Best Sun Protection Shirts for Women of 2021
|Price||$59.99 at Backcountry|
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|$64.95 at Backcountry|
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|$85.00 at REI|
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|Pros||Incredibly lightweight, very breathable, great coverage, super stretchy||Super lightweight, built in hand covers, extremely breathable, ponytail hole in hood||Flex fabric/vent in armpit, attractive cut and style, good for diverse activities||Comfortable cuffs, breathable fabric, hood fits comfortably under a helmet, zippered hip pocket, odor resistant||Thin smooth material, great neck coverage, drawstring on hood, slim pocket design|
|Cons||Gets dirty easily, too stretchy to keep heavy items in the pocket||Snags easily, very low UPF||Wrinkles relatively easily, sleeve tab extremely high||Odd seam in middle of neck, tight band at bottom of torso, hip pocket bulges, no thumb holes||Poor thumbhole execution, slender shape isn't ideal for everyone, limited colors|
|Bottom Line||A really useful sun shirt that's a great choice for just about any sunny activity||A super breathable shirt with handy functions that keeps you both warm AND cool||Comfortable and stylish, this sun shirt is great for both indoor and outdoor use||A breathable hooded model that stays put while you move and doesn't have thumbholes||Thin and lightweight, this slender-fit shirt is buttery soft and comfy, with a great adjustable hood|
|Rating Categories||Mountain Hardwear C...||Outdoor Research Ec...||REI Co-op Sahara Lo...||Black Diamond Alpen...||Patagonia Tropic Co...|
|Comfort And Fit (30%)|
|Sun Protection (25%)|
|Specs||Mountain Hardwear C...||Outdoor Research Ec...||REI Co-op Sahara Lo...||Black Diamond Alpen...||Patagonia Tropic Co...|
|Sun Protection Level (UPF)||50+||15||35||50+||50+|
|Coverage||Long sleeve, hood, thumb holes||Long sleeve, hood, hand cuffs||Long sleeve, collar||Long sleeve, hood||Long sleeve, hood, thumb holes|
|Features||Extra large hood, draw string at waist, hip pocket (zipper)||Fold-over mitt cuffs, ponytail hole in hood||Chest pockets (snap), tab sleeves, back vent, vented underarm, sunglasses loop, seams removed from arm pit||Zippered pocket||Zippered pocket, drawstring on hood|
|Fit||Standard fit||Trim fit||Classic fit||Relaxed fit||Slim fit|
|Material||88% polyester 12% elastane||100% polyester||95% nylon 5% spandex||87% polyester 13% elastane||100% recycled polyester jersey|
|Available Sizes||XS - XL||XXS - XL||XS - XL||XS - XL||XS - XL|
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 saying something. 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 top 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.
High Value 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 control-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 might 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. It's not the most "bombproof" shirt we tested, but 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 morning 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 very functional. Beyond these two unique features, this hoody is absurdly lightweight and impressively breathable and is one of only a couple of 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. The latest version of this shirt has increased the sleeve length by several inches, though, which does add quite a bit of protection and makes the hand covers far more comfortable to use. It has by far the lowest UPF value of any sun shirt we tested; just 15! Most others are 35-50+, so this is rather disappointing. And while we adore the breathability of this thin, quick-drying fabric, we discovered that it snags a little too easily during normal everyday activities and laundering. So while it may not look pristine through the 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 Sahara is astoundingly well-rounded. It's stylish, comfortable, and quite breathable. It has pockets that are large enough to hold a smaller iPhone and sleeves cut with a scoop to cover the backs of the hands. It also features stretchy underarm panels that make this shirt quite comfortable to wear and 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 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 locations 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 water without being too warm to wear in warmer climates.
As a skintight layer, this isn't the most versatile all-around 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
For the last several years, Senior Review Editor, Maggie Brandenburg, has been leading the charge, recruiting friends and family to help her test sun shirts during all kinds of outdoor adventures. Maggie has been an outdoor junkie since the early '90s, spending every possible moment outside. While she started by chasing frogs and watching cicadas hatch, Maggie has been working in the outdoors for over 15 years, graduating from a camp counselor in the Midwest to leading kayakers in the Caribbean and guiding backcountry trips across the US. She currently lives and works in some seriously high-UV environments, from the high deserts of northern Nevada to baking mountaintops in the Sierra Nevadas. With a family history of skin cancer, Maggie doesn't take chances when it comes to staying protected from the sun.
Related: How We Tested Sun Shirt for Women
The market for sun shirts continues to grow every year. We spend a significant amount of time researching the latest and most promising UV-blocking tops before purchasing them to wear and adventure in side by side through several months of testing and laundering. We wore our chosen shirts for casual, everyday activities like gardening, walking the dog, and grabbing coffee with a friend. We tested their limits by wearing them on all kinds of adventures, including mountaintop snowshoe races, snorkeling at the equator, kayaking over a mile above sea level, and running trails through the desert. We sweat in them, crammed them in backpacks and suitcases, did yoga on the beach, and laundered them all repeatedly. Some of them we've been wearing regularly for years now, and some we love to sleep in. Whether you want a button-up with a collar, a hoody with thumbholes, or a protective rashguard, we've tested and identified the ideal options to fill that hole in your wardrobe.
Analysis and Test Results
Our team of female testers wore these shirts extensively, assessing them across a wide range of climates and conditions. Across tropical islands and on exposed ridgelines, we tested every top's performance in five mutually exclusive, exhaustive metrics. We examined, scrutinized, and pushed them to their limits to learn everything about their Comfort and Fit, Sun Protection, Breathability, Versatility, and Durability. By weighting each of these five metrics according to their relative importance to the overall experience wearing any given sun shirt, we arrived at an easily comparable master score from 1-100 for every model. In what follows, we dive into the details, breaking down which shirts stand out from the rest in their specifics.
