Best Sun Protection Shirts for Women of 2020
Best Overall 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 you could want in a sun shirt. It protects you from the sun with 50+ UPF fabric, has a lightweight hood that fits under a helmet, and sports thumbholes 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 shirt also features a zipped hip pocket and the option to cinch the bottom closed, like your favorite jacket, which comes in handy for inverted activities like climbing and yoga. It's no wonder this stellar piece wins our Editors' Choice Award yet again.
The Crater Lake does run a bit large in our experience. Our main tester is 5'4" and 120 lb and rocked the XS with plenty of room to spare — even considering her self-described "ape arms." 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, however, we love this sun shirt, and it quickly became one of our go-to pieces for everything from yoga to biking to gardening.
Best Value for a Hooded Option
Patagonia Capilene Cool Daily - Women's
The Patagonia Capilene Cool Daily is one of those shirts that's so soft you almost can't believe it's real. It feels like a fine, silky dry powder and is both stretchy and extremely comfortable to wear. By eliminating drawstrings and thumbholes, it strikes a good balance between providing adequate coverage with the neckline and hood without appearing like a technical or overly relaxed shirt. It comes in muted colors that are mixed with fine lines of white, helping to disguise dirt and sweat stains. And it's one of very few odor treated shirts that actually continues to smell fresh even after wearing it repeated days in the sun.
This shirt's hood is a bit small for our preference and is very difficult to keep on over the ponytail you're likely to be sporting on a hot summer day. And though we like the colors it's offered in, there aren't very many options to choose from, so we hope you like them too. We also think the sleeves could stand to be a touch longer, as our main tester has long arms and found her wrists frequently exposed. This shirt has great appeal for any woman looking for a super comfortable everyday sun shirt that doesn't look so much like a sun shirt. And with a price that's on the low side compared to similar models, we're big fans of the Capilene.
Read review: Patagonia Capilene Cool Daily - Women's
Best Bang for the Buck
Baleaf UPF 50 Crew - Women's
The Baleaf Crew is a simple sun shirt that works as advertised and doesn't break the bank. It's an athletic cut shirt made of silky smooth fabric that's comfortable to wear and fits easily. The crew cut neck provides great coverage without being so tight it chokes you. This shirt comes in a wide variety of bright colors, and, for its price, you could pick up three or four of them for the cost of some of the other sun shirts in this review.
It does run a bit small, particularly in the sleeve length. If you often find yourself between sizes or craving a looser fit, we'd recommend sizing up. And though it's a great choice for casual everyday wear, it's not quite breathable enough for running on a hot day. Also, if you sweat in it, you'll quickly find that it holds onto body odors rather easily. Though it's not the most "bombproof" shirt we tested, it's a great value for everyday protection.
Read review: Baleaf UPF 50 Crew - Women's
Best for High Output Activity
Outdoor Research Echo Hoody - Women's
The Outdoor Research 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. 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, precisely why it's great for days when you're pushing hard or in more intense heat.
For all its other utility, the Echo lacks any pockets or thumb holes to add hand protection while leaving your fingers free for wiggling. The latest version of this shirt has increased the sleeve length by several inches, though, which does add some protection and makes the hand covers much more comfortable to use. 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 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. 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 the 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 that we feel it's a great choice for a full day on the trail that runs straight into a dinner date with girlfriends.
However, the sleeve tabs are a bit too high to be overly functional. That said, once we discovered that the sleeves also stay rolled pretty well without using the sleeve tabs, we didn't mind so much. Our only other complaint is how easily this shirt wrinkles after living in a suitcase for a few 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, the Sahara is an excellent choice.
Read review: REI Co-op Sahara Long-Sleeve - Women's
Best 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, the O'Neill Basic Skins 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 the most active adventures, and 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 skintight 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 Caribbean 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, boated on the Pacific, hung out on the beach, did yoga and yard work, 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 numerous months over the past three years 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 generally 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 Baleaf Crew wins a Best Buy Award, and is one of the most affordable options in our review, offering excellent protection from the sun. The Patagonia Capilene also stands out as a high value hooded sun shirt, winning a Best Buy Award for a Hooded Sun Shirt. And though some shirts are more expensive, they sometimes are so great that they're worth the extra investment. Our Editors' Choice Award winner, the Mountain Hardwear Crater Lake, is one such worthy investment.
Comfort and Fit
We asked a variety of different-shaped women to test the comfort of each model. We assessed shape and fit and checked how well each one moves with the body. We also judged the feel of the fabric and seams against the skin.
The impressively soft and stretchy Crater Lake Hoody stands out for being exceptionally comfortable to wear no matter what shape you are or activity you are getting after. 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 feel comfortable. 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 soft and comfy OR Echo Hoody. It's not nearly as stretchy as the Crater Lake, but still provides exceptional comfort for everyday wear or heading out for a run or a hike. The Capilene Cool Daily is another exceptionally comfortable option not only because of its athletic-in-all-the-right-ways cut, but because it has exceptionally smooth soft fabric. Among collared options, 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.
