Applying sunscreen in the outdoors can be a pain. As such, whenever possible I wear clothing that can do double duty by blocking the sun’s harmful rays. Wide-brim hats, Buffs, and handkerchiefs on the neck are no-brainers. But less known is clothing with built-in UPF protection.
Last month, on a two-day mountain bike trip to the Maah Daah Hey Trail, I tested a shirt called the Solar Jet Jersey from Specialized. The long-sleeve top has a rating of UPF 50, meaning my arms and upper body would be about as protected as I could ever hope without applying copious amounts of tacky white stuff from a tube.
The venue for the Maah Daah Hey trip, the desert-like Badlands of North Dakota, featured long days with clear skies. (See our trip report, “Back From ‘Maah Daah Hey’ Trail.”) Sunlight burned for 13 hours at a stretch nonstop each day as we rode, with 50 miles our per-diem goal.
My plan was to wear clothing with maximum coverage and protection from the sun. I would apply sunscreen on my neck, lips, cheeks, and the back of my calves — but that was it.
Otherwise, my sun-defying kit included gloves for protecting the hands, a cycling cap under my helmet for shade on the face, and knicker-length bike shorts that extend past the knee. Sunglasses protected my eyes. Then the Specialized jersey covered me on top.
Made of a sun-screening polyester fabric, the $100 Solar Jet jersey is a slick piece. Long sleeves, a mid-height collar, and a full front zipper give it the feel of a jacket. But the fabric is light and breathable enough to wear on an 85-degree day.
Specialized calls its sun-blocking fabric technology “Reflexsun.” It works to deflect harmful rays via white fabric with an ultra-dense weave. The company touts “two to three times the sun protection” as compared to a regular shirt.
The dense-weave fabric also holds almost no moisture. This means sweat does not easily soak through, though the top is not clammy either. On our bike trip, I dunked the Solar Jet Jersey underwater once to soak it in a creek in an attempt to cool down. But the hydrophobic polyester material retained almost no water, and the top was dry within a half-hour biking in the wind. Foiled!
During the ride, my partners rubbed sunscreen onto their arms multiple times a day. As planned, I never applied a drop except to my neck, face, and lower legs.
I ended the bike trip sunburn-free. My legs were tired, and my body was beat. But my scheme to block the sun had worked like a dream.
One caveat: With its gleaming white fabric, the Specialized top begs to attract stains. The fabric is fairly dirt-resistant, though after two days of hard use on a dusty trail my jersey no longer looks new. Its white fabric is faded to a subtle yellow now in spots where sweat, dirt, and other detritus of the trail got in the way.