We've researched over 50 different sun shirts in order to find the top 11 for in-depth, hands-on testing and this 2020 review. Then, to determine the best, we wore them all summer, from the humid jungles of the tropics to the alpine vistas of California. Protection from the sun is critical during those long adventures, so we knew shirts made with added UPF protection had to be a key requirement. Other optimal characteristics we looked for included synthetic materials, ample coverage, and breathability. We tested a range of designs, such as the hooded pullover and the baggy button-down. Whatever activity you may be doing, we've ranked an incredible selection of high-performance shirts for you to choose from.Related: The Best Women's Sun Protection Shirts of 2020
The Best Sun Protection Shirts of 2020
Best Overall Sun Shirt
Mountain Hardwear Canyon Long Sleeve
At the dawn of morning, when we're faced with the choice of picking just one shirt to wear for an action-packed day of bicycle commuting, outdoor landscaping, a quick trail run on our favorite test piece lap, then joining in for a quick beer and too many tacos with our friends, the Mountain Hardwear Canyon is what we inexorably grab. The Canyon is versatile enough to excel at all these mini-missions, all the while making us look handsome, keep cool, and stay protected from the sun. Durability is also top-notch, making this shirt a true all-around winner.
The Canyon pulls off this brilliant equilibrium using a few tactics. It has a looser fit than a regular shirt and employs a tough dobby weave fabric with a UPF 50 rating that's still light enough to be attractive and comfortable. Finally, the Canyon has a plethora of accessories you'll find useful: buttons, pockets, and sleeves that can easily be rolled up and that stay in place with minimal sleeve tabs. Add your favorite wide-brim hat, and you're ready for wandering all over your own canyon adventure.
Best Value for a Button-Up
Columbia Silver Ridge Lite
Columbia's Omni-Shade and Omni-Wick fabric treatments combine to make the ripstop polyester of the Silver Ridge Lite feel great to the touch and all but float around the torso. The company calls it "a more modern take" on a classic design, and we can't help but agree. This shirt looks as good as it functions and thus protects against burns without looking like a safari guide. The sleeves offer good length below the wrists when needed, and the hem does the same laying flat under backpacks and, in general, staying in place when it's supposed to. As a travel shirt, the Silver Ridge packs a bit larger than others in the test, but makes up for it in comfort and smart pocket design — they're roomy without being bulky, and supportive when holding a passport or minimalist wallet.
Shoppers will find the Silver Ridge has a couple of slight drawbacks, such as annoying sleeve capture tabs being difficult to fasten with one hand and the fact that, without the collar button attached, the suprasternal notch is open to sun exposure. However, the collar isn't restricting when buttoned-up, promoting movement and adding significant coverage. Yes, this shirt is a bit big in fit, but that's a natural byproduct of its design to beat back the sun. If you're looking for a lot of shirt for not a lot of bucks, this Best Buy Winner is definitely worth a gander.
Best Bang for Your Buck
Baleaf UPF 50 Hoody
Proper protection from the sun shouldn't be the last thing you remember to do before setting off on your next adventure, but oftentimes, it is. If your budget is already stretched to the breaking point, the Baleaf UPF 50 Hoody has got you literally covered. Featuring a price tag that's half of the next lowest option and only a tenth of the most expensive shirt that we've tested, the basics are covered: 50+ UPF rated fabric, a generous hood to protect your neck and head, and thumb loops to let the extra long sleeves rest over your hands up to your knuckles. Sure, it's not the most fashionable accessory — the fit is more relaxed than other options out there, but the peace of mind of avoiding a sunburn after a wonderful time spent on the water or on top of mountain will make you feel pretty cool, trust us.
There are a few little details about the Baleaf we'd like to see more thought put into in the future. The hood has a tendency to fly off in a slight breeze, and the fabric is thicker than most any other shirt we've tested, making it a little less breathable. There's no antimicrobial treatment either, so you'll want to wash this shirt regularly, but don't worry: it's made of thick enough, tough enough material to survive this. Still, when it comes down to its value: it's just too hard to beat, and we think you'll be pleased.
Patagonia Tropic Comfort II Hoody
We couldn't find another hooded sun shirt that's quite as good looking, breathable, and versatile as the Patagonia Tropic Comfort II Hoody. The secret to its success is the lightweight and comfortable fabric used throughout, as well as the low profile and minimal stitching. A UPF 50+ rating is about as high as you can get for sun protection, and this hoody features it. If you were to close your eyes, you'd be hard-pressed to know if you were even wearing this shirt at all! But, happily, this comfort doesn't come at the price of performance: the Tropic Comfort covers up everything from the waist up, helped out by its looser fit, generous hood, and thumb loops. Small features, like the neck button and elastic trim, keep what needs to be in place in place, while allowing the rest of the shirt to move freely with the body. To top it all off, the fabric has an anti-microbial treatment to help you feel fresh even after days in the sun. This means less washing which means a longer-lasting piece of gear.
