Essential Sun Protection Tips For Hikers

As someone who spends a lot of time outside, especially during the summer months, I have become adamant about protecting my skin from the sun.

I wasn’t always this way, though. In my 20s, I was a little careless about applying sunscreen and covering my skin up with UV-protective clothing. As a result, I now have a lot of sunspots on my face that could have been prevented had I been more vigilant about sun protection.

What’s more, not that long ago, my mom had some skin cancer on her nose removed and I also had a friend in her 30s who experienced a melanoma scare. Suffice to say, all of this has been a wake-up call for me to take better care of my skin as I age.

Now, whenever I head out for a hike or spend a lot of time outdoors, I make sure to cover up with a UV protective sun shirt, a hat, and sunscreen and take other measures to protect my skin from sun damage.

In this post, I share all my best tips on sun protection for hikers including our favorite UV-protective gear, clothing items, and how to keep your skin safe while outside

Wear a Hiking Shirt with UPF

When choosing the best sun protection shirts, opt for t-shirts that cover your chest, back, and shoulders rather than tank tops that expose more of your skin. These days, I usually opt for long-sleeves as it minimizes the amount of sunscreen I have to wear. I always look for lightweight, breathable, moisture wicking materials that will keep me cool even on hot days. Here are a few of my favorites that have a high UPF rating. For more recommendations and details, check out my roundup on the Best Sun Protection Shirts for Hiking.

  • Patagonia Capilene Cool Daily Hoody: This long-sleeved Patagonia tee (men’s version here) is made out of fast-drying and moisture-wicking Capilene with built-in UPF 50+ sun protection. I can wear these for days when I’m on the road without them stinking and own them in a bunch of different colors. It’s super lightweight, so even though it’s long sleeve it will keep you cool in warm weather. It also comes in a non-hooded version.
  • Outdoor Research Astroman Shirt: This long-sleeve Outdoor Research Astroman shirt (men’s version here) is perfect for a sunny day of hiking. It’s the lightest-weight sun shirt I own and is rated for UPF 30-50 sun protection. With the button up, it doesn’t scream “hiking shirt” and can it is moisture-wicking and lightweight, making it a great UV sun protective option for the trail.
  • REI Co-op Sahara Shade Hoodie: The REI Sahara Shade Hoodie (men’s version here) offers UPF 50, offers more neck coverage than the two above, and also has thumb holes so you can cover the tops of your hands. I wore this almost everyday when I was on Maui, and I stayed comfortable even in the muggy climate.
Female hiker standing on trail near Lake Louise, BC for photo with barren, rocky, and snow-covered peaks as backdrop
Wearing the Patagonia Capilene Cool Long Sleeve Hoody on a hike during our BC Icefields Parkway road trip
Woman smiles on Maui on the Kapalua Coastal Trail. She's wearing REI Sahara Shade Hoodie and Nani Swimwear Explorer Shorts
Wearing the REI Sahara Shade Hoody on Maui

Wear a Wide Brimmed Hat

Sun hats are a great way to protect your face and neck from the sun while keeping your head cool. When choosing a sun hat, look for ones with a full brim that provides protection all around including the sides of your face and back of your neck.

The Wallaroo Sedona hat is my all-time favorite wide-brimmed hat. It provides a good amount of sun protection, and it’s cute too. I like that it’s not too floppy so it doesn’t get in the way of my vision, and it also has a drawstring in the brim that allows you to tighten the hat if it gets windy on the trail. *DISCOUNT CODE: get 20% off Wallaroo hats with code BEARFOOT20

Portait photo of woman wearing sun hat and hiking apparel with setting sun in the background

If you want something more packable, a good old bucket hat works great. Alternatively, a baseball-style cap works in a pinch, and I especially like them for backpacking since there’s no back brim to rub up against your pack. Need more recommendations? Check out our post on Best Hiking Hats for Women.

