Summertime adventures present two distinct challenges: staying cool and avoiding sunburn. To make that easier, we’ve put together a list of the best sun protection shirts of the year.
In recent years, sun protection clothing has become increasingly popular among outdoor enthusiasts. In 2022, sun shirts are the unofficial uniform of climbers, mountain bikers, backpackers, and more.
Sunshine is essential for human health and well-being, but excessive exposure can lead to unwanted outcomes. For people who work and play outside, sun protection is a crucial part of self-care.
UV rays can reduce the skin’s immune functions and increase the risk of melanoma and other forms of skin cancer. Additionally, UV light damages the skin’s inherent elastic qualities, leading to wrinkles, sun spots, and other noticeable changes.
A good sun shirt provides thorough skin coverage, protects against a broad spectrum of UV light, and won’t get in the way when you’re out enjoying the world. We think of sun shirts as wearable shade.
To compile this list of the best sun protection shirts of 2022, we researched dozens of products and tested over 25 different shirts. We evaluated each shirt’s quality and performance through various conditions and activities. We’ve organized our picks into numerous categories to help you quickly identify the best sun shirt for your personal needs.
- Best Overall
- Best Budget
- Best Button Up
- Best for Fishing
- Most Comfortable
- Best for Climbing
- Best of the Rest
In addition to product recommendations, we’ve also included a comparison table and a comprehensive sun shirt buyer’s guide. To learn more about materials, UPF ratings, breathability, and more, scroll to the Buyer’s Guide below.
The Best Sun Protection Shirts of 2022
After rigorously testing dozens of shirts, the KUIU Gila Long Sleeve ($79) takes the overall best spot for sun protection shirts.
The Gila is technically designed for hunting, but it’s plenty versatile for any outdoor activity. We wore the Gila while fishing, hiking, and rock climbing, and it always performed exactly as needed. It’s a simple hooded pullover-style shirt with a tapered yet semi-loose fit.
We tested the Gila during the peak of summer in central Wyoming, and it kept us cool and protected from intense high-altitude sun exposure. The Gila sets the standard for sun shirt breathability. KUIU’s “cool touch” fabric isn’t just marketing noise; it really does breathe.
As expected from a high-end sun protection shirt, the Gila has the maximum UPF rating of 50+. The thoughtful design touches throughout add up to unbeatable protection. The sleeves are elongated for hand and arm coverage, and the thumb loops are exactly where you want them. The hem is longer than most shirts, so you won’t have to worry about exposing your lower back or midriff to the sun.
At $79, the Gila isn’t the cheapest hoody on this list, but if you’re seeking reliable UV protection and elite breathability, the price is fully justified. It’s also available in a hoodless long sleeve.
- Extremely breathable
- Active yet airy fit
- Fully optimized for sun protection
- Great for hot conditions
- Not the cheapest option
- UPF: 50+
- Materials: “Cool touch fabric” 92% polyester / 8 % spandex
- Weight: 6.7 oz (Men’s Small)
- Anti-odor treatment: Yes
One of the lightest hoodies on this list, the Mountain Hardwear Crater Lake ($60) is an excellent sun layer at an affordable price. It weighs just 5.5 oz in a men’s medium and feels wonderfully light and airy during active use.
The ultra-light fabric of the Crater Lake Hoodie makes its 50+ UPF rating all the more impressive. This hoodie has become our go-to for long sun-soaked alpine hikes and approaches. Even while wearing a heavy pack, this hoodie breathes well and rarely becomes saturated with sweat.
For active uses like climbing and kayaking, the armpit gussets allow a full range of motion. The Crater Lake never feels restricted, provided you purchase the correct size. We stuck with our shirt size, and the Crater Lake fit like it should: close to the body yet slightly flowy.
Both the men’s and women’s versions come with thumb loops, but only the women’s option has a drawstring hem. The hood stayed on reliably, and the collar area has a nice overlapping design, adding extra sun protection for the neck.
- Very lightweight fabric
- Arm gussets allow for plentiful mobility
- Top-notch hood
- Stitches show minor wear after a few uses
- UPF: 50+
- Materials: 88% polyester / 12% spandex
- Weight: 5.5 oz (Men’s medium)
- Anti-odor treatment: No
For the price point, the quality of the REI Sahara Shade Hoodie ($50 — currently on sale for $35) is unmatched. Just like our top picks, this shirt had a UPF rating of 50+. It’s also light, stretchy, and very comfortable.
