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Sun Precautions Ultra Athlete Shirt and Pants

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Author (along with his father) wearing the Sun Precautions Ultra Athlete Shirt and Pants on the PCT near Big Bear California.

Author (along with his father) wearing the Sun Precautions Ultra Athlete Shirt and Pants on the PCT near Big Bear California.

Greetings Bloggers,

Earlier this year I set out to find an alternative way of hiking in the hot sunny weather of Southern California. Something that did not involve me getting sunburned or carrying the heavy 8.11 ounce GoLite Umbrella that I and many other long distance hikers have used for years. Granted I turn a rather nice shade of golden brown when I get a nice bit of sun on me, but living under the Redwood forest canopy of Northern California for the better part of two decades has not allowed me to keep that nice suntan that I always had while growing up in the Mojave desert. Recently I have been hiking different sections of the PCT in SoCal, and spending time in Joshua Tree National Park and Death Valley, trying to find the best route for my Highest to Lowest trail/hike I am planning.

I was able to find a number of different companies claiming that they provided SPF clothing that was in the 15-30 range, but the real stand-out in the sun clothing world was a product line called “Solumbra” from a company called Sun Precaution. This is a company that designs and makes all of their clothing in Seattle Washington USA.

What really makes their clothing stand out from the rest is that their clothing is 100+ SPF.

As most of my longtime readers know, I rarely write reviews on pieces of gear (clothing, shelters, backpacks, whatever) that I have not tested a lot and for a long time. I will typically spend an entire hiking season (or sometimes three or four) before I contemplate writing a review for a piece of gear – this is what makes me stand apart from other authors and gear reviewers in the outdoor community, along with the fact that I traditionally only focus on SUL/XUL hiking. There have only been a few rare exceptions when I have broken that rule of mine, and I think with this clothing from Sun Precaution it is going to be one of those times — the reason being: sometimes a product just proves itself from the very get-go, and this clothing proved itself to me within the first two weeks of me using it. Truthfully, it proved itself within a matter of hours, but I gave it a good three or four days before I allowed myself to whisper to myself “wow, this stuff actually works!

Designs/Options:

Sun Precaution makes a number of different shirts that are viable for long distance hikers. Their top of the line garments are the Ultra Athlete Shirt their Ultra Athlete Full Zip Shirt, which as the name implies is a full zip shirt, and their Ultra Athlete Pants. I went with the non-zip because I thought that the Indigo Piping (which is sadly only available on the non-zip version) looked a bit nicer. I am seriously considering buying the full zip shirt though, I just have to work up the willpower to drop a hundred bucks for it.

What makes the “Ultra Athlete” stand apart from the rest of their mens shirts is the venting system. The Ultra Athlete shirts have amazing pit ventilation, and both front and back ventilation. I was reading one of the reviews on their website and it said something about the guy feeling cooler when he was running in Death Valley than when he was standing still, and I thought to myself “uhh,yeah, right”. Well dang it if that is just not true. I have worn my fair share of shirts that had “ventilation systems” on them and they were all pretty much a joke and just a PR thing to try to sell products. That is simply not the cause with these Ultra Athlete shirts with their amazingly well thought out and designed venting system. They are what make up a fair amount of the weight of the shirts, as it requires at least double the amount of material, but as I have been saying for many years, sometimes a few extra ounces in exchange for benefits from those extra ounces… totally justifies themselves.

They make a Safari shirt that looks pretty similar to a shirt that a lot of long distance hikers really love, and it would be awesome if they would list the weights of their shirts on their websites, but even without knowing how much extra weight I might save by going with the Safari shirt – which uses the same exact material as the Ultra Athlete shirts – I would still choose the heavier Ultra Athlete shirts because of the ventilation system, it really is that impressive to me.

The Ultra Athlete Pants also have an amazing venting system that allows a massive amount of airflow in, and the faster you walk the more air they intake!

Bill Andrews, a multi-time runner in the Bad­wa­ter Ultra­ma­rathon in a promotional photograph.

