The Best Sun Shirts for River Trips
Being on the river almost always means being exposed to the sun and elements for long periods. Boaters’ best protection is a solid sun shirt. They can keep you warm in a squall or cool through the heat of the day. Plus, these lightweight, breathable shields offer better sunblock than pasty mineral-based sunscreens (though you should wear some of that too!).
Many outdoor athletes in almost every genre of adventure from hiking to rock climbing, rafting to surfing, have turned to long-sleeved, often hooded, shirts as their top of choice. They’re so popular almost every outdoor clothing brand has an option. The toughest part is picking the one that’s right for you.
Our staff and guides spend countless hours wearing sun shirts. We thought we’d share a few of our favorites and the types of users who are likely to get the most out of them.
5 Sun Shirts That Won’t Let You Down After a Day on the River
Best for hardcore boaters
NRS Varial Hoodie ($75)
Created with recycled polyester and spandex fabric, the NRS Varial Hoody (men’s/women’s) is a little heavier than some of the other options. This weightiness lends to the durable feel of the river-centric sun hoody. Heavily sewn seams ensure that the stitching won’t blow out, even after hundreds of hours of use. The shirt’s design avoids seams under the shoulders to decrease friction when paddling. Built-in features include thumb loops and a neck/face gaiter with perforation that makes it easy to breath through and doesn’t leave you with a soggy face.
Best for the budget-challenged
Columbia PFG Terminal Tackle Hoodie ($40)
Built for long fishing days in full sun, the Terminal Tackle (men’s/women’s) is a basic lightweight hoodie that dries quickly and offers UPF50 protection. Keeping the features to a minimum (i.e. no thumb loops, no gaiters), the hoodie is one of the most affordable options available. The loose cut and large hood have a comfortable fit, perfect for a casual day on the river. Easy care means the shirt is machine washable and dryer friendly on a delicate setting. The only thing we weren’t fans of was the big logo on the sleeve.
Best technical performance
Columbia PFG Terminal Deflector ZERO Hoody ($75)
Among the lightest options we tried, Columbia’s Terminal Deflector (men’s/women’s) is obscenely breathable and dries the fastest of the sun shirts we used. Though not very stretchy, the lightweight fabric has a shiny coating that helps deflect heat, making it a solid choice for 100-degree days. A simple built-in gaiter keeps the sun off your face when on and tucks away comfortably when off. Thumb loops hold the sleeves close at hand.
Best for comfortable floating
Free Fly Bamboo Lightweight Hoody ($60)
Cozier than polyester, the bamboo blend of Free Fly’s Lightweight Hoody is soft enough for a newborn. With a casual cut and loose-fitting hood, this long-sleeve is comfortable and will keep the sun at bay, whether you’re on the river or at a summer ball game. Natural fibers tend not to be as breathable and don’t dry as quickly as synthetics, but they’re generally warmer or, when damp, can keep you cool longer. We found the chest pocket handy for small items that don’t fit in shorts. Free Fly’s Bamboo Shade Hoody is a similar option for women.
Best for multi-day rafting trips
tasc Performance Carrollton Lightweight Hoodie ($68)
Sewn together with a stretchy soft blend of cotton, bamboo and elastane, the tasc Carrollton Hoodie is a favorite among OARS guides in the Southwest. Wearable for days on end, tasc’s sun shirt is comfy on cool mornings and evenings and light and airy in the heat of midday. Though other cuts are available, we liked this non-gender specific long-sleeve option with thumb holes and hood. As a bonus, it’s coated with an antimicrobial, which helps keep the stink to a minimum on long trips.
Top photo: OARS rafting guide in a NRS sun shirt – Michael McSherry