The Sahara Shade’s internal drawstring hood is a unique feature, and we found it to be quite handy for protecting the forehead and cheeks. Compared to a few other shirts on the list, the material of the Sahara Shade feels a bit heavy. The actual weight isn’t listed by REI, but our scale clocked a men’s medium at 7.1oz.
Antimicrobial treatment helps keep this shirt from smelling decent, and the thumb loops are well-placed for optimal hand coverage.
Overall, the Sahara Shade is a do-it-all, versatile sun hoody that’s useful for hunting, fishing, biking, and everything in between.
- Great value
- Unique drawstring hood
- A bit warm for super hot conditions
- UPF: 50+
- Materials: 92% polyester / 8% spandex
- Weight: 7.1 oz (Men’s medium)
- Anti-odor treatment: Yes
Best Button-Up Sun Shirt: KUIU MESA Long Sleeve
We tested many button-up collared sun shirts, and this one is the clear standout. It’s light, durable, and supremely breathable. KUIU’s Mesa Vented Shirt ($109) is fully optimized for hot weather.
Our favorite Mesa feature is the large mesh-lined vent system on the back and shoulders. While hiking in the sun — especially while wearing a pack — these vents keep sweat to a minimum. Any time a slight breeze picked up, cool air flowed through this shirt like the Nile through Egypt.
The stretchy polyester fabric is odor resistant and boasts a UPF rating of 50+. The snap buttons hold together well, but they’re quick to open when you need to dump heat. There are two roomy chest pockets; one zippered and one drop-in. A short-sleeve version ($99) is also available.
If fashion is your priority, this might be the best sun protection shirt for your wardrobe.
- Large mesh back vents
- Stays cool while wearing a pack
- Roomy chest pockets
- A bit tight in the chest area; we recommend sizing up
- UPF: 50+
- Materials: 100% polyester
- Weight: 8.6 oz (Men’s medium)
- Anti-odor treatment: Yes
Best Sun Shirt for Fishing: Howler Bros Loggerhead Shield Hoodie
Any of the sun shirts on this list are a solid choice for anglers, but the Howler Bros Loggerhead Hoodie ($69) has a few key features that give it extra fishing utility.
First, this hoodie is just plain comfortable. It has a flowy, loose fit, and the material feels soft against the skin. The porous weave on the polyester material breathes exceptionally well.
While fishing, we appreciated the storage capabilities of the roomy kangaroo pocket — a rare feature on sun shirts. A microfiber-lined sunglasses pocket is also included, which helped keep our lenses clean and clear while out on the water.
The Loggerhead hoodie isn’t the most fitted, but an included drawstring helps tighten it up when the wind starts blowing. As a bonus for anglers, certain colorways of the Loggerhead come with fish-inspired graphics on the back.
- Zippered micro-fiber lined sunglasses pocket
- A little warm for super hot conditions
- UPF: 35
- Materials: 100% polyester (50% recycled)
- Weight: 8.1 oz (Men’s medium)
- Anti-odor treatment: Unknown
Most sun shirts on this list are primarily made from polyester. Uniquely, the Free Fly Bamboo Lightweight Shore Hoody ($68) is made from 70% Viscose — a product of Bamboo. The difference in materials is immediately clear — the Shore Hoody is incredibly soft. It feels like silk blended with cashmere.
The glorious texture of the material is the standout feature of the Shore Hoody. It’s a simple layer: no pockets or drawstrings, just pure sun protection and comfort.
If you’re between sizes, we recommend sizing up in the Shore. We usually wear a medium, and the large fits perfectly. It’s a fairly slim cut overall, so the extra material helped increase airflow. We like that the Shore is plenty long through the sleeves and hem.
The Shore lacks thumb loops, and the hood doesn’t always stay on during active use. While this may not be the most technical hoody on our list, the Free Fly Bamboo has quickly become one of our favorite everyday layers. It’s just that cozy.
- Very soft and comfortable
- High-quality material
- Lacks thumb loops
- UPF: 40+
- Materials: 70% Viscose from bamboo, 30% polyester
- Weight: 9.7 oz (Men’s medium)
- Anti-odor treatment: Unknown
This high-tech hoody ($120) is a souped-up version of Black Dimond’s popular Alpenglow Hoody. It was designed with climbing in mind, and it’s the best style we’ve tested for that specific application.
