Seeking the best women's sun shirt? We researched over 65 models, then purchased the 9 best to test side-by-side. We spent months wearing these shirts running through alpine meadows, snorkeling in equatorial waters, and gardening in blistering backyards. Our team evaluated how each model fits women of different body proportions, as well as how comfortable they are to wear on a hot summer's day. We wore them paddling and hiking and washed them repeatedly to test breathability and durability. If you're like us, putting sunscreen on every 90 minutes all summer just isn't happening. No matter what's pulling you outdoors, we've identified the perfect sun shirt for you.
The Best Sun Protection Shirts for Women
Best Women's Sun Shirt
Mountain Hardwear Crater Lake Long Sleeve Hoody - Women's
We love this superbly comfortable top from Mountain Hardwear. The Crater Lake Hoody has just about everything we could want in a sun shirt. It protects you from the sun with 50+ UPF fabric, a lightweight hood that fits under a helmet, and thumb holes you can actually use no matter how long your arms are. Made of a soft, silky polyester/elastane blend, the Crater Lake is ridiculously stretchy and insanely comfortable. It's thin enough that it's both absurdly lightweight and shockingly breathable without being see-through. It's one of the few shirts we found ourselves happily wearing under the blazing sun without rolling up the sleeves - and that's a big deal! This excellent performing sun shirt also features a zipped hip pocket and the option to cinch the bottom closed, like your favorite jacket. This comes in handy for inverted activities like climbing and yoga, to keep your lower back always safe from the sun.
The Crater Lake does run a bit large, in our experience though. Our main tester is 5'4" and 117 lb and rocked the XS with plenty of room to spare - even considering her self-described "ape arms". We also tested this hoody in the light lavender color, which gets dirty shockingly easy. It always cleaned right up in the wash when we needed it to, but this light color made it need a wash pretty frequently. And while we love the super stretchy nature of this shirt, it does stop you from comfortably using the hip pocket for something heavy like your cell phone. As with any hooded shirt with thumb holes, this top offers a fairly specific "look", that might not fly in the workplace, unless it's Casual Friday. All in all, we love this sun shirt and it quickly became one of our go-to pieces for everything from yoga to biking to gardening.
Best Bang for the Buck
Vapor Apparel Solar Long Sleeve - Women's
This shirt is specifically designed with the runner in mind. It's impressively lightweight and relatively breathable. The high UPF protection of 50+ provides great coverage for a sweaty activity not conducive to wearing sunscreen. It also comes in light colors, helping to reflect more of the sun's rays than it absorbs, which adds to its cooling features.
Though the wider-than-expected neckline provides added heat-expelling properties, it also leaves the sides of the wearer's neck and inside of the shoulders exposed to the sun's rays, reducing its overall sun protection effectiveness. We also found that this shirt tended to hold onto odors more so than many of the other models we tested, which makes for an unfortunate running companion if worn several times between washings. If you're looking for an inexpensive option for a long-sleeved running shirt, the Vapor Solar is a great option, but if you're in the market for an active-wear shirt for all-day use, you'd be better served checking out one of the other contenders in this review.
Read review: Vapor Apparel Solar Long Sleeve - Women's
Best for Versatility
REI Co-op Sahara Long-Sleeve - Women's
For a button-up shirt with a collar, we feel like the REI Co-op Sahara is astoundingly well-rounded. We think it's stylish and comfortable and quite breathable. It has pockets that are large enough to hold an iPhone 6 and sleeves cut with a scoop to cover the backs of our hands. It also features stretchy underarm panels that not only make this shirt quite comfortable to wear, but also provide ventilation while preventing underarm rubbing during paddle sports. This shirt is versatile enough we feel it is a great choice for a full day on the trail that runs straight into a dinner date with girlfriends.
However, we feel though that the sleeve tabs are a bit too high to be overly functional. But once we also discovered that the sleeves stay rolled pretty well without using the sleeve tabs, we don't mind so much. Our only other complaint is how easily this shirt wrinkles after living in a suitcase for a few of days of travel. All in all, though, we are big fans of this shirt and feel it's more versatile than any other shirt in this review. If you want a shirt for ALL your outdoor activities that can also double for Mondays at the office, we think the Sahara is an excellent choice.
