The world's most in-depth and scientific reviews of gear

How We Tested Sun Protection Shirts

By Justin Simoni ⋅ Review Editor
Friday July 3, 2020
Testing high activity performance of our hooded sun shirt field.
Testing high activity performance of our hooded sun shirt field.

Comfort & Fit


When a sun shirt fits well, you'll wear it more often, and actually wearing the shirt is what helps protect you from the sun! An ill-fitting garment will be left in the hamper, or lost and forgotten in the back of your closet. A sun shirt should also complement your own physique, allowing you to look presentable during a 0 day in town after five days on the trail, or even while at work at the office or during a Zoom call. While testing, we paid particular attention to how the shirts we've reviewed felt when we wore them, as well as how they moved with our body during all the activities we brought them along to do — which were plentiful. We ran, hiked, biked, climbed, goofed around, and even slept in them to see if they were comfortable enough to help give us a good night's rest.

The Columbia PFG Super Tamiami is perfect for those sunny  lazy days.
The Columbia PFG Super Tamiami is perfect for those sunny, lazy days.

Sun Protection


What good is a sun shirt if it can't protect you from its namesake? Sun shirts take on many different strategies to protect you from overexposure, and we compared all of them against each other to see which ones actually work. Some industry standards have been established to help compare different products, like the UPF (Ultraviolet Protection Factor) rating, but the effectiveness of this rating can still vary in real-world use because of details of the shirts themselves: the cut and design, as well as what and where the shirt covers your body.

If you were to bend down, does the shirt still cover your backside? Does the shirt work well all day and with a backpack filled with a week's worth of supplies? Is it comfortable enough that you'd even elect to wear it with the sleeves and collar/hood up? Are the thumb loops a useful feature, or do they just get in the way? We paid attention to each and every one of these details while hanging out in the sun for hours at a time in order to bring you the comprehensive details laid out in our review.

The Patagonia Sol Patrol II may extenuate a goofy guy's most endearing qualities  but it's no question that its durability and sun protection is almost unbeatable.
The Patagonia Sol Patrol II may extenuate a goofy guy's most endearing qualities, but it's no question that its durability and sun protection is almost unbeatable.

Breathability


A push-pull situation can occur in sun shirts: pieces that protect well may do so at the expense of breathability. Fabrics that are thick and tightly woven may win major points when it comes to their UPF rating but then may become so uncomfortable that they're unrealistic to wear during the hottest of days or during high-intensity activities. A shirt that's intolerable to wear may get left behind, which would completely miss the point of utilizing a sun shirt!

A great sun shirt may give adequate protection to ultraviolet radiation and still stay light and airy, allowing you to perspire naturally, without becoming too sweaty. To fully test this metric we hiked, biked, ran, and climbed extensively, all the while paying strict attention to our body temperature and how well we could keep it regulated via the fabric itself or by using some or all of the features of the shirt (sleeve tabs, vents, front buttons or zips, etc.)

The Columbia Silver Ridge Lite starts out looking good enough to be adapted to a casual top for just about anyone.
The Columbia Silver Ridge Lite starts out looking good enough to be adapted to a casual top for just about anyone.

Versatility


What's not to love about a piece of gear that can be used on the trails, at the pub, or even at work? We've worn the sun shirts in this review at every chance we could: hiking and running on the trails, climbing at the local crags, cycling up mountain passes to camp overnight at our secret spots, lounging around in the backyard, and even while working at a busy lumber warehouse. These shirts have been smooshed into the bottom of packs, used for days at a time in sweaty environments, been scraped and abused off-trail through overgrowth and up rock formations, and been on many a mountain adventure at precipitous heights and dizzying cliff edges.

Many of the hooded sun shirts we've tested showed a ton of mobility - perfect for gymnastic activities like rock climbing  as well as enough durability to survive a good day out with friends at the crag.
Many of the hooded sun shirts we've tested showed a ton of mobility - perfect for gymnastic activities like rock climbing, as well as enough durability to survive a good day out with friends at the crag.

Durability


A well-designed, versatile, and great fitting sun shirt may just become your most relished piece of wearable gear, whether that be on the trail, by the river, at work, or at home. Before you fall madly in love with a piece of gear, you should know if it's committed to going the distance with you.

We've pulled no punches when wearing these sun shirts as much as possible for as many tasks as is realistic to do so. We've monitored each shirt for weaknesses in their stitching, and for any shortcomings in their design and features. Every shirt was worn under a backpack, exposed to many hours of direct sun, soaked with perspiration, packed, rolled, and left to dry in sunny breezes. Overall, we found our tests to be comprehensive and functional.

Given its namesake  climbing with the Astroman seems almost a required part of its ownership.
Given its namesake, climbing with the Astroman seems almost a required part of its ownership.