There’s a common mistake many make before spending time outdoors: underestimating the importance of a hat. Although sunscreen is an essential way to defend ourselves from sun damage, it isn’t the only sun protection out there. In fact, experts we spoke to said that sunscreen should not be considered your sole protection from sun exposure and instead said be thought of as an additional layer.
“Topical SPF is a great tool, but it also isn’t perfect. Chemical sunscreens must be fully absorbed to work, about 30 minutes after application,” said board-certified dermatologist Dr. Dendy Engelman. “For physical [mineral] sunscreen, if you do not have consistent application or an area rubs off, then you are not adequately protected.”
SKIP AHEAD Unisex UPF hats | UPF hats for women | UPF hats for men | UPF hats for kids| UPF hats for babies | How to shop for a UPF hat
Not surprisingly, our experts agree that UPF clothing, including hats, is the first line of defense against UV radiation. But what exactly is UPF? To understand how UPF works and the best UPF hats to shop for, we consulted experts to gain their insight on the key reasons some UPF hats score better than others.
Our top picks
- Best unisex: GearTop Wide Brim Sun Hat
- Best budget-friendly: Konikit Wide-Brim Bucket Hat
- Best splurge: Eric Javits Hampton Sun Hat
- Best hat for kids: Coolibar Surfs Up All Sport Hat
- Best hat for babies: i play. by green sprouts Breathable Swim and Sun Flap Hat
What is UPF?
According to Dr. Todd Minars, a board-certified dermatologist at Minard Dermatology and assistant clinical professor of dermatology at the University of Miami School of Medicine, “UPF is a rating that's used to measure the amount of UVA (Ultraviolet A) and UVB radiation that comes from the sun and is able to penetrate a person's clothing and reach their skin.” So a higher UPF rating means an article of clothing is more protective against the sun’s UVA and UVB rays.
Many people confuse UPF with SPF (Sun Protection Factor). SPF is a rating for sunscreens and cosmetic products to measure how they protect against Ultraviolet B (UVB) rays that can cause sunburns, explained Minars. “It loosely gives the person an indicator of how long they can be exposed to direct sunlight before their skin reddens,” he said. “SPF30 means you can be exposed to the sunlight approximately 30 times longer than you would be able to without any SPF before getting red or early signs of a sunburn.”
While SPF rates topical products in their ability to protect against UVB rays, shoppers should be looking for Ultraviolet Protection Factor (UPF) when it comes to clothing and other accessories. Unfortunately, not all UPF clothing, including hats, are created equal.
How we picked the best UPF hats
When shopping for a UPF sun-protective hat, our experts stressed the importance of keeping the following key factors in mind:
- UPF rating. Although the Skin Cancer Foundation allows a minimum of UPF 30, the most optimal level of protection is 50+, said Tareen. A UPF rating of 30 means the fabric allows 1/30th, or about 3%, of UV radiation to pass through. A garment rated UPF 50 permits only 1/50th, or about 2% of UV transmission. Any fabric that permits less than 2% is labeled UPF 50+.
- Weave density. The denser the fabric, the better it blocks the rays. For a quick visual check, Dr. Mohiba Tareen, FAAD, a clinical assistant professor of dermatology at Columbia University, recommended holding the hat up to the sunlight to gauge its transparency.
- Color. According to The Skin Cancer Foundation, “the more intense the hue, the better the protection.” Dark or bright colors, including red, black and navy blue, absorb more UV rays than lighter colors, like whites and pastels, according to the foundation.
- Material. Our experts said that different types of material matter as well. For instance, unbleached cotton, rayon, flax and hemp all consist of natural fibers that absorb UV rays, while shiny polyester, nylon or lightweight satin silks deflect the rays and are considered more protective. In addition, these latter materials are quick-drying, which is another plus, as a study conducted by the National Center for Biotechnology Information found that UV protection appears to be less effective when the material is wet.
- Coverage. According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, the best sun-protective hats should have a minimum 3-inch brim around the circumference or a minimum 3-inch bill with a permanently attached drape to cover the neck and ears. For baby and toddler hats, the foundation recommends a 2½-inch brim.
Best UPF hats to shop in 2023
Below, we rounded up a list of the best UPF hats for men, women, kids and babies that meet the experts criteria. All provide optimum coverage, have a UPF rating of 50+ and are made of a material that is quick-drying and deflects UV rays. These options also have all received the Skin Cancer Foundation’s Seal of Recommendation.
Top-Rated Unisex Hats
GearTop Wide Brim Sun Hat
This unisex wide-brimmed safari hat has UPF 50+ protection to block out 98% of the sun’s rays, according to the brand. It has breathable mesh to keep you sweat-free and also includes a chin strap to keep it in place during windy days. This hat has a 4.5-star average rating from over 17,000 Amazon reviews.