Although we're impressed at the whole package of the Tropic Comfort, its one weakness is durability. It's not going to last in the harshest of environments for the long haul. If you're always bushwhacking to your favorite fishing spot, working a sunny outside job in the dirt or with power equipment, or always combing the beach and climbing on the rocks, you're going to test this layer a little more than it's made to handle. Though, that may not be a problem if you have a significant other than loves to borrow your best gear — this is going to be one that's inevitably going to find a new home on them, as much as it is on you.
Why You Should Trust Us
Justin Simoni is a Boulder, CO-based athlete, adventurer, and backpacking guide. He specializes in ultra-long distance, self-powered and self-supported challenges in the mountains of the American West. Simoni has put these shirts to their limits while wandering all along the Front Range of Colorado on long bike rides, trail runs, outdoor workdays, and at the crag. He has been working closely with outdoor gear companies helping with research, design, and testing for over a decade, bringing his experience and expertise to the table.
After finishing up our research on the dozens of sun shirts available on the market now, we hand-picked the strongest candidates we could find and purchased them just like any other shopper. Then each morning for weeks, we put on one of our picks as we greeted the morning sun and told it to pull no punches as we hiked, ran, and rode the local trails of the Colorado Front Range, climbed the exposed snow-capped peaks, wandered around the spring-swollen creeks and rivers, and worked our projects in the sun-soaked crags. After all this fun, we hung out with friends on hammocks, slacklines, and backyard pools. We even took our sun shirt picks on job sites and lumberyards to see how well they worked while we worked. We noted the strengths and weaknesses of each shirt for all our different scenarios and with that data, came up with some great advice to help you pick the best product out there for your budget.
Related: How We Tested Sun Protection Shirts
Analysis and Test Results
The primary job for all these seemingly simple shirts is to protect the wearer from excess exposure to the sun, be durable enough to make it through a trip, and offer enough breathability that it's realistic to wear in the hottest of situations. Versatility is also of importance — if one shirt can fulfill multiple roles, it's one less piece of gear that you need to pack, which delights pack-weight-conscious people. This is also important when you're just trying to pack a suitcase with everything you'll need for a once-in-a-lifetime trip.
We took a healthy cross-section of what a number of big names offer in this milieu and did what's supposed to be done to a sun shirt: took them hiking, surfing, and climbing, stuffed them in duffel bags, had beers on the beach, suffered through stifling trail runs, and even slept in them. Read on to learn about what we discovered.
We believe value to be of great importance and something we pay mind to when testing. Ultimately, we want to make sure you're investing in your gear wisely. But it's a subjective factor, so it doesn't factor into our performance evaluations of each shirt. For some gear, the more you pay, the more you get — but that's not always true for sun shirts. Sometimes you're just paying for features that aren't really necessary. So, which shirts showed the best value?
The Baleaf UPF 50 wins a Best Buy Award by a wide margin, ultimately from being sold at an impossible-to-beat price and bestowing upon you a durable shirt that will last for many of your future adventures. The only shirt that came even close in price is the Columbia PFG Terminal Tackle Hoodie, which doesn't bring much more to the table, except a slightly thinner, more comfortable fabric, but no thumb loops.
Even though the minimal Patagonia Capilene Cool Daily Hoody is a little more expensive, it packs so much comfort, that we feel its a great value and needs to be mentioned. Similarily for the price alone, the Columbia Silver Ridge Lite fulfills almost everything on our wishlist that we're looking for in a button-up at a price that beats out most of the other button-up shirts we've tested.
Comfort and Fit
Probably the most critical facet of any sun shirt is how it feels when it's on. After all, UPF protection won't mean much if the article of clothing it covers doesn't feel good to wear. The shirts we selected for our test largely all did well in this category.
The VOORMI River Run Hoody won us over from first blush with its wool/polyester blended fabric, but we weren't bowled over by the rest of its performance — especially the durability of the fabric itself. Given how expensive the shirt is — by far the most expensive shirt in our lineup — it would be a shame to ruin such a stylish piece of gear just by getting lost on a trail and having to find a "shortcut" through some brush. We'd only suggest the River Run as a casual, lifestyle piece or for water adventures where having a little bit of extra warmth from wool is ideal.
We were more impressed by both the Canyon, our Editors' Choice and the Silver Ridge Lite, one of our Best Buy Winners — two button-up shirts that feature an updated cut of a classic idea. Generally, this means that the cut is a little more fitted when compared to the almost smock-like options that usually flood the market. Both these felt great while wearing them, which just made us want to wear them for everything!
The Outdoor Research Astroman also rates high for comfort and fit, no doubt due to the very stretchy nylon/spandex blend of its fabric. This shirt works really well where mobility is tantamount. Gymnastic climbing moves at the crag is a place where this shirt excels.
When it comes to hooded sun shirts, both Patagonia hoodies: the Capilene Cool Daily and the Tropic Comfort II seem cut from the same comfy cloth, only differing by the extra features the Tropic Comfort II has over its brethren. The fabric of these shirts seemed to emanate a cooling sensation whenever it was even near our skin.
UPF, or ultraviolet protection factor, is a rating system specific to apparel's ability to block ultraviolet radiation. The rating runs from zero to 50, and each number indicates a percentage of the sun's rays allowed through. Thus: UPF 25 = 1/25th, or 4%, of the sun's radiation can pass through the fabric. It's one important factor, but it's certainly not the only.
