Gear Guide: Women's Sun-Protective Hiking Apparel


By Su Reid-St. John
A few years ago, Health magazine’s art department named a color after me: “As tan as Su will ever get.”

This color was a very pale, pinky beige. I burn like a marshmallow over a campfire, so I never leave the house without slathering my exposed skin with sunscreen. Until recently, though, I’d never really given thought to the protection my clothes gave me.

Turns out the average white T-shirt only provides a UPF of about 5—not much of a shield, especially for someone like me. Seems I’m the perfect person to check out the new trend of UPF clothes.

What is UPF, you ask? It’s basically SPF for fabrics. So if, say, a shirt has a UPF of 50, that means the cloth only allows 1/50th of the sun’s damaging UVA and UVB rays to get through, which significantly reduces your skin’s exposure. And while I’ll admit that I’ve never gotten much of a sunburn on skin covered by my clothing, I know these rays can do a lot of other damage, like causing your skin to age faster and raising your risk of skin cancer.

Not being a big fan of wrinkly, cancer-prone skin, I sunproofed my body from head to knees with these on a recent sunny hike: ASICS Favorite Short Sleeve Top (50+ UPF), Mountain Hard Wear La Rambla Short (50 UPF), and Outdoor Research Solar Roller Hat (30+ UPF). I’m no scientist and have no way to prove the UPF content of the fabrics, but these are all from well-regarded companies, and I have no reason to doubt them. So I felt comfortably protected.

But let’s face it: When it comes to what you’re wearing, there’s much more to consider than just sun protection. So how did these stack up purely as hiking togs? Here’s a quick rundown:

I’d buy this in a second, even if sun protection weren’t an issue. It’s super-light, flattering, and buttery soft. The best parts, though, are the mesh insets on the sleeves, under the arms, around the neck, and down the middle of the back—in other words, the main sweat zones. I perspire like mad, especially in the sun, and this shirt kept me cool and relatively dry. Any downsides? Not that I could find.

Mountain Hard Wear shorts
These manage to sport six pockets (some zippered, some snapped) without looking like a pair of bulky guy cargos. Why’s that important? Well, if you choose to hike without a pack, you need somewhere to put your stuff, preferably without resembling a pack mule.

There’s more worth mentioning here, too: The brushed polyester strips along the inside of waistband and down the inner thighs (ingenious!) act as effective sweat absorbers, and the couple-inches-above-the-knee length is flattering.

My only quibble is that the stitching on the outer back waist looks like a sort of double yoke, which didn’t really flatter my upper butt. But hey, unless you tuck your shirt in or wear a crop top (I do neither), no one’s going to know.

Outdoor Research hat
The sky-blue color and embroidered flower on the front give this hat significant style points over the other dull, safari-looking sun hats out there. Sure, it’s got the wide brim needed to keep the rays off my face, but it’s actually cute.

Other things to like: the wicking band to absorb copious forehead sweat, breathable material and air holes to keep my head cool, a drawstring to adjust the size, and total crushability. I only discovered one drawback, when I stuffed the hat in a bag with my hiking shoes: The blue hue doesn’t hide dirt very well.

When I was a kid, the highest SPF you could get in a “suntan lotion” was 8, and there were no UPF clothes. We’ve learned a whole lot since then; nowadays, I never buy sunscreen with an SPF less than 30. And now, companies like ASICS, Mountain Hard Wear, and Outdoor Research are trying to convince me that my whole body deserves that kind of protection. Luckily for them, they’re adding that protection to clothes I'd like enough buy anyway. I’m sold.

Products: ASICS Favorite Short Sleeve Top, Mountain Hard Wear La Rambla Short, Outdoor Research Solar Roller Hat

Category: Apparel

Cost: Top, $40 at; shorts, $50 at; hat, $29 at