Konikit Wide-Brim Bucket Hat
Konikit calls this a fishing hat, but this budget-friendly unisex bucket hat provides full coverage whether you are out walking, gardening, playing golf or at the beach. Its 3.5-inch wide brim keeps the sun’s rays off your head and neck from all directions, says the brand, and it has a rear adjustable elastic drawstring, so it fits almost any adult-size head. The material is quick-drying, lightweight, stain resistant and foldable, and a mesh vent offers ventilation to keep you cool. This fishing hat has a 4.4-star average rating from over 1,300 reviews on Amazon.
Top-rated UPF hats for women
Coolibar Etta Shapeable Sun Catcher Hat
Coolibar boasts unanimous approval from our experts, and the brand is “respected in gear quality and longevity, so it's a very safe purchase and one that should invoke confidence in the buyer,” said Minars. With UPF 50+ protection in a fabric that’s both breathable as well as shapeable, this adjustable hat is a top pick.
Eric Javits Hampton Sun Hat
Tareen loved this high-end, stylish lightweight option that has the look of a fashionable straw hat without compromising the protection of UPF. Not only does this model come in 12 different color options but it’s also designed to guard skin from 95% of UVA and UVB rays, according to the brand.
Toppers Women’s Hat with Neck Flap
This hat is great for gardening, hiking, fishing or anytime you are spending long hours in the sun. It is water- and wind-resistant and also rolls up easily, making it easy to throw in your bag and take it on the go. It comes in 14 colors and has a 4.6-star rating from more than 5,000 reviews on Amazon.
Simplicity Women's UPF 50+ Wide Brim Hat
You can rock a stylish UPF hat that not only keeps your face out of the sun but also protected from it. This braided straw fedora has UPF 50+ protection that keeps harmful rays from slipping through, along with a removable drawstring and an adjustable built-in strap to ensure the right fit. This hat has a 4.5-star rating from more than 2,000 reviews on Amazon.
Top-rated UPF hats for men
Sunday Afternoons Sun Tripper Cap
Sunday Afternoons is highly recommended as one of the best UPF hat manufacturers, according to Minars — and this style, which he’s had for over eight years, is his personal favorite. “It folds in half, is super packable, is water-friendly, UPF 50+ and [is] just a tank for hard outdoor use,” he said. “I've left it on shorelines, swam with it, worked in it all day, etc., and it just keeps on going with no signs of compromise.”
Coolibar UPF 50+ Men's Holden Travel Fedora
Whether you’re out golfing or spending time at the beach, this stylish UPF 50+ hat will help keep you protected from the sun. Recommended for when you want to travel light, says the brand, the Coolibar Travel Fedora sports an interior moisture-wicking sweatband and mesh grommets for increased airflow. A leather trim completes the polished look. It has a 4.0-star rating from more than 350 reviews on Amazon.
Lenikis Men’s Sun Hat with Neck Flap
This versatile, adventure-ready hat can handle anything that nature throws its way. It’s water-resistant, breathable, UPF 50+ and adjustable, according to the brand. With a wide brim, interior sweatband and flap to protect your head, neck and ears, this foldable hat is a solid choice for keeping you covered in the sun this summer and beyond. This hat has a 4.4-star rating from more than 4,000 reviews on Amazon.
Coolibar Men's Convertible Boating Hat
Another expert favorite, this UPF 50+ hat lets you stay protected during a day on the waterThe convertible style allows you to add extra neck coverage when you want while a covered mesh panel and sweatband help keep you cool. Plus, there’s a removable toggle chin cord and adjustability at the crown to combat the wind and keep this hat securely in place.
Top-rated UPF hats for kids
Coolibar Surfs Up Bucket Hat
Whether they’re splashing in the pool or enjoying some time at the beach, this travel-friendly UPF 50+ hat will be a water day staple. You don’t have to worry about the fabric fading, thanks to the chlorine- and saltwater-resistant material — the crown is also adjustable so it can grow with your kiddo over the years.
UV Skinz Sunny Flap Bucket Hat
UV Skinz is one of Tareen’s go-to brands, she said. As a mom of five, she appreciates both the safety and practicality of these UPF 50+ hats that she said actually stay on little heads. Plus, this versatile style has a sun flap to cover ears and necks but can also be tucked away.
Coolibar Kid's Lenny Sport Cap
With an internal mesh sweat band that absorbs sweat and helps the hat stay in place, this UPF 50+ hat and its water-friendly version offer both adjustability and protection. It is available in four colors and two sizes: S/M and L/XL and has a 4.1-star average rating from more than 80 Amazon reviews.
Wallaroo Shark Hat
Baby Shark fans will likely appreciate these playful shark and crocodile designs, but it’s the UPF 50+ fabric that will have parents loving them just as much. Made from 100% cotton, these adorable hats feature a Velcro chin strap to keep them in place, as well as an internal adjustable drawstring to help achieve a close fit.
Coolibar Surfs Up All Sport Hat
When it comes to shopping for optimal sun protection accessories, board-certified dermatologist Dr. Anna Guanche, FAAD, and founder of Bella Skin Institute, turns to Coolibar for her UPF needs and called the brand “amazing.” This full-coverage sports hat features an attached neck drape for additional protection as kids splash in the water and comes in a quick-drying UPF 50+ material that’s both chlorine- and saltwater-resistant, according to the brand.