Read review: REI Co-op Sahara Long-Sleeve - Women's
Best for a Cool Start
Outdoor Research Echo Hoody - Women's
The OR Echo Hoody has some unique features in this review that we think makes it an excellent addition to the closet of an activewear junkie. Firstly, this lightweight sun top has cuffs that easily fold over your hands to keep your fingers from freezing on those chilly morning runs. While this makes it impossible to use your hands as anything other than stumps, we think it's a great feature for sipping coffee in the woods as the sun comes up or early walks with the dog. Secondly, the Echo has a hole in its hood to fit your ponytail through. Though this isn't the most stylish look, it certainly is functional. Any woman with long hair knows that feeling of it sticking uncomfortably to the back of her neck as she sweats in the hot sun. Putting it in a ponytail is sometimes a necessity to be able to stay outside, but is awkward to wear inside the hood that's protecting your neck from burning. The Echo fixes that problem. Beyond these two unique features, this hoody is absurdly lightweight and impressively breathable, and is one of only a couple shirts we tested that we can comfortably wear in the hot sun without pushing up the sleeves.
For all it's other utility, the Echo lacks any pockets at all or even thumb holes to add hand protection while leaving your fingers free for wiggling. It also has by far the lowest UPF value of any sun shirt we tested, at just 15! Most others are 35-50+, so this is fairly disappointing. And while we adore the breathability of this thin, quick-drying fabric, we discovered that it snags quite easily during normal everyday activities and laundering. So while it may not last you for years and years, the quirky traits this top brings to the table make it super useful - and we love the bold colors it comes in too!
Read review: Outdoor Research Echo Hoody - Women's
Best for a Rash Guard
O'Neill Basic Skins L/S Crew - Women's
If you're looking for sun protection for spending a whole day in the water, this is the shirt for you. It's tight enough to stay put no matter if you're swimming laps, surfing, kayaking or jet skiing. The seams are sewn in convenient places to not rub even during your most active adventures. With a high UPF rating, you can be sure that you won't burn through this shirt! The material is thick enough to provide some protection against cold waters, without being too warm to wear in warmer climates.
As a skin-tight layer, this isn't the most versatile sun shirt. It's not a great option for most land activities, as the fit makes it not breathe well and will simply collect your sweat. However, if you're looking for a shirt you can rock all day in the water and look stylish without ever feeling uncomfortable, look no further than this fantastic option from O'Neill!
Read review: O'Neill Basic Skins L/S Crew - Women's
Why You Should Trust Us
Maggie Brandenburg and her team of sun-loving women get outside a lot. As a seasoned and committed nature explorer, she has guided kayaking and backpacking trips into the backcountry for the past 15 years. When she's not guiding, she's embarking on great expeditions in the Carribean islands, kayaking crystalline blue lakes, and meandering high alpine trails. She has spent entire seasons living out of a backpack, truly experiencing nature to its fullest. With such a wealth of experience under her belt, she provides feedback and advice that underpins the importance of what makes a great sun shirt. In addition to her personal voice, she gave out these shirts to friends (that enjoy similar things) to gain collective insight on each product.
During testing, we brought each shirt to a plethora of places to simply hang out in the sun. We went running in the high mountains of the Californian Sierras. We boated on the Pacific, hung out on the beach, did yoga, and truly took the time to nail down the nitty-gritty of each shirt. We observed to see which provides the best protection, and which simply don't stack up. We looked at features and fit to determine which perform the best. Our unbiased feedback will hopefully help you find the best product for the price that you're willing to spend.
