alan points and wears a sun shirt for hiking in front of the mountains

Comparison Chart for the Best Sun Shirts & Hiking Shirts

Make/Model Price UPF Weight (oz)
OR Echo Hoodie $75 20 5.2
Zpacks Mirage $135 40 8.2
App Gear Co. 80-20 $115 Unlisted 8.0
REI Sahara Shade Hoodie $50 50 7.5
OR Echo T-Shirt $46 20 2.8
REI Sahara Pattern Button-Up $65 30 6.6
Patagonia Tropic Comfort Hoodie $99 40 9.4
Ridge Merino Convict Canyon $150 Unlisted 9.2

Full Reviews of the Best Hiking Shirts & Sun Shirts

Best Sun Shirt, Best Hiking Shirt

Outdoor Research Echo Hoodie

Ah, the Outdoor Research Echo Hoodie, our most-used, go-to hiking shirt. This UPF 20 sun shirt is the comfiest, lightest, and most breathable all-around base layer we have found with an adequate UPF rating for 99% of hiking-based sun exposure. We have been wearing this hiking shirt for years on trips to nearly every continent, across a wider array of altitudes, latitudes, and conditions, and we are always pleased by its performance.

  • Price: $75
  • UPF Rating: 20
  • Weight: 5.2 oz
  • Fabric: Recycled Polyester
  • Pros: Lightest. Most breathable. Versatile. Full coverage. Quick drying. 100% recycled.
  • Cons: Too thin for bushwhacking.

Construction & Features

The 100% recycled Airvent polyester feels like nothing at all. It is stretchy, moisture wicking, and supremely breathable. And it dries very quickly. Back sweat quickly dissipates upon arrival at camp. The Echo Hoodie never chafes and we find it to be very comfortable.

This sun shirt is the perfect barrier against most ultraviolet light. We have never been sunburned through the fabric, even when hiking above 10,000 feet. Lastly, it is treated with ActiveFresh odor control, for which we are grateful.

The Outdoor Research Echo Hoodie is feature-light. It has a hood but no cinch, flat seam construction, and thumb loops. That’s it, but that’s pretty much all we need. The fit is very true to size.

While we agree with all of the design choices for this product, we will note the lightweight fabric is too thin for bushwhacking. While the thinness of the fabric is what makes it so comfortable and airy, its UPF 20 rating isn’t quite protective enough for situations involving exceptionally extreme UV exposure in all-day sun.

Verdict

This is the singular best sun shirt in our opinion. Pick one up and we promise you won’t want to wear anything else on the trail ever again.

Best Merino Hiking Shirt

Zpacks Mirage Merino Wool Hoodie

Zpacks The Mirage Merino Sun Hoody

Choose Zpacks The Mirage because it is one of the only merino wool sun hoodies with a UPF rating, and among those that are rated, it scores highest at UPF 40.

  • Price: $100
  • Fabric Weight:  135 gsm
  • Garment List Weight: 8.2 oz (Men’s M)
  • Materials: 96% merino, 4% Spandex
  • UPF Rating: 40
  • Pros: Zipper venting. Stretchy. Breathable. Good value. High UPF rating. Thumb loops. Odor-resistant. Comfy. Soft.
  • Cons: Slower dry time than poly. Unisex only sizing.

Construction & Features

The Mirage, by Zpacks is made with a 135 gsm 96%-4% merino wool spandex blend. That material is a bit warmer than the lightest possible synthetic shirts, but the slightly enhanced thickness is what allows the natural fabric to achieve such a relatively high UPF. Most other naturally derived textiles have much lower UPF ratings.

And since this shirt is a bit warmer than minimalist polyester shirts, we greatly appreciate the front zipper for venting. Slightly thinner wool shirts exist, but they compromise both on durability and UPF-rating.

We end with a friendly reminder that merino is naturally odor resistant, more sustainable than petroleum derived synthetics, warmer, and more breathable. The primary downside is its increased drying time (compared to polyester), and lower overall UPF abilities (though that’s accounted for here).

Verdict

The Mirage by Zpacks is an exceptional, natural-fiber hiking shirt that checks all of the boxes in terms of features, performance, and quality.

