Sun Protection That Never Washes Off: 12 Of Our Favorite UPF Apparel Pieces

SUP paddler Luisy Guimares
Courtesy of Luisy Guimares/Unsplash

During the dog days of summer, it’s easy for sun protection to be the last thing on our minds. On those activity-packed days when we’re trying to SUP, fish and hike in one day, remembering to apply sunscreen can be challenging.

But protecting our skin against the sun can help prevent skin cancer, not to mention painful sunburns and premature skin aging.

While sunscreen is always a good idea (look for “reef-safe” formulas), what you wear can also impact your ability to survive the weekend without a sunburn.

Look for clothing with a UPF (Ultraviolet Protection Factor) rating – a number which indicates the fabric’s effectiveness against both UVA and UVB rays. UPF is rated by the percentage of UV-rays that penetrate fabric, so a higher number will give you more protection against the sun’s rays. UPF of 30 or 50 means that 1/30 (3.3%) or 1/50 (2%) of UV-radiation enters through the fabric, respectively. (Most clothing falls within the UPF 30-50 range.)

Various factors such as weave and color influence UPF rating. Some fabrics are treated with chemicals or dyes to help absorb UV light and heighten the UPF rating.

Others, such as merino wool, offer a level of natural UPF protection. Merino wool companies like Icebreaker and Smartwool tout that merino wool absorbs UV radiation, making it a good choice for those seeking to avoid chemicals and synthetic clothing.

Be aware that as any fabric – synthetic or natural – gets wet, is worn excessively or stretches, its UPF rating can drop. Darker colors offer more protection than light colors, especially as they get wet.

Those playing on snow or water, traveling at high elevations or in equatorial regions, should pay special attention to their sun defense. Beyond UPF, look for clothing with sun-savvy touches: collars that fold up, hoods, strategically-placed vents, or broad-brimmed hats.

Here are a few of my sun-protection-apparel favorites for women and men.

Title Nine Sunbuster Long-Sleeve Pullover, UPF 50 ($65)

Title Nine Sunbuster
Courtesy of Title Nine

My new favorite summer shirt, this pullover is my go-to for paddleboarding, fly-fishing and lazy floats on the river.

The shirred seams mean it actually looks cute and feminine, not like a shapeless bag like many women’s sun shirts. It’s available in a full-zip, quarter-zip, short-sleeve, and hoodie.

The zippered pocket means keys stay in my pocket, even if I go into the drink. The poly/spandex fabric is smooth on my skin (even when I’m sunburned from the previous day’s adventures) and offers UPF 50 protection.

Cute fit, functional shirt. It’s one of my warm-weather favorites. I even wear it to the office.

Buy Now for $65

Icebreaker Cool-Lite Sphere Tee ($75) and Long-Sleeve Crew ($90)

Icebreaker Sphere Tee
Courtesy of Icebreaker

I’ve been a hardcore Icebreaker fan for years, relying on the brand’s merino base layers and shirts on assignments across six continents.

Without really thinking about it, I’ve relied on their shirts to keep me comfortable, cool and protected from the sun in harsh environments from Samoa to the Arctic.

My new favorite is the brand’s Cool-Lite™ Sphere Tee and its sister, the Sphere Long-Sleeve Crew.

Cool-Lite is a comfortable jersey blend crafted of Corespun merino wool and natural TENCEL®, and feels like my favorite old T-shirt while wicking sweat like a performance fabric.

Merino’s odor resistance is a winner in sweaty environments, and this will be one of the first pieces I pack for upcoming hot-weather journeys.

Buy the Short-Sleeve Now for $75 Buy the Long-Sleeve Now for $90

Mammut Women’s Runbold Shorts, UPF 30+ ($99)

Mammut Runbold Shorts
Courtesy of Mammut

Freedom of movement meets old-school style, making these a favorite for long hikes and travel days.

These abrasion-resistant, nylon shorts feature serious four-way stretch that feels decidedly high-tech.

A Midori treatment helps the nylon fabric wick moisture, making it quick-drying and breathable.

The shorts offer UPF 30+, multiple pockets and pack down super small for when space matters.

Buy Now for $99

Orvis Women’s Open Air Casting Shirt, UPF 40+ ($89)

Orvis Open Air Casting Shirt
Courtesy of Orvis

A classic “travel shirt” upgraded with a trimmer, more feminine fit, the Air Casting Shirt has been in my rotation for five years now. Lightweight, lightly-textured poly/nylon fabric provides UPF 40+ sun protection and hidden mesh ventilation adds comfort during long, hot days.

It’s a favorite for hot, humid weather when a tech shirt is just too casual. Layer it over a tank or wear solo; the silhouette remains flattering while still allowing full freedom of movement.

I’ve worn it more than once as a swimsuit cover-up, too!