Bill Andrews, a multi-time runner in the Bad­wa­ter Ultra­ma­rathon in a promotional photograph.

Performance:

Exceptional – really, these garments have made me totally rethink how I approach my clothing systems for hiking. That is something I did not think I would be saying anytime soon. It took me many years to find the perfect garment setup for my style of hiking, and I have been using it for at least years. I honestly have to say I have spent a great deal of time while hiking down the road giving serious thought to switching things up – both for hiking down in the deserts and while hiking up here in the Redwoods of Northern California.

What I think my plan is at this point is to stick with the shirt as a full time top garment, and keep using my Montbell Dynamo Wind Pants – they really are amazing and so lightweight I find it hard to wear anything else – even most shorts feel heavy to me after three years of wearing the Montbell Dynamo pants. However, I think I have decided to make the switch to using the Ultra Athlete Shirt as my full time top garment.

The Ultra Athlete Shirt has handled everything I have been able to throw at it so far. Death Valley. Joshua Tree. Big Bear. Walking through, up and down, rivers here in the Redwoods – while I do not carry a scale with me when I hike, the material did not seem to feel heavier when I slipped crossing a river and went all the way under. Sometimes you know how some clothing just turns into a wet brick of dead weight – that really did not seem to be the case with the Ultra Athlete Shirt. It dried very quickly in the sun, temperatures were around 70f / 21c, and it actually felt rather nice having them be wet for the few minute that they were. They also did not turn into a piece of stiff cardboard when they dried off – you know how sometimes clothing can get all stiff on you when they dry, not the case with whatever this material is. The material dried out faster than the Wigwam socks I was wearing – and that is impressive!

Ok, so all the petty little issues out of the way… let us talk about the real issue here… dealing with the sun.

The first day that I had them on I was on the PCT near Big Big Lake. It was a hot and full sun day. Somewhere in the 80’s which is getting on the hot side for Big Bear – ridge line hiking which meant full sun from both above and the ground. I was wearing both the Ultra Athlete Shirt and the Ultra Athlete Pants. After initial proving that they actually were keeping me cool and not having my skin burning, I rolled up the sleeve on one of my arms and remove the Sun Precautions Handguards on my right arm and hand, and proceeded on down the trail. Immediately I noticed that my arm was getting hot and my hand was almost instantly hot – as I was using my one hiking pole with the hand without the handguard. Within an hour my arm was pink and my hand was red. Within two hours both my arm and my hand were bright red. At that point I felt it best to put both the handguard back on and roll down my sleeve. Later that night I started getting blisters on the back of my hand and the next day my arm was suffering pretty bad too. Obviously the Redwood canopy has turned me into a woosie when it comes to the sun. But, in just that short period of time these clothing garments proved themselves to me. The entire rest of my body never suffered any redness or sun burning of any kind.

I could continue to tell you stories of other times when I have performed the same test, but the results have all been the same, so I will just leave it at that.

One of the aspects of these garments I wanted to test was how they would perform in colder weather keeping me warm at night. As my long time readers know, I enjoy going hiking during the summer without a sleeping bag, it is a great way to shave off two or so pounds of weight, and instead just take slightly heavier clothing garments. On a recent trip I decided to try sleeping in these, as I normally would sleep in my Icebreaker midweight tops, and it just did not work out. The amount of ventilation on them caused me to keep getting chilled anytime there was even a slight breeze. After a few hours of trying to sleep in them I found myself pulling them off and putting on my Icebreaker Long Sleeve Chase Zip Multisport 200 midlayer shirt that I always carry with me, even in the summer season, as it is what I sleep in rather than use a sleeping bag. So, it was a great thing to test, and an interesting test to try, but the shirt is just not viable sleepwear. I did spend all night wearing the pants, but I think I have lost nerve endings in my legs, because I rarely care if my legs are wet or cold.

When it comes to doing the job that they have been designed to do, the Ultra Athlete Shirt and the Ultra Athlete Pants and the handguards have absolutely proven themselves to me. A huge check-mark in the “performance” box.

