Close your eyes and imagine walking in the woods and the soft carpet made from branches and pine needles beneath your feet. You take a deep breath and recognize that familiar woodland smell of the fresh mountain air. The gentle wind sways the canopy, letting the sun’s rejuvenating glow to touch your skin.
The sunscreen did its job; you applied it on your arms, legs, neck, and face, believing your clothing should protect the rest… But does it really?
The short answer – yes, to a point.
As the day passes and your hike continues, the comforting radiance quickly shifts from invigorating to unpleasant and exhausting. If you don’t recognize the danger, you could easily get sunburnt, or worse.
It’s time to talk about how you can enjoy your summer hikes without needing to worry! Why is sun-protective clothing so important, and how exactly your apparel can help us shield skin cells from harmful UV rays?
What’s the deal with UV radiation?
The ultraviolet (UV) rays are electromagnetic radiation which causes human skin to burn when exposed to its natural (sunlight) or man-made source. However, the danger doesn’t end there. Over time, UV rays can cause serious trouble like sunburns, blisters, blemishes, and skin cancer.
According to the American Cancer Society, there are three types of UV radiation:
- UVA – About 95% reach the ground, and they damage skin cells and cause them to age, but they can also play a part in some skin cancers.
- UVB – When the remaining 5% reach the ground, they damage the DNA in skin cells and cause sunburns and most skin cancers.
- UVC – The most powerful of the three, but rarely reach the ground since they react with ozone in our atmosphere. However, UVC rays are usually found in man-made sources like welding torches and tanning beds.
Those are nasty downsides, but luckily, these hazards are easily avoided with UPF rated clothes. Since sunlight is the big bad for every summertime hiker, let’s see how you can protect yourself with sun-protective clothing.
What’s sun-protective clothing?
Sun-protective clothing keeps you safe from UV rays through fabrics with high UPF rating, dense weave, color, stretch, and wetness.
Wearing sun-protection clothing on your hiking trips helps prevent the above-mentioned severe consequences of prolonged sun exposure, as it blocks most of the sun’s harmful UVA and UVB radiation.
Before you venture out in the great outdoors, the Skin Cancer Foundation suggests that you should know the UPF rating of all of the clothes you wear.
Uhm, sure, but can you please explain to me…
What is UPF rating?
Ultraviolet protection factor (or UPF) is a relatively new term, and it measures how well can a piece of fabric shield you against harmful ultraviolet radiation. Every piece of sun-protection clothing has a UPF rating; the higher the rating, the more protection you have – simple as that.
UPF labels range from:
- Good -15-24, blocks 93.3% – 95.9% of UV rays,
- Very Good – 25-39, blocks 96.0% – 97.4% of UV rays,
- Excellent – 40-50+, blocks 97.5% – 98+% of UV rays.
So, for example, if a summer shirt has a UPF rating of 50, it means that if 50 units of UV radiation falls on its fabric, only 1 will reach your skin.
Don’t confuse UPF with sun protection factor (SPF), which measures how long you can be exposed to sunlight before getting burned.
How to have a sun-safe summer hike?
Exploring the great outdoors sometimes can be addictive, and the best way to immerse in the scenery and the lively wildlife is to counter the downsides. Here are three steps to stay sun-safe during summer:
Step One: What to factor in during a summer hike?
It is difficult to escape the sun out in the wilds, so it’s a good idea to know the challenges that may lay ahead. How exposed you are to UV rays depends on several natural factors, some of which may vary from place to the other:
- Time of Day – Consider taking UV protection between 10 AM and 4 PM.
- Season – Sunlight is stronger during spring and summer.
- Altitude – The breathtaking mountainside hiking comes with its own danger. The higher you are, the more UV rays reach the ground.
- Foliage – Hiking through a forest with dense foliage provides some level of sun protection.
- Clouds – UV rays pierce through the clouds.
- Reflection – Ultraviolet radiation can reflect off water, snow, sand, and grass.
- Wind – Cold mountain winds or fresh forest gusts can keep you cool and unaware of the harmful sunlight.
- Trail length – The longer the trail, the more exposed you are.
Tip: If you are hiking and traveling outside of United States, keep in mind that UV rays are stronger the closer your trail is to the equator.
Step Two: Come prepared!
In the great outdoors where every turn opens up a whole new world to explore, it’s easy to push yourself to keep exploring. This can lead to both physical and mental exhaustion, and during summertime, it can be problematic. To make sure you are ready for a summer hike, here’s a list of gear you should pack:
- Sunscreen: Protects your skin that isn’t covered with clothing.
- Sunglasses: Protect your eyes from reflected and direct UV rays.
- Water: Extensive sun exposure can lead to dehydration! Be sure to bring enough water for the hike.
- Food: Take regular snack breaks to avoid fatigue.
- Fire kit: Campfire will keep you warm, repel any insects, and allow you to cook.
- Lightsource: A flashlight, a packable lantern, a headlight – the most convenient one.
- First Aid: Taking a pre-assembled kit helps you treat the most common hiking injuries and ailments. You can even make your own backcountry emergency kit!
Consider bringing additional gear based on different terrains:
- Forest: Make sure you bring a bug spray to protect against mosquitoes, ticks, and black flies; and a bear-canister if you are bearanoid.
- Mountains: Consider bringing an insulating layer such as a lightweight jacket. It will help keep you dry and warm during the night-time lows.
- Desert: The danger of hiking in the desert is dehydration and mental and physical exhaustion. Bring extra sun-protection clothes, water, and food.
Step Three: Bring the right sun-protection clothing!
Designed for prolonged sun exposure, KÜHL’s sun-protection clothing comes hand in hand with top outdoor performance – whether you are in a forest, on the Rockies, or in a desert. A double win for every hiking enthusiast!
Hat: To protect your face, neck and hair, put on a wide-brimmed sun-protection hat like Sun Dagger™.
Top: A tightly woven, wicking long sleeve shirt like Reklaimr™ or Trista™ Hoody with a UPF of 30 dries quickly and provides you much needed sun protection. If long sleeves are not your thing, then consider a more casual and equally UPF rated KÜHLDRY Crew™ or Sona™.
Bottom: Look for lightweight pants like Konfidant™ Air or versatile Splash™ Roll-Up, both with excellent UPF of 50! If you prefer shorts that offer ultimate sun protection, consider stylish Slax™ or super comfortable Hörizn™.
A little UV ray of sunshine
UPF clothing is slowly gaining in popularity as people are more aware of the dangers of the sun. Wearing sun-protection clothes lets you counter the harmful UVA and UVB rays so you can truly enjoy all nature has to offer.
So grab your shades, put on the hat, and see you on a trail!