What's the best sun shirt for women? We analyzed over 55 models before purchasing the 10 best models for women. We pitted them against each other to help you figure out which is the right choice for your lifestyle, whether that be the best of the best, the best on a budget, or trail to office style. Sun shirts are an excellent solution to protect your skin from harmful UV rays. While you could apply (and reapply, and reapply…) sunscreen every couple of hours, as recommended by the Skin Cancer Foundation, we're betting that, like us, you don't remember that often. Sun protection clothing is given a UPF rating similar to the SPF rating of sunscreen - but these shirts don't rub or sweat off like that goopy white cream you've been using. Also, unlike a bottle of sunscreen, you don't have to buy a new one every couple of weeks during the summer.
The Best Sun Protection Shirts for Women
Sun shirts come in a wide array of styles and are made for all kinds of activities. They provide varying amounts of sun protection through different UPF levels and so many different styles. Some are so versatile you can just as easily wear them backpacking, paddle boarding, to the office or out to dinner with your mother-in-law. Others are designed with a specific activity in mind. Some styles have buttons and collars and pockets, others have hoods and thumb holes, and still, others are just regular-looking shirts. We've included 10 women's specific contenders below, with the Mountain Hardwear Butterlicious winning our Editors' Choice, the Vapor Apparel Solar Long Sleeve winning our Best Buy (and catering to the runners out there), and a slew of Top Pick awards.
This shirt scored the highest overall rating in our review, and we felt it provides better coverage than any other model we tested. The Butterlicious has long stretchy sleeves with thumb holes that even our self-described "ape-armed" testers found comfortable. We found the sleeves not only to be comfortable to wear using the thumb holes, but they also covered the backs of our hands better than the any of the other shirts in this review. We also liked this hood best, as we found it fitted enough to wear under a helmet without being so constricting that we disliked how it looks or felt choked when it wasn't on. This hooded sun shirt also has a half zip that allowed us to tailor the shirt to our needs - zip down when we were too hot or in the shade and zip up when we need extra sun protection. To boot, we also found this shirt to be very soft and reasonably breathable.
While we loved the versatility the zipper provided, we found it to be a strangely stiff feature in an otherwise comfortable and flexible shirt. This shirt also comes in medium to dark colors, which tends to soak up all that sun on a hot summer day. It's versatile enough to be a comfortable shirt indoors and out, though perhaps not as classy as some of the other shirts in this review. Overall, we loved the Butterlicious for the coverage it provides, and think it's an excellent option for anyone whose goal is to use as little sunscreen as possible.
Read review: Mountain Hardwear Butterlicious Hoodie
For a button-up shirt with a collar, we felt like the REI Co-op Sahara was astoundingly well-rounded. We found it stylish and comfortable and quite breathable. It had pockets that were large enough to hold an iPhone 6 and sleeves cut to cover the backs of our hands. It also features stretchy underarm panels that not only made this shirt quite comfortable to wear, also provided ventilation while preventing underarm rubbing during paddle sports. This shirt was versatile enough we felt it would be a great choice for a full day on the trail straight into a dinner date with girlfriends.
We felt though that the sleeve tabs were too high to be functional. However, since we found that the sleeves stayed rolled pretty well without using the sleeve tabs, we didn't mind so much. Our only other complaint was how easily this shirt wrinkles after living in our suitcase for a couple of days of travel. All in all, though, we were huge 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
The Columbia Silver Ridge Lite sported the softest, most lightweight fabric of all the button-up models we tested. Our reviewers loved how it felt on their skin and how well the fabric breathed. With a large back vent and sleeves that can be easily fastened up or rolled down, we found this shirt to be very breathable. It's classically feminine cut and great color choices also widened the scope of activities we felt it would be great for; from the trail to a classy award reception, we felt that this shirt is a great option.
While we liked the versatility of this shirt, we felt it just wasn't quite as good as the REI Co-op Sahara for some of those paddle sports. Constructed with typical mid-torso and under-the-arm seams, too much paddling left our reviewers wishing they had chosen another style of shirt. And while we loved the color choices, a lot of them are quite dark with a tendency to soak up the sun rather than dispel its heat. All in all, we feel like this shirt is an excellent choice to keep you protected and comfortable from the trail to the office.
Read review: Columbia Silver Ridge Lite Long Sleeve - Women's
This contender from Black Diamond provides a nice amount of coverage with the hood, without the worry of sleeve length from the addition of thumb holes. While this lack of thumb holes cuts down on the amount of coverage afforded by the Alpenglow, it helps to maintain the shirt's usefulness during those activities in which you wouldn't want thumb holes anyway. We also really enjoyed the thin, stretchy, breathable fabric this shirt was made out of and found it a very comfortable choice for our outdoor adventures.
Not being available in many colors limited the stylish options for this shirt. There's also a large seam in the front of the collar that we found to be unsightly. We also felt that the tighter cuff around the bottom of the torso, while not detracting from the overall comfort of this shirt, gave it a much more casual, sweatshirt-like appearance. Perhaps not the most stylish shirt in this review, we think this shirt is an ideal option for those handsy outdoor activities like climbing or goat yoga.
