We love being out on the water. Whether we’re out exploring on our paddle boards, taking a dip, dangling in a fishing line, or diving to the depths... There’s one thing that all of our most-loved water sports have in common, exposure to the elements!
Wind, saltwater, and the sun’s harmful rays can all pose a threat to a pleasant day out on the water. These can leave you with some nasty souvenirs that last long beyond your towel-off. Sunburn, rashes, skin irritation, jellyfish stings and chafing aren’t the sort of memories that anyone wants to bring home from water sports adventures.
Would you like to know the easy fix? Ditch the t shirt and slip into a rash guard. These specially-designed short and long sleeve swim shirts elevate your comfort. They are designed to be odor resistant, keep your skin safe from the sun’s harmful uv rays, and wrap you in a protective layer from harsh ocean conditions.
Rash guards have proudly earned their place in our bag of essential gear we pack every time we’re getting out on the ocean, lake, river or bay. Think of a rash guard as a sun protection shield, your second skin in and on the water.
In this blog post, we’ve got all your burning questions about rash guards answered. We’ll go over the reasons why you’re going to want one, the ways it will revolutionize your experience out on the waves and under the sun. We’ll also explore how to choose the right kind for you. Then, we’ll dish out our top picks of the best rash guards, categorized by activity, so you can find your perfect fit.
If you’re yet to become a devoted fan of wearing a rash guard on your surfing, SUP and swimming trips, you’re in the right place to find the best rash guards for men and women - and kids, too!
Table of Contents
Traditional rash guards are specially designed shirts for water sports. These high-achieving, versatile water sports tops let you enjoy every moment of the action without skipping a beat, they’ve got you covered for whatever your day on the waves has in store.
The best rash guards are constructed of technical, synthetic fabrics that are quick drying. They wick away moisture sitting on your skin and prevent friction, stopping rashes and chafing in their tracks. They’ll keep you cool when you’re not submerged in the summer months, and add a layer of insulation during cooler temperatures.
Additionally, a rash vest will save more than just your back when it comes to preventing painful sunburn. They provide full coverage to your arms, shoulders and torso from harmful UV rays thanks to their built-in sun protection factor.
Furthermore, they keep waterborne irritants away from your skin in natural settings, defending you against jellyfish stings, sea lice and scrapes from sharp coral.
Rash guards are our first line of defense when it comes to sun protection for our skin and staying comfortable playing water sports.
It’s no secret that being in and around the water for extended stretches exposes our delicate skin to some pretty harsh environmental aggressors. While some of these are a bit uncomfortable, others are downright dangerous without a rash guard- especially if we’re talking UV damage and its potential skin cancer risk.
But, we know you’re no quitter and you don’t intend to sacrifice the fun of being in the water... So instead of staying inside, throw on a rash guard and go frolic in the sea and sun with careless abandon!
Rash guards prevent:
In short, rash guards are used for protection against the sun’s harmful UV rays and anything else that might scrape or bruise you in the water. Durable enough to stand up to a day in and out of the waves, they also have moisture wicking capabilities so you can tackle a romp in the dunes, a hike, or even a SUP workout without breaking a sweat. The design elements combined with the protective factor make both modern and more traditional rash guards a serious statement piece you’ll actually want to wear.
Unless you were raised from a young age with your parents putting you in a rash guard at the pool or the beach, you’ve probably got some questions about why you want one and how to choose a winner. Here, we’ve covered all your potential rash guard FAQs:
Well, that all depends on the kind of activity you’ll primarily be doing when you’re wearing a rash guard! Every brand and style comes with different standout features to earn your seal of approval for what you choose to wear it for.
The bottom line is, you’re going to want to choose a rash guard with plenty of stretch, a superior UV sun protection factor, and a comfortable texture that’s smooth and seamless for you to reach for it every time you go out in the elements.
To help you narrow down your search for the perfect match, we did the homework for you. After testing the leading brands, we came up with our top picks that boast all those sought-after features you’ll demand in your ultimate rash vest.
Each one passed our rigorous test for its category. Use our guide to match your primary use with our recommendations.
Many rash guards are made to be breathable, short and long sleeve. Even though they’re form-fitting, they’re actually designed to be comfortable all day long, so you won’t ever need to take them off and miss out on the sun protecting benefits. You can paddle board in the hot sun for hours, romp around on the beach, and explore new islands you’ve discovered in complete comfort. If you break a sweat or take a dive, the quick drying fabric wicks away moisture in moments.
Rash guard material is always sleek and smooth enough to wear on your bare skin, so the guys at GILI don’t wear anything underneath. The lady paddlers on our team recommend wearing a bikini top underneath, as even though most rash guards provide coverage, the thin fabric can get a bit sheer when wet!
There are short and long sleeve unisex rash guard options, but seeing as this kind of swim shirt is tailored to be slim-fitting, the cut will hug close to your body for maximum sun protection as well as other elements. In order to get the best performance, opt for either men’s or women’s rash guards so you’ll get the right fit for your different shape. Rash guards for women are much more comfortable and form fitting than unisex options.
Generally, yes. But exactly how tight your rash guard should be depends on what you’re going to be wearing it for. You’ll want a very form-fitting design for swimming or surfing. This prevents drag and stops your shirt from floating up in the water, exposing your uncovered skin to sun damage.
Other cases where a more tight fit will be your friend are those times when you will be moving around a lot. Or paddling on a SUP or kayak requires tight clothing that snugly conforms to your armpits and chest, cutting down on friction and reducing uncomfortable rubbing and chafing with each stroke. Keep in mind, you don’t want it so tight that it’ll interfere with your range of motion, so be sure to check the size chart.
That being said, if you’re having a more leisurely day without a lot of exertion or time in the water, you can opt for a looser fit.
You may think these close-fitting, stretch material shirts that block out UV rays would feel heavy and sweaty, but they’ve been designed specifically to be worn in hot weather.
Crafted from light, technical sports fabrics, a rash guard actually feels cooler than going without a shirt. Moisture wicking, quick drying fabrics pull moisture away from your skin and effectively provide a layer of UV protection.
Yes! Polyester fabric is resilient to pool chemicals, and won’t mind a dip in the chlorine so long as you rinse it out thoroughly shortly after your swim.
A high quality rash guard has a UPF rating of 50+, is made of quick drying performance fabric, features flat lock stitching for seamless comfort, and has four way stretch fabric to allow for uninhibited range of motion. A rash guard that has these well-designed features will provide lasting durability and functionality for years to come. Generally, long sleeve rash guards are best for cold and very hot conditions and rash guards with short sleeves are best for casually warm or hot days.
All of the options on the market can make it hard to choose. Here’s all the things you should consider when picking out your ideal rash guard:
A short sleeve rash guard is great for summer months when you want to dive in and feel the water against your skin. It’s also a safe bet if you’re in waters that aren’t known to have dangerous wildlife or hidden rocks.
A long sleeve rash guard helps to retain body heat when out in cold waters or temperatures and protects you from jellyfish stings and sand abrasions. If it’s especially hot, opt-in for a long sleeve rash guard as it offers the best coverage to prevent sunburn year-round.
For water sports that require a lot of movement such as