Buy Now for $89

Kari Traa Louise Tights, UPF 40+ ($85)

Kari Traa Louise Tights
Courtesy of Kari Traa

Sometimes UPF doesn’t mean beachwear or sun shirts. These tights are one of my favorite all-around workout and travel pieces. The four-way stretch fabric is sturdy and rip-proof, while a light mesh behind the knees prevents me from overheating. The ergonomic fit keeps them from slipping down, a major win in my book.

Little details like silicone grips at the hem, a back zip pocket and reflective details make them an all-around choice for early morning runs or hikes. UPF 40+ sun protection ensures that even on hot days I’m protected (I’ve been sunburned through pants before … it’s not pretty) and I like that the Louise comes in seven different colors.

Buy Now for $85

Buff CoolNet UV+ Multifunctional Headwear, UPF 50+ ($24)

Buff-CoolNet-UV
Courtesy of Buff

I’ve traveled with at least one Buff Multifunctional Headwear piece in my luggage for, well, my entire career. Beyond the obvious applications of neck gaiter, balaclava and headband, it’s a must-have piece for my camera kit, working as a lens protector, filter cushion … the list is endless.

At the end of every trip, I’m putting at least three Buffs in the washing machine, well-used and dirty.

My new favorite is Buff’s CoolNet UV+ line. The 95% recycled REPREVE® performance microfiber features HeiQ cooling technology, Polygiene® odor control, four-way stretch and UPF 50+ sun protection, all while feeling soft, comfortable and less “constraining” than the old Buffs I’ve used for so many years.

Added bonus: It carries the Seal of Recommendation from the Skin Cancer Foundation, a difficult-to-obtain certification meaning the product offers “safe and effective sun protection.”

Buy Now for $24

Buff Solar Glove, UPF 40+ ($19.95)

Buff Solar Glove
Courtesy of Buff

While we’re on the subject of Buff, I’m a big fan of sun gloves for when I’m on the water – especially fishing in tropical environments. Maybe it’s that I’m now over 30, or maybe I’m finally maturing, but protecting the delicate skin of my hands from sunburn is suddenly a thing.

The Buff Solar Glove is super lightweight; not thick and hot like other sun gloves on the market. Breathable fabric offers UPF 40+ protection and dries quickly, and the partial silicone palm keeps paddles and oars from getting slippery, but doesn’t interfere with casting.

Like Buff’s CoolNet UV+ Multifunctional Headwear, the Solar Glove also carries the Seal of Recommendation from the Skin Cancer Foundation.

Buy Now for $19.95

Royal Robbins Men’s Active Traveler Stretch Pant, UPF 50 ($85)

Royal Robbins -Active-Traveler-Pant
Courtesy of Royal Robbins

Technical performance meets “dress-code” appropriate. For the guys who need to look presentable but want a pant to wear during leisure time on their travels, this is a winner.

Articulated knees, a gusseted crotch, and a variety of pockets ensure there’s a home for passports, boarding passes and snacks in the airport.

Eco-friendly bluesign®-approved nylon/Spandex fabric offers UPF 50, and the pants feature a unique raised-back texture to prevent the fabric from sticking to skin in hot, humid conditions.

Buy Now for $85

Body Glove Men’s 53 Loosefit Short-Arm Board Shirt, UPF 50 ($39.99)

Body-Glove-Board-Shirt
Courtesy of Body Glove

This is one of Body Glove’s most popular men’s shirts, and for good reason. It functions like a board shirt on the water, but wears like a comfy tee the rest of the time. Surf-to-bar, effortlessly.

The green color is a favorite of my water-loving guy friends, who claim this is one of their favorite “all-day” shirts. It boasts UPF 50 sun protection.

Buy Now for $39.99

Patagonia Long-Sleeve Capilene® Cool Daily Shirts, Men’s and Women’s, UPF 50 ($45)

Patagonia Men's Capilene
Courtesy of Patagonia

Patagonia’s Capilene fabric is famed in outdoor circles, and for good reason. The brand’s Capilene Cool Daily is a versatile performance knit well-suited for both travel and outdoor activities. It’s stretchy, dries fast and has been treated with Polygiene® permanent odor control.

Light, soft, 10%-recycled polyester jersey offers UPF 50+ sun protection and has been treated with miDori™ bioSoft (a plant seed-based multi-purpose fabric softener) to increase wicking speeds and ensure long-term softness.

Want a performance shirt that feels like a cozy T-shirt? This is it.

Buy The Men's Capilene Cool Daily for $45 Buy The Women's Capilene Cool Daily for $45

Filson Men’s Alagnak Shirt, UPF 50+ ($98)

filson alagnak shirt
Courtesy of Filson

The dress shirt that isn’t a dress shirt. This ultralight, breathable, nylon offering from heritage brand Filson is a favorite of my fly-fishing-industry guy friends.

It’s sharp enough to dress up for a lodge dinner, but is still moisture-wicking and quick-drying for long days on the water. UPF 50+ brings serious sun protection for bright days.

Little details like reinforced shoulders, button tabs and a button-front spread collar dress up what otherwise looks like a normal button-down, making it a versatile travel shirt for weight- or space-limited travel.

Buy Now for $98

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