Lather Up with Sunscreen

In addition to protecting your skin with clothing and a hat while you hike, it’s also important to apply sunscreen whenever you go outside. I always go with a paraben-free sunscreen to avoid harmful chemicals.

If you’re going for a longer hike, bring a small bottle of sunscreen with you so you can reapply as needed. It’s easy to find that you’ve been out the whole day and only put sunscreen on once in the morning, so remind yourself to reapply.

Don’t forget your lips! There’s nothing worse than burnt, cracked, and bloody lips after a hike. My go-to is Jack Black Lip Balm with SPF 25. I’ve been using it for years, and it lasts so much longer than other lip balms I’ve tried.

Wear these Sun Protection Accessories

You should always wear sunglasses when you hike to protect your eyes. While I don’t always follow this advice, but wearing the wrap around shades covers the sides of your eyes.

I always wear a Buff to cover my neck. It also can be used to cover your mouth and nose if it’s dusty out or can even double as a headband.

a closeup of Bearfoot Theory founder Kristen Bor on a desert hike
I use a Buff to covers up my neck

Stay Hydrated

Staying hydrated is always important but especially if you’re out hiking in the heat. Being out in the hot sun makes you more prone to heat exhaustion and dehydration. Bring lots of water, electrolytes, and some salty hiking snacks so you stay hydrated.

Kristen Bor hiking on Italy's Cinque Terre Trail wearing the Patagonia Cool Capilene daily hiking shirt
I always hike with a hydration reservoir in my backpack so I can drink from the hose without taking my pack off

Additional Tips for your Hike

To further protect your skin from the sun while hiking, here are a few additional tips:

  • Hike early in the day: Hike early in the morning or early in the evening to avoid peak sun intensity and heat. You’ll stay much cooler
  • Check the weather: For long hikes, check ahead weather of time to see how hot it’s going to be so you can cover up appropriately. Also, research whether there is shade along the trail or whether you’ll be completely exposed so you can be prepared.
  • Pick a shady trail: If possible, pick a shady trail if you’re going to be hiking midday or if it’s going to be particularly hot.
  • Take breaks in the shade: This sun protection tip is pretty obvious, but it really is helpful to take rest and water breaks in the shade. You’ll be surprised how much a few minutes in the shade will help you cool off.
Woman hiking down forested trail next to a river wearing sun protective clothing
Woman hiking away from camera on trail looking out over a lake and mountains

Understand the environmental conditions

Certain conditions like high altitude or reflection off of snow can increase the need for added sun protection. If you’ll be hiking at a high elevation, be sure to protect your skin with long sleeves and sunscreen.

If you’re hiking in snow, the sun reflects off of the snow and can burn you in places you never thought possible, like the bottom of your nostrils. Wear wrap around shades so the sun doesn’t reflect off the snow into your eyes, and reapply sunscreen to your face throughout your hike. Don’t miss the bottom of your nose

The sun is more intense on high altitude hikes where you’ll want to take your sun protection seriously.

Frequently Asked Questions

Does UPF Clothing really work?

Yes! UPF stands for Ultraviolet Protection Factor, and the rating determines how much UV light is able to get through the fabric. All of the sun protection shirts I recommend in this post have a UPF rating of 50, which means that 1/50th or 2% of the UV radiation can penetrate the shirt. In comparison, cotton has a UPF between 5-15, which on the lower end allows 20% of the radiation to reach your skin.

What SPF sunscreen should I wear while hiking?

The Skin Cancer Foundation recommends that you wear broad spectrum sunscreen with SPF of 30 or higher when you’re doing outdoor activities. I typically wear SPF 30 and reapply at least once during my hike. If I’m at high altitude, on the water, or on snow, where the sun is reflected, I will reapply more frequently. If you are wearing UPF clothing, you don’t need to apply sunscreen underneath.

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Do you have any other suggestions or questions on sun protection for hiking or an experience you’d like to share? Let me know in the comments below!

The post Essential Sun Protection Tips For Hikers appeared first on Bearfoot Theory.

  • May 7, 2024