- While sunscreen keeps sunburns and cancerous skin cells at bay, the best prevention is to wear a sun shirt.
- Sun shirts have UPF protection which is designed to protect against the sun’s harmful UV rays.
- Our top pick, the Hanes Cool Dri, is affordable, durable, and comes in a variety of colors to match anyone’s style.
Sun shirts have never really been an interest where the style-savvy are concerned. They’re sporty, synthetic, and generally emblazoned with giant brand logos. But we’ve had decades now to process the grim reality that even our beloved sun can give us cancer, and I for one am tired of getting sunburned through the old, tattered shirts I have always tried to wring a second life out of by wearing while outdoors.
I, like many of you, do not enjoy slathering sunscreen all over my torso and making myself into a greasy mess for the day just to ward off UV rays. Moreover, sunscreen is expensive, especially if you tend to use a good, chemical-free mineral-based sunscreen, and find yourself in the sun often.
But the market for sun shirts is becoming a little more innovative to accommodate diverse, mainstream aesthetics, and I couldn’t be happier about it. Now, brands like Patagonia, Columbia, and even Filson have begun introducing their own take on the sun shirt – and they make for a great addition to anyone’s outdoor kit.
Now that sun shirts are permanent staples in my own spring and summer wardrobe, I decided to test a few of the newer styles across activities like surfing, fishing, hiking, and camping. Below, I’ve compiled five of my current favorites, and have also included some tips on what to keep in mind while shopping, as well as a few other shirts I tested that didn’t quite make the cut.
For women-specific styles and sizing, check out our guide to the best sun protection clothing for women.
Here are the best sun shirts with UPF protection:
- Best sun shirt overall: Hanes Cool Dri
- Best hooded sun shirt: Patagonia’s Sun Shade Technical Hoody
- Best sun shirt for fishing: Columbia’s PFG long sleeve
- Best lightweight sun shirt: Filson Ultralight
- Best hybrid hoody: O’Neill 24/7 Hybrid UPF
Hanes’ UPF-treated Cool Dri shirts are plain and simple but sturdy and serviceable. They’re also some of the most affordable ones you can buy.
Pros: Price, tag-less, moisture-wicking, low-profile, short- and long-sleeve versions
Cons: No hood, no loop for tying to board shorts (helpful if surf-bathing)
When it comes to getting something practical and affordable, Hanes does the trick. You can spend three or four times as much and get something more stylish, more technical, and/or lighter weight, but UPF is UPF, and after having tested Hanes’ Cool Dri for a good two years, I’m sold that this is all you need.
Plus, another thing to keep in mind when buying a sun shirt is sunscreen damage: Is this something you’re going to stain with sunscreen? Are you going to be rolling around in the mud? Are you really, really concerned with the way it’s going to look after a few trips to the beach or the lake?
The Cool Dri comes in long- and short-sleeve, and several colors. They’re plain, tag-less, and logo-free, so if blaring logos down the shoulder or across the chest aren’t your thing, that’s another reason to save some money and just buy Hanes.
As for general quality, I have worn these shirts for two years, surfing and fishing my way around North and Central America for months on end. The four-ounce polyester jersey is usual cotton t-shirt thickness but moisture-wicking, the UPF treatment is still going strong, and I’ve not gotten burned through the shirts once. The stitching, while far from top-notch, hasn’t given way at all, either.
My only gripe with these shirts is on the technical side, and for most people, they’re perfectly fine as they are. But a loop to tie them to your board shorts and an option with a hood wouldn’t hurt.
Lastly, note that the long-sleeve version (which I recommend most) is sold in a two-pack on Amazon — go for that option. These things are only so great as the amount of time you use them, and it’s always good to have a spare.
The best hooded sun shirt
Patagonia’s Sun Shade Technical Hoody is soft, lightweight, and comes with an all-plastic zipper that won’t corrode, no matter how many times you take it swimming and forget to wash it afterward.
Pros: Soft, comfortable, effective, and technical for anglers, button to cover face with hood, a handy and corrosion-free chest zipper
Cons: A little bulky, and not as cooling as Columbia’s Solar Shade
Patagonia’s Sun Shade Technical Hoody has been a personal favorite among hooded sun shirts for a while. I find them to be the softest, best-fitting, best-styled of the UV shirts, designed for outdoors enthusiasts. In a sea of abysmally large, flashy logos and prints, Patagonia stays true to tone. And you might just catch me out and about in one of these. No shame here.
