What's the best sun shirt for women? We analyzed over 60 models before purchasing the 12 best models for women in 2019. We pitted them against each other to help you figure out which is the right choice for your lifestyle. We wore each while hanging out in the sun on the beach. We took them on the water, played on SUPs, did yoga, and went on late afternoon runs. While you could apply sunscreen every couple of hours, we're betting that, like us, you don't remember that often. A sun protection shirt is a great low-cost option that'll help to keep your skin healthy and happy. See what product is the best!
The Best Sun Protection Shirts for Women
We love this superbly comfortable top from Mountain Hardwear. The Crater Lake Hoody has just about everything we could want in a sun shirt. It protects you from the sun with 50+ UPF fabric, a lightweight hood that fits under a helmet, and thumb holes you can actually 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 found ourselves happily wearing under the blazing sun without rolling up the sleeves - and that's a big deal! This excellent performing sun shirt also features a zipped hip pocket and the option to cinch the bottom closed, like your favorite jacket. This comes in handy for inverted activities like climbing and yoga, to keep your lower back always safe from the sun.
The Crater Lake does run a bit large, in our experience though. Our main tester is 5'4" and 117 lb and rocked the XS with plenty of room to spare - even considering her self-described "ape arms". We also tested this hoody in the light lavender color, which gets dirty shockingly easy. It always cleaned right up in the wash when we needed it to, but this light color made it need a wash pretty frequently. 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, we love this sun shirt and it quickly became one of our go-to pieces for everything from yoga to biking to gardening.
For a button-up shirt with a collar, we feel like the REI Co-op Sahara is astoundingly well-rounded. We think it's stylish and comfortable and quite breathable. It has pockets that are large enough to hold an iPhone 6 and sleeves cut with a scoop to cover the backs of our hands. It also features stretchy underarm panels that not only make this shirt quite comfortable to wear, but also provide ventilation while preventing underarm rubbing during paddle sports. This shirt is versatile enough we feel it is a great choice for a full day on the trail that runs straight into a dinner date with girlfriends.
However, we feel though that the sleeve tabs are a bit too high to be overly functional. But once we also discovered that the sleeves stay rolled pretty well without using the sleeve tabs, we don't mind so much. Our only other complaint is how easily this shirt wrinkles after living in a suitcase for a few of 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 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 OR Echo Hoody has some unique features in this review that we think makes it an excellent addition to the closet of an activewear junkie. Firstly, this lightweight sun top has cuffs that easily fold over your hands to keep your fingers from freezing on those chilly morning runs. While this makes it impossible to use your hands as anything other than stumps, we think it's a great feature for sipping coffee in the woods as the sun comes up or early walks with the dog. Secondly, the Echo has a hole in its hood to fit your ponytail through. Though this isn't the most stylish look, it certainly is functional. Any woman with long hair knows that feeling of it sticking uncomfortably to the back of her neck as she sweats in the hot sun. Putting it in a ponytail is sometimes a necessity to be able to stay outside, but is awkward to wear inside the hood that's protecting your neck from burning. The Echo fixes that problem. Beyond these two unique features, this hoody is absurdly lightweight and impressively breathable, and is one of only a couple shirts we tested that we can comfortably wear in the hot sun without pushing up the sleeves.
For all it's other utility, the Echo lacks any pockets at all or even thumb holes to add hand protection while leaving your fingers free for wiggling. It also has by far the lowest UPF value of any sun shirt we tested, at just 15! Most others are 35-50+, so this is fairly disappointing. And while we adore the breathability of this thin, quick-drying fabric, we discovered that it snags quite easily during normal everyday activities and laundering. So while it may not last you for years and years, the quirky traits this top brings to the table make it super useful - and we love the bold colors it comes in too!
Read review: Outdoor Research Echo Hoody - Women's
The Columbia Silver Ridge Lite sports the softest, most lightweight fabric of all the button-up models we tested. Our reviewers love how it feels on their skin and how well the fabric breathes. 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 widen the scope of activities we feel it is great for; from the trail to a classy award reception, we feel that this shirt is a great option.
While we like the versatility of this shirt, we feel it just isn'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. It also has small chest pockets secured with velcro that can snag other clothes in the wash and isn't our favorite to use. 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 enjoy the thin, stretchy, breathable fabric this shirt is made out of and find it a very comfortable choice for our outdoor adventures.