Pricing:

Second, this clothing is not inexpensive – you can expect to spend $200 USD (€150 Euro) for just the pants and shirt if you buy their top of the line products. Realistically, this is not overtly expensive compared to my typical desert clothing and the cost of a GoLite Chrome umbrella (especially after shipping for the umbrella) but it is still an expensive outfit.

We all must individually calculate the purchases that we make when it comes to hiking. I invested the money into this outfit because I was hoping to find something that would work and I was willing to drop as much money as it would take to find a good setup- so that in future hikes in and through Death Valley and the Mojave Desert I could have viable clothing.

One might say I could just as easily get away wearing a 2 dollar pair of shorts and no shirt. Completely true and that is how I did it 20 years ago when I live in the desert, you will not get an argument out of me on that one.

That said, there are some really good reasons for going with high SPF clothing, those of you that understand why, know why – for everybody else it (and this entire article/gear review) probably does not matter.

Weight:

These are far from the lightest clothing I have ever bought. In fact the shirt is one of the heaviest shirts I have ever purchased and while the pants weigh less than a lot of the cargo pants so many hikers seem to have a thing for, they are far heavier than the Montbell Dynamo Wind Pants that I have now been using for over three years.

The shirt is 269 grams (9.48 ounces) and the pants are 303 grams (10.68 ounces) – which brings both of them to a total weight of 572 grams (20.17 ounces) and that is just heavy in my book.

To give you an idea, my beloved Icebreaker Long Sleeve Chase Zip Multisport 200 hits the scale at 226 grams (7.97 oz) and it is a second, sometimes third, layer piece of clothing.

The Sun Precautions Handguards are 21 grams (0.74 oz) and totally worth their weight!! I have seen a lot of hikers wondering about these over the years and I can hereby declare that they work! I do wish they were a bit wider, sometimes they did not cover my pinky when hiking with a hiking pole, there needs to be just a little bit more material on the pinky side of these, at least for my larger sized hands. The handguards use two pieces of folded over material to keep them attached and in-place.

I also bought their Ultra Athlete Shade Hat which is 87 grams (3.06oz). I am loving the extra-extra-wide brim that it has for full-on sun protection. However, the CoolMax material of the Headsweats Long Bill has me sticking with it for now, even though it means less bill protection – if you have ever used a cap made with CoolMax fabric you know what it is I am talking about and why I am sticking with it.

Undershirt:

I first tried wearing the shirt without an undershirt on and I just did not care for doing so. I spent a good two days while hiking pondering on what would be a perfect undershirt for the Sun Precautions Ultra Athlete Shirt, and on the second day I remembered a shirt I bought a year or so back and ended up not liking because of the sewing points on the shoulders. The shirt performed amazingly well, it was just an issue of having a sewn point at the very top of the shoulders, which really sucks when you are a hiker with shoulder straps on for hours and hours every day. So I pulled up the companies website when I got an internet connection and discovered that they had a Tank design that did not seem to have the issue with a seam weld at the top. The Tank shirt would also be nice for helping with ventilation.

This shirt is called the Mountain Hardware Way2Cool Tank (amazon affiliate link) and it ended up being the perfect undershirt for the Sun Precautions Ultra Athlete Shirt. The Way2Cool has the little dot technology that Columbia Sportswear Company bought the rights to a number of years ago – and allowed it to be used in both Columbia and Mountain Hardwear divisions. It really does work and when combined together with the venting system of the Sun Precautions Ultra Athlete Shirt it is a pretty nice match-made-in-heaven for me.

Final Thoughts:

While I have not yet used these garments long enough to know how their durability will perform from hundreds of days out on the trail, from a purely performance perspective, I can at this point in time say that I am extremely happy with their performance and continue to use them, especially the shirt, throughout the rest of the 2013 hiking season and into the 2014 hiking season and potentially beyond. I will of course report back any issues that I have with them in regards to durability.