Our favorite feature of the Alpenglow Pro is the fitted hood. It’s lined with an elastic strip, and it fits snugly over a climbing helmet. The neckline is very high, providing excellent neck and chin protection. The quarter-length zipper is great for dumping heat, and the zippered chest pocket is ideal for storing a phone or topo during a multi-pitch.
The articulated shoulders and stretchy materials allow for a full range of motion. In hot conditions, the large mesh underarm side vents are clutch. If you’re a fan of climbing desert towers, these vents could prove to be an invaluable saving grace in the heat.
With so many positive attributes, the only real downside of the Alpenglow Pro is the price. At $120, this is one of the most expensive options on this list. However, we believe it’s the best sun protection shirt for rock climbing in the heat.
- The ideal feature set for climbing
- Large side vents
- Zippered chest pocket
- UPF: 50+
- Materials: 92% Nylon, 8% Elastane
- Weight: 6.7 oz (Men’s medium)
- Anti-odor treatment: HeiQ Pure Odor Control Treatment
Best of the Rest
This sun hoodie is yet another solid option. It has a few minor flaws, but it ultimately impressed us during testing. The most important function of a sun hoody is sun protection, and the ActiveIce Spectrum hoodie ($60) delivers.
Outdoor Research’s proprietary “ActiveIce” fabric is a blend of polyester and spandex treated with HeiQ –with uses “bio-based products” to deliver a cooling sensation for the wearer. According to the brand, the Activeice fabric collects moisture and uses it to cool down the skin.
We’ve been wearing this hoodie while hiking, biking, and climbing in the dry summer heat of Wyoming. We can’t say we’ve noticed any major cooling sensation as advertised by the brand, but it’s still a solid layer. It breathes well and offers a top-notch UPF rating of 50+.
Before one particularly grueling hike, we soaked the hoodie in cold creek water to stay cool and simultaneously test the claim of “moisture-activated” cooling. The damp shirt felt great in the hot sun. It maintained its breathability, never caused chafing, and dried quite quickly.
The prominent seam along the ActiveIce Spectrum‘s shoulders showed signs of wear after a few uses, but it hasn’t been a major issue so far. The thumb loops are well placed, and the hood offers great face and neck coverage. Overall, it’s a quality sun shirt at a fair price.
- Hood offers excellent protection
- Not the most durable seams
- UPF: 50+
- Materials: 94% Polyester, 6% Spandex
- Weight: 7.2 oz (Men’s medium)
- Anti-odor treatment: No
Five12 Apparel is a relatively new activewear upstart based in the pacific northwest. We tested the Mission Hoody ($68), and it thoroughly impressed us.
Of all the sun shirts we tested, the Mission is one of just a few that incorporate recycled materials. According to Five12, the fabric is made from 34% recycled plastic bottles, and the remaining 66% combines polyester and spandex.
Five12’s “SeaBreeze” technology utilizes “hollow yarns infused with cooling minerals.” Whatever the material makeup, the Mission breathes quite well, and the shirt feels smooth and silky against the skin. It did feel slightly sticky in hot temps, but it dries extremely fast.
We like the slim and long fit of the Mission, although it might be worth sizing up if you are in between sizes. The shirt offers a fairly snug fit around the shoulders and arms.
The Mission’s four-way stretch is awesome, and we never felt limited in our movements, despite the semi-tight fit. It’s a first-rate layer from an exciting new brand.
- Innovative materials
- Very stretchy
- Nice looking
- Slightly sticky in the heat
- UPF: 40+
- Materials: 34% recycled plastic bottles combines with polyester and spandex
- Weight: 6.6 oz (Men’s medium)
- Anti-odor treatment: No
The Mountain Hardwear Canyon shirt ($65) has been around for years. The shirt received a recent update, and we think the latest iteration is the best yet. It’s a simple 100% polyester button-up, and it’s a great choice for any activity on a warm summer day.
We love the lightweight breezy feel of the Canyon. The primary material isn’t the most breathable, but a series of small mesh vents along the back of the shoulders improve airflow without compromising sun protection. These vents aren’t as large as those found on the KUIU Mesa, but they’re well-placed and effective.
As for looks, this is a handsome form-fitting shirt. It’s designed for outdoor activities, but you could absolutely wear this during the less-fun parts of life and look semi-professional. It fits a bit snug through the chest, so we recommend sizing up if you want to maximize airflow.
