We've researched over 45 different sun shirts in order to find the top 8 for in-depth, hands-on testing. 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.
The Best Sun Protection Shirts
Patagonia Capilene Cool Daily Hoody
It's hard to beat this shirt in terms of overall comfort, from the couch to the crag, this is the one shirt in the group hardest to take off. But when you do peel it off, don't expect the Patagonia Capilene Cool Daily Hoody to take up much space wherever it lands. This 6.3 oz., hooded sun shirt provides ample sun protection with UPF+ 50 layered into its plush and pliable polyester, impregnated with miDori™bioSoft fabric softener for an airy feel and athletic fit.
The hood is the only slight drawback, as it's so light it often ends up hanging and bouncing over a shoulder during activity. Then again, that same seamless fit helps it fit under helmets and disappear under outer layers. Speaking of layering, the Capilene Cool Daily Hoody is the most versatile of the bunch, able to be used in colder weather pursuits under a puffy or soft shell, and is flexible enough to be worn over a minimal base-layer, and it's that versatility that led its ranking. Throughout testing, we found the Cool Daily Hoody actively cooled as we played in the sun and humidity, and it resisted absorbing the bacteria that leads to body odor. The fit was terrific on our main tester, who at 5'9'', 170, wore the medium. Another great benefit of this option? The price. While not the Best Bang for the Buck in our test, it certainly offers a great value.
Best Bang For The Buck
Columbia Silver Ridge Lite
A close competitor to the Patagonia Sol Patrol II, but winning out in style and weight, the Silver Ridge Lite only has UPF+ 40 protection as opposed to the former's 50+, but it's feel, comfort, and streamlined design offer a lot for its high found list price.
Columbia's Omni-Shade® and Omni-Wick® fabric treatments combine to make its ripstop polyester 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 their marketing copywriters are not wrong. This shirt looks as good as it functions and thus protects against burns about looking like a safari guide, as well. We found that its likely shoppers would compare this shirt most closely to the Patagonia Sol Patrol II and the Mountain Hardwear Canyon. Both are great options with higher UPF ratings but cost significantly more. The Canyon is the best looking of the bunch, winning our Trail-to-Town Top Pick, but it's not as breathable as the Silver Ridge. The sleeves offer good length below the wrists when needed and the hem does the same as well, laying flat under backpacks and in general, staying in place when it's supposed to. As a travel shirt, the Silver Ridge Lite is a winner. It 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 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 shirts designed to beat back the sun. Those wanting something more form-fitting should look to the Outdoor Research Astroman. But those wanting a good looking shirt that's outdoor-functional and wallet-friendly, Columbia's Silver Ridge Lite is our pick.
Best Trail-to-Town Sun Shirt
Mountain Hardwear Canyon Long Sleeve
"That's a good looking shirt," was heard several times during testing of the Mountain Hardwear Canyon. Its slightly-better-than-athletic fit and unique dobby weave construction really help this shirt shine amongst its more technical-looking test partners. It manages to strike a solid balance between comfort and function while lacking a tad in the latter when against the higher performing products in this test. Nevertheless, if you're looking for something to also protect against incandescent cubicle lighting, the UPF+ 50, 7.4 oz. Canyon is a great option. Testers discovered the Canyon to be the surprise of the test, continuing to move up in the rankings each time it entered the field or the dining room. Its feature selection is smartly thought-out, with lay-flat pockets and dual zippered breast pockets with a mesh backing that double as vents. The collar flap is nicely hidden when not in use, and the collar buttons comfortably upfront, not at all restricting movement.
We found the Canyon's fit and feel to be on-par with the Columbia Silver Ridge—but only when static. Our testing revealed that the yoke (the stretch of fabric along the upper back and scapula) and underarms would pull tight at times while reaching. Granted, body types likely impact that fit concern. Breathability became a slight challenge when under a backpack in humid conditions, but the Canyon did shake the smell of a campfire as quickly as Patagonia's Sol Patrol II. In terms of overall sun protection, trail functionality, and good looks, Mountain Hardwear's Canyon is a solid, relatively affordable option. Others performed better in the test, but none looked as good while doing so.
Best for Travel
Patagonia Sol Patrol II
There's a good combination of comfort and practicality in the Sol Patrol II long-sleeve. It fits a tad large, which is intended to promote airflow, but also contributes to a nice level roominess when fastened to an airplane seat or behind the wheel for hours on end. Testers remarked that the breast pockets can hold a passport easily, unlike the Mountain Hardwear Canyon's zippered pocket, which took some fumbling to get the passport in or out. The Sol Patrol II also didn't let the ambient temperatures affect us much, managing to keep us comfortable in the various environments that one often encounters on long-distance travel. This is one of those shirts you grab when you know your next few showers will likely consist of a face cloth and small tub on your tailgate.
