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On the hunt for the best women's sun shirt? For this update, we researched over 85 models and purchased the 17 best for side-by-side testing. We spent months wearing these shirts in various scenarios, from running through alpine meadows to snorkeling in equatorial waters and gardening in the blistering midday summer sun. We wore them paddling and hiking and washed them repeatedly to test breathability and durability. If you're like us, putting sunscreen on every 90 minutes all summer just isn't happening. No matter what's pulling you outdoors, we've identified the perfect sun shirt for you.
Staying safe from the sun is no easy feat. We've collected and tested a wide array of sun protection gear to help you get out there without suffering UV damage. From sun hats to sunglasses, we want to help you keep your skin safe.
Editor's Note: This review was updated on April 28, 2022, to include the updated version of the Outdoor Research Echo Hoodie as well as a couple of promising new additions to the market this year.
Sun Protection Level: UPF 50+ | Coverage: Long sleeve, hood, thumbholes
REASONS TO BUY
REASONS TO AVOID
Can't keep heavy things in pocket
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 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 happily wore 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.
Sun Protection Level: UPF 50+ | Coverage: Long sleeve, hood
REASONS TO BUY
REASONS TO AVOID
Few colors available
Sleeves could be longer
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.
Patagonia Product Recall
Patagonia recalled their Capilene Cool Daily and Tropic Comfort products after discovering their claimed UPFs of 50 were not being met. Some of these shirts were pulled from manufacturing so the issue could be corrected. If you currently own a shirt from either line with a qualifying recalled style number and would like a refund, you can contact Patagonia.
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.
Sun Protection Level: UPF 50+ | Coverage: Long sleeve, crew neck
REASONS TO BUY
Soft silky fabric
Tons of colors
REASONS TO AVOID
Holds body odor easily
Sleeves a bit short
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.
Sun Protection Level: UPF 15-20 | Coverage: Long sleeve, hood, thumbholes
REASONS TO BUY
Horizontal thumbholes are more comfortable
Ponytail hole through the hood
REASONS TO AVOID
Fabric isn't smooth
The Outdoor Research Echo Hoodie has some unique features that make it an excellent addition for any activewear junkie. First, this lightweight sun top has switched from the fold-over cuffs of old to well-designed thumbholes that are comfortable to wear, even when on the move. Secondly, the Echo has a hole in its hood for your ponytail. 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. It is one of only a couple of shirts we tested that we could 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 utilities, the Echo lacks pockets and has the lowest UPF value of any sun shirt we tested; just 20 for dark colors and only 15 for light colors. Most others are 35-50+, so this is underwhelming. And while we adore the breathability of this thin, quick-drying fabric, it's not particularly smooth, and we've had repeated issues with snagging in past versions. Though this current version didn't snag during our testing, it's made of the same fabric, so we expect the same to occur. Still, while the Echo may not continue to 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.
Sun Protection Level: UPF 35 | Coverage: Long sleeve, collar
REASONS TO BUY
Flexy fabric in armpit
Good for many activities
REASONS TO AVOID
Sleeve tab is very high
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.
Sun Protection Level: UPF 50+ | Coverage: Long sleeve
REASONS TO BUY
Stays in place
Excellent sun protection
REASONS TO AVOID
Not versatile usage
Skintight fit is unforgiving
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 when 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.
For the last several years, Senior Review Editor Maggie Nichols has been leading the sun shirt charge, recruiting friends and family to help her test 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, taking on everything from being 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.
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 Hoodie. It's not nearly as stretchy as the Crater Lake, but it still provides exceptional comfort for everyday wear or heading out for a run or a hike. The Echo's thumbholes are unique in that they're horizontal rather than vertical, allowing them to be closer to the end of the sleeve, creating less pull when you're moving. The cut is also significantly more comfortable and less awkward when you need to push up your sleeves.
The Patagonia Tropic Comfort Hoody is also right up there when it comes to comfort and fit with its buttery soft fabric and long, slim fit. The Capilene Cool Daily is another pretty comfortable option due to its athletic cut and exceptionally smooth, soft fabric. The Athleta Uptempo Top is made from extremely smooth, comfortable fabric, though its thickness makes it best suited for slightly cooler weather. 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 the arms to keep even the hottest, sweatiest pits from rubbing raw.
If water sports and beaches are your jam, 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.
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, 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 Hoodie offers some solid hand protection with unique, horizontally-oriented thumbholes. The sleeves are impressively long and stretchy to keep them from pulling on your hand webbing as you move, making it more likely you'll keep using the thumbholes even when it's hot. The hood features a ponytail hole, which doesn't earn any style points but 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. The Carve Designs Cruz Rashguard adds a little extra with its collar, half-zip fit, and extendable scrunching sides to find your perfect length. 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 Hoodie 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, both the REI Sahara Shade Hoodie and the Athleta Uptempo Top are made of thicker fabric than most others we tested but are surprisingly breathable because of the loose, flowy fit, designed to catch even the slightest breeze. Both tops have long drop hems on both front and back, with high-cut sides that leave plenty of space for air to pass through without exposing you to the blazing sun. Wearing either of these shirts in your normal size may produce a tunic-like fit — plenty baggy enough that gentle winds or even just the buffeting air caused by walking around manage to find its way inside for ventilation.
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 Athleta Uptempo is a very comfortable athleisure tunic that we quickly found ourselves wanting to wear pretty much every day. With its cute, relaxed fit, comfortable thumbholes, and soft substantial fabric, this shirt is easy to love. 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 Athleta Uptempo doesn't have the same ripstop fabric as many of the more technical shirts we tested, but it has reinforced seams and thick, sturdy fabric. This shirt had no problem keeping up with our near-constant wear.
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 Echoseem fairly durable, with visually similar textures of fabric and flat-sewn seams. However, both the Alpenglow and several older versions of the Echo picked up a couple of tiny snags during our testing. While the latest version of the Echo didn't snag during our time with it, it's made of the same fabric, giving us some concerns that it may yet end up with snags. These things aren't 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.
The Carve Designs Cruz Rashguard feels solid enough at first but ripped the first time we tried to undo the side ties to make the torso longer. The seam holding the two sides of the ties split right down the middle. The shirt is still very wearable with minor holes, but we're rather disappointed at how quickly it came apart with just regular use. We also found that the side ties tend to get caught in the tops of pants and swimsuit bottoms.
Several of the shirts we tested come with a claim of odor treatment by either blocking the odor itself or blocking bacterial growth that leads to odor. 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 laundering, 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.
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