Overall, the Mountain Hardwear Canyon Long Sleeve is a quality button-up sun protection shirt at a reasonable price.
- Good value
- Effective rear vents
- Not the most breathable material (aside from the vents)
- UPF: 50+
- Materials: 100% Polyester dobby
- Weight: 7.4 oz (Men’s medium)
- Anti-odor treatment: No
The RAB Force Hoodie ($70) is a streamlined sun shirt built for climbing, trail running, and multiday trekking. Replacing the ever-popular Pulse Hoody, the Force had a lot to live up to, and it delivers.
Designed as a direct-to-skin baselayer, the Force is made from RAB’s “MOTIV” fabric, which is 100% polyester and quite soft to the touch. At just 5.8 oz in a men’s medium, the Force is one of the lightest sun shirts on the market. The “Motiv” fabric is quick to dry, and the seams aren’t bothersome — even while wearing a pack.
We noticed that the Force fits a bit tight, and we’d recommend sizing up to achieve its fullest breathable potential — especially if you’re in between sizes.
While wearing a climbing helmet, the close-fitting hood stays on and provides good coverage. The Force is a bit more expensive than similar options on this list, but it’s still a good value for adventurous climbers and mountain runners.
- Quick to dry
- Semi-tight fit limits airflow; size up!
- UPF: 30+
- Materials: 100% Polyester
- Weight: 5.8 oz (Men’s medium)
- Anti-odor treatment: Yes
This classy-looking shirt ($95) is a hybrid between the two most common types of sun protection layers: hooded pullover and collared button-up. A few buttons at the neck give the shirt a rather stately appearance, but it’s still a bonafide sun protection shirt with a UPF 50+ rating.
Made from a combination of polyester and wool, the Solaro Hoodie is a bit thicker and warmer than most sun shirts, and we don’t recommend it for the hottest of summer days. The wool does have benefits though — it’s naturally odor-reducing and it feels great against the skin.
If you’re frequently dealing with mosquito swarms during your outdoor pursuits of choice, the Solaro’s built-in “Insect Shield” treatment will be a bonus. The brand claims it’s effective against ticks, ants, chiggers, and midges, too. We wore the Solaro on a warm evening in the skeeter-infested alpine, and we did seem to attract less interest than others in the group. Of course, this evidence is only anecdotal.
All in all, the BugsAway Solaro is a high-quality and attractive shirt that provides outdoors-ready sun protection. It’s not the most technical sun protection shirt on the list, but it sure looks good.
- Comfortable material
- Treated to repel mosquitos and insects
- Not ideal for active use in hot conditions
- UPF: 50+
- Materials: 85% polyester, 15% wool
- Weight: 10.3 oz (Men’s medium)
- Anti-odor treatment: “Naturally odor reducing”
The Voormi River Run ($129) is 100% merino wool but made with a unique blend and construction. Voormi uses its Dual Surface ultralight Precision Blended Wool, a fabric weighing under 100 g per square meter. That’s 30 to 50 g lighter than the leading ultralight merino fabrics currently on the market, Voormi claims.
In hand, when packing, and when wearing, we can attest that it’s light. It’s also colored using a wool-specific, individual-yarn dying method.
Now, on to our feedback. I’m not sure where I haven’t worn this Voormi layer — that’s how versatile it is. Paddleboarding, camping, climbing, snowshoeing, kayaking, hiking, running errands (and if I fished, I’d wear it fishing).
The Voormi River Run was designed with everything from fly fishing day trips to multiday river trips in mind, which is one of the main reasons we love it.
But it’s also a UPF 50-rated long sleeve with a hood. So, if you are heading up into alpine territory, or looking for a merino base layer for fall, it’s a good choice for that as well. And, it’s made in the USA. Our only con? It’s crazy ultralight and soft, meaning it’s prone to snag easily.