Keeping them white I expect is going to be a near impossibility. The blue color shirt might be a more ideal color, but I just am not a fan of blue colored clothing, so I will be stuck with the white until they/if they release the garments in more hiker-friendly colors.

I will say that I wish I had bought the “tall version” of the shirt. When I buy the Ultra Athlete Full Zip Shirt I fully intend to buy it in a tall size. It will likely take it over the ten ounce mark for the shirt, but I just find it to be a bit on the short side for me. It would be really awesome if they made the Full Zip shirt in size tall and in Desert Khaki… and the Ultra Athlete Pants in Desert Khaki too. If they did that I would absolutely drop another two hundred bucks to order them.

My final thoughts are this: The Sun Precautions Ultra Athlete Shirt and the Ultra Athlete Pants are not going to make you a fashion model out on the trail – and you are going to get a lot of odd looks from other hikers – but if you are anybody that follows my articles you are probably (hopefully) a hiker that has reached a point in their hiking life where fashion does not matter. If you are concerned about what you look like out on the trail, stay home. If you dig a hole to take a dump, and you are worried about what your clothing looks like, just stay home. For the rest of out there banging out the miles on the trail, it is about performance and functionality and these garments do exactly that.

If you are somebody looking for a pair of clothing to handle the sun, I highly recommend these.

Post Publication Updates:

August 19, 2013 — I received some information from Sun Precautions regarding the weights of some of their products that I mentioned. Thank you to Sun Precautions for contacting me with this information!

UV Expedition Shirt – 295 grams (10.4 oz)
Safari Shirt – 249 grams (8.78 oz)
Ultra Athlete Full Zip Shirt – 249 grams (8.78 oz)
Unisex Active Pants – 227 grams (8.0 oz)

These are weights provided by them, all size large, and are not my own scale.

Regarding the size of the Hand Guards, the med/large (which I ordered) are 8 1/4 inches in width, and the width of the extra large are 8 3/4 inches.

So based upon data from my own scale regarding the Ultra Athlete Pants (at 303 grams / 10.68 ounces) and the data they provided regarding the Unisex Active Pants (227 grams / 8.0 oz) the extra ventilation results in 76 grams (2.68 oz) of additional weight.

Additionally, based upon data from my own scale regarding the Ultra Athlete Shirt (at 269 grams / 9.48 ounces) and the data they provided regarding the Ultra Athlete Full Zip Shirt (249 grams / 8.78 oz) the zipper results in a shirt that is 20 grams (0.7 oz) less weight, so, I am thinking there is some slight difference in their weights and my own, as a zippered shirt is usually (but not always) heavier (case in point: the 2013 Montbell Dynamo wind shirt that has a full zipper). Regardless of this issue, the really interesting bit of info in all of this is their listed weight for the Ultra Athlete Full Zip Shirt. An eight ounce safari shirt that is 100+ SPF is pretty sweet. One of the shirts that has been at the very top of my list of shirts to try out is the Rail Riderds Eco-Mesh Shirt –  it is 7oz and only 30+ UPF so this does make it an extra 1.7 ounces heavier than the Sun Precautions Safari Shirt but the Safari Shirt is 100+ SPF, versus just 30+ UPF of the Rail Riders.

Anyway, I do want to again thank Heather from Sun Precautions for sending me this additional information – very helpful, I think a Full Zip shirt is soon going to be purchased!

Thank you,
+John Abela
HikeLighter.Com


In accordance of USA Federal Trade Commission 16 CFR, Part 255: I hereby declare that as of the day of publication of this article I am a sponsored hiker of Montbell America, Gossamer Gear, Black Rock Gear, Suluk46.

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Written by John B. Abela

August 7, 2013 at 4:16 am

18 Responses

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  1. Great review. The Sun Precautions clothing is on my wish list to try someday. I find I prefer long sleeves and long pants for sun protection rather than sunscreen.

