Paddling trips in the national parks, whether by canoe or kayak, expose you to a lot of sunshine. So much that it'll bake you if you're not careful. That's where a good hat, comfortable shirt (and shorts or pants, if you're in a canoe or sit-on-top kayak), and sunscreen, can help you enjoy the day to its fullest.
During my week-long navigation of Lewis and Shoshone lakes in Yellowstone National Park back in August I had the opportunity to try out the Solar 50 Rash Guard shirt (MSRP: $44.99) from Bomber Gear. At first the shirt, which comes in both long- and short-sleeve versions, felt tight to the point of being restrictive. But after a few paddle strokes, the long-sleeved shirt seemingly bonded with me, allowing comfortable arm movements while providing some sun protection.
Actually, quite a bit of sun protection, as the Lycra shirt provides an SPF 50 equivalent.
Now, I've always thought some of these SPF ratings were amusing, in that most garments you wear offer protection from the sun. Indeed, a little Internet research will lead you to quotes such as this one that Dr. Martin A. Weinstock, professor of Dermatology and Community Health at Brown University Medical School and the chairman of the Skin Cancer Advisory Group of the American Cancer Society, made to REI.com:
"You might get fine UV protection from a regular piece of clothing," said Dr. Weinstock. "But with UPF-rated clothing, you're assuring that protection."
Now, exactly how much protection your average shirt will provide depends on how tight the fabric's weave is and the shirt's color. According to REI.com, "It is the specific type of dye (and the concentration in which it is used) that impacts a fabric's UV transmission, not its color. Some dyes deflect more UV radiation than others, and some absorb none at all—including black dyes."
So, your average white cotton shirt might provide the equivalent of an SPF 7, which can then drop to an SPF 3 when wet, according to the folks at OncoLink, a site for cancer patients and healthcare professionals.
Which takes us back to the Solar Rash 50. Mine came in red, (which just happens to be my favorite color). Making it seem almost like a second skin was the construction: flat seam construction eliminates chaffing. The shirt also is treated with an anti-microbial agent so it doesn't start stinking three days into your trip.
What I really found enjoyable was the cooling effect the shirt had on my torso. That comes from the light weight of the shirt, its wicking ability, and the ergonomic fit. Now, I might not appreciate that on a cool, 45-degree day out on the water, but when it's 65 degrees or more and you're working hard, that's a nice benefit on top of the sun protection.