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Sustainable Sun Hoodies: Protect Your Delicate Epidermis on Your Next Adventure

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A woman strikes a silly pose. She is wearing a sun hoody and a backpack in front of Mountains in California.

If there’s one thing I have in common with thru-hikers (there’s way more than one…) it’s the dress code for summer hiking: teeny tiny shorts on the bottom and full-coverage up top. Yup, when it’s sunny outside, even when it’s hot, you better believe I’m protecting my delicate epidermis with a sustainable sun hoody.

I mean, who wants to stop every hour to slather more sunscreen up and down their arms, neck, and chest, am I right? And who wants to carry that much sunscreen on a backpacking trip? Not me; I’m an ultralighter. So yeah, you’re waaaay more likely to catch me in full sleeves and a hood when it’s hot outside than a tank top (at least when I’m hiking, biking, or trail running for more than an hour). But not all sun hoodies are created equal. Some are created more equal than others. Fortunately, we found four solid, sustainable sun hoodies for all kinds of outdoor activities so you can wander without getting sunburned.

Backpacking rim to rim at Grand Canyon National Park
My first flirtatious backpacking trip in the Grand Canyon with my dad’s sun shirt.

Why Sustainable Sun Hoodies Are So Great

Not sure sun shirts are for you? I didn’t think so either for a while. In fact, rarely wore anything but a tank top on warm hikes for years. But then I went on a rim-to-rim backpacking trip across the Grand Canyon in July and changed my time. Despite applying sunscreen liberally and regularly, by the end of a long first day (of three), my arms were warm, tingly, and very pink.

I’d read too many articles about sunburn and skin cancer, and my dad has had a few pre-cancerous spots removed, so I freaked out and begged my dad to let me wear one of his long-sleeve tech shirts that he brought (and never wore) for the rest of the trip. As soon as I pulled it on the next morning, I felt relieved and protected. And honestly, not nearly as hot as I thought I would. In fact, long sleeves made every dip I took in a shallow stream to soak my clothes and cool down so much more refreshing for so much longer as the water took longer to evaporate than it would have on bare skin.

Now, it’s as much about protecting myself from skin cancer as it is protecting myself from premature aging, lol. Plus, I’ve found a hoodie paired with a lightweight cap is more comfortable than a hoodless shirt with a bandana, and often even a wide-brimmed hat (a piece of gear I still absolutely love). So more often than not, my uniform when I head out on long sunny hikes is a ball cap, breathable sun hoody, and a teeny bottle of sunscreen. For my sandaled feet, obviously.

4 Sustainable Sun Hoodies

A woman smiles at the sun in a Mammut Selun FL Sun Hoody.

Mammut Selun FL Sun Hoody: The Cool Weather One

When I donned this hoodie for a sunny but cool spring hike in the mountains, I knew I couldn’t have picked a better sun hoody. Not only did it keep me protected from harmful UV rays on a shadeless trail, but the fabric is heavier, there’s extra material at the neck for added warmth and wind protection, and the dark color helped soak up the sun and keep me from getting cold (there’re also lighter colors available). All that (coupled with the fact that the material is a bit less breathable than some other options we’ve tested, are a few reasons I think this hoodie is likely more suitable for cooler weather outdoor pursuits that sweaty summer activities.

It features UPF 50+ sun protection, HeiQ order technology to reduce stink (though honestly it doesn’t seem to work that well–my shirt smelled after just one not-very-sweaty hike), and thumb loops. The fabric feels a bit heavier than the others on this list and has a sort of slinky, satiny feel to it. It also fits a bit on the loose side, so keep that in mind.

The hood wasn’t as fitted or super high volume, so those wearing it with pony tails or similar might experience issues. But it’s a highly sustainable hoody that could be an excellent option for cold weather as a base layer under a puffy jacket or some such.

How it’s sustainable: It’s made of 100% recycled materials, is solution dyed (which uses up to 90% less chemicals, reduces water use by up to 85%, and emissions by up to 12%), and is a Bluesign and FairWear product.

Sizes Available: This one only comes in 3 colors for women and 3 for men, and is available in sizes XS-XL for women and S-XXL for men.

A man stands in front of mountains in the Cotopaxi Sombra Sun Hoodie.

Cotopaxi Sombra Sun Hoodie: The Easy Breezy One

I was actually a bit surprised to discover that this was my favorite synthetic sun hoodie of the bunch. And I say that because 1.) Cotopaxi clothing tends to run large and not fit me very well, and 2.) the hem is pretty short, which I don’t tend to like in a sun shirt.

