The Ultimate Guide To Sun-Protection Clothing

A close up on a man wearing a UPF protective shirt and picking through his fly box.

We Live In The Sun, And We Know You Do, Too.

But getting out there safely is key for a great experience. Yes, we’re talking about sun protection, because what you wear to shield yourself from the sun is often your only defense against harmful UVA and UVB radiation, and a plain old shirt just won’t cut it. Sun-protection clothing—clothing with built-in UPF protection—is what you need when you’re spending long days in harsh rays.

With this in mind, we put together a handy guide that covers UPF clothing and why it’s the coolest (and smartest) stuff under the sun.

Here’s What We’ll Cover:

• What’s UPF?

• What’s UPF Clothing?

• Which UPF Clothing Is Right For Me?

Two anglers stand in the ocean, silhouetted by bright sunlight.

What’s UPF Anyway?

It’s not the heat, it’s the radiation.

Spend just a few seconds under the sun and you can feel its power radiate. But it’s what you can’t feel (or see) that causes the real problems: ultraviolet rays—these are rays that can blast right through fabric and damage your skin. There are different kinds of UV rays, and for you science types, you can read more about them further down this page.

Who’s affected by UV radiation?

We all are, but those of us who live closer to the equator, at higher elevations, or spend lots of time on reflective surfaces like snow and water run a higher risk of getting skin damage or even skin cancer from UV radiation.

Protecting yourself from UV radiation starts with three letters: UPF.

They stand for Ultraviolet Protection Factor and are a rating as to how much protection a garment provides against ultraviolet rays. So, get out there and enjoy those sunny days, but enjoy them in the comfort and protection of UPF clothing.

A man wearing UPF clothing stands in a cavern while a woman climbs the rocks.

What Exactly Is UPF Clothing?

Always wear your sunblock.

Imagine going outside under a blazing sun, not applying (and re-applying) sunblock and yet you’re still protected from harmful UV rays. It’s not a dream. It’s UPF clothing—technical apparel that has been engineered to effectively prevent UV rays from reaching your skin.

And that’s just the beginning.

Orvis sun protection clothing breathes to keep you cool, it’s constructed from soft performance blends that feel great against your skin, it wicks moisture, blocks odors, and can even resist wrinkles! And above all, it’s super easy to care for: wash, dry, and wear.

Get out there in comfort.

Now, we’re not saying we’re going to put an end to a need for traditional sunblock—but we are saying that for those of us who love getting out and being active under a blazing sun, there’s a cool-wearing, comfortable solution.

Orvis UPF Clothing Has You Covered

Take a closer look at our lineup of sun protection clothing, so you can get outside and stay outside longer.

UPF Rating Level of Protection Radiation blocked Orvis SHIRTS
30 Good 96.7% River Guide 2.0
40 Better 97.5% Open Air Caster, Tech Chambray Work Shirt
50+ Best 98% DriCast™, Sun Defense, Orvis PRO Sun, Orvis PRO Stretch

Explore Orvis UPF Clothing

A man wearing UPF clothing and accessories

Which UPF Clothing Is Right For Me?

Where are you going and what are you doing when you get there?

Answer those two questions and you’re on your way to determining the best UPF clothing you need. Heading off on a bucket-list hiking trip in Costa Rica? Pack a River Guide 2.0 or a Tech Chambray Work Shirt. Going for a saltwater grand slam on the flats of Belize? Then go for DriCast™ or Orvis PRO.

Regardless of your destination or activity, you’ll find UPF clothing for every adventure out there.

An angler wearing UPF clothing, hat, and sunglasses.

Get Complete UPF Protection Out There

Accessorize for the sun.

Staying fully protected from UV rays can require more than just UPF clothing. If you’re making plans to play in the rays, don’t forget these:

  • A broad-brimmed hat to provide 360-degree protection in the sun
  • UV-blocking sunglasses in a wraparound style to protect your eyes
  • Sunscreen with an SPF of 15 to 50 applied to all exposed skin
  • Common Sense: Seek the shade as often as possible whenever you’re outdoors


As these are the most common questions asked about UPF clothing, we put them all in one place, so you can get smart about staying smart in the sun.

Shop Orvis Sun Protection

Understanding a few basic but important terms is essential to understanding modern UPF clothing made from textiles steeped in science:

  • UPF stands for Ultraviolet Protection Factor and refers to the amount of the sun’s ultraviolet (UV) rays—invisible to us—that can penetrate fabric to reach the skin.
  • Ultraviolet (UV) Radiation is an invisible form of energy that comes from the sun; it passes through some materials. Small amounts of UV radiation are beneficial for people and essential for the production of vitamin D. Under a doctor’s supervision it can also help treat some diseases.
  • UVA radiation penetrates deeper into the skin than UVB and is thought to contribute to sunburn, skin cancers, and photoaging. UVA rays can also penetrate glass, for example, your car’s windows.
  • UVB radiation is the type of radiation chiefly associated with sunburn.
  • SPF stands for Sun Protection Factor and is a rating system for sunscreen, cosmetics, and other products that contain sunscreen. The SPF indicates how long you can stay in the sun before you can expect your skin to burn.

No, UPF and SPF are different. The UPF rating is for clothing and the SPF rating is for lotion and other cosmetic products. The UPF rating is applied to textiles that protect your skin from the sun. And while the two are similar, the SPF rating used for cosmetics and sunscreens measures only how much UVB is blocked, but not UVA (unless it is labeled “broad spectrum”). UPF clothing blocks both types of radiation.

