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Best UPF Sun Protective Clothing
For Hiking

By Diane Spicer

Choose the best UPF sun protective clothing for hiking with Hiking For Her tips. #sunprotection #hikingclothing #UPFclothing #hikingforher

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 should be mindful of how much sun exposure occurs on every hike.

However, there are a few things to think about before deciding whether or not UPF sun protective clothing is right for you.

And you'll want tips on how to choose only the best.

First, let's define that UPF thing, shall we?

Not in the mood for definitions?

Skip down here for recommendations.

UPF means what?

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.

So what does UPF mean for hikers?

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.

  • For a few notes on safe sunscreen for hikers, read this.

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.

Sun safe clothing -
here is what to look for

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:

  • made from fabric rated for its effectiveness at excluding UV rays (weave structure, threads per inch);
  • pre-treatment with UV-inhibiting substances such as dyes and chemicals;
  • designed for comfortable full coverage of body areas exposed to sunlight while hiking;
  • moisture wicking and ventilation properties, allowing perspiration to exit the clothing without being trapped against the skin (to enhance the cooling effect of sweat);
  • antimicrobial properties to slow down the smell that sweat develops after contact with skin microbes.

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.

Do you really need
UPF sun protective clothing on your next hike?

The answer depends on two things:

  • The pigmentation level of your skin
  • Your risk avoidance preferences

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.

  • Sunscreen (SPF at least 30) works on the parts of my body that can't be covered with clothing: ears, face, upper neck.
  • But I rely upon UPF hiking clothing to keep UV rays away from my neck, arms, torso, and legs as an extra insurance policy against premature aging and skin cancer.

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?

Best types of UPF sun protective
clothing for women hikers

Female hiker wearing full coverage sun hat and long sleeve UPF sun protective hiking shirt, seated on a rocky outcrop with mountains in background

Here's the type of sun hat I prefer, for these reasons:

  • It's ventilated so my head doesn't cook.
  • It's a light color.
  • It has a tether so I can let the hat ride on my back without worrying about where it went.
  • The headband sops up my sweat, sparing my eyes from the stinging experience of sunscreen + salt.
  • There's a cute little toggle on the back, meaning you can adjust it to your hairstyle (or lack thereof on a backpacking trip) for a "just right" fit.
  • The back brim is short and won't bump against the top of my backpack while the front brim is generous enough to shade my face.
  • The price point is very reasonable: I can throw it in the washing machine without worrying that if something bad happens to it I won't be able to replace it.

Best UPF sun protective clothing:
shirts to wear on sunny trails

I use this type of sun 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:

  • The sleeves can be rolled up and secured, giving you the versatility of short or long sleeves.
  • You can knot the "tails" of the shirt at your waist to make a shorter, ventilated shirt.
  • The collar is adjustable: stand it up for full sun coverage, or fold it down for less.
  • The shoulders don't have seams. This is really important if you are wearing a backpack, because it avoids rubbing and the possibility of chafing or bruising.
  • There are several mesh lined vents, so this shirt covers me up but allows my body heat to get away from my skin. The paradox: I feel cooler on the trail in this long sleeved shirt than in a cotton T shirt.
  • UPF rating of 50! That means only 1 in 50 UV rays will penetrate the fabric, reaching my melanin challenged skin.
  • The fabric provides a bit of stretch, so the shirt moves with me as I reach for a huckleberry along the trail, or bend over to tie my boot.
Female hiker balancing a rock above her shouldersLook how strong this shirt makes you!

Best UPF sun protective clothing choices
in hiking pants

Here's the type of sun protective hiking pants I prefer, and here's why:

  • UPF 50, which is a way to keep UV rays off my legs all day long. Did you know that sun cancer shows up quite often on the backs of female hikers' legs?
  • Convertible pants give me freedom to take my boots on and off without taking off the pants. The zip off legs are a great way to convert to shorts when I get overheated on an uphill stretch of trail, or when lounging around base camp in the shade.
  • These pants are water repellent and dry really fast, so if I splash through a stream or have to tackle a river crossing I don't mind getting them wet.
  • The fit is relaxed (including elastic at the back of the waistband), compared to several other brands. In my opinion, hiking pants need mobility as well as coverage, so these pants are the real deal for me.
  • Sizes 2 - 16, and plus sizes, so chances are you'll find the right fit.
  • And get this: they come in petite lengths, too! (Lucky me: melanin challenged and short, too.
Female hiker wearing sun hat, hiking pants and sleeveless shirt

Not a fan of hiking pants?

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!

  • Create your own shade :)

UPF sun protective
hiking clothing accessories
for stylin' women hikers

I've recently been converted to the idea of wearing sun sleeves, like these.


  • Sometimes I need the freedom and ventilation of a sleeveless hiking shirt, but still want UV protection (UPF 50) for my arms.
  • They wick my sweat away from my skin, and are machine (or stream) washable.
  • Thumb holes allow me to keep a good grip on my trekking poles.
  • I also use these on cool days when I want to warm up my arms without putting on a jacket.
  • And they just look cool!!

Another sun blocking trail accessory

How about a trusty neck scarf like this one? It's 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.

UPF sun protective clothing rocks!

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 keep going on your quest for the best hiking clothing here

Happy UV Radiation Protection!

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UPF Sun Protective Clothing