- Great for cool temps
- Prone to snagging
- UPF: 50+
- Materials: 100% merino wool
- Weight: 7.0 oz (Men’s large)
- Anti-odor treatment: No
Sun Protection Shirt Comparison Table
|Sun Shirt||Price||UPF Rating||Weight||Materials|
|KUIU Gila Long Sleeve Hoodie||$79||50+||6.7 oz.||“Cool touch fabric” 92% polyester / 8 % spandex|
|Mountain Hardwear Crater Lake Hoody||$60||50+||5.5 oz.||88% polyester / 12% spandex|
|REI Sahara Shade Hoodie||$50||50+||7.1 oz.||92% polyester / 8% spandex|
|KUIU Mesa Long Sleeve||$109||50+||8.6 oz.||100% polyester|
|Howler Bros Loggerhead Solar Shield Hoodie||$69||35
|8.1 oz.||100% polyester (50% recycled)|
|Free Fly Bamboo Lightweight Shore Hoody||$68||40+||9.7 oz.||70% Viscose from bamboo, 30% polyester|
|Black Diamond Alpenglow Pro Hoody||$120||50+||6.7 oz.||92% Nylon, 8% Elastane|
|Outdoor Research ActiveIce Spectrum Sun Hoody||$60||50+||7.2 oz.||94% Polyester, 6% Spandex|
|Five12 Apparel Mission Hoodie||$68||40+||6.6 oz.||34% recycled plastic bottles combined with polyester and spandex|
|Mountain Hardwear Canyon Long Sleeve||$65||50+||7.4 oz.||100% Polyester dobby|
|RAB Force Hoodie||$70||30+||5.8 oz.||“MOTIV” fabric, 100% polyester|
|Exofficio BugsAway Solaro Hoodie||$95||50+||10.3 oz.||85% Polyester, 15% wool|
|Voormi River Run Hoodie||$129||50+||7.0 oz||100% merino wool|
Why You Should Trust Us
This list of sun protection shirt recommendations is the product of many hours of meticulous testing. We gathered dozens of sun shirts from leading brands and smaller upstarts, and carefully assessed their quality in the field.
While testing, we paid attention to breathability, durability, and overall comfort. We made sure to wear these shirts in the environments and conditions they were designed for. In the peak of summer with temperatures pushing triple digits, we hiked, fished, climbed, hunted, and biked in all kinds of sun shirts.
All of our recommended sun protection shirts scored highly in their namesake department. A good sun shirt provides ample coverage of the arms, neck, head, and hands. We tested the protective ability of hoods with and without helmets. We sought hems and sleeves that are long enough to do their job even during active use.
We primarily wore sun shirts as base layers, in direct contact with the skin. This allowed us to gauge both the comfort and breathability of the material. To evaluate durability, we made sure to wear each shirt multiple times while recreating in rugged terrain.
Buyer’s Guide: How to Choose a Sun Shirt
Every shirt on this list offers protection from the sun, but each has a unique set of features, pros, and cons. Sun shirts come in a variety of materials and styles. Some are purpose-built for certain activities such as climbing or hunting, while others are designed as do-it-all wearable sunscreen.
The popularity of sun shirts has recently ballooned, and there are more options to choose from than ever before. To help inform your decision, this buyer’s guide includes every relevant topic under the sun.
Types of Sun Shirts: Button-Up vs. Hooded Pullover
There are multiple kinds of sun shirts on the market, but the baggy button-up and hooded pullover are the most popular by far.
Hooded pullover sun shirts are generally preferred by climbers, trail runners, and mountain bikers. Typically, these sun shirts are made from 70-80% polyester and 10-20% elastane or spandex.
Not all sun protection shirt hoods are created equal, but the best ones fit comfortably and won’t blow off in the wind. The sun protection benefits of a hood are immense. We like hoods that cover the neck, ears, and forehead. If your activity of choice requires a helmet, hooded polyester sun shirts are your best bet. Well-designed hoods stretch easily over climbing and cycling helmets and stay put during active use.
Other key features of many hooded pullover sun shirts are thumb loops (which are great for back-of-the-hand sun protection), and high-cut collars that protect the chest and neck. On this list, the KUIU Gila and the REI Sahara Shade are some of our favorite pullover hooded sun shirts.
The downside of a hooded sun shirt is the same as any pullover — they’re a bit of a pain to put on and take off. Plus, while many hooded sun shirts are light and breathable, most of them do not come with vents. There are a few exceptions to this, such as the Black Diamond Alpenglow Pro which is a hooded pullover with mesh side panels.
Still, for the most part, sun shirts in this style are usually ventless. One final downside of hooded pullover sun shirts — they get stinky. Elastane and spandex in particular develop unpleasant odors more quickly than natural fibers.
Pro tip: if you want a hooded sun shirt without the stink, buy something made from natural fibers and minimal elastane. On this list, the Freefly Shore is partly made from bamboo-derived fibers.