Only after scoring each shirt's performance do we consider their price. High-scoring garments with low prices are easy to recognize as high-value items. And in this widely variable realm of sun-protective garments, price and performance clearly prove to not be correlated.
One great example of a high-value sun shirt is the Patagonia Capilene. This comfy hooded option is very cozy, cute in a casual, athletic sort of way, scores pretty high across the board, and is less expensive than a lot of other options we tested. The Baleaf Crew is another high-value shirt. It's not quite as high scoring but offers solid, basic protection for a price that more easily fits into small budgets. Even our favorite shirt of the bunch, the Mountain Hardwear Crater Lake isn't the most expensive, despite beating out the competition for multiple years in a row now.
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, evaluating both fit and stretch. We judged the feel of the fabric and seams against the skin and considered available features that add to the wearer's experience.
The impressively soft and stretchy Crater Lake Hoody stands out for being exceptionally comfortable to wear no matter what shape you are or the 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 that 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. If you still have a favorite hoody living somewhere in your wardrobe, you're sure to love the sweatshirt-like fit and comfort of the Black Diamond Alpenglow Hoody. With a wide hem, cuffs that hold it in place without being tight, and seams that are totally removed from the armpits to keep you active, we confess we even enjoy sleeping in this cozy garment. If oversized t-shirts are one of your favorites fits, the REI Sahara Shade Hoodie will be right up your alley, with an intentionally oversized, drapey fit made of smooth, silky fabric and long cuffs with thumbholes on the ends of long sleeves.
The Patagonia Tropic Comfort Hoody is right up there when it comes to comfort and fit as well — with the asterisked footnote that its buttery soft fabric and long, slim fit is most well-loved by slender-identifying women. The Capilene Cool Daily is another pretty comfortable option not only because of its athletic-in-all-the-right-ways cut but also because it has exceptionally smooth soft fabric. Among collared options, the REI Sahara Long Sleeve 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 2021
A lot more goes into sun protection than just the UPF rating, though that's the bare minimum we require to be considered for addition to our lineup. 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.
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 hood on the REI Sahara Shade has a cross-front top, adding neck protection to its arsenal, and has a drawstring hidden inside for keeping your hood on no matter how windy it may get. It also has longer sleeves than average, making it easy and comfortable to use the thumbholes. The Patagonia Tropic Comfort goes a step further, adding a superlight foam toggle to its hood drawstring to more easily keep you protected. However, the Tropic Comfort's thumbholes are placed on the ends of normal-length sleeves, making them too short to comfortably wear for long periods of time.
The Echo Hoody offers some solid hand protection with optional pull-over hand covers. They've made the sleeves impressively long, to accommodate pulling the cuffs completely over your hands. The hood features a ponytail hole, which, though it doesn't earn any style points, it massively improves your ability to keep that hood firmly protecting your neck and ears.
Among rash guards, the Basic Skins provides excellent coverage by staying put while you swim and play in the waves. 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, even on our most ape-armed testers.
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.
Interestingly, the REI Sahara Shade Hoodie is made of thicker fabric than most others we tested but is surprisingly breathable because of its very loose fit, designed to catch even the slightest breeze. It has long drop hems on both front and back, with high cut sides that leave plenty of space for air to enter the shirt without exposing you to the blazing sun. Wearing it in our normal size, it's plenty baggy enough that gentle winds or even just the buffeting air caused by walking around manage to find their way inside to keep us cool.
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 collared shirts appreciated the style of the Sahara and the ability to wear it in multiple settings all within the same day, eliminating the need to keep a spare shirt in your car to change into between hiking and meeting the gals for a cocktail.
Though a solidly athletic-looking shirt, the OR Echo scores high marks for versatility across the sheer number of activities, environments, and temperatures in which we're happy to wear it. The Capilene Cool is also impressively versatile. Not only do we love wearing it for a wide range of activities, but we also 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.
Another athletic-looking garment, the Black Diamond Alpenglow earns an above-average score for versatility because it feels like an old familiar sweatshirt (except lightweight and breathable) in all the right ways. We confess we happily slept in it after wearing it all day on numerous occasions. 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 to find 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).
The Patagonia Capilene and Tropic Comfort, as well as the REI Sahara Shade Hoodie are soft and smooth, with mostly flat-sewn seams (all except for the sides). All three tops proved to be relatively durable during our testing.
Both the Black Diamond Alpenglow and OR Echo seem fairly durable, with visually similar textures of fabric and flat-sewn seams, but each picked up a couple of tiny snags during the course of our testing. Neither proved to be detrimental to the integrity of either shirt, but it doesn't look the best or bode particularly well if you're planning to wear either of them to scrape through snagging branches or climb up abrasive rock faces.
Several of the shirts we tested come with some sort of claim of odor treatment, either blocking odors themselves or blocking bacterial growth that leads to bad-smelling laundry. We tested every claim by going for a 6+ mile run in midday sun and heat, then leaving the shirt in a pile on the bathroom floor to smell the next morning. Only the Black Diamond Alpenglow and Patagonia Tropic Comfort seemed to have any noticeable resistance to odor. We're unsure if this effect will be able to last through years of launderings, but we appreciate it while it's working.
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 can (quite literally) help save your skin.
— Maggie Brandenburg