Best Alpaca Sun Hoodie

Appalachian Gear Company 80-20 Alpaca Sun Hoodie

Appalachian Gear Co 8020 Sun Hoodie

The AppGearCo 8020 Sun Hoodie is seemingly the only true alpaca sun hoodie on the market. It’s moisture wicking, soft, and airy against the skin, perfect to use as a base layer to replace your polyester or nylon sun shirt.

  • Price: $115
  • UPF Rating: Unrated (our conservative estimate would be 20)
  • Weight: 8 oz
  • Fabric: 80% Alpaca, 20% Tencel
  • Pros: Lightweight. Highly breathable. Comfy. Durable seaming. Full-coverage hood. 100% natural materials. Highly odor-resistant. Sustainable. Made in USA.
  • Cons: Less sun protection and slower dry time than comparably thick polyester/nylon alternatives.

Construction & Features

As fabrics go, alpaca is considered superior to merino wool. It is softer, more temperature regulating, more odor resistance, and faster drying. And it’s warmer when you want it to be.

We love the attention to detail, including reinforced seams, long tail drape, and generously sized hood. The addition of 20% Tencel (made from eucalyptus pulp) blend increases its sun-protection capabilities, softness, moisture wicking, and durability.

Verdict

This is a really sweet, 100% natural solution to sun protection. And it feels/smells nearly as fresh on day six as it does on day two.

Best Sun Shirt: Value & UPF50 Rating

REI Sahara Shade Hoodie

For extreme sun exposure, we prefer a hiking shirt rated to UPF 50, and that’s where the REI Co-op Sahara Shade Hoodie comes into play. This is what we would choose for activities like climbing a Cascade volcano in spring, backpacking through high altitude plateaus in the San Juans of Colorado, traversing a glacier in the Alps, or hiking in the Altiplano Desert of South America.

  • Price: $50
  • UPF Rating: 50
  • Weight: 7.5 oz
  • Fabric: 92% Polyester, 8% Spandex
  • Pros: Great value. Highest UPF rating. Comfortable.
  • Cons: Slightly warmer & less breathable than lower UPF fabrics. Scooped hood exposes side of face, blows off in wind

Construction & Features

When all day sun is amplified by high altitude or reflecting off of water, snow, or ice, we recommend an REI Co-op Sahara Shade Hoodie. It’s our pick for best sun shirt for extreme UV.

This sun hoody is soft and pleasant to wear, constructed with 92% polyester and 8% spandex, so it’s stretchy and accommodating to all types of movement. It is very breathable and quick drying, though slightly less so than our top pick, the Outdoor Research Echo Hoodie.

As far as features, the hood has an internal drawstring to cinch down around your face. We love a hiking shirt with thumb loops, and we like how these fit and feel on the hand. While it’s not manufactured with recycled fabric, it is bluesign® approved, so the manufacturing minimizes harm.

Verdict

This is a great sun shirt for hiking in high UV exposure, and we give the REI Co-op Sahara Shade Hoodie our seal of approval.

Best Hiking T-Shirt

Outdoor Research Echo T-Shirt

While we tend to prefer hiking in sun hoodies because they provide more coverage, the Outdoor Research Echo T-Shirt is our pick for the best sun shirt with short sleeves.

  • Price: $46
  • UPF Rating: 20
  • Weight: 2.8 oz
  • Fabric: Recycled polyester
  • Pros: Lightest. Most breathable. Versatile. Quick drying. 100% recycled
  • Cons: T-shirt chassis is inferior to a hoody.

Construction & Features

It is constructed with the same lightweight, breathable, comfortable AirVent mesh fabric as our top pick, the Echo Hoodie, and derives most of the same benefits.

The 100% recycled Airvent polyester feels like nothing at all. It is stretchy, moisture wicking, and supremely breathable. And it dries very quickly. Back sweat quickly dissipates upon arrival at camp. The Echo Hoodie never chafes and we find it to be very comfortable. This sun shirt is the perfect barrier against most ultraviolet light. We have never been sunburned through the fabric, even when hiking above 10,000 feet. Lastly, it is treated with ActiveFresh odor control, for which we are grateful.

