The invigorating warmth of the sun on your skin is hard to beat. But when you’re on a hanging belay at the 18th, 19th or 20th pitch baking in the sun with no relief, those rays can go from friend to foe.
The amount of sun protection you require depends on a huge number of variables: skin type, altitude, time of year and traveling in high albedo (reflective) areas to name a few.
At Outdoor Research, we have a selection of apparel and gear with rated sun protection. But what does sun protection in a fabric really mean and how is it achieved?
What is Sun Protection?
Sun protection is a way to shield UV rays with a garment and depends largely on the tightness of a garment’s weave. Simply put: the tighter the weave, the higher the Ultraviolet Protection Factor (UPF), the less UV light passing through. Other factors like dyes, treatments or fiber types also play into it. For example, different materials – cotton, nylon, polyester – have different natural UV-absorbing properties. Of those, polyester offers the best natural protection. In addition, the design and fit of the garment can increase the UV protection (high collars, long sleeves). But the fabric material and make-up is not the only thing to consider: It’s important to remember fabrics that are worn thin, wet or stretched may have reduced protection from UV light.
Ultraviolet Protection Factor (UPF) vs. Sun Protection Factor (SPF)
UPF is to clothing what SPF is to lotions. To provide a meaningful measurement, like the SPF rating, three organizations worked together to establish a UPF testing protocol for the United States to measure UV protection in garments. The translation is simple: the higher the rating the greater the protection. In a UPF 30 garment, the material allows 1/30th of the sun’s UV radiation to pass through. Each rating is given a percentage of UV protection.
Outdoor Research offers three different UPF protection levels within its fabrics – 15, 30 and 50+. A UPF rating of 15 offers good protection with 93.3 percent of UV light blocked. UPF 30 offers very good protection with 96.7 percent of UV light blocked and UPF 50+ offers excellent protection with over 98 percent of UV light blocked.
Sun protection isn’t restricted to just shirts and pants. To keep your exposed hands from getting hammered with UV rays, try the Chroma Sun Gloves™ – fingerless sun gloves ideal for activities like kayaking, glacier travel or fishing – or the Spectrum Sun Gloves™ –UPF 50+ fingerless sun gloves.
The Sentinel Sun Sleeves™, which can be worn up to the knuckles or at the wrist, have UPF 50+ as well as Insect Shield® protection. The UPF 50+ Spectrum Sun Sleeves™ is a full sleeve ideal for trail running, biking, glacier travel, kayaking or stand-up paddle boarding.
While our clothing’s sun protection is effective, we also think in many situations UPF-rated clothing works best in conjunction with a sunscreen lotion. The amount of sun protection all depends on the variables. So next time you head out to that south-facing cliff or jump in your kayak, take a minute to consider it all and pick the best protection for you and your adventure. Your skin will thank you in the long run.