If your unprotected skin typically starts burning after 20 minutes, sunscreen with an SPF of 15 would give you 15 times that, or five additional hours. The UPF rating works differently; a garment with a UPF of 50 allows 1/50th of the sun’s ultraviolet radiation, or about two percent of it, to reach the skin through the fabric. By way of comparison, an ordinary white T-shirt has a UPF of 5, so it allows 1/5 (or 20 percent), of the sun’s UV radiation to reach the skin.

The UPF rating system was developed in 1994; In the USA, the American Association of Textile Chemists and Colorists (AATCC) Text Method 183 sets the standard for UPF testing. The ASTM D6544 plays a role in making sure UPF garments retain their sun protection properties throughout the life of the garment.

UPF clothing works to protect your skin by converting UV energy to heat, making it harmless. It does this by blocking or absorbing the UV rays.

  • Clothing with a UPF designation on its label has been tested and deemed to protect its wearer from UVA and UVB radiation, as long as it has a rating of 15 or higher; in some cases, it may also have been treated with colorless dyes or chemical UV absorbers that block both UVA and UVB rays. The UPF rating is based on a fabric’s content, weight, color, and construction. But a fabric does not have to be labeled as such to provide UV protection.

UV radiation can damage your skin in as few as 15 minutes, so wearing clothing to protect yourself should always be your number-one priority when out in the sun. Prolonged exposure to UV radiation has dramatic health effects on the skin, the eyes, and the immune system:

  • The most immediately visible expression of these is sunburn (erythema), followed by premature aging (photoaging) with repeated exposure to the sun—damage that adds up over your lifetime.
  • The most serious consequence is skin cancer, with 66,000 deaths worldwide attributed annually to melanoma and other skin cancers.
  • Additionally, prolonged sun exposure has been linked to cataracts, the clouding of the lens of the eye that can lead to blindness.

Children are an especially vulnerable population: the Centers for Disease Control reports that a few serious sunburns obtained during childhood increase a child’s risk for developing skin cancer later in life.

There is wide agreement among dermatologists that UPF clothing works, and actually delivers more effective protection from the sun, and more reliably, than other means. But the amount of coverage is key, and the more skin you cover, the better protection you can expect: a long-sleeved shirt is better than a short-sleeved one, and pants are better than shorts.

Fair-skinned people stand to benefit the most from UPF clothing, but any skin type will benefit from it at least some. Ratings are scaled as follows:

  • 15 to 24—Good
  • 25 to 39—Very Good
  • 40 to 50—Excellent

It’s best to choose clothing with a UPF rating of 30 or higher; UPF 50 blocks 98 percent of UV radiation. And unlike sunscreen, UPF clothing works indefinitely—there is nothing to reapply for continued protection.

All clothing protects your skin from harmful UV radiation to some extent, and clothing is generally the best means of protection. Beyond clothing that bears a specific UPF label, look for these benchmarks.

Material Synthetics top the list for protection from UV radiation. Nylon offers highly effective protection, and both wool and silk are moderately effective. Cotton, rayon, flax, and hemp are less effective unless they have been chemically treated. The most protective cotton is unbleached or naturally colored. But untreated denim can provide superior protection, with a UPF value of 1700, meaning only 1/1700th of the sun’s ultraviolet radiation penetrates it.

  • Colors that absorb UV radiation help reduce exposure to it. Dark colors are effective, but reds and other brights can absorb UV rays, too—the more vivid the color, the better it protects. Lighter colors can block UV radiation if the material’s weave is tight enough or it is chemically treated.
  • High concentrations of premium dyes are used in some UPF-labeled clothing; typically, the higher the concentration of the dyes, the darker the material. Also, look to pigment-dyed fabrics for UV protection—these are textiles colored with a process that chemically binds the color to the material’s fibers.
  • Tighter weaves are usually better UV blockers. You can get some idea of the effectiveness of a garment’s weave by holding it up to the light, but weave should not be the only yardstick to measure a textile’s UPF properties: the human eye can detect light, but it can’t see ultraviolet rays—even a tight weave can be breached by UV radiation.
  • Keep it dry: While wet fabric can lose up to 50 percent of its UPF effectiveness for reasons not completely known, Orvis offers a selection of UPF clothing that retain UPF 50+ even when wet, including DriCast™ and Orvis PRO Sun. Faded fabrics are also less effective UV barriers. Choose quick-drying clothing for fun in the sun.

Choosing a garment with a UPF label ultimately takes the guesswork out of measuring whether it effectively blocks or absorbs UV rays, as its material will have been tested in a laboratory. And UPF-labeled garments now come in a wide range of colors and weights.

Quick Tips:

Wash natural fiber clothing several times to maximize shrinkage of the “holes” in the weave.

  • Weight—The heavier the better when it comes to UV protection. And while you may not consider this ideal if you are bound for the beach, ventilation holes are added to some UPF clothing for improved air circulation and comfort.
  • Elasticity—Stretchy clothing provides less protection than clothing without stretch because the weave expands when the material stretches. The correct fit is especially important in stretch clothing.

Wash your clothing with a UPF detergent additive or an optical brightening agent, which will enhance its natural UPF properties.