Verdict

Not only is this a great hiking shirt, the Echo Tee is also great activewear for lounging at home on a hot day. It is a very useful garment, and while we prefer sun hoodies, the tee shirt version is ideal for those who prefer short sleeves and have adequate sunscreen on-hand.

Best Hiking Shirt Button-Up

REI Sahara Pattern Long-Sleeve Shirt

For mosquito defense and bushwhacking, we prefer the dense, woven nylon construction of the REI Co-op Sahara Long Sleeve Shirt. Treat it with permethrin insect repellent and you’re good to go!

  • Price: $65
  • Weight: 6.6 oz
  • UPF Rating: 30
  • Fabric: Woven nylon
  • Pros: Durable material. Difficult for mosquitos to bite through.
  • Cons: No stretch. Warmer and less breathable than non-button-ups

Construction & Features

This basic, lightweight button up hiking shirt is rated to UPF 30, and is an effective answer when you need something tougher than the thinnest and airiest possible sun shirt.

For as simple and affordable as this shirt is, it actually has lots of features. Not only is it wicking and quick-drying, it has an old-school vented back yoke, a chest pocket sunglasses loop, and button tabs for securing rolled sleeves. Okay, nothing incredibly fancy, but it’s not missing anything either.

The REI Co-op Sahara Pattern Long Sleeve Shirt is a good candidate to be your bug shirt or bushwhacking shirt, thanks to its durable and dense woven nylon fabric. It may not be the best sun shirt overall, but it’s certainly a useful hiking shirt.

Mosquito proboscis will have trouble penetrating the weave, and branches will have trouble snagging it. The same could not be said with our top overall pick, the Echo Hoodie. Treat this one with spray on permethrin and it will provide more than adequate mosquito protection.

Verdict

We wouldn’t recommend the Sahara as an all purpose hiking shirt because it’s less than optimally breathable – for that choose a sun hoodie. But the durable nylon fabric has some important niche uses and it’s a great arrow to have in your quiver.

Best Sun Shirt – Sustainability

Patagonia Tropic Comfort Natural Hoodie

For a natural sun shirt that does the least possible harm to the environment, we recommend the Patagonia Tropic Comfort Natural Hoodie. This sun hoody is rated to UPF 40, and is constructed with modal fabric. Modal is derived from beech tree pulp, plus 4% spandex for stretch. The manufacturing process is Fair Trade Certified™.

  • Price: $99
  • UPF Rating: 40
  • Weight: 9.4 oz
  • Fabric: 96% Modal, 4% Spandex
  • Pros: Comfy. Soft. Biobased. Full coverage. Breathable.
  • Cons: Less quick drying. Heavier fabric. Runs large.

Construction & Features

We like modal fabric because of how darn soft, breathable, and comfortable it is. The hand feel is more like cotton, however, it’s performance is somewhere in between cotton and polyester.

The Tropic Comfort Natural Hoody won’t dry quite as quickly as thinner polyester or nylon fabrics, which is perhaps the biggest downside. We would not recommend this as a cool weather base layer, as you could get chilled by sweat. That said, this hiking shirt should be completely sufficient for most 3-season use.

Modal also offers less UV protection for its fabric weight, which is why this one had to be a bit heavier, 9.3 oz (compared to 7.2 for the REI Sahara Shade), to score a UPF rating of 40. It’s not the single best sun shirt, but it is the most eco-friendly sun shirt.

As far as features, we like how the hood can be closed up around your face with a button toggle, rather than a cinch. That’s innovative, and saves material weight.

Verdict

The Patagonia Tropic Comfort Natural Hoody is a great option for those wanting a hiking shirt that protects against sun in the most sustainable way possible.

Best Hiking Shirt for Cold

Ridge Merino Convict Canyon

Ridge Merino Convict Canyon Merino Wool Hoodie

Choose the Ridge Merino Convict Canyon because it is constructed with Polartec Power Wool, a uniquely effective bi-component knit that offers the best traits of both merino, polyester, and spandex.

