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 & 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 it moves 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 is still comfortable with your arms over your head climbing a sheer wall, kayaking for hours, or leaned 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 moving we might get up to.
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 and features actual coverage, but checked to see if they keep you covered while you move. Are sleeves long enough to keep your wrists from burning while you run? Are torso backs dropped enough to protect your 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 protects you from the sun - it has to be actually 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 dry and how warm colors get 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 actually hot days.
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 get at 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 seems 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.
The level each of us cares about style varies greatly. And we all know that sometimes functionality is much more important. However, it's always nice to know that when you walk out the door, you're not only wearing a protective garment, but you look great in it! While everyone's definition of what looks good is excitingly different, we evaluated style on a few overarching features. First, 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 versatile 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. We considered 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 that particular shirt's style.
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.