Coolibar Taylor Chin Strap Hat
From backyards and road trip adventures to running around the park, this UPF 50+ bucket hat with a 3-inch brim keeps kids shielded from harmful rays. But it’s the internal sweat band and breakaway chin strap that makes this a standout option for kids. Coolibar’s 100% cotton hat is available in three colorways: Light Pink Picnic Stripe, Tan and Navy Chambray/Ticking Stripe.
Top-rated UPF hats for babies
Coolibar Baby Splashy Bucket Hat
“This brand has the lightest fabrics and [its] materials stand up to sweat, salt and chlorine for a lifetime,” said Tareen. “That’s particularly important if you have five kids like me and pass down clothing over the years.” This wide-brimmed sun hat offers UPF 50+ protection and a quick-drying fabric to keep little ones protected and comfortable.
i play. by green sprouts Baby Brim Hat
Anya Stassiy, a certified physician’s assistant who specializes in medical and aesthetic dermatology, loves these i play. hats for the coverage they give little necks and ears. They are also machine-washable, come in a UPF 50+ water-wicking material and feature an adjustable toggle to grow with the baby.
Durio Baby Sun Hat Summer Beach UPF
With reversible patterns, playful 3D animal details and a range of colors, there’s an adorable option for every baby fashionista from Durio. The brand also makes the Summer Beach UPF Hat for toddlers and kids up to 8 years old. These lightweight sun hats block up to 98 percent of UVA and UVB rays with a UPF 50+ cotton and polyester fabric.
i play. by green sprouts Breathable Swim and Sun Flap Hat
It doesn’t matter if your family plans involve swim or sun — this breathable unisex sun hat is ideal for all outdoor adventures. With a water-friendly foam brim to help keep its sun-blocking shape, an elastic back to grow with baby and secure straps, this quick-drying UPF 50+ hat is both versatile and budget-friendly.
Coolibar Baby Fauna Critter Hat UPF
Keep your baby’s head safe from harmful sun rays with adorable UPF 50+ critter hats. The organic cotton fabric is made with a blend of bamboo that’s soft yet protective for a baby’s sensitive skin.
UV Skinz Reversible Sun Hat
Given the amount of time Tareen’s five kids have spent in these UPF 50+ sun protective hats, she knows that they aren’t only safe but they also stay on with their simple tie. These water-friendly, reversible hats come in both boys and girls versions in an array of patterns and colors.
How to shop for a quality UPF sun hat
Although style is always top of mind — and there are plenty of great options out there to choose from — it’s important to invest in a hat that fully protects you and is best for your needs. Fortunately, our experts said there are several key factors that will easily rule out the good from the not-so-good.
A good place to start: Look for the Skin Cancer Foundation’s Seal of Recommendation, said our experts. Although the optimal rating is UPF 50+, which means that less than 2% of UV rays can be transmitted, the foundation grants this seal to fabrics that have a minimum of 30 UPF on the lightest shade in the product range. In addition, the clothing awarded this seal must also pass a number of tests by the American Association of Textile Chemists and Colorists.
As noted above, our experts also said to invest in at least a 3-inch wide brim to shade the face, scalp, neck, shoulders and upper back. Kids’ brims should be a minimum of 2.5 inches, according to the Skin Cancer Foundation.
If you’re planning to wear your hat at the beach or for any other water activity, look for a hat that will dry quickly if it gets wet, as studies have found that UPF hats are less effective when wet.
Other key considerations when shopping for a quality UPF sun hat or any other type of UPF clothing, according to our experts, include opting for darker colors and tighter weaves, like polyester and nylon rather than cotton, flax and hemp, which absorb UV rays rather than deflect them.
Meet our experts
At Select, we work with experts who have specialized knowledge and authority based on relevant training and/or experience. We also take steps to ensure that all expert advice and recommendations are made independently and with no undisclosed financial conflicts of interest.
- Dr. Mohiba Tareen, FAAD, is a clinical assistant professor of dermatology at Columbia University.
- Dr. Todd Minars is a board-certified dermatologist at Minard Dermatology and assistant clinical professor of dermatology at the University of Miami School of Medicine.
- Dr. Dendy Engelman is a board certified dermatologic surgeon at Shafer Clinic Fifth Avenue in New York City.
- Dr. Anna Guanche, FAAD, is a board-certified dermatologist and founder of the Bella Skin Institute.
- Anya Stassiy is a certified physician’s assistant who specializes in medical and aesthetic dermatology.
Why trust Select?
Barbara Booth has been covering wellness and health care for over a decade at CNBC and Select and has published several guides on bestselling walking shoes, best under-eye patches, best smart scales and more. For this piece, Barbara and a former Select staffer interviewed four experts and researched dozens of UPF hats on the market. We included brands recommended by experts, along with those that are highly rated and meet expert shopping guidance.
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