For activities like fishing, hunting, and bird watching, the baggy button-up sun shirt is your best bet. Button-up sun shirts typically come with a collar instead of a hood, which does mean you’ll need to also wear a hat if you want to protect your face, neck, and ears. For this reason, we don’t recommend button-up sun shirts for activities that also require helmets.
Unlike the active-wear appearance of hooded pullover sun shirts, button-ups have a more traditional look. Most button-up sun shirts look perfectly at home at the bar or a backyard barbeque. Plus, they’re easy to put on and take off.
Anglers, in particular, tend to prefer button-up sun shirts for a few reasons, First, button-ups often come with pockets — a handy place to keep bits of spare tackle such as lures and tip-its. Also, many button-up sun shirts have vented panels, which increase airflow and breathability in warm conditions.
UPF Rating Explained
Ultraviolet Protection Factor, or UPF, is the rating system that gauges a fabric’s effectiveness at filtering ultraviolet A (UVA) and ultraviolet B (UVB) light. For example, a fabric rated to UPF 30 allows roughly 3% or 1/30th of available UV to pass through it.
UPF ratings always fall between 15 and 50+. Garments below UPF 15 are not considered UV protective. Any fabric that allows less than 2% of UV to pass through is considered UPF 50+.
Multiple factors can affect a fabric’s UPF rating. Darker colors tend to filter out more UV than lighter colors. Thicker fabric usually offers more protection than thinner fabric. A tighter weave may have reduced UV transmission compared to a loose and porous weave.
Brands are left to solve the complicated problem of creating a sun shirt that is light, breathable, and highly protective. The recommended products on this list possess a fine balance of breathability, comfort, and performance with impressive UPF ratings.
Brands conduct UPF tests on their own products. Just last year, Patagonia issued a voluntary recall on a series of sun shirts that failed to live up to their advertised UPF rating after independent testing.
In any case, all of the sun shirts on our list are made by reputable brands. As a general rule, we recommend purchasing a sun shirt with a UPF rating of at least 30 — especially if you have a fair complexion or recreate at high elevations.
For a variety of reasons, polyester is the most common base material for sun shirts. Compared to bleached cotton, which has a natural UPF rating of around 5, polyester offers far more protection. Plus, it dries much faster.
In recent years, many brands have incorporated 10-20% elastane or spandex into their sun shirt’s polyester weave. Integrating stretchy material is great for airflow and mobility, but it also has some downsides. First, elastane can lose its springy quality over time. If your shirt is made with lots of elastane or spandex, it probably won’t retain its original shape and fit in the long term.
Also, synthetic fibers like elastane develop odors faster than natural fibers like cotton or wool. Sun shirts are known for their gnarly stench that can develop after a single day of sweaty outdoor recreation. Anecdotally, we noticed that shirts with a high elastane count did in fact seem to smell pretty bad after a workout.
In our research and testing, we found that most hooded pullover sun shirts are made from 80-90% polyester and 10-20% elastane or spandex. Of course, there are some exceptions to this. The Freefly Shore is made from 70% bamboo viscose and the Exofficio BugsAway Solaro is made from 15% wool.
Button-up collared sun shirts tend to be made without spandex or elastane, so they aren’t as stretchy.
Sun protection shirts are designed to protect against sunshine, so naturally, they need to be comfortable in warm conditions. A fabric’s breathability is defined by its ability to let air pass through. Breathability decreases drying time and also helps to minimize odor.
On this list, the Mountain Hardwear Crater Lake is the perfect choice for those looking for a sun shirt for active use in warm weather. It is important to note that increased breathability can sometimes lead to a decreased UPF rating. A looser weave that allows airflow will let more UV reach the sun underneath.
All of the sun shirts selected for this list are relatively breathable. A few styles, such as the Exofficio BugsAway Solaro are built with thicker material. Sun protection is essential even in cooler conditions, but naturally, a hot summer day calls for breathable clothing.
Sun shirts are known for being a bit stinky. There are a few reasons for this. First, sun shirts tend to be worn for active use in warm conditions. Strenuous activity plus heat equals sweat, and sweat leads to odor.
Secondly, sun shirts are usually made from synthetic materials like polyester and elastane. Synthetic fibers are made from petroleum products — polyester threads are essentially thin ropes of plastic. Unlike natural materials like cotton and wool, synthetics don’t absorb sweat. Instead, the sweat combines with bacteria from your skin and becomes trapped in between the fibers. Elastane fibers in particular are highly effective at trapping bacteria. Over time, the bacteria builds up — and so does the odor.
