by Diane Spicer
UPF sun protective clothing is a great idea for any hiker with an epidermis.
Ha! That's just a fancy way of saying that every hiker with skin should be mindful of how much sun exposure occurs on every hike.
In other words, all of us.
However, there are a few things to think about before deciding whether or not UPF sun protective clothing is right for you.
First, let's define that UPF thing, shall we?
UPF is the acronym standing in for the long string of words that indicate a rating system for skin exposure to the radiation from our friendly neighborhood star, the Sun.
U stands for ultraviolet, one of many types of rays beaming through our atmosphere and penetrating (or attempting to) our outer covering.
P is for protection, which is a worthy goal if you spend lots of time in sun exposed areas or at high elevation hiking through alpine terrain.
F indicates factor, a nod to the rating system used to tell consumers how much protection they can expect from sun safe clothing.
When you pull it all together, UPF is your assurance as a hiker that you can stay out in the sun for certain periods of time and not get burned by the ultraviolet (UV) rays from sunlight.
This might put you in mind of the SPF (sun protection factor) rating system for sunscreen.
Not convinced that you need to protect yourself from the damaging effects (cellular damage, accelerated aging, cancer) of UV radiation?
Even hikers with darkly pigmented skin (lots of melanin) need to take precautions against excessive UV exposure.
Read this for all of the details about different types of ultraviolet radiation (some are less intense than others, meaning they don't penetrate as deeply into your skin).
Now let's take a look at some features of UPF sun protective clothing for hikers.
You might be thinking, "Wait, isn't all clothing protective against UV rays?"
And you would be right, to a certain extent.
Any fabric used for hiking attire will stop UV rays. But some are more effective at it.
That's why UPF sun protective clothing comes with a number attached: UPF 30, or 50, for example.
The higher the number, the more UV rays are blocked compared with non sun protective hiking clothing.
In addition, hiking clothing that is marketed as sun protective can have any or all of the following features:
So it makes sense that UPF sun protective clothing (UPF ~ 30 or higher) will cost more than your average T shirt and shorts (UPF ~ 6).
Folks put a lot of time into designing and manufacturing this hiking clothing to keep you covered yet ventilated and as cool as possible.
The answer depends on two things:
Darker skinned hikers can get away with lots of sun exposure without the risk of a sunburn because they have more melanin to fight off a burn.
Yet the UV rays have other, more sinister effects: DNA damage.
And that doesn't show up for decades.
Here's my (light skinned and risk averse) take on things:
Because I am deficient in melanin, the pigment that gives an umbrella-like protection to the DNA within my skin cells, I need help with UV protection.
Having "survived" yearly skin biopsies (several were pretty close calls, from the looks of things), I'm all about covering up while in the sunlight.
Additional incentive: My generation of women were encouraged to slather on baby oil and oily suntan lotions in pursuit of that marketing hype also known as a sun kissed glow.
YUCK!! Wish I knew then what I know now... but at least I can avoid further damage to my skin by wearing the right sun safe clothing.
Why take risks you don't need to take, right?
Here's the type of sun hat I prefer, for these reasons:
I use this type of shirt, carrying it in my pack as not only sun protective clothing but also as one of my ten essentials: extra clothing.
I love these features:
Here's the type of sun protective pants I prefer, and here's why:
Would hiking skirts be more appealing?
Or UPF hiking shorts?
Plus size UPF clothing recommendations can be found here.
And hiking umbrella information is right here for you!
I've recently been converted to the idea of wearing sun sleeves, like these.
Another trail accessory for hiking women: a trusty neck scarf like this one is also a great sun avoidance strategy.
I wear one of these pretty much year around, for different reasons.
But on hot sunny hikes, I'm all about the UV protection (UPF 50)!
Caution: You're going to want to wear one of these everywhere.
So keep one in your car, in your pack, and definitely bring one when you travel for covering up, warming up, and just looking good.
And by that, I mean it stands up to rocky abrasions as well as UV rays.
When you think about what to wear hiking, note that extra layers of protection against your skin are important when you hike in rugged, sun soaked terrain.
And the versatility of the items outlined above will give you added mileage (so to speak) out of them on the trail.
So think about your upcoming hiking plans, and then decide whether or not these types of UPF sun protective clothing are right for you.
And send any questions you have about UPF sun protective clothing my way!
And keep going on your quest for the best hiking clothing here
Happy UV Radiation Protection!
UPF Sun Protective Clothing
About the author
Diane is the founder of Hiking For Her.
She's been on a hiking trail somewhere in the world for 5+ decades & loves to share her best hiking tips right here.
All rights reserved.
Photo credits: All photos on this website were taken by David Midkiff or Diane Spicer except where noted.
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