I’ve been fishing, surfing, and occasionally swimming in these shirts for over five years, and as a small disclaimer, I may be somewhat partial, but they’re too comfortable and low-profile to ignore for this guide. I should also note that, unlike with some other sun shirts, stains seem to lift from these better than others. Sometimes, however, I’ve noticed that it takes a few washes.
It’s hard to ignore Patagonia within this realm, with its loyal legions whose reviews are probably best taken with a grain of salt. Do you need to spend this much on a sun shirt? Of course not. But I can’t say how many Patagonia sun shirts I’ve owned, and through fishing, hiking, camping, living on boats in the tropics, and all the rest, I still haven’t managed to loosen even a stitch on any of mine.
The only thing I’d recommend is that you not order it in black if you’re in particularly warm water or weather, or especially prone to getting overheated. And, if you like a more relaxed fit, check out the Tropical Comfort Hoody II, which is a little more casual and a lot more comfortable out of the water.
The best sun shirt for fishing
Columbia’s PFG button-down shirts are lightweight, comfortable, and subtle enough to be worn just about anywhere, but shine when fishing.
Pros: Lightweight, well-ventilated, many pocket arrangements to choose from
Cons: May run large according to your taste, some customers complain of them being wrinkle-prone (but remember, you’re probably not going to the office in one of these — congratulations if you are, though!)
Yes, Columbia’s PFG button-down is a bona fide bonefishing shirt, so whether you’re wading the flats or touring the pyramids, Columbia’s classic PFG button-down will serve you well. This is the brand’s bestselling shirt, and it’s no surprise why. Unlike Columbia’s newer technology that makes concessions where many people’s style might be concerned, these shirts pass off just about anywhere.
You’ll see the ubiquitous presence of this shirt around bonefishing lodges and on safaris, but you’ll also see newscasters and wildlife biologists in them, too. Why? Well, the simple fact that they work, they keep you cool, and they’re also shockingly lightweight and full of pockets, which make them ideal shirts for the field. I left my favorite PFG shirt behind in a hotel room in Fiji years ago, and I’ve lamented that day ever since.
I also tried Columbia’s new Solar Shade Zero Woven Long Sleeve, and while it worked wonders, I felt like I was wearing a bowling shirt, a la Charlie Sheen’s character in “Two and a Half Men.” For me, that was a problem.
I’ll continue to wear it because it works every bit as good as all of Columbia’s highly technical, if sometimes busy-looking clothing, but again, only on the boat. I did love the plastic zippered pockets in it, though.
The best lightweight sun shirt
Filson’s Ultralight shirt is tissue-paper thin, moisture-wicking, and styled enough so that should you find yourself at a bar, restaurant, or possibly even the office after some time outdoors, no one would be the wiser.
Pros: Lightweight, breathable, versatile
Cons: Pricier, probably overkill for most people
If you’re looking for something in the featherlight category, which we highly recommend if you’re in hotter, muggier climes, look to Filson’s Ultralight Shirt, made with breathable 2.6-ounce polyester ripstop (that’s basically parachute material).
Filson’s Ultralight Shirt is the best of both worlds, and it’s something you might get away with in the office just as soon as you would on a flats fishing boat — depending on where you work. The double-breasted pockets could be a bit of a giveaway.
But I’ve found nothing more lightweight and after a few months, I’ve managed to avoid ripping, staining, or otherwise degrading this shirt. And like all of my picks, I haven’t seen the UPF treatment wear out. Despite a slightly lower UPF30 treatment (as opposed to the 50 you’ll see on most shirts I recommend), I haven’t gotten a sunburn in it, either.
This shirt is truly paper-thin, and it’s the shirt I choose for the best and worst summer has to offer. If you tend to overheat, if you’re out in direct sunlight all day long, and especially if you’re hiking or fishing, this shirt is a sound investment.
The specific features make this shirt a little sporty, which is to say that double-breast pockets, button tabs for rolled-up sleeves, and a spread collar might be a bit excessive for someone just looking to spend the day at the beach. But for an almost impossibly light adventure-ready shirt, I dare you to find one better.
The best hybrid hoodie
On a late summer day at the beach, with a vague chill in the air, you’ll be glad to have O’Neill’s 24/7 Hybrid UPF Shirt in your bag.
