Can Summer Clothing with UPF replace sunscreen lotions? – a test review with Outdoor Research

By Chris

Flip flops, bare skin, shorts, mountaineering in high altitudes and lots of gelatis. Summer!
What’s new on my pack list are summer clothings with UPF.

Unprotected skin under the sun can burn. It turns red just like when the lobster is done, it’s bright red. Sunburn is a reaction to the over-exposure of UV radiation, too much of it may result in skin cancer in the later years. It’s actually a topic nobody wants to talk about until you get the first signs of over-reaction.

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 A skin never forgets

I hate putting on sun lotion and I always take it for granted that I seldom get sunburn. And can therefore leave out the sun lotions.

You won’t find me (often) as one of those sardines lieing on the beach bbq-ing themselves red. But around and near the mountains! That makes me actually even more exposed to UV Rays when hiking, climbing in high altitudes and during my road trips!

The day came when big patches of brown pigments started showing up on my arms and back. I had some suspicious moles that were unshapely and strangely purple removed too. My brains started to tick. I had no intention of becoming another victim of skin cancer. And sought for solutions. Outdoor sports and an outdoor lifestyle is important for me, but having a healthy skin too!

There are two ways to prolong your fun-filled hours in the sun:

  • Keep putting on those sun screen lotions, or
  • with a layer of clothing with UPF.

We’ve heard and have been using the sunscreen lotion for generations, but what does clothings with UPF (Ultra Violet Protection Factor) really help? Is this just another marketing gag to make us spend more money?

I took a closer look at this topic with the help of Outdoor Research.

How does UPF work?

You can either pre-treat garments with UV-inhibiting properties during or after the manufacture of the garment or you weave a particular garment so dense that it blocks harmful UV rays from the skin. (Source: Wiki)

The colour of a material plays also a strong role in defining the amount of UV entering through the garment. We used to believe that the lighter the colour, the cooler it is and thus more UV rays are blocked, right?  Wrong!  It’s the other way around. The darker the colour, the more of those UV rays gets blocked. However, dark colours tend to capture a lot of warmth too ( imagine dark blue denim jeans and wearing them in 35°c !)

So the formula was to get dark colours together with breathable fabrics to make you feel comfortable in the heat. And to mummify yourself in them from head to toe = 100% protection.

Outdoor Research does not pre treat garments with UV inhibiting chemicals but instead use the right garns that prohibit the UV rays naturally. The weaving and density of a garment, as well as the colour plays an important factor to determine how high the UPF rating is for a particular garment.  Garments are then tested to the Standards of ASTM D 6603 and 6544 to ensure that consumer product safety standards are maintained.

Protected from head to toe

Functional clothing with Sun Protection

Forget the lotion! Forget feeling sticky in humid weather. Sun lotions can smell awful. Even the thought of applying sun lotion after a refreshing clean shower is disgusting.

The biggest dread is to reapply the lotion especially after sweating, or  by the stream, washing your face, etc over and over again. In the end, you feel like you’ve covered yourself with a liquified rubber layer that sticks all over. Yuck!

To overcome this problem, I took a plunge in changing the way I dress by only using sun protected clothings with UPF 50+ in summer.

The Womans Echo Tee (UPF 15++) or the Womans Octane Tee are thin and airy polyester mix t-shirts good for (trial) running, or hiking in hot weather.They kept me really cool in the greatest heat of the day. It was easy to slip in and feel that only a very thin layer was protecting you from the sun. With the comfortable AirVent™ fabric, the Echo Tee ventilated and wicked sweat extremely well. I never had a problem with the heat. Polygiene treatment ensures that odour won’t become a problem while you sweat. Small details like a pocket for keys are integrated in the t-shirt. The Octane Tee comes in extra with a heat shedding mesh at the underarms and back for super ventilation while you sweat. It is a wee bit thicker than the Echo but stayed comfortable in the heat too.

Outdoor Research

Staying cool with all the right UPF clothings from Outdoor Research (Echo Tee and Sun Sleeves)

You wear the protector sun sleeves (UPF 50+) like gloves. You slip them on the arms and these sleeves holds up on the upper arm with a thin silica. They are so exceptionally thin, it was easy to wear them without fearing that the blood would stop circulating in your limbs. I’ve seen them often on cyclists and golfers, so wouldn’t it be good for hiking too? I loved getting them on and off  without having to take off anything else.

