Living out west for the past twenty years or so, I’ve become a believer in protection from the harsh rays of the sun.
Thanks to my Mediterranean ancestry, I have a light olive complexion that turns to darker olive with any sun exposure. However, that does not mean I will not suffer from the ravages of the sun. Particularly if done abruptly concerning sun exposure vs gradually over the arc of a season.
A lesson early on in my Colorado life is when I did not wear a ball cap when out in downtown Boulder for an afternoon.
I never tried hiding my thinning hair and kept it close-cropped from the start. But an afternoon doing “stuff” turned my head a bright red and caused peeling skin. I’ve worn wide-brimmed hats when out backpacking but, stupidly, did not think that being outside in cotton and sipping coffee does not mitigate sun damage at 5,000 ft or so in town vs. up in the mountains. 🙂
So I now have a ball cap always in the car, and if I am outside for more than 10 minutes or so, even in town, I wear a ball cap.
And, naturally, I am very good about wearing appropriate clothing when in the backcountry.
For about twenty years now, that means sunglasses, a collared shirt, a wide-brimmed hat, and long pants when off-trail. I’ll also put sunscreen on my nose tip and cheekbones. I prefer (mainly) clothing to glops of sunscreen as for multiple days, it clogs the pores, and it means more weight to carry.
I’ll mix it up and wear shorts on well-maintained trails during temperate weather. And occasionally, a short sleeve shirt or ball cap for day hikes.
The collared shirt/wide hat combo (with a bandanna underneath) has worked exceptionally well for me. The collar and brim keep the sun off my head and neck, and I can easily roll up and down the sleeves as for ventilation and light wind protection as needed. As I mentioned before, I prefer a polycotton blend for breathability, too.
However, as an outdoor enthusiast, I think it is essential to look at different techniques, gear and learn new skills. I don’t want my skillset stuck at a circa 2008 thru-hiker level. There’s always more to see, learn, and do.
And that’s why I tried out a sun hoodie for the first time these past few weeks.
A sun hoodie, much like the lightweight down sweater (jacket), mainly became popularized by Patagonia. And, much like the lightweight down jacket, is arguably a practical item that somehow became a bit of fashion item in outdoor circles.
But how well do these sun hoodies work for me? Would this garment make a viable sun protection strategy for me?
The only way to know? It’s to try.
So I purchased an inexpensive version with overall good ratings on Amazon to try out. The price, the reviews, and (significantly) the earth tones all worked for me. Many of these sun hoodies look like a rejected color scheme from Finding Nemo, but I digress.
Now, I am not reviewing a specific brand. Instead, I am looking at a general concept and how it works for me and my hiking style.
With that in mind, here’s how a decidedly non-hip guy (me) experienced the latest and greatest outdoor fashionable item since the Melly fleece.
The fabric felt slightly lighter than silk weight thermal base layers that I wear for most of my Utah cool-weather hiking. I’ve seen the Patagonia sun shirt up close, and my bargain version admittedly did not feel quite as breathable, but not too far off IMO.
As with many of these sun shirts, the sleeves work as sun protection for the hands. The thumb holes make a half-glove of sorts to protect you from the sun.
I do not wear sun gloves as I don’t ever recall my hands getting sunburnt. When I wore the hoodie, I ended up rolling the sleeves a bit. More on that below…
Additionally, unlike the base layers I prefer, there is no zipper. I take a slight weight penalty with base layers as the zipper provides the ventilation I like when hiking or Nordic skiing and some neck protection as well vs. a crew neck layer.
Then there’s the centerpiece of this entire garment…the hoodie!
I can wear a ballcap rather than my dorky sun hat and still have sun protection. Oooh..stylish!
How did I like it in the field?
I tried it one day at about 90F here in Moab. Cool for the summer! But after just wearing it from the house to the car, I already found it too hot. Decided that was not fair, and tried it on a local hike when I had to stay close to home, and found it too hot then, also.
OK, not a good test. I’ll wait for a cooler day in the mountains.
This past weekend I wore it in optimum conditions: ~70F per an NOAA point forecast app, slight breeze, and very sunny. Perfect!
Except? Well, I missed the ventilation a zipper could provide or (better yet) buttons. And I found the sun gloves too hot. Additionally, I almost always roll up my sleeves as I like the ventilation. Much like my hands, my forearms rarely (ever?) burn.
I became much too hot hiking at a moderate pace during relatively mild weather.
Worse of all, though, I had to drop my hood as it kept in too much heat and negated the whole point of the hoodie.
I hike very hot and prefer the baggy ventilation and breathability of my polycotton button-down shirt. The shirt means I can roll up the sleeves, button-up and down as needed for more ventilation, and like the sun protection on my neck via the collar.
Aesthetically, the sun hoodie look might be in currently, but the classic plaid never seems to go out of style.
I do hike in a similar shirt for cool weather, as mentioned. But the ventilation of the zipper allows me to adjust as needed vs. the non-adjustable neck of the hoodie. And I’m not too fond of hoods overall as it interferes with my side vision and trapping in my heat if I want sun protection. My wide-brimmed hat with a cotton bandanna gives me both sun protection and evaporative cooling with less impact on my side vision.
Will I use it?
For me, this type of garment would work best when a wide-brimmed hat may not work well, and there is a lot of “stop and go” type activity. If I have the hankering to go climbing again, I could see myself using this garment. Likewise, for rafting esp in whitewater when I am also wearing a helmet, it is colder, and I still need sun protection.
I might give this garment another whirl for ski touring as a quick hood over a fleece beanie could come in handy, particularly on very sunny days.
But based on my hiking style, I’ll stick to my tried and true wide-brimmed hat-collared shirt combo that’s served me well for two decades now.
As a contrast, Joan hikes much cooler than me and prefer hoodies for her fleeces or similar garments. Joan also burns easier than me.
She feels the sun hoodie would work better for her needs and is curious to try one out herself. Based on her hiking style and previous hiking experiences, I suspect this type of clothing will work better for her vs. me.
A major caveat? She’d opt for a sun shirt that did not have built-in gloves. She uses, and prefers, separate sun gloves for the versatility.
UPDATE: As predicted, Joan enjoyed using this type of garment more than me overall. Esp in cool temperatures.
I think the sun hoodie has much potential for certain types of backpackers. But I pump out too much heat when hiking, and I do not like the limited breathability of pure synthetic vs. my polycotton shirts in warm or hot weather. Additionally, I’m not too fond of the lack of zipper in the chest area versus my base layers of choice. Most of all, the hood also limits my peripheral vision and makes it too hot for me to wear comfortably, negating the whole point of the hood for sun protection.
If I ran cooler, I could see the utility of this garment for me.
As mentioned, I see a niche for any possible (very limited at this point) climbing trip and potential white water rafting trips. The ball cap/sun hoodie/helmet combo would work well when I am not continually pumping out heat, need sun protection, and where my traditional hiking garb might prove a hindrance.