The fabric, a super-soft recycled ripstop polyester isn't quite as soft as the Capilene Cool Daily Hoody or Columbia's Silver Ridge, but it feels great to wear nonetheless. The little loop of webbing to hold the sunglasses is handier than you realize, especially if you're not a fan of around-the-neck straps. This shirt doesn't pack as small as some of the others it was up against, but travel is more about comfort and multi-use. No one is going to be complimented on their contemporary, jet-setting fashion sense while in this shirt, but if you let that worry you, why are you reading this test?
Why You Should Trust Us
Craig Rowe is a commercial hiking guide and owns a Truckee, CA-based wilderness education company. He's also a Leave No Trace Master Educator and alumnus of the National Outdoor Leadership School. Craig is a professional writer and journalist by trade; thus, objectivity and fact-based looks at products and people help him considerably when it comes to analyzing the features and benefits of outdoor gear.
Craig tested these shirts in travel capacities to warm, sunny locales, putting both their packability and practicality to the test in Costa Rica and California's warm, sunny central coast. Beyond wear and tear in the sun, the products were packed, stuffed, washed, slept-in, and worn for days, as is very common for garments in this milieu. Craig is ideally suited to understand how clothing manufacturers approach meeting the needs of the gear-focused recreational.
Analysis & Test Results
These shirts need to block the sun, offer breathability, promote temperature regulation, and keep a person comfortable in both the humid stew of the jungle and the searing aridness of the Escalante. 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 middle-seat flights, and even slept in them. Here's what we discovered.
We didn't hard-rank value in this test, meaning it didn't get an actual score in the final rankings. That said, it's always a subjective factor that most diligent gear shoppers consider, given that a few of the items in this test are well over $60. Value comes down to what a person gets in exchange for their cash. Yes, in this case, you get a shirt, but value enters the picture when you pick one off of the shelf that does more than offer a UPF+ rating. Is it comfortable? What are the pockets like? Can I wear it under or over other layers? We considered these questions when drawing final conclusions about a shirt, and how value may compensate for a couple of flaws or bad styling.
Comfort & Fit
Probably 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. We selected for our test items that largely all did well in this category, except for one: the Eddie Bauer Atlas Exploration, which one tester actually couldn't wait to take off at the end of a hike. Not all testers felt it was that bad but admit to it not being on the level as others.
The Patagonia Sol Patrol II, Mountain Hardwear Canyon, and Outdoor Research Astroman all scored well here, but the Capilene Cool Daily Daily Hoody, with its super-soft and stretch-capable polyester, softened with miDori bioSoft, and Columbia's Silver Ridge Lite landed as equals in this category.
We wanted to know how these shirts felt when merely being worn around the cabin and throughout active pursuits, such as hiking or skinning up a spring ridgeline. Both items offered a terrific balance of room-to-move and a good fit, without looking bulky or getting the way. OR's entry offers great fabric flex, ideal for climbers and paddlers. However, its tight fit and shorter hem length didn't work for more medium-sized builds. It should be noted that the only shirt to score a 10 in sun protection, the Columbia PFG Terminal Tackle Hoody, was derailed in the test overall because of its comfort and fit. Yes, it covers the body, but so much excess fabric means more material to collect sweat and longer time to dry. The Capilene Cool Daily Hoody manages to pull off the coverage-to-breathability balance wonderfully and is also great as a next-to-sleeping bag layer.
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.
Fabric type is obviously key to sun protection. Synthetics perform the best, while more natural garments, like something in cotton, has a natural UPF rating of around 5. Polyester has been rated as the top option, with rayon up there as well. All of the shirts tested here, except for the 100% nylon Eddie Bauer Atlas Exploration, were made of polyester. Nylon is also an adequate synthetic for sun protection, but it doesn't score as well in comfort in some cases.
Ultimately, nothing beats the coverage factor of a sun shirt when it comes to keeping you burn-free. While the UPF 50 Columbia PFG Terminal Tackle Hoody doesn't particularly look good, it excels in keeping skin hidden from the sun. Its color, a bright green, also helps, as intense, light colors are shown to absorb less UV rays than darker or muted tones. The Hanes CoolDRI shrunk during testing, but that reduces the space between fibers and theoretically, can aid in sun protection. But it's bright red color only welcomes more UV rays, so it's, well, a wash.
The Columbia Silver Ridge Lite is the only shirt in the lot not rated with a UPF of 50, so it scored somewhat lower here, despite having a number of nice physical features to keep a person safe. The Astroman's stretch factor didn't help its position here either, as flexible factors risk more UV exposure over time, outweighing the naturally more sun-protective qualities of spandex. The Sol Patrol II, Canyon, and Capilene Cool Daily Hoody all scored well.