Read review: Black Diamond Alpenglow Hoody - Women's
Sporting a fitted hood and thumb holes, the Sunshade Hoody provides great coverage and protection against harmful UV rays. The fabric is soft and breathable and comes in only light colors - ideal for not soaking up those hot rays from the sun like a marine iguana.
However, we found the material to be significantly less stretchy than the other hooded models we tested, making this shirt far less comfortable for our reviewers with a high ape index (aka long arms) to use the thumb holes. We also felt that the hood was unflattering to wear (if that matters to you), and the hip pocket zipper was too stiff to match the feel of the rest of this shirt. Overall, if you like the asymmetrical design of this shirt and don't have longer-than-average arms, you may find that the breathability and coverage provided by the Sunshade Hoody might be the perfect addition to your John Muir Trail thru hike or deep sea fishing adventure.
Read review: Patagonia Sunshade Hoody - 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
Want to be a stylish mountain babe? So do we! We felt that we were one step closer to just that when wearing the Marmot Bridget Flannel. With its flattering cut and adorable patterns, this flannel/sun shirt hybrid had us ga-ga to wear it again and again. It was one of the overall softest shirts in this review and boasted what we felt was fetching contrast corduroy inside the sleeves and collar.
But if you're on the hunt for a hot weather sun shirt, this shirt is highly unlikely to be what you're searching for. This non-stretchy half-flannel shirt has no vents and is significantly thicker than any other model in this review. We also found that we had to unbutton the cuffs to get it over our hands - which we didn't mind so much in view of that contrast corduroy! If you find yourself getting sunburnt in the mountain spring air or those crisp alpine falls, this shirt might just become your new favorite shirt!
Read review: Marmot Bridget Flannel
Are you visiting the beach to splash around a bit but spend most of your time building sand castles and sipping a piña colada? If that sounds like you, you might be interested in checking out the prAna Charline Sun Top. Made of a silky-feeling material and with a much looser fit than a rash guard, the Charlene has a high UPF to keep your shoulders from frying on your vacation. It also comes in several interesting colors and patterns and dries off quickly once you're out of the water.
Since the Charlene is looser fitting, it wouldn't be our first choice for swimming. We found that anywhere this shirt wasn't tight, it would float up around our bodies, feeling uncomfortable - and exposing the lower back to the sun while we were snorkeling! And while we thought it was cute, we also felt the material was strangely stiff compared to our rash guards. But if you're planning to spend most of your beach day on the beach, this top may be just what you're looking for!
Read review: prAna Charline Sun Top
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
Do you like loads of features? Then the Columbia Bahama is right up your alley! This shirt has double chest pockets, velcro tabs, sleeve tabs, a button-down collar, and a huge back vent. Also featuring side slits to allow even more air to fly up your shirt and light colors to dispel the heat from the sun, this shirt has all the whizbangs and do-dads we could think of.
We also found this to be the least stylish in this review. It was quite boxy, and we thought very large for its size. It also wrinkles easily when folded, and is made of a material that feels quite thick and stiff. We felt very conspicuous in this shirt from all the noises it made every time we moved our arms. However, if you like to keep your lures organized and nearby, this Professional Fishing Gear shirt from Columbia has plenty of pockets to get you started!
Read review: Columbia PFG Bahama Long Sleeve
Sun Protection Clothing Buying Advice
"Why should I buy a sun shirt? I love the sun, I put on sunscreen most the time (okay, some of the time), and I rarely burn." Have you ever had this thought? We know we have! But according to the Skin Cancer Foundation, one in five Americans will develop skin cancer by the age of 70, and more people are diagnosed with skin cancer each year in the US than all other cancers combined. Their research also suggests that over 90% of nonmelanoma skin cancers are associated with exposure to UV rays. If that's not enough, consider that sun exposure is the cause of about 90% of skin aging! To take your best shot at preventing harmful UV exposure, the Skin Cancer Foundation recommends applying about 1oz. - about a shot glass full - of sunscreen 30 minutes before going outside, every 2 hours no matter what, and immediately after swimming or profuse sweating. Are YOU applying enough sunscreen?
If you don't like the idea of applying that much sunscreen that often all over your body, the next best thing to do is cover up! There are tons of different kinds of sun shirts on the market these days, made for all sorts of activities, and with all types of price tags. From shirts made for water sports or hiking to shirts with fishing or climbing in mind, it can be almost overwhelming to figure out which is the best choice for your lifestyle - let us help!
Value tops many of our charts these days, as we're all trying to save a buck or three. But which models provide the greatest price to value ratio? The Vapor Apparel Solar Long Sleeve wins our Best Buy Award; ringing in at $16, the most affordable in our review, it offers excellent protection from the sun. If you want something with a little more coverage, the O'Neill Basic Skins L/S Crew or REI Co-op Sahara Long-Sleeve are impressive options. You can see each shirt's cost rank against its performance score in the chart below. Simply hover over a dot to see what product it represents.
But Why a Sun Shirt?
Okay, so perhaps you're considering the merits of covering up your skin rather than bathing in tubs of sunscreen all summer or on your vacation. But why a special shirt? Why not just any piece of clothing that covers your skin - why pay extra for UPF (whatever THAT is)?