Not being available in many colors limits the stylish options for this shirt. There's also a large seam in the front of the collar that we found to be unsightly. Additionally, we feel that the tighter cuff around the bottom of the torso, while not detracting from the overall comfort of this shirt, gives 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 find 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. The newer version of this shirt has longer sleeves, but the thick cuffs still aren't the most comfortable to wear. We also think that the hood is pretty unflattering to wear (if that matters to you), and the hip pocket zipper is 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
The Prana Eileen is a simple sun shirt with a versatile, stylish look you can wear for so many things. Without any features that might make this shirt look too active (like a hood or thumb holes) or too formal (like buttons and a collar), it threads the Goldilocks needle of being able to be worn for just about anything. It also has contrast stitching, a crew neck, and a feminine cut. Helpfully, this shirt still has a zippered hip pocket, but it's quite hidden and not an eyesore.
And yet we feel this shirt falls short of the competition. The fabric is thicker than we want it to be, and while still decently breathable, is a bit stuffy compared to most the competition. It also snags rather easily, making it not the most durable shirt we tested. We also tested the white version, and while we expected it to get dirty, it got worse than we anticipated. With fairly normal usage, the Eileen quickly picked up stains we couldn't get rid of and the white seams became yellowed in just a few weeks. This shirt rapidly went from something we enjoyed wearing to a top we avoided for anything nicer than yardwork.
Read review: Prana Eileen Long Sleeve
For a rash guard, the Patagonia Micro Swell offers an eye-pleasing blend of fashion and function. It's a bit looser than the O'Neill Basic Skins both in the middle and the wrists, which makes it a slightly more forgiving fit while detracting from its utility during intense water sports. The Micro Swell is available in several bright, funky patterns and the sections of solid colors along the sides help give this shirt a more fashionable vibe than a traditional rash guard.
Unfortunately, it's also lacking some features that we want in a high-output rash guard, like the ability to stay put while swimming and soft seams that don't scratch during paddle sports. The Micro Swell doesn't impress us with it's functionality in these situations. However, if your beach day is more about building sand castles and splashing in the waves rather than surfing or kayaking, this top could be enough for you.
Read review: Patagonia Micro Swell - Women's
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
The North Face Boreaz is a technical trail shirt that is impressively durable. Its fabric is tough and the seams are reinforced well. It features a back vent and gigantic hip pockets. It also has helpfully spaced top buttons for more functional options to adjust how open you wear this garment. With a slightly longer back and some of the highest UPF protection in this review, this shirt is ready for the trail right off the rack.
All this durability comes at a cost to the comfort and breathability of this top. Its fabric is stiff and canvas-feeling and makes swishing noises as you move. It also fits rather large around the torso and the sleeves could stand to be longer. While we think this shirt is quite functional, it's not our favorite for truly hot days or for the overly technical style it gives the wearer.
Read review: The North Face Boreaz - Women's
Why You Should Trust Us
Maggie Brandenburg and her team of sun-loving women get outside a lot. As a seasoned and committed nature explorer, she has guided kayaking and backpacking trips into the backcountry for the past 15 years. When she's not guiding, she's embarking on great expeditions in the Carribean islands, kayaking crystalline blue lakes, and meandering high alpine trails. She has spent entire seasons living out of a backpack, truly experiencing nature to its fullest. With such a wealth of experience under her belt, she provides feedback and advice that underpins the importance of what makes a great sun shirt. In addition to her personal voice, she gave out these shirts to friends (that enjoy similar things) to gain collective insight on each product.
During testing, we brought each shirt to a plethora of places to simply hang in the sun. We went running in the high mountains of the Californian Sierras. We boated on the Pacific, hung out on the beach, did yoga, and truly took the time to nail down the nitty gritty of each shirt. We observed to see which provides the best protection, and which simply don't stack up. We looked at features and fit to determine which simply perform the best. Our unbiased feedback will hopefully help you find the best product for the price that you're willing to spend.Related: The Best Sunglasses
Sun Protection Clothing Buying Tips
"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?
Related: The Best Sun Hats of 2019
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, and is 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.
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 Crater Lake, Outdoor Research Echo, 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 Mountain Hardwear 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 Patagonia Micro Swell 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 Crater Lake or 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 North Face Boreaz provides a little extra warmth while keeping you protected from the alpine sun, and we think makes you look a little more like an expert outdoorswoman.
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 Crater Lake, or perhaps the Outdoor Research Echo. 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.
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 blows us away with its versatility. Highly breathable, soft and comfortable, stylish and built to accommodate backpacks and PFDs, our reviewers find this shirt to be the most versatile in this review. Not far behind are the collared Columbia Silver Ridge Lite and hooded Mountain Hardwear Crater Lake and Outdoor Research Echo.
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