We have a lot of demands from a sun shirt, not least of which is that it protects us from the sun. We put every single shirt through the wringer when it comes to performance to tease apart each one's strengths and weaknesses. Here's how we did it.
Comfort and Fit
One of the most important aspects of any article of clothing is how it fits and if you're comfortable wearing it. We asked a veritable army of outdoor-loving women to wear these garments and tell us what they think. We asked some basic questions like does it run large or small? What overall shape is it? Fitted? Relaxed? Trim? And we asked harder questions like how does it move with you as you enjoy the sunshine. If it has a hood, can you turn your head comfortably, or will it block your vision or choke you? Models with thumbholes were scrutinized by women with many different lengths of arms to ascertain their functionality, usefulness, and comfort. We checked to see if each model was still comfortable with your arms over your head climbing a sheer wall, kayaking for hours, or leaning forward on a bike. And through it all, we judged the comfort of the fabric, seams, and features against our skin both at rest and during whatever potentially sweaty movement we might be doing.
While every shirt comes with an easily comparable UPF rating, that doesn't tell the whole story of its coverage, nor does a simple laundry list of features like a hood, collar, or thumb holes. We not only compared each of these shirts for actual coverage but also checked to see if they kept us covered while on the move. Are the sleeves long enough to keep the wrists from burning while you run? Are the torso backs dropped enough to protect the lower back doing yoga in the park? And how likely are you to actually keep wearing it in the sun with the sleeves rolled down?
Odds are, if you're in the sun, you're likely to get pretty warm. But if you get too warm, you may start craving your favorite t-shirt or tank top, which will leave you exposed to the damaging rays of the sun. So it's not enough that a shirt just protect you from the sun — it has to be breathable enough for you to be willing to wear it while you run, climb, paddle, chase your kids, etc. To assess breathability, we compared each model's fabric thickness and weight. We tested how quickly they dried and how warm colors become in the bright sun. We checked into all the factors that affect breathability, like a looser fit, strategic venting, and the ability to unzip/unbutton a shirt without too much sun exposure. And we wore these sun shirts incessantly to see how they stand up to actual sweat on really hot days.
Though many of us are guilty of amassing a large collection of items to hang in our closets, it's great to have items that aren't just for a single event or activity. We took into consideration how versatile each shirt was in a number of ways. First, we did just about every activity we could in these shirts to see how well they could handle paddling, gardening, or running. Next, we evaluated how stylish each model is. While everyone's definition of what looks good is excitingly different, we considered several features. We looked at the overall shape of each shirt and how flattering it is across the wide array of women's body types and shapes. We considered how technical-looking each piece is — hooded options are unlikely to be acceptable in most standard office jobs, but collared models work well for a variety of situations. And finally, we took into account the number and variety of colors and/or patterns offered for each option. And of course, we asked every one of our women testers for their personal opinion about each shirt's ability to bridge various activities and social situations.
Considering the amount of money you could drop on the right shirt and the frequency with which you may find yourself wearing it throughout the seasons, it's nice to know if it will go the distance. We did our best to subject these shirts to extra abuse to really understand their potential lifespan. We looked closely at the features of the fabric, including tear-resistant and ripstop options. We checked seams for strength and fraying ends. We monitored the health of every single feature of each option to see how well they withstand not only abuse from gnarled branches and abrasive rocks but also from rose gardening, moving firewood, and washing every other day for weeks. We noted what broke or seemed suspect based on our experience with each product. And not to be outdone, we also scoured the internet for other user complaints to widen our audience even more.
Testing sun shirts requires a lot of careful consideration, active adventuring, and the willingness to have your friends ask you if you only own these few shirts. We hope that our intensive testing process helps you to find the perfect sun shirt for your skin and your life.