Related: How We Tested Sun Shirt for Women
Analysis and Test Results
We've spent months testing sun shirts in a huge range of conditions and climates, from equatorial islands during the equinox to high alpine peaks on hot summer days. We ran, paddled, biked, gardened, walked the dog, and went to picnics in the park in these shirts. By breaking down the performance of each product into five mutually exclusive metrics and weighting each metric by its relative importance to choosing the right sun shirt, we can give each model a comparable overall score. Read on to learn how they compare across our wide range of tests.
Value tops many of our charts these days, as we're all trying to save a buck or three. Though it doesn't factor into our performance evaluations of each shirt, we know it always factors into your buying decision. So which ones offer the best value?
For some types of gear, more money will get you a better product. However, when it comes to sun shirts, we do not find that to be the case. Some expensive options don't perform very well in our testing, while some inexpensive options do just fine. The Vapor Apparel Solar Long Sleeve wins our Best Buy Award, and is one of the most affordable options in our review, it offers excellent protection from the sun. However, it's not the only option with great value, and many others offer excellent protection for a reasonable cost.
Comfort & Fit
We asked a variety of different-shaped women to test the comfort and fit of each model. We assessed shape and fit and checked how well each one moves with you. We also judged the feel of the fabric and seams against our skin.
The impressively soft and stretchy Mountain Hardwear Crater Lake stands out in this crowd for being exceptionally comfortable to wear no matter what shape we were or activity we tried. It's silky smooth, with seams in all the right places and provides an almost ridiculous amount of stretch, allowing it to stay comfortable all day long outside or in. The bottom can cinch shut if you need to flip upside down and the sleeves are actually long enough (and elastic enough!) for long-armed women to still use them. It also features a buttery soft hood that protects without impeding vision or movement or feeling like it's smashing your ponytail. For straight-up comfort you can paddle, hike, get groceries and fall asleep in, the Crater Lake is our favorite.
We also like the Outdoor Research Echo Hoodie, that's also pretty soft and comfortable to wear. It's not nearly as stretchy as the Crater Lake, but still provides exceptional comfort for everyday wear or heading out on a run. Among collared shirts, the REI Sahara is our favorite to wear. Both types of fabric that make up this shirt are soft and comfortable, but REI takes it one step further by removing seams from under your arms to keep even the hottest, sweatiest pits from rubbing raw. The O'Neill Basic Skins is our favorite rash guard, that's absurdly comfortable and easy to wear and actually stays put no matter if you're floating alongside a sea turtle or paddling out into the surf on your board.
A lot more goes into sun protection than just the UPF rating! Not all hoods or collars or long sleeves provide equal sun protection. And it's one thing to be covered while standing, unmoving in your yard and a whole other beast to still be covered while you bike to work, push the kids on the swings, or boulder up a sunny route. We put the sun protection, coverage, and our willingness to wear them during any given activity to the test to see how they really stack up.
Both the Mountain Hardwear Crater Lake and the Patagonia Sunshade Hoody offer top-notch protection. Each has a hood that stays on while you play and thumbholes that are easy to wear to keep the backs of your hands protected. The Crater Lake is a great option for dynamic movement, as its ability to stretch makes it an excellent companion to stay covered no matter how you move. Patagonia's Sunshade hoody is able to stay put in a brisk wind, making it a good option for boating or hiking ridgetops.
The Outdoor Research Echo also offers some solid hand protection with optional pull-over hand covers. Their design forces the sleeve to twist a little and make it a bit tight for longer-armed women, but it still works well. It also features a ponytail hole in the hood which, though it detracts from style points, definitely enhances the ability to keep your hood firmly protecting your neck and ears. Among rash guards, the O'Neill Basic Skins gives excellent coverage by staying put while you swim and play in the waves. The Patagonia Micro Swell Rashguard offers a slightly taller neck that gives some extra coverage for your beach day.
Spending time in the sun with a long-sleeved shirt on isn't always the easiest feat. The breathability of your sun shirt goes a long way toward your ability to stand wearing it on hot, sunny days. We checked out the thickness and weight of fabrics, venting options, dry speed, and wore them during high-output activities of each one we tested to see how they serve you when you're sweaty.