If water sports and beaches are your thing, the O'Neill Basic Skins is our favorite rash guard. It'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. For die-hard paddle fans, the the NRS H2Core Silkweight is impressive in its tailored comfort for spending a full day paddling. Buttery soft fabric and all flat seams that avoid high traffic areas make this shirt a dream to wear under a life jacket.
Related: Best PFD of 2020
A lot more goes into sun protection than just the UPF rating! Not all hoods or collars or long sleeves provide equal protection. And it's one thing to be covered while standing unmoving in your yard, and a whole other beast to cover up 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 these shirts during any given activity to the test to see how they really stack up.
The Crater Lake offers top-notch protection. It 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. A drawstring around the bottom also lets you secure it in place during yoga in the park or a particularly tricky climb.
The Patagonia Sunshade Hoody is also a particularly protective top. Its hood needs no adjustment to be able to stay put in a brisk wind, making it a good option for boating or hiking ridgetops. If you appreciate extra hood security, the VOORMI River Run has a single button that is perfectly placed for keeping your hood up when you need it most.
The Echo Hoody also offers some solid hand protection with optional pull-over hand covers. Their recent revamp of the sleeve is much longer than the previous version, adding comfort while using the hand covers and additional coverage for your wrists when you're not. It features a ponytail hole in the hood, which, though it detracts from style points, massively improves the ability to keep your hood firmly protecting your neck and ears.
Among rash guards, the Basic Skins gives excellent coverage by staying put while you swim and play in the waves. The Patagonia Micro Swell, another rash guard, offers a nice tall neck to provide some extra coverage for your beach day. If fishing is more your gig, check out the Columbia PFG Tidal Tee for serious coverage in all the right ways, making it a perfect fishing companion. It features a large hood with a wide neck that keeps the neck protected from the sun without stopping the breeze off the water from cooling you down. The Tidal Tee also has the longest sleeves of any shirt we tested, and easily covers the hands past the knuckles when using the thumbholes.
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, drying speed, and wore each shirt during high-output activities to see how they function when things get sweaty.
Again, the exceptionally thin, lightweight Crater Lake and Echo both stand out in this category for being very breathable. The Crater Lake is loose and flowy, in addition to being very thin. It also comes in mostly light colors, which helps it to reflect more sun than it absorbs. Though the Echo Hoody is a bit tighter-fitting, it dries exceptionally quickly, helping you to cool down faster through the cooling powers of evaporation.
The REI Sahara is also quite breathable, with buttons that allow you to open up the collar as much as you need, and well-placed back vents that aid in letting off steam. The Columbia Silver Ridge Lite is another impressively breathable option. 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 easily have their sleeves comfortably rolled up (and sunscreen applied to your hands and forearms!) if you'd rather wear them that way.
Though it's a 52% wool shirt, the VOORMI River Run manages to be quite thin and impressively breathable. It's easy to feel a slight breeze blow through the fabric, and the thumb loops help you keep the sleeves secured without trapping your hands inside the sleeves. The Vapor Apparel Solar is also a superbly breathable shirt with a fairly basic, open design and fit. You may lose out on a little bit of coverage with this relatively featureless option, but, for the most part, it will have no problem helping you stay cool during a run or when out doing yardwork.
Versatility encompasses many things, including the activities you can functionally accomplish in each top as well as their relative style. Style is, of course, very subjective. And clearly the biggest reason to wear a sun shirt has 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 during various activities and in diverse social settings.
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 a cafe. It's a fairly flattering shirt across many 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.
The Capilene Cool is exceptionally versatile. Not only do we love wearing it for a wide range of activities, we find its lack of thumbholes, pockets, drawstrings, and other "techy" add-ons to be much more aesthetically pleasing. It comes in slightly muted colors that our testers think are cute and hide dirt and sweat pretty well. The Baleaf Crew is also fairly versatile. It lacks just about any athletic-specific features, has raglan sleeves, and comes in a wide variety of colors that offer something for just about everyone.
The Columbia Silver Ridge Lite is another reasonably versatile collared shirt that is appropriate in many different settings — active or casual. However, as it tends to run a bit large and be much flowier, we think it's slightly less universally flattering across a majority of body types. It does come in quite a number of colors, though, helping finding the right shade for your personality that much easier.
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 to 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. 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 performed very well here, against the odds. Though it's not made for pressing through dense undergrowth, we found it excellent for 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 impressive shirt. The H2Core Silkweight also has flat seams perfectly placed for paddling and is similarly built to last (without being so tight).
We are similarly impressed with the durability of the Black Diamond Alpenglow Hoody. Despite having a rather unimpressive appearance compared to many other hoodies we tested, this was one of the only ones NOT to pick up snags during our testing. This can also be said of the Capilene, with its smooth fabric that seems to glide over everything it touches. It offers many flat seams, reinforced with extra rows of stitching.
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 the 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.
There's a lot to look for in finding the right sun shirt for your preferred activities and lifestyle. While we can't read your mind, we hope that our intense, comparative testing process helps you to identify the sun shirt that will (quite literally) save your skin.
— Maggie Brandenburg