    I’m currently experimenting with using a lightweight long sleeve silk top as my main shirt. It is cheap, breathes well, provides about spf 15-30, dries fast, and is a comfortable layer between me and my rain jacket and/or sleeping bag.

    Steve Gilliam

    August 7, 2013 at 6:58 am

    • Hey Steve, thanks for taking the time to comment! I use to love wearing silk cloths, but I usually only used them to sleep in. I always found them to be too hot to use while hiking. If you are able to hike in silk cloths, you are a lucky man!!! Enjoy the smooth ride!

      John B. Abela

      August 8, 2013 at 3:09 am

  2. Good ‘first look’ review, thanks. I look forward to any updates you think are pertinent over the years to come. Can you speak right now about why you wanted a UPF100 outfit versus the UPF30 or 40 options that are widely available? I think this is the primary reason for your purchase – you couldn’t have known the venting system was superior beforehand. What benefits does a 100 rating bring – longer days in desert conditions? If so, how much extra protection do you think it brings?

    I was also interested in your comment about wanting an undershirt. Is that something you generally use so in this case it is not a reflection on the Sun Precautions shirt or did you find this shirt chafes? While I don’t have a problem with the weight of the garments being forced to wear an undershirt as well is getting a bit OTT.

    Philip Bichard

    August 8, 2013 at 2:54 am

    • Hello Philip,

      >>> Can you speak right now about why you wanted a UPF100 outfit versus the UPF30 or 40 options that are widely available?

      For maximum protection in the hottest place in the USA (death valley). Runners and cyclists are in DV every year and most of them are able to handle the 100-120 without facing major issues, but every year a few do. The difference between them (especially cyclists) is that they will spend 1/3rd to 1/5th the amount of time in the same region as what I as a hiker would spend, as they move a weeeebit faster than I do.

      >>> What benefits does a 100 rating bring – longer days in desert conditions?

      Less UV penetration through the material. That results in the ability to spend more time under the hot sun without suffering as much UV damage.

      >>> If so, how much extra protection do you think it brings?

      Huge difference.

      >>> did you find this shirt chafes?

      Nah. I just did not really enjoy the feeling of all the sewing points on the inside of the shirt. The undershirt that I choose was just thick enough to not feel them, yet still super thin enough to not cause peripheral temperature issues.

      John B. Abela

      August 8, 2013 at 3:17 am

  3. Thanks for the review. I have a couple of questions.

    Does the venting allow mosquitoes to get in? Is the fabric weave tight enough to prevent mosquitoes from biting through it?

    Also, I wear a loose fitting very breathable nylon windbreaker on top and similar pants for bottoms. Have done so for years in a lot of direct sun. I’ve never detected any visible effects from the sun underneath. How does one know if the upf ratings really make a difference? What upf can one expect from normal nylon clothing?

    Daryl Clark

    August 10, 2013 at 10:18 am

    • Hello Daryl,

      >>> Does the venting allow mosquitoes to get in?

      Yep.

      >>> Is the fabric weave tight enough to prevent mosquitoes from biting through it?

      Nope.

      >>> How does one know if the upf ratings really make a difference?

      Suppose one just has to experience it. Be it from crazy hot locations like Death Valley or by being hypersensitve to the sun, or by having Polymorphous light eruption, or sun allergies, or Porphyria, or so on and so forth.

      >>> What upf can one expect from normal nylon clothing?

      I am unable to properly answer that question. Very few outdoor clothing manufacturer’s list their SPF/UPF ratings, so my ability to properly answer that question would be highly undereducated due to lack of information.