  • Price: $150
  • UPF Rating: Unlisted
  • Weight: 9.2 oz (Men’s M)
  • Materials: 54% Polyester, 38% Merino, 8% Spandex
  • Pros: Polartec Power Wool has great wicking, breathability, quick dry, and stretch. Zipper vent. Thumb loops. Balaclava hood.
  • Cons: Less than 50% merino. Expensive.

Construction & Features

Think of Polartec PowerWool like a grid fleece where the gridded next-to-skin layer is all merino wool for softness, moisture wicking, and warmth, and the flat faced exterior is all polyester (durable, quick drying).

This combination contrasts with most other blended material textiles, because with those each strand of fiber is fully mixed and integrated together in the fabric. Power Wool places each material where it performs best, deriving more performance synergy than when merino and poly and fully mixed.

And on top of that, you also get a quarter zip, front chest pocket, thumb loops, and balaclava hood. This is a killer merino wool hoodie for use from mid-fall through mid-spring.

Verdict

The RM Convict Canyon is a versatile, warm, comfy, high-performance base layer hiking shirt, perfect for use from mid-fall through early spring.

Best Insect Repellent Treatment For Hiking Shirts

Sawyer Permethrin Insect Repellent

To fully protect against mosquitos and ticks, we recommend treating your outer clothes with Sawyer Permethrin Spray-on Insect Repellent.

  • $17
  • Pros: Repels mosquitos, ticks and more. Safe. Lasts many washes.
  • Cons: Chemicals. Must be reapplied periodically.

Features

This chemical treatment is safe for humans to use, and creates a protective aura around the wearer. Not only does it repel insects, but any that linger on a permethrin-treated garment will slowly lose functionality as it is harmful to their nervous system.

We treat recommend designating a bug outfit, and retreating it periodically with a new coat of permethrin. Treat your shirt, pants, ankles of socks, and hat brims. But it is not recommend to treat undergarments or fabric that comes in close contact with hot, sweaty, sensitive skin. This includes underwear, the lower half of socks, or the sweatband of a hat.

Verdict

Sawyer Permethrin is a necessary solution in peak bug season, and we recommend highly. We’ve used it to great success under heavy mosquito pressure, including the Sierra and Alaskan tundra in June.

a hiker gazes onto a lake wearing a blue sun shirt and testing hiking hats

Best Sun Shirt & Hiking Shirt: Pro Tips & Bonus Info

Understanding UPF ratings for the best sun shirts

UPF is to sun shirts as SPF is to sunscreen. A fabric with a numeric rating has been tested in a lab to measure how much ultraviolet light can pass through. UPF 15, for example, allows 1 UV ray out of every 15 rays to pass through. The same is true for UPF 30, 50, and so on. And much like sunscreen, UPF 15 is a good baseline that should protect you adequately in moderate to high levels of sun exposure.

However, in situations involving extreme sun exposure, such as walking on glaciers or at extremely high altitude, the best sun shirts are those rated to UPF 50+. In order to increase its UPF rating, a fabric needs to be thicker and/or darker, which is not desirable when you want to stay as cool as possible in hot sunny weather. Thus, for optimal comfort, you should choose a sun shirt with only as high of a rating as is necessary for the expected level of UV exposure.

Sun hoody vs t-shirt

When choosing between different hiking shirt chassis configurations, know that the best sun shirts are long sleeve pullover hoodies. This provides maximum skin coverage without the discomfort/inconvenience of weight, zippers, or buttons. Good sun shirts are so highly breathable that they hardly benefit from zipper venting anyway.

And again, because they’re so light and breathable, you barely notice the sleeves and hood, but they’re always there when you need them to protect you from UV. As an added bonus, they significantly decrease how much sunscreen you’ll need to use.

a smiling hiker well protected from the sun in his hiking shirt

When are long sleeve button ups the best hiking shirts

We recommend a traditional long sleeve button up hiking shirt over the best sun shirts for the following scenarios: You are bushwhacking and require a more durable fabric that won’t snag and tear. Or you are concerned about swarms of mosquitoes landing on you and biting through thin fabric.

