How We Test
Testing sun shirts is a combination of making yourself look like an ugly model and performing actual research into fabric science. In between, you're hiking, flying (on planes), running, biking, sweating, drying and trying not to get burned by the sun and the campfire you stand over to test a shirt's capacity to absorb the musty funk of smoke emanating from lousy wood.
It's fun to try out gear, of course, and read the marketing pleas of the companies that make it, but there is a good amount of sound journalism involved, too. For example, there's no escaping the bias most outdoorsy folks have in favor of Patagonia. For the most part, its products are dependable, and the brand rests on a rock-solid slab of altruism. However, there are many other outstanding outdoor gear companies, and this test proved it. Despite the Capilene Cool Daily Hoody taking the Best Overall award, it has its flaws, and each time it was applauded, we made sure to weigh that accolade without a biased finger on the scale.
Practically-speaking, shirts were tested as we believe our readers would wear them, and under the auspices of marketing promises. Outdoor Research's Astroman is touted as a climbing shirt with UPF 50, so we took it climbing in Joshua Tree. The Columbia PFG Terminal Tackle is all about fishing. We weren't able to actually cast a rod while wearing it, but it did spend a good deal of time on the shores of Costa Rica and along the rocky banks of the Truckee River in Northern California. On and on, each shirt was put to whatever test best overlapped with its primary purpose, but always in respect to how it protected testers from the sun and how respective fabric and feature choices supported that goal.
These shirts weren't washed much during testing. Three times each, max. This was by design to test for how well they fought-off the natural smells of outdoor recreation, drying times, and basic durability. It turned out to be a good decision, as it revealed which items would be best for extended wear, such as the Mountain Hardwear Canyon and Sol Patrol II, and which ones were not great for long-term use, such as the Hanes.
These shirts spent time in airports and stuffed together into packing cubes. With airy fabrics and relaxed fits, they promote all day, on-plane comfort. They tend to boast multiple pockets, too, ideal for passports and quickly collecting the miscellaneous stuff we drop into those germ-ridden circular TSA bins. Being very particular about errant items jangling in different places on my person, I find too many pockets tedious. Thus, if one of these shirts passed that test, know it had a very high bar to reach.
General comfort always needs to be considered as well. How does a shirt feel during activity? Does it move with you? Does it expose the skin during activity? Some of these shirts can be very big for their label size, which impacts comfort. The Columbia Silver Ridge Lite, an otherwise excellent piece of apparel, is a little on the baggy side, for example. Its sister product, the PFG Hoodie, might as well be marketed as a cloak. Comfort was the ultimate downfall of the Eddie Bauer Atlas Exploration. This otherwise reliable clothing maker used ripstop nylon on this shirt, and it simply doesn't work. It's not nice to wear, especially when wet.
Every shirt was worn under a backpack, exposed to many hours of direct sun, soaked with perspiration, packed, rolled, and left to dry in sunny breezes. Overall, We found our tests to be comprehensive and functional. Still, we're always looking for ways to better push products to the limit.