      John B. Abela

      August 10, 2013 at 11:32 am

  4. […] Sun Precautions Ultra Athlete Shirt – I reviewed this shirt a little over a month ago and I have to say it has been one of the rare pieces of gear that I have purchased that have changed my approach to hiking. For many years I have worn very light shirts and carried the GoLite Chrome umbrella. Yet with this shirt I have ditched using a light shirt and sun umbrella, and switched over to an ultra-efficient base layer and wearing this Sun Precautions sun shirt. This leaves my hands free, or saves me jerry-rigging the umbrella to my backpack, and while it is 39 grams more than the Golite Chrome Dome umbrella, the trade-off well worth 1.3 ounces to have the freedom of not walking around with an umbrella, and not having the umbrella take up bulk space and dead weight when not being used. Awesome trade-off piece of gear! […]

  5. Hi,

    What is the Sun Precautions clothing made of? I can’t find the fabric content anywhere on the website…

    Sue

    September 12, 2013 at 5:08 pm

    • Based on the tag on my Ultra Athlete Shirt:

      Fabric: 96% Nylon, 4% Synthetic
      The mesh is 100% Polyester

      What they do to the material to make it have 100+ SPF is unknown.

      John B. Abela

      September 12, 2013 at 6:35 pm

  6. […] years. These feature the same type of ventilation that the SunPrecaution Ultra Athlete Pants that I reviewed and fell in love with for hot desert […]

  7. John, now that you’ve used the Ultra Athlete Shirt for a while, do you have any follow up remarks? I’m looking at purchasing a new top this season and see that Sun Precautions has the UV Hiking Shirt. I’m mostly concerned with odor and multi-day (not thru-hike) staining. I would probably go for the tan vs. the white that you had to pick for the Ultra Athlete Shirt.

    Eric L.

    April 21, 2014 at 6:37 pm

    • Hey Eric, I still LOVE the Ultra Athlete Shirt and really LIKE the Ultra Athlete Pants.

      The white I did find to be a bit hard to keep clean, however it was not all that bad.

      I have since acquired the “stone” color shirt/pants and it tends to hide the trail dirt and stains a fair amount better.

      I have not noticed any odor associated with it.

      If you need a high SPF shirt, and want a shirt that really drafts the air in, the Ultra Athlete shirt is the best I have found.

      John B. Abela

      April 21, 2014 at 6:55 pm

  8. […] have been using them on-and-off while I have been testing the Sun Precaution Ultra Athlete Sun Pants, as well as the Salomon EXO S-Lab Twinskin Shorts as I have been doing some running, but when I […]

  9. Thanks for the Great review. Can you comment on how wearing a backpack over the shirt affects the ventilation? Would you recommend the full zip shirt for a thru pct thru hike? Thanks, Rob

    Rob Hoeffler

    May 5, 2014 at 11:31 pm

    • Hey Rob, there are three ventilation areas on each side of the back of the shirt. Like any shirt, if you have a huge pack its going to cover up part (or all) of the back of your shirt, so kind of hard for me to directly address that issue. Totally know what you are asking and getting at, but I’m sure you know the complicatedness that also comes with trying to answer/address that.

      Would I recommend it for a PCT thru-hike? Oh heck yeah. If I were on the PCT right now I would be wearing this shirt. I saw two people at the PCT kickoff a couple weeks ago with a Sun Precautions shirt – both of the hikers had been wearing them for 10+ years. I had mine on for the entire adzpctko and it will be what I wear throughout my hikes this year down in Death Valley and surrounding high desert regions.

      John B. Abela

      May 5, 2014 at 11:43 pm

      • Thanks for your helpful review. I’m also interested in clothing for a PCT thru-hike. Sounds like the shirt and pants would be ideal for the desert sections. I’m curious whether you think they’d work well for the ENTIRE trail, or if you’d switch them out for something different during the colder sections.

        caitlinmkohl

        May 30, 2015 at 1:29 pm

        • Hello. Yes, the shirt and pants could absolutely be used as a garment system for a thru-hike. I have well over the length of a thru-hike on my shirts, not so much with the pants. A number of pct hikers over the last 20+ years have used Solumbra Sun Shirts, both men and ladies.

          John B. Abela

          June 11, 2015 at 4:51 am

  10. […] Earlier this year, after wearing them for 600+ days, I reviewed the Solumbra ‘Ultra Athlete Shirt and Pants‘ after having first talked about them back in 2013. […]


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