep the elements out, the body heat in, and cover up where it cover up should. This means the arms need some length, the neck should fit snug, and there needs to be length of body to keep you covered when moving and bending over.
In the case of the McNair, I feel “shirt” is underselling it, as by all accounts it’s closer to a wool jacket than a shirt.
So what goes into making a marvellous mountain shirt? For starters, McNair are all about using natural fibres, and in this case that means merino wool. Sourced from ethically sound sources (and trust me, merino wool is not all fluffy softness, try googling “muleseing” for the real story behind all the cheap merino wool) the wool is shipped to Yorkshire to be spun, woven and prepared.
The resulting fabric is quite remarkable indeed. On the outside it is soft, yet firm, while the inside is like the softest, fleeciest cotton wool. Seriously, I would have a onesie in this fabric and I would live in it, like a debauched adult Teletubby. Sorry, I know the mental image can not be unseen. Let’s not even go there, but suffice to say the merino fabric is beyond sublime. And the blue colour of my shirt is wonderfully radiant.
Then it needs to be assembled with due care and attention. And Josie made mine (and I thank you muchly, Josie, you made a fine job of it!). It proudly says so on the label on the inside. This is an uncommon pleasure that not many makers pay attention to. It’s like when you order an Aston Martin and the chap that built the engine has signed it. To me it indicates a pride in the product.
Accurate and solid stitches, using quality thread. Bar-tacks at stress points, felled seams where applicable. And the buttons. I could bang on about how the buttons are attached using both a small button to anchor on the inside, but more importantly how the shank is rubberised after fastening to ensure the button will never come lose. There is a post on their blog about this method and it’s a wonderful example of British engineering. Call me a nerd, but this is truly cool stuff.
So what is it like in use? Well, based on my so far limited opportunities to test, the claims hold water. It’s late in the season here in Norway, so I’ve been limited to cycling to work in temps down to around -5C. And yes, it is incredibly comfy to wear. The arms are long enough to keep my wrists covered, the body is long enough to cover my butt. The collar can be worn up to keep my neck warm (though I also wear a merino wool gaiter, also by McNair, for ultimate snugness). I’ve been caught out in wet snow, the water just pearls on the outer wool and can be shaken off.
For the days where the temp drops to -25C, which is cold indeed, and even more so when cycling at speed, I’ll wear a mountain parka and keep the McNair underneath as a wool layer.
And it looks pretty great. The Slawit blue is a wonderful shade (and this spring I seem to be having something of a blue streak). I find that guests notice it hanging in the hallway and feel it and comment on it.
An interesting point about the shirt is that the price is a result of the product specification, not the more common way of a product being developed to a set target price. This means that a heavy weight mountain shirt like mine comes in at a hefty 375 pounds. I would argue though, that in the way a pair of quality shoes will last a long time, so will a McNair mountain shirt. It doesn’t take more than a few seasons of wear before the initial investment starts looking like a real bargain.
And I get the impression that McNair are quite happy to never see you again, as this shirt will last you a long long time. How refreshingly different is that?
- Superb materials, design and construction
- Apart from imported merino wool, it’s all made in a small part of Yorkshire
- Great combination of functionality, comfort and looks
- Does what it says on the tin, totally
- The label on the back could be dropped
Available direct from McNair Shirts in Huddersfield, Yorkshire at 375 pounds.