The exceptionally thin, lightweight Mountain Hardwear Crater Lake and Outdoor Research Echo again both stand out in this category as being very breathable. The Crater Lake is loose and flowy, in addition to being very thin. It also comes in mostly light colors, which help it to reflect more sun than it absorbs. Though the Echo Hoodie is a bit tighter-fitting, it dries exceptionally quickly, helping you to cool down faster through the cooling powers of evaporation. The Vapor Solar is also a superbly breathable shirt with a fairly basic, open fit that helps you to stay cool during a run or out dong yardwork - though you may lose out on a little bit of coverage with this relatively featureless option.
The REI Sahara is also quite breathable, with buttons that allow you to open up the collar as much as you need. It also has some well-placed back vents that aid in letting off steam. The Columbia Silver Ridge Lite is also impressively breathable. With quick-drying fabric that's thin and light-colored, a looser fit to facilitate airflow, and some large, strategically-placed vents, this shirt is very wearable even on hot days. Both these shirts can also easily have their sleeves comfortably rolled up (and sunscreen applied to your hands and forearms!) if you'd rather wear it that way.
We beat these shirts up during our testing to see if they could take it. From scrambling up rocks and scraping through twisted bushes to hauling landscaping bricks and washing them near-daily, we went beyond their "normal" scope of use. We also combed the internet to learn what failed for other people and see if it failed for us too.
Both the REI Sahara and the Columbia Silver Ridge Lite are constructed of ripstop material that withstood a lot of abuse from our testers. Both these shirts are well-made, with reinforced seams and thoughtful features to help them last the years. They showed nearly no wear, stains, or snags throughout our intensive testing process.
The O'Neill Basic Skins rash guard also does impressively well against the odds. Though it's not made for pressing through dense undergrowth, we found it to do very well in water activities. Rubbing against sand, sliding along the edge of a life jacket for hours of paddling, and repeated saltwater adventures all left no marks on this excellent shirt. We also are pretty impressed with the durability of the Black Diamond Alpenglow Hoody. Despite having a similar unimpressive appearance to many other hoodies we tested, this was the only one to NOT pick up snags during our testing.
Though several shirts we tested claim to have some sort of odor control treatment, we never once noticed that it made any difference to how quickly a shirt stunk after your pits, back, or any other section has been soaked with sweat. Perhaps it's a small improvement if you can wear the shirt without dampening it with sweat, but we think that's a pretty unrealistic expectation.
Style is of course, very subjective. And clearly the biggest reasons to wear a sun shirt have little to do with looks. However, we think it's a bonus if a shirt can be both useful AND make you look like a million bucks. We carefully considered each subject's overall shape and versatility, as well as what colors and patterns it's available in. And of course, our barrage of testers each gave their input as to how much they liked or disliked every shirt's style.
A clear winner in this metric is the REI Sahara. As a button-up, collared shirt, it fits in better in a wider variety of settings and activities. It's as easily worn on the trail or the water as it is in the office or cafe. It's a fairly flattering shirt across body types and comes in colors we think are flattering without being too in-your-face. Even our testers who normally aren't fans of wearing collared shirts like the style of the Sahara, and the ability to wear it for just about anything.
Similarly, the Columbia Silver Ridge Lite is a reasonably versatile collared shirt that is appropriate in many different settings - active and casual. However, as it tends to run a bit large and be much more flowy, we think it's slightly less universally flattering across the majority of women. It does come in quite a number of colors though, helping you find the right shade for your personality. As far as hooded models go, we think the OR Echo is the most stylish of the models we tested. Lacking thumbholes, dangling drawstrings, and oddly-placed pockets, it does a great job of blending into casualwear. It's laidback look is a bit less versatile in more formal situations, but for a casual shirt, we like it. It also comes in some bold colors that we're big fans of.
There's a lot to look for in finding the right sun shirt for your preferred activities and lifestyle. While we don't pretend to be able to read your mind and tell you what you want, we hope that our intense, comparative testing process helps you to identify the sun shirt that will (quite literally) save your skin.
— Maggie Brandenburg