You are here

Collecting National Park T-Shirts: The Passion and the Pain


This is one of my favorites. How could I ever kill it?

“Ernie, you are my best friend in this world, and I will gladly give you the shirt off my back – unless, of course, it happens to be a national park tee.”

When I enter a national park visitor center, my feet automatically take me to the gift shop or bookstore. That’s where the national park T-shirts are. I simply cannot resist buying national park tees. I wear them as often as I can, too. It’s an addiction. There, I’ve admitted it. I’m feeling better already.

National park T-shirts aren’t like those other park souvenirs gathering dust on the shelf or stowed away in some forgotten shoebox. You wear them, and that makes all the difference. When you put on a national park tee, it doesn’t just trigger fond memories. It helps you relate to the world. Wear one on the trail, in the mall, or at the cookout and it tells others where you’ve been, what you’ve done, and what sort of person you are. Total strangers become new friends as they tell you their “I’ve been there too” stories.

I have a great big dresser drawer chock-full of neatly folded national park tees. This is my working inventory. There are more national park tees in my closet, at least one or two in the trunk of my car, and some others in the barracks bag I tote along on hunting trips. Out in the garage is a rag bag holding the remains of tees too ratty to wear.

Don’t look for national park tees in my laundry. Washing fades them, so I avoid that as much as possible. I’ve learned that a tee can be worn for at least three days before it ripens. (Since I sometimes lose the count, you might want to stand upwind from me like my friends and relatives do.) A tee that isn’t washed too often should last for years and years.

This brings me to the issue at hand. Summer is over here in the South Carolina, and so is the T-shirt season. We’ve had our first frost, and as winter draws near I can no longer ignore the fact that it’s time to clean out my T-shirt drawer. That space is needed for the lightweight sweaters and sweatshirts one must wear during the Palmetto state’s sissy winter. The tees will have to be moved to storage and rested until next April.

Alas, not all of my tees will get a well deserved rest. Some will have to be culled. Just as the clock ticks down for thee and me from the day we are born, a tee gets closer to the rag bag every day from the time it is made. Even tees that haven’t been foolishly washed too often will eventually fade from exposure to sunlight and the elements. Even venerable tees that have provided many years of faithful service, never complaining and never fading, eventually become unserviceable. Mine, for example, tend to rot out in the armpits.

A tidal wave of indecision has been eating at my innards. Which tees should I kill this year? Some of my old friends are looking pretty bedraggled. I suspect that several already know they will not be there next April to greet the warming sun and have already said their goodbyes.

Postscript: I’ve considered collecting national park sweatshirts too, but have you seen what they’re charging for those darn things? I’m a thrifty guy (not “cheap,” as my wife insists), so I’ll stick with the tees until I win the lottery.


I'm in it for the embroidered patches, myself. Have a box of about 60 of them sitting beside me right now. I just haven't had the inspiration to figure out how to display them. I could see myself as an old man wearing a vest covered in gaudy patches...but at 36, I'd like to put off dressing like that for a few years. Dan's idea with the medallions is truly inspired, but wouldn't work as well with the patches. I must schedule some time to ponder this problem.

When we went cavorting through Canada last summer, I walked into the gift shop at the VC in Gros Morne National Park in Newfoundland and was informed they had had patches last year, but "didn't make any for this year." I must have looked angry, despondent, or confused, because she repeated herself in French. And just to put an even worse ending on this story, I got home and checked EBay. A Gros Morne patch had been up for sale and went for pennies two weeks earlier.

There was also the time I contemplated breaking into the VC at Ginkgo Petrified Forest State Park in Washington an hour before they opened because I thought I saw a rack of patches inside and we had to hit the road. I would have left money on the counter, but I think it's still considered "breaking and entering", so I left it alone.

We started collecting lapel pins in the past two years. We've been visiting state and national parks in California and Oregon. We hope to explore other states in the near future.

We have a piece of felt hanging in our van. We attach the pins there. Soon, we'll need a bigger piece of felt!

We have been disappointed, on several occasions, to be unable to find lapel pins for some of the places we've visited. Some places don't have gift shops, being more rustic sorts of places. Searching the internet has been frustrating. Does anyone have any suggestions on where to find these sorts of lapel pins? Thanks!

I stick with the passport stamps and stamping and a postcard and mailing it home to myself. Much cheaper then buying t-shirts but no less addictive.

Holly,10 year ago when I retired we started our national park travels.I collect hats,t shirts,the stamps for my nationlal park book.We have made all 58 of the majors ones.
But this is what I do with the pins,I pin them on a banner that some parks sell like at Yellowstone,I look at it everyday and think about how blessed we were to make it to Gods creations.If you send me your email I'll send you a picture it.People ask which one is our favorite, my anwser is all of them.

I second the quilt idea! I had one made from my sons' baby clothes but people make them from t-shirts from rock shows and college sports, etc. too. Though you'll want to wash them first. ;)

I collected posters.

Specifically, Charley Harper posters.

At parks. $7-10. No ordering from GPO.

At one time I could identify each species represented in the desert poster.

I only had 6 of the posters when he died. [There are 11 that I know of if you count the Santa Rosa San Jacinto NM poster.]

I also do the lapel pins. Started doing the t-shirt thing but living in an RV stopped that one. I then tried the medallions but found very few parks that have them. I'm now on the lapel pins and am fairly obsessed. I just don't know how to display them. Aren't there books with felt pages to put them in? I can't seem to find any.

Ranger Holly

I admit that I'm a gift shop junkie. Not just National Parks, but museums also [here in Seattle we have the Museum of Flight, the Burke, the Experience Music Project/Science Fiction Museum, and more]. Seems that if we can't get out to a park we do get to a museum.

I do baseball caps, tshirts, and coffee mugs. I have way too many of each and can't stop myself from getting more. Life is quite rich.

Add comment


This question is for testing whether or not you are a human visitor and to prevent automated spam submissions.

National Parks Traveler's Essential Park Guide

Recent Forum Comments