While many of us try to recreate outside every day, the fact is that too much sun is bad for our skin and can lead to everything from sunburn to premature skin aging to skin cancer. One of the simplest and most effective ways to protect yourself from the sun’s harmful rays is with UPF clothing. Here’s some info so you’ll know what to wear for your next sunny day adventure.

Credit: Tim Peck

What UPF Is and Why You Want It

Ultraviolet Protection Factor (UPF) is a rating for how well textiles block ultraviolet (UV) radiation—the higher the UPF rating, the more protection a fabric will provide. To account for the various levels of protection, UPF clothing falls into three categories:

  • Good: 15-20
  • Very good: 25-39
  • Excellent: 40-50

While all clothes provide a level of sun protection (the average cotton tee has a UPF of about 5), for a manufacturer to claim a garment’s UPF rating they must have it lab-tested—and it is generally agreed upon that it’s best to select sun-protective clothing with a UPF rating of 30 or higher. In fact, a fabric must have a UPF of 30 to qualify for The Skin Cancer Foundation’s Seal of Recommendation.


The most obvious difference between UPF and SPF (or Sun Protection Factor) is that one applies to fabric and the other is for products applied directly on the skin, like sunscreen. The distinctions, however, go deeper than that:

  • UPF measures the amount of UV radiation blocked, while SPF is a measurement of how long just one type of the sun’s rays—UVB rays—will take to redden your skin, compared to the amount of time without sunscreen. For example, if you burn after a half-hour, an SPF 15 sunblock will keep you from reddening for 15 times longer than if you went without it.
  • The type of rays blocked is another notable distinction between UPF and SPF. Most SPF ratings—unless they’re broad spectrum—apply only to UVB rays, which affect the outer layer of skin. Conversely, UPF-rated fabrics protect against UVA rays, which can penetrate lower levels of the skin, as well as UVB rays.
Credit: Tim Peck

Why Choose UPF Clothes?

In addition to superior protection against all of the sun’s rays, there are a bunch of great reasons to incorporate UPF-rated clothes in your outdoor adventures.

  • Easy and effective: Perhaps the most compelling reason to choose UPF clothing is that sunscreen is most effective when applied correctly, which is something most people fail to do, and even those who get it right don’t reapply it often enough. UPF-rated clothes provide consistent protection and don’t require application.
  • Eliminates user error: Even those who use the right amount of sunscreen and reapply it regularly are susceptible to missing a spot or applying it unevenly, which isn’t an issue with UPF clothes.
  • No expiration date: Sunscreen expires after a set amount of time, while UPF-rated clothes provide sun protection for their entire life.
  • Can’t wash away: Whether you’re sweating on the sharp end of a Whitehorse classic like Standard Route or catching waves at Narragansett, sunscreen can wash away—but UPF clothing provides protection whether it’s wet or dry.
  • No greasy hands: The last thing you want when racking up at the base of your project or getting ready to tackle one of Acadia’s notorious ladder trails is greasy hands, and UPF-rated clothes put an end to messy sunscreen application.
  • Extra bug protection: During spring and summer especially, insects can be pesky when the sun drops below the horizon and you’re still out playing. That long-sleeve sun shirt with a hood that you wore to keep the rays off can do double duty protecting your skin from the annoying, biting critters.

If we haven’t convinced you yet, here’s one more reason to invest in UPF clothes: By age 70, one in five Americans will develop skin cancer. And as the Skin Cancer Foundation says, “sun-protective clothing is the simplest way to stay safe.”

Other Considerations

Choosing UPF-rated clothes is a great first step to having a safer summer, but there are some other factors to consider when choosing what UPF clothing to add to your kit.

  • Coverage: Look for articles that increase coverage for additional protection. For example, the extra head, neck, and face defense provided by a hood are one reason hooded sun shirts make so many of our must-have lists. The long sleeves that cover our arms are another bonus.
  • Loose fit: Stretched clothing can provide windows for the sun to sneak through a garment’s defenses, which makes choosing looser-fitting clothes a safer bet.
  • Lightweight and wicking: Presumably, UPF-rated clothes will see the most action in warm and sunny weather, so make sure to choose garments that breathe well and wick moisture away.
Credit: Tim Peck

Do You Still Need Sunscreen?

Even with UPF clothing, it still makes sense to keep sunscreen around, as UPF-rated clothing and sunscreen work best when used in unison. Sunscreen is a great backup to UPF-rated clothes and works well on the parts of the body that UPF-rated clothes are challenged to cover, like your face and the back of your hands.

Haven’t added a piece of UPF-rated clothes to your kit yet? Now’s the time! From spring skiing in Tuckerman Ravine to summer paddling off the coast of Cape Cod to sending multi-pitch moderates at Rumney on a nice fall day, UPF-rated gear is the go-to choice for sun protection.