The very phrase ‘sun shirt’ is a shade oxymoronic, no? I, for one, would rather be bare-chested in the summer sun. Unfortunately, the rewards for going shirtless are agonizing sunburns, increased risk of skin cancer and refusal of service at all my favorite restaurants. Not exactly worth the fleeting feeling of freedom. Sun shirts are a necessity. And while they vary in style, weight, stretch, cut, fabric and intended use, they all have a single common goal: to protect the skin from ultraviolet rays.
It's worth noting that while experts still recommend the use of sunscreen in conjunction with protective clothing, it can be detrimental to your sun shirt over time. “Our UPF garments do not require any special care,” says Corey Simpson, Patagonia’s communication manager of product and sport communities. “But we do recommend washing them to keep any body oils, sunscreens and other contaminants out of the fabric in order to get the most out of the garment.”
We should also say that there are lots of references to UPF in this story. It means Ultraviolet Protection Factor, and you can learn all about it here. Or if you just want to get to the goods, here are Gear Patrol's top 10 sun shirts of 2021. Pick your favorites, throw them on, and get ready to have tons of (safe) fun this summer.
Best Overall Sun Shirt
The amphibious, quick-drying Patagonia Capilene Cool Daily Hoodie is tailored to multi-sport summer days that switch from trail to river and back again. Not only is the relatively affordable UPF 50+ hoodie treated with odor-obliterating Polygiene, but it’s also knit from Bluesign-approved recycled polyester and stitched in Fair Trade Certified factories. Combining style, comfort and safety, it's the best sun shirt of the entire batch.
Best Upgrade Sun Shirt
Don't let its looks fool you. Despite looking downright classy, the Elaho is loaded with technical chops that make it perfect for extended backcountry trekking and hiking. Made from a light (6.2 ounces!), airy and durable fabric called Alatorre, this shirt keeps you cool and wicks moisture to keep you dry. It also packs more than its fair share of snap-front style — and a skin-friendly UPF 30+ rating.
Best Value Sun Shirt
You know how loads of people where aviator sunglasses but don't fly planes? Think of this shirt the same way, because while it does prevent board rash, you don't have to surf to experience its other benefits. Thanks to a UPF 50+ rating and heathered HyperDry fabric that feels like soft cotton but dries three times as fast, this T is tops in any sunny and/or aquatic situation.
Best Town-to-Trail Sun Shirt
Lenni here is an adventure-ready chameleon disguised as a chilled-out button-down, equally at home at semi-casual gatherings and semi-rad escapades in the sun. A plaid pattern and buttons bring style to the forefront, while the stretchy, Polygiene-treated, UPF 30+ synthetic fabric — complete with a movement fold for extra flex — is all about action.
Best Bug-Fighting Sun Shirt
This lightweight UPF 20+ long-sleeve shirt boasts Insect Shield technology, an anti-bug treatment that keeps pests at bay for 70 wash cycles, yet is unnoticeable to humans. The thumbhole-equipped Debug is on the heavier side, the jersey material is super comfortable thanks to a polyester blend spiked with an unexpected ingredient: recycled coffee grounds.
Best Adventure Travel Sun Shirt
Ultralight and packable at just 4.8 ounces, this nylon and spandex blend is our top pick for hitting the road. The UPF 50+ button-down offers even more protection than your average sun shirt: the collar flips up, snapping into a bizarre-looking turtleneck that’s actually blissful on sun-soaked adventures.
Best Sun Shirt for Alpinists
This UPF 50+ sun shirt is crafted from a Polygiene-treated polyester blend called ‘BD.cool,’ which minimizes stink and keeps you from overheating during rock days. The under-the-helmet hood is perfect: it offers sufficient neck coverage without strangling the wearer, and the durable fabric provides welcome coverage without cloying weight.
Best Sun Shirt for Casual Fishing
Thoughtful pockets, a covert sunglasses wipe and stretchy, quick-drying UPF 30+ fabric solidify this piece as our favorite hoodless shirt for long days on the river, while the casual button-down vibe means you don’t have to swap out of your nerdy fishing duds once the rod’s put away.
Best Sun Shirt for Serious Fishing
This UPF 50+ angler’s essential boasts an internal mesh neck gaiter, which helps keep both bugs and reflecting rays off the face — and doubles as a facemask. Deflective points on the fabric exterior (Omni-Shade) and sweat-reactive rings on the fabric interior (Omni-Freeze) suggest it should be omnipresent on both your saltwater and freshwater fishing trips.
Most Versatile Sun Shirt
This lightweight utility player is loaded with features, including a UPF 50+ rating, a stretchy, breathable blend fabric that lets you move and integrated thumbholes to maximize coverage. Low-profile style rounds out the package, ensuring you'll be as comfortable running a Zoom meeting as zooming through a run meeting out on the trails.