Fabric type is another key to sun protection. Synthetics perform the best, while more natural garments, like something made of bleached cotton, have a natural UPF rating of around 5. Polyester has been rated as the top option. All of the shirts tested here, except for the 52% wool/48% polyester blend of the River Run and the 85% nylon/15% spandex blend of the Astroman. Both these blends have a lower UPF rating than any of the 100% polyester shirts.
The cut and fit of a sun shirt also plays a big role in making sure you're protected. Many of the button-up shirts we've tested feature generous sleeve and seam lengths, as well as collars that can be popped up. The hooded sun shirts very obviously feature a hood to keep your head covered and oftentimes thumb loops to keep the sleeves over your hands.
Of the hooded sun shirts, the Tropic Comfort comes out on top for sun protection. Its generous hood covers the head twice over, and we really appreciate the lone button at the front of the neck that both helps cover the neck and keep the hood from floating away in a brisk breeze. The generous sleeves and thumb loops do similar work in keeping the arms and hands covered up.
Similarly, the Patagonia Sol Patrol II rates the highest for sun protection alone. The fabric used just seems to be the toughest, most heliophobic of all the shirts we've tested. If you're hanging around casually in the sun for hours on end, it's the shirt you want — as long as you pair it with at the very least a floppy hat. It's not a great shirt for active users as it's going to cause you to overheat. It's really been made for all-day fishing missions, where sun is reflecting off the water, and you may be thigh deep in a freezing creek.
For more active pursuits, consider the button-up Canyon, which boasts a high 50 UPF rating, but features a thinner, more breathable fabric, and most all of the bells and whistles of the Sol Patrol II.
A shirt won't be much fun to wear in the sun if it feels like you're wearing a wet blanket 30 minutes into your hike. And, one top of that, some fabrics become less protective when wet. Thankfully, polyester, which most all of the shirts in this review are made of, isn't one of them.
Most of the shirts in our test dried equally well when left to the sun after a soaking. A fabric's breathability also helps it resist odor by letting air pass through, and specialized treatments, such as the Polygiene permanent odor control of the Capilene Cool Daily, performed well in our campfire smoke test.
The most breathable shirt in our lineup is the Silver Ridge Lite. It has a more relaxed fit and thinner fabric than the other button-ups in our review, and this helped it score at the top. Button-up shirts usually feature a few different options to enhance airflow, including rolling up the sleeves, unbuttoning some fo the front buttons, and vents on the back.
Taken as a whole, most all the shirts we've tested did a little above average in breathability, except two outliers: the Sol Patrol II and the PFG Super Tamiami, which fared much worse. It's no wonder, as both of these shirts are modeled after the classic, blousy fishing shirt, and they promote sun protection and durability at the cost of breathability. You won't be running the 800-meter sprint in one of these, though — that's not what they're designed for — so the lower breathability scores may not matter as much in more sedentary applications.
Can you use the same shirt at the crag, as well as at the table? Can you go to work in the morning, then go fishing in the evening without having to change your top? Can you backpack for 6 days, and then check out the town for a day of rest, without having to pack two shirts? Can you go traveling cross country, make the regional board meeting, then take a trail run? That's what we're talking about when we talk about versatility. "Versatility" doesn't weigh in as much as other metrics we use; it's too personal of an opinion. But it's still an important facet to consider. People who perspire easily may not find any of these shirts too versatile and will always opt for a specific shirt for high-octane activities.
The Canyon, our Editors' Choice, scored highest in this category, thanks to its unique dobby polyester, which looks and feels great, especially in the neutral, sleek color option we tested. The Silver Ridge Lite, also looks good, feels good, and has just enough features to make it useful on and off the trail, without looking too weighed down with accessories no one needs.
Both Patagonia's Tropic Comfort Hoody II and Capilene Cool Daily Hoody are also worth mentioning here. They simply look great to us, and we wouldn't feel strange wearing them off-trail to casual events or just when hanging out around the house all day.
Fabric integrity matters in a sun shirt because worn and loose material exposes the skin to a greater risk of UV radiation. Thankfully, testing revealed most of our shirts could hold up to what was thrown at them with no problems.
The Sol Patrol II is a knockout in regards to durability. It's what the cockroaches will be wearing after the apocalypse. Durability and sun protection often go hand in hand when the material used is thick, and that's the case with the Sol Patrol.
If you're looking for a different button-up that's similar, the Columbia PFG Super Tamiami shares many of the same characteristics to the Sol Patrol, durability being one of them. Utilizing a burly, thicker, and less breathable fabric than some other options, it's firmly in the "traditional" camp of shirts we've tested.
Both the Terminal Tackle and Baleaf UPF 50 scored high in durability as well, and both feature a little more breathable fabric. The hooded design seems to lend itself to being a little more comfortable as well.
What's wonderful about sun shirts? There's a wide variety of choices to pick from so you can find the perfect piece of wearable gear for your favorite sunny weather activities. From blousy button-ups to super comfy sun hoodies — and everything in between. We hope our months of testing and rigorous selection process helps lead you to your perfect new layer.
— Justin Simoni