How to Choose the Best Sun Protection While Outdoors

How to Choose the Best Sun Protection While Outdoors

One of the things that often gets overlooked when planning a hiking or camping trip is protection from the sun.  Believe it or not, it doesn't take a lot of exposure to cause sunburns, fatigue or the depletion of fluids that can lead to dehydration.  Sun protection is something that should be at the top of our checklists, and finding suitable options is not that complicated.


Clothing or Hats

While most people grab the sunscreen as their first line of defense, the reality is that wearing appropriate clothing can a more-effective form of protection.  The trick is to choose clothing that will cover as much skin as possible while being comfortable depending on the weather conditions at the time.  You can wear a thin, loose-fitting and white top shirt in the heat or a bright, nylon jacket in cooler weather.  The idea is to choose material and color that reflect the light away from the body instead of darker colors that can absorb heat.  In cooler conditions where a sweatshirt or jacket is more-appropriate, then color doesn't matter as much, and darker colors can actually help to keep you warmer.


In addition to covering exposed skin with appropriate clothing, hats are worth their weight in gold as a good barrier to sun exposure.  Hats not only reflect heat and light away from the head, but they also cast a shadow over the neck and shoulders.  They also help to reduce glare and minimize strain on the eyes.  While they may not be all that fashionable, they are highly-effective.



Sunscreen can be made from either natural ingredients or synthetic compounds.  Both can be equally effective in protecting skin against harmful ultraviolet rays, but the synthetic variants tend to blend in better with the skin.  Synthetic products usually absorb the rays and then release their energy in the form of heat.  Natural products that commonly contain zinc oxide and titanium dioxide provide protection by reflecting sunlight away from the surface before the rays come into contact with the skin, but they also leave a visible residue behind.


Keep in mind that natural products are usually effective immediately after application. Synthetic variants usually require 20-30 minutes after application in order to be fully absorbed by the skin. 


A general rule of thumb is to use products that are rated at SPF 30 or higher when planning on being out in the sun for more than a couple of hours.  However, you can't go wrong with choosing products with higher ratings either.  No matter what product you choose, it's important to remember that they lose their effectiveness after a certain period of time.  The active ingredients can evaporate or get washed away from sweating or swimming.  If you plan on being in the sun for long periods of time, or intend to spend time in the water, consider using a product that is water resistant for maximum protection.


Finally, as a general rule of thumb, use stronger products on sensitive areas of the skin or where the skin is more likely to get burned.  This includes the nose, cheeks, knees, forearms and shoulders. 


Whether or not you choose to use clothing, sunscreen, or a combination of both, the important thing is that you are prepared before you head out.  Make sure that you add sun protection to your checklist, and that it is suitable for the conditions that you will be facing in the field.