But lo and behold, I didn’t care about any of that. The looser fit and shorter hem actually made it more comfortable to wear on hot days because it felt breezier. But that actually wasn’t the shirt’s top selling point; it was the fabric. It’s kind of textured and super breathable, but also feels much softer and less plastic on your skin than a lot of sun shirts can. Which means it didn’t stick to mildly sweaty skin and felt much nicer to wear than many of the options I’ve worn in the past.

I also appreciated the thumb holes, roomy hood that offered the perfect amount of semi-fitted protection that always stayed put, and though I didn’t use it for much since I always hike in shorts or pants with plenty of pockets, the small zippered pocket on the back is a nice touch and a good place to store maybe lip balm or a gel packet. There’s also a non-hooded version available.

It’s lightweight, offers UPF 50+ protection, and is treated with Polegeine anti-order tech so it doesn’t stink quite as much and you don’t have to wash it after every use. It also feels durable and like it will last for plenty of seasons of outdoor fun. It’s honestly my new favorite hoodie where comfort is concerned.

How it’s sustainable: Made of 100% recycled polyester. Cotopaxi is also committed to ethical and sustainable manufacturing and transparent about their progress.

Sizes Available: This one comes in 4 colors for women and 5 for men, and is available in sizes XS-XL for women and S-XXL for men.

A woman wears a Helly Hansen Lifa Active Solen Graphic.

Helly Hansen Lifa Active Solen Graphic: The Fun One

We first tested a Helly Hansen Lifa Active Soles long sleeve shirt a few years ago and I was a fan, particularly because the fabric didn’t feel plasticky, it breathed tolerably well, and it felt ultra protective. It’s UPF 50+ rated, in fact. It doesn’t have thumb holes, but the hood is nice and fitted, as it the rest of the shirt. More so than any of the others on this list. But not so snug as to be clingy or uncomfortable.

In fact, while the fabric feels a bit heavier and it certainly thicker, it feels quite soft on the skin and it surprisingly breathable. That said, it is perhaps best suited for cool to warm temps. Truly hot or humid days may leave you feeling a bit smothered, though I’ve always enjoyed the shirt during water-based activities like kayaking where I could soak it and let the material absorb more water to keep me cool.

It utilizes more natural odor protection by way of S. Café odor-resistant tech (which is made from coffee grounds), and is available in several fun patterns in addition to solid colors and a hoodless version.

How it’s sustainable: It’s only made of 60% recycled polyester, so not the most ultra sustainable material makeup, but those materials are from ocean-bound plastic and the shirt is Bluesign approved.

Sizes Available: This one comes in 3 colors and patterns for women and 2 for men, and is available in sizes XS-XL for women and S-XXL for men.

A woman on a bike wears the Freefly Bamboo Lightweight Long Sleeve.

Freefly Bamboo Lightweight Long Sleeve: The Natural One

If you’re looking for something that features more natural fibers, but aren’t interested in wool (because you’re vegan like we are or whatever other reason), take a peek at the Freefly Bamboo shirt. This is by far the most breathable and comfortable shirt we tested, but also not the most technical. Meaning it won’t perform as well for sweaty, high-output pursuits simply because it won’t wick moisture as well or dry as quickly. But for day hikes, afternoon mountain bike excursions, and afternoons in the park, it’ll do just fine (and look less like you’re planning to summit a mountain later).

It’s soft to the touch, super duper lightweight, feels nice on skin, and it monumentally breathable, making it great for warm, sunny days. It’s not super fitted, but we like that about it, honestly. And the cut is such that it still doesn’t look frumpy. It does only offer UPF 20+ protection, but since it’s still covering your skin, it’s still performing better than a T-shirt. And though the imagery on the brand website might have you believing the shirt is only for anglers, it’s not.

It’s made of 70% viscose from Bamboo and 30% Polyester, so it still retains some moisture-wicking properties while being naturally odor resistant. Basically, this is a shirt for when you don’t need all the over-built performance qualities of more extreme (and expensive) outdoor clothing. It’s also available in a hoodless version. I wore this shirt on a warm day of mountain biking and loved that I didn’t feel like I had to peel it off immediately after returning to the parking lot. It was comfy, soft, and while maybe not best suited for trails with lots of snaggy branches, I’d happily don this shirt for less extreme pursuits.

How it’s sustainable: The bamboo Free Fly uses is organic and FSC certified and they’re suppliers and manufacturers must adhere to the brand’s restricted substances list and code of conduct.

Sizes Available: This one comes in 6 colors for women and 9 for men, and is available in a wider range of sizes (XS-XXL for women and S-XXXL for men).

Bottom Line: Sun Hoodies

Don’t be afraid to cover up this summer when you venture outside. Your skin will thank you when it doesn’t have to stare directly into the menacing eyes of the giant ball of fire in the sky that’s trying to kill you. Now don some sleeve and wander on!