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.”
What should you look for in a sun shirt?
The most common acronym you'll run into when researching sun shirts is UPF: it stands for Ultraviolet Protection Factor, and you can learn all about it here. The UPF rating of a garment will tell you how protective it is, and will help you decide how long you're willing to stay in the sun for.
Other than UPF ratings, there are a few other considerations to make before buying your next sun shirt: What kinds of activities are you going to be partaking in? Will you opt for long sleeves, or short? For anything longer than a couple hours in the midday sun (from 11am - 4pm) it's recommended to wear long sleeves, and a sun hat. If you're road tripping, heading to your favorite outdoor patio for a brew or taking a short morning hike, you can get away with a short sleeve.
There are a lot of sun shirts out there to research — we've saved you some time by gathering all the best sun shirts around in this handy guide. Pick your favorites, throw them on, and have tons of (safe) fun the rest of spring and all summer long.
This light and breathable performance knit winner is tailored to multi-sport days that switch from trail to river and back again. The UPF 50+ Bluesign-approved recycled polyester fabric is treated with HeiQ Fresh to minimize odor. Combining style, comfort and safety, the Capilene Cool Trail Shirt provides the best bang for your buck.
Don’t take Forloh for granted; there’s way more than meets the eye with this made-in-America hoodie. Highlights include brrr Pro, proprietary tech that keeps skin up to 3.5 degrees F cooler and increases moisture-wicking by 300 percent. There’s also an odor-fighting treatment, four-way stretch and a bonkers 1,000+ UPF rating to keep you safe no matter how much sun you get.
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.
Topo's outdoor gear is stylish enough that it can easily translate to city-wear, but don't let the fashion-forward aesthetic fool you: the Global Shirt, for instance, features a 30+ UPF rating, front hand pockets (one zippered) and a patched-on front pocket. The straight-fit, no-nonsense short sleeve is perfect for hikes, camping, travel or just grabbing a beer or two.
Repel insects and sun with this hard-working hoodie. L.L. Bean's fishing hoodie can be worn for a variety of activities, thanks to its comfortable poly/cotton/spandex blend. It's treated with permethrin, a synthetic form of a bug repellent produced naturally by chrysanthemums (and EPA approved, for anyone wondering). The treatment will last up to 70 washes, so you can wear it all season long without worry.
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.
Despite looking downright classy, the snap-front Skyline is loaded with technical chops that make it perfect for extended backcountry trekking and hiking. The breathable Diem—100 polyester fabric weighs just 5.8 ounces while keeping you cool and dry and burn-free courtesy of a UPF 45+ rating.
This UPF 50+ sun shirt is crafted from a Polygiene-treated polyester blend called ‘BD.cool,’ which minimizes stink. But that’s not all: the polyester stretch textured knit also reflects 71 percent of near-infrared rays to keep you cool on the crags.
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.
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.
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.