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. Actually, some fabrics become less protective when wet. Thankfully, polyester, which all but one of our shirts were made of, isn't one of them. Please note that studies on wetness and UV protection are not exact to the shirt you may be buying, and depend greatly on specific types of fabric varieties and treatments, according to a German study published in 2002, which showed some varieties of polyester got better when wet, and other types didn't.
Most of the shirts in this test dried equally well when left to the sun after a soaking, except for the Eddie Bauer. A fabric's breathability also helps it resist odor by letting air pass through, and specialized treatments, such as the FreshIQ on the Hanes and the Polygiene® permanent odor control of the Capilene Cool Daily Hoody, which performed well in our campfire smoke test. Overall, this category wasn't much of a challenge, and only a couple of outliers—the Canyon and Atlas Exploration—failed to perform at a high level.
Fabric integrity matters in a sun shirt because worn and loose material exposes the skin to greater risk of UV radiation. Thankfully, testing revealed each of these shirts could hold up to most of what was thrown at them, making us recommend that when it comes to choosing to buy one, don't worry too much about their physical endurance, which is why we apply the least weight to this category.
Five of the shirts had button-down plackets. This means our first concern was the strength of the buttons, both on the front and along the cuff. We didn't lose any, thankfully. The two hooded sun shirts, the Columbia PFG Terminal Tackle and Patagonia Cool Daily Hoody, came streamlined without any external accoutrements unless you count their hoods. Neither shirt demonstrated weakness at any seam or stitch. The Hanes CoolDRI did shrink on us, and how that directly overlaps with physical durability is up to interpretation. However, in the general sense of wanting a shirt to last, the Hanes didn't pass the smell test. Every shirt in the test was packed, rolled, bound, stuffed, and otherwise treated like a low-level henchman in a Liam Neeson film. They all hung in there though, belying their position on the marquee.
Still, it never hurts to be prepared, so with all of the button-downs here, keep an eye on collar snaps, pocket buttons, the mesh behind pockets and vents, and the cuff strength when rolling and unrolling.
The Mountain Hardwear Canyon dried quickly on its own, but managed to absorb a great deal of sweat when under a pack. The Silver Ridge Lite and Sol Patrol II win out in the venting category, and the former's super-soft Omni-Wick ripstop polyester noticeable shed wetness.
The Mountain Hardwear Canyon scored the highest in this category, and it's thanks to its unique dobby polyester, which looks and feels great, especially in the neutral, sleek "dive" color option.
Remember, style in this shirt market is relative. This type of shirt is by nature lofty with relaxed fits, which contributes to comfort in heat, breathability, and UV protection. Take the Patagonia Sol Patrol II, which is nothing if not the prototypical outdoor person's shirt. Your fishing club buddies won't blink when you show up wearing it on Saturday, but your cubicle mates won't quite know what to make of it, and you'll be subject to funny emojis in your department's Slack channel. The pockets are big, there's a funny tab of webbing on which to dangle sunglasses, and the zippered chest pocket's loop of multi-colored cordage adds a final splash of pizazz. Not to be outdone, Columbia put its logo all over the PFG Terminal Tackle Hoodie, demonstrating it has zero concern for style when the goal is blocking the sun. In contrast, Columbia's Silver Ridge Lite seriously looks good—it's pockets are subtle, the fabric floats nicely, and the cool grey is sharply sophisticated. You're going to like the way you look.™
Outdoor Research gave the Astroman an athletic fit, meaning it's not for everyone. It does give it a more urban look in the right situations, probably fine for informal business events and the like. But like others in the test, color counts, and the OR sample's "washed peacock" just didn't win us over. Yet, the similarly colored "Big Sur blue" in the Capilene Cool Daily Hoody seemed to work. Thus, some colors work with some shirt designs, and some don't. The simple long-sleeve tee design of the Hanes left nothing to the imagination, and Eddie Bauer's "sprig-green" Atlas Exploration seemed too typical, almost suggesting it has to be worn on a safari. Plus, it's a sun shirt, not a base layer for jungle combat—can we have a light color, please?
Testing sun shirts can be somewhat humbling at times because you have to act like a model. Photos. Posing for comfort tests. How do they look with khaki shorts? It's not like testing backpacking tents or ice axes. Nevertheless, these shirts are all over the outdoor industry, and it's our job to see how they hold up, especially when a few of them are reaching the $100 benchmark. Hooded pull-overs are a popular option, but we only tested two of them this time around, and one of them took home the top prize. Know that a shirt's UPF rating isn't the last line against sun damage or beating the heat. Fit and fabric matter, and so does breathability. We worked to notate how the shirts worked in all of these categories and considered items like packability and how well they could perform in different sports and environments. This is a small cross-section of what's out there, even some of the brands tested here have several sun-blocking options. As this test grows, we hope to uncover new ways to prove their mettle, find intriguing fabrics and shirt designs, and ultimately, do what's best for readers' buying decisions.
— Craig Rowe