UPF is similar to the SPF rating that you find in sunscreens but better. While most sunscreens block only UVB rays, UPF clothing blocks both UVA and UVB rays, keeping your skin much safer - and younger-looking! While sun shirts have UPF ratings ranging from a low of about 25 to a high of 50+, an average t-shirt (especially those thin ones that are so comfortable to wear when it's hot) has only a UPF rating of about 5! This means that about 20% of UV rays are still passing directly through your shirt and hitting your skin. While it may not cause burning, it can still inflict long-term damage.
It is important to note that UPF ratings are only accurate when the shirt is new, not stretched tight, and being used as advertised. These UV-blocking properties will fade as the shirt ages, so it's important to keep this in mind as you use (and use and use!) your new sun shirt.
So How Do I Choose a Sun Shirt?
First, consider how much protection you think you'll need. Clearly, you've decided you need more than sunscreen can offer you. Are you only worried about your shoulders and arms? Then just about any long sleeve shirt will suffice. What about the back of your neck? You might want to consider a collared shirt, like the REI Co-op Sahara or Columbia Silver Ridge Lite. Do you worry about the tops of your ears? Perhaps a hooded shirt such as the Mountain Hardwear Butterlicious, Patagonia Sunshade, or Black Diamond Alpenglow will help alleviate that worry. Are the backs of your hands likely to burn? You might want to consider shirts with sleeves designed to cover more of your hands, or even have thumb holes like the Butterlicious or Patagonia Sunshade for maximal protection.
If you like spending time recreating, working, relaxing, or just being outside, it's probably a good idea to have a sun shirt to help protect you while you're out. With so many different features and styles, we've done our best to provide a breakdown of the differences to help you decide which is right for you.
What Are You Doing?
More than just a rhetorical question, one of the best ways we've found to figure out what sun shirt is best for you is to ask yourself what you're doing when you envision yourself wearing it. Are you at the beach or swimming? Are you taking part in active land sports like mountain biking, backpacking, or climbing? Do you see yourself doing a bunch of different things all while wearing this shirt, like hiking, going to the office, barbecuing, and grabbing a nice dinner with your family?
Most of the contenders we reviewed dry relatively quickly, but are they right for water sports? Well, we think it depends on what you're doing. If you're looking for a sun shirt to protect you while you surf, swim, jet ski, and spend a lot of time splashing in the waves, you'll probably want some sort of rash guard like the O'Neill Basic Skins. If you like the beach, but would prefer to keep most the water below your waist, the prAna Charline Sun Top is a cute option that will protect your skin. If you're more into paddle sports, you'll want to check the underarm seam configuration of a sun shirt before you buy it. Models like the O'Neill Basic Skins and REI Sahara lack the 'armpit seam' that can cause painful rubbing during the repetitive motions associated with kayaking, canoeing, paddle boarding and other paddle sports.
Perhaps you're just looking for a shirt to protect you while you go camping next month - lounging in hammocks, playing frisbee and cooking over a fire. We think the Mountain Hardwear Butterlicious, REI Sahara, Columbia Silver Ridge Lite, and Black Diamond Alpenglow are all great options to stay protected and comfortable even just around the campground. If you're heading to a higher elevation location with a bit cooler of a climate and more intense sun/UV rays, the Marmot Bridget Flannel provides a little extra warmth while keeping you protected from the alpine sun, and we think makes you look a little more like a 'mountain babe'.
Or do you want to take your land fun to the next level? Maybe rock climbing is on your list. In that case, we'd urge you to check out the Black Diamond Alpenglow, Mountain Hardwear Butterlicious, or perhaps the Patagonia Sunshade. You may also have stumbled across this article while preparing for an epic thru-hike, and are looking for a sun shirt to backpack hundreds or thousands of miles in. If that's you, we liked the breathability of the REI Sahara and Columbia Silver Ridge Lite. If you like a hood while you hike, the Patagonia Sunshade or Black Diamond Alpenglow might be more up your alley.
If you're reading this in search of a shirt to fish those warm Caribbean waters and alpine streams in, the Patagonia Sunshade might offer you the hood and hand coverage you're looking for. Or if you need pockets when you fish (gotta keep those lures organized!), the Columbia Bahama might be more your style.
All of the Above
Are you a jack of all trades? Or just don't want to buy a drawer-full of sun shirts? Then versatility is a must. If what you seek is a shirt you can just as easily hike the PCT as spend Monday in the office, and kayak Sunday afternoon as meet the in-laws for brunch, the REI Co-op Sahara is an excellent option for you. This shirt blew us away with its versatility. Highly breathable, soft and comfortable, stylish and built to accommodate backpacks and PFDs, our reviewers found this shirt to be the most versatile in this review. Not far behind was the collared Columbia Silver Ridge Lite and hooded Mountain Hardwear Butterlicious.
Sun shirts (aka look for the UPF rating) might be one of the most important layers you can buy. After all, your skin is the largest organ in the body, and you only get one! While there are many options out there, we hope that we have helped you find what style works best for your lifestyle. Now get out there and enjoy life outdoors!
— Maggie Brandenburg