Pros: Stretchy, soft, comfortable, versatile, just tightly woven enough to keep you warm on a crisp morning or night
Cons: Too hot in certain climes, maybe a little short for some tastes and torsos (which I didn’t mind while surfing as it stayed out of my way)
It might seem counterintuitive to buy a UPF sun shirt that keeps you warm, but on chillier mornings and evenings, as well as more temperate days in spring and fall, I have come to be extremely grateful for my O’Neill 24/7 Hybrid UPF shirt.
When I first tried these shirts on a sultry South Carolinian summer day, it was more than I could bear. This shirt is by no means breathable, and the first one I tried was a pullover. I was drenched in sweat within seconds. I ripped it off, and, lo and behold, received a fine licking from the sun.
But this year the team at O’Neill released a zippered version that allows for controlled ventilation — and it makes all the difference. Like the shirt of years past, this one is made of a spandex and nylon blend, which is soft and stretchy, and I often find myself wearing one well past sundown.
I’ve also found it to work well for surfing, though I’d recommend a proper rash guard for any swimming beyond casual surf bathing. Also, because it’s loose-fitting, I wouldn’t recommend anyone learn to surf in it, nor would I suggest wearing it in large or rough surf, where it will act as a sea anchor and weigh you down.
For an all-around summer top, it’s hard to beat in and out of the water, apart from real scorchers in the Palmetto State, at least.
What else we considered
Backcountry Tahoe Sun Hoodie: If you’re looking for a generic sun shirt with a hood, the Tahoe Sun Hoodie from Backcountry fits the bill. It’s not within the budget price zone of our overall pick from Hanes, but it does tend to be somewhere in the middle of the price range for sun shirts, and might save you a few bucks, depending on what you’re after.
Duck Camp Co.: Duck Camp Co.’s fishing shirts are a lot like Columbia’s PFG line. The quality of the fabric is all there and the technical aspects of the shirt are great. We’ve only spent a bit of time with these shirts, and we’re a little skeptical of how the zippers will fare over time compared with Columbia PFG’s tried and true, but after two months of use and exposure to the brine, they’re still doing well.
Orvis Drirelease Pullover Hoodie: The Drirelease Pullover Hoodie from Orvis is moisture-wicking and fast-drying, and it’s somewhat comparable to Patagonia’s answer in our pick above, but it’s not quite as soft, and it’s a little more expensive. Still, this is Orvis quality and if you’re a devotee, you won’t go wrong.
How to shop for a sun shirt
When shopping for a sun shirt, there are a few things to keep in mind, namely the features the shirt comes with and its UPF rating. Much of the decision about which shirt to buy comes down to how and where you’ll be wearing it.
Here’s what to consider when picking out a sun shirt:
- UPF vs. SPF: Ultraviolet Protection Factor (UPF) measures the amount of UV light that passes through fabrics, while Sun Protection Factor (SPF) measures the amount of time it takes sun-screened skin to redden, or, in other words, the effectiveness of sunscreen.
- Temperature: If you’re going to be somewhere really, really hot, like Death Valley, or the Atacama Desert, forego your choosy inklings and buy something with the newfangled cooling technology, most notably by Columbia or Under Armour. They’re a bit loud, though, so if you want to strike a pose for your Instagram post, consider throwing in another shirt for photo ops that you’re willing to be caught dead in.
- Style: Your style is your style, and we’re not telling you what to wear, not ever, and not now. Sun shirts come in all cuts, and it really comes down to personal preference, for most. If you’re going to be doing a lot of swimming, surfing, or spending time in direct sunlight, a hood is beneficial, if not paramount to outwitting the sun and its rays. You also might want thumb holders and a loop to tie it to your shorts. If you’re fishing, pockets are also kind of a must, and a button-up with plenty of pockets is arguably the best way to go.
- Weight: If you’re traveling — or living — lightly, some of our picks are a bit on the heavy or bulky side. Consider passing on those for our other picks.
A note on fit
Although the sun shirts featured in this guide say they’re for men, anyone can wear any style, size, or brand of shirt they desire, regardless of the gender the brand says it’s actually for. The sizing of men’s shirts does differ from women’s, most notably by having broader shoulders and a less shapely or fitted cut.
However, the most important consideration is that the gear fits properly and functions how you need it to.