If you’re looking for a sun shirt that won’t ever smell, your search may continue forever. Luckily, some sun shirts are more odor resistant than others. If you want to minimize the stink, we recommend following these three tips:
- First, don’t buy a sun shirt with a high elastane/spandex count. Most sun shirts are made from 10-20% elastane/spandex.
- Second, look for a sun shirt made from natural fibers. Bamboo is an increasingly popular alternative to polyester that may be less prone to unwanted odor.
- Third, purchase a sun shirt that has an odor-resistant treatment.
On this list, the Black Diamond Alpenglow Pro is noticeably impressive in the odor resistance category. It has a relatively low elastane count and it’s treated with Black Diamond’s HeiQ Pure Odor Control Treatment.
If maximum UV protection is your goal, you’re going to want a sun shirt with a well-fitted hood. The benefits of a hood are obvious: neck, face, and ear protection. However, not all hoods offer the same utility and value. For the most part, pullover sun shirts have hoods, and button-up sun shirts do not.
A hood that won’t stay on during active use is almost worse than no hood at all. During our testing, we wore sun shirts while hiking, climbing, and biking in windy conditions. The best hoods stayed on against the odds.
If your activity of choice requires a helmet, you’ll need a stretchy hood that can fit over it. One of our favorite hooded sun shirts is the Outdoor Research ActiveIce Hoody. The hood is well-fitted, helmet-compatible, and highly protective. We wore this sun shirt over a helmet for many months, and the material maintained its fit and elasticity.
The fingers and hands see a lot of sun exposure, making them susceptible to skin cancer. A sun shirt with well-placed thumb loops can help protect these vulnerable areas from excessive UV.
Most sun shirts with thumb loops are in the hooded pullover category. In most cases, a thump loop is a small opening that fits over the thumb and keeps the wrist and back of the hand covered by the sleeve.
Though most pullover sun shirts on this list come with thumb loops, a few styles surprisingly do not.
We love the thumb loops on the REI Sahara Shade. They’re positioned comfortably, and keep the entire hand’s back protected.
The way a sun shirt fits will define its performance. As a general rule of thumb, sun shirts should have a semi-loose fit. A loose-fitting sun shirt breathes better, and it’s less likely to limit your range of motion. If you usually wear a snug size medium at the office or out at the bar, we recommend sizing up to a large size when you purchase a sun shirt.
One more reason to size up: for your sun shirt’s thumb loops to properly protect your hands, it needs to have full-length sleeves.
How Do Sun Protection Shirts Work?
Sun shirts are designed to protect against ultraviolet light during outdoor recreation. All clothing blocks some UV, but sun shirts are specifically crafted for this purpose, and the best of them provide much more protection than a typical cotton t-shirt.
To filter out UV, sun shirts combine effective materials with intentional weave/knit patterns. Most sun protection shirts are primarily made from polyester, which is rated as a top option for UV protection.
What Does UPF Stand For?
All of the sun shirts on this list come with a UPF rating. UPF stands for Ultraviolet Protection Factor. The UPF scale runs from zero to fifty-plus. The UPF number indicates the percentage of UV rays that are allowed to pass through the material. For example, a shirt rated UPF 25 allows 1/25 (or 4%) of the sun’s radiation to reach your skin underneath.
If you’re seeking maximum sun protection, look for a sun shirt rated UPF 50+, which will allow just 2% of UV (or less) to pass through.
Are Sun Shirts Breathable?
Sun shirts are meant to be worn in the sun, so they need to be breathable to be comfortable. A nonbreathable sun shirt will perform like a sweat-trapping garbage bag.
For sun shirt manufacturers, it is a challenge to maximize breathability and minimize UV infiltration. Still, through a combination of high-performance materials and intentional weave/knit patterns, it can be done. The Mountain Hardwear Crater Lake is one of the most breathable sun shirts on this list. We’ve worn the Crater Lake while climbing and running in temperatures up to 100 degrees, and it always remained airy and comfortable.
Do I Need a Sun Shirt When It’s Cloudy?
Clouds may filter out some UV, but it’s very difficult to know how much. Strangely, certain clouds can actually create higher UV levels than a clear and cloudless day. In other words, it’s important to protect yourself from the sun, even when there are clouds in the sky.