By combining both the UPF T-shirts with these sun sleeves, I created for myself a set of clothing which acts like a sweatshirt but is light, yet flexible enough to be taken off whenever you please. It works just like the zip off pants.

The Solar Roller Hat (UPF 50++) added a touch of blue into my life. It’s wide 7.5 cm brim protected my face completely from the sun. I was surprised how thin the top of the hat was. This made it extremely comfortable and cool especially in hot weather. The drawcord keeps the hat on the head when the wind blows. The only thing that bothered me was my pony tail under the hat. I had to settle for a different hair style so as not to keep the blob pressing behind my head.

Sun Roller Hat

My favourite sweater this summer was the Ensenada Sun Hoody (UPF 50+). It looked a lot thicker than it really is, and the material is light and snugly. Smart zipper pockets at the side allows you to stuff in important belongings you want to bring along without fearing that it would fall out, the two rubber loops at the thumb allows you to keep the sleeves over the wrists. I kept it on all the time during a 45 minute access to a crag in summer. And didn’t think about taking it off to have better ventilation.

Ensenada Sun Hoody

I was sceptical about using the soft shell Ferrosi Capris (UPF 50+) in the beginning. Would it survive sharp rocks and thorny bushes you encounter on a climbing day? It was great pair of capris to wear during the access or during hikes. It was stretchy and very light, and flexible enough to stretch as you move.  After a few climbs, I found it a wonderful change to have something not clinging on the skin in hot weather. It’s breathable and wind-resistant at the same time. The thin waist band makes it pleasant to wear under the harness. If you don’t do knee-bars all the time and roll yourself around in the bushes, chances are better that they don’t “scratch” so quickly.

Keeping the right dress code is important, like matching tanks to fit the climbing shoes. ;-) My new sexy Nuance Tank was a good tank to wear below the UPF sweats and tees (it has no UPF!). It kept everything in place and was a great tank to wear too when you’re ready for a beer.

The Ferrosi Capri and Nuance Tank in action

These clothing comes in a range of modern, cheerful and earthy colours. It makes more fun combining your wardrobe with different colours instead of just the usual grey.


After every sport activity, my functional clothings lands in the washing machine. Unless I don’t have the possibility to wash, I love them smelling fresh. It is recommended to have them washed in 30°c cold water without softener. If there was a little deformation at the seams (incase someone decides to make a wash for you and sets it to  40°c) , you can pull them back to shape. Voila, all’s fresh and clean and ready for the next adventure.

The bottom line

What I treasured most in all these clothing is the fact that they were breathable, quick drying and light – perfect for summer. But most importantly, they gave me the highest protection for my skin  when I’m outdoors. After a whole day out in the summer sun, I came home without a sunburn. The processing for each of these garments are of high quality. It was fun to use them – they don’t fail on you on shape, smell or functionality. I love how they integrate useful little functional details (pockets, zippers, mesh for more ventilation)  in these garments.

So yes after weeks on the trials in summer with my new protection, I can say… leave the sun lotion at home. The sun protected apparel can replace the usage of sun lotions, of course logically only to the extend of where you are covered. Areas exposed to the sun will still need sun screen lotions. UPF and functional garments are not cheap. But if they do my skin good and helps to extend my stay in the sun without getting burned, they are worth the cash.

It’s nice to be able to focus a little more on your activity, and enjoy the summer without feeling sticky. Thank you, Outdoor Research!

What are your experiences with outdoor clothings with UPF ? Or are you still using the sun lotion? :-) 

Outdoor research, the outdoor company

Outdoor Research is a company originating from Seattle. The story started off in the 80-ties with a pair of gaiters that made an expedition fail. That challenged Ron Gregg to build an even better one on his own. With the X-Gaiter, Outdoor Research was born and focused in the following years on developing functional products for outdoor enthusiasts, ranging from accessories to apparel from head to toe. With the Lab Rat Program that was launched in 2003, communication and feedback from users of the brand mirrors what the products are today. Their Motto: “Designed by Adventure”

*Disclosure: I was not financially compensated for this post. I received a sample for review purposes. The opinions are completely my own based on my experience.