Thanks to their tough woven nylon, long sleeve button-up hiking shirts are more bite resistant than the typical stretchy, knit polyester sun shirt. And since they’re thicker, woven nylons are almost always rated to UPF 30 or higher. We haven’t seen large performance deltas between different models, they’re all roughly the same. Whatever you can find that is lightweight, fits well, and is conveniently priced is probably the best option.

While we appreciate long sleeve button ups for their protective qualities, they are significantly less breathable and less stretchy than knit polyester sun shirts, so you should only choose to wear one when the situation calls for it. Nonetheless, the long sleeve button up hiking shirt is still a relevant and viable option.

Hiking Shirt Breathability

When choosing a hiking shirt or sun hoodie for all-purpose use across the bulk of hiking season (late spring thru early fall for most people), you want a garment that is as airy and breathable as possible to reduce sweat and increase drying speed. Your base layer’s primary job is to protect against sun, wick moisture, dry quickly, and keep you cool while on the move in moderate to hot temperatures. And in that sense, thinner fabric is better.

However, thinner textiles are less durable, and score lower UPF ratings, so what you really want is a happy medium of thin-not-too-thin. As thin as possible to score UPF 20, and as thin as possible without compromising durability for trail-based wear and tear. We feel the Outdoor Research Echo hoodie is emblematic of these criteria.

Sizing up as a way to increase air flow and UPF.

One hack to increase perceived air flow/breathability and UPF rating is wearing larger sized sun hoodies and hiking shirts. Of course, don’t go overboard, but in general, size up if you’re in between sizes. Have extra fabric creates better air flow between skin and garment, which helps cool the body.

Furthermore, wearing too tight of a shirt may stretch the textile, thereby decreasing its UPF rating as the fabric is pulled and stretch out to become thinner than its baseline. We recommend against skin tight apparel for use as a hiking shirt, sun hoodie, or base layer.

Treat your hiking shirt to protect against bugs

For hiking in mosquito season, we recommend wearing a designated bug shirt. This is usually a long sleeve button up, made of woven nylon, that has been treated with Sawyer spray-on permethrin. Permethrin is a chemical insect repellent for mosquitos, ticks, and other insects that is safe for humans. Insects are repelled by the smell of it and their nervous system is harmed by being in its presence.

In some cases, you can use your best sun shirt as your bug shirt, but people prefer to have a separate, designated garment.

We reapply a new coat of permethrin to our bug shirt  once or twice per season, depending on use. It lasts many washes. This stuff really works, and when used properly in conjunction with a head net and sawyer Picaridin for protecting exposed skin, is part of a system that creates a very strong swarm-proof insect repellent aura around your body.

Considerations on color for the best hiking shirts

There are a few performance factors to think about when choosing between color, aside from personal taste and preferences.

Sun Shirt Heat Absorption

For starters, a lighter hiking shirt is more reflective of sunlight, compared to a darker shirt which absorbs it. A white shirt would feel cooler than a black shirt in direct sunlight. However, lighter shirts are also more sheer, which makes them slightly less effective at blocking ultraviolet light. Take our top pick, the Outdoor Research Echo Hoody, for example. The off-white colorway is rated to UPF 15, whereas all other colorways are rated to UPF 20.

In general, we recommend lighter colors, so long as they don’t drop you below UPF 15. For the Echo specifically, we would always choose colors rated to UPF 20 since it’s a free upgrade so long as you don’t choose the off white.

Insect Attraction

Additionally there are some considerations around how insects interact with color, though this hasn’t been proven outside of a lab. However, it would seem that mosquitos are slightly more attracted to red, orange, black, and cyan, and less attracted to green, blue, white, or purple.

Hunting

A third and final concern would be safety – a bright red, orange, or yellow shirt would make you more easily identifiable in a rescue situation, while also providing added visual awareness safety during hunting season.

A sun shirt is a base layer

Just to clarify, you don’t need to wear anything underneath a sun shirt, it will act as your base layer. All of the best sun shirts are soft on skin, wicking and quick drying, thus wearing anything underneath, like a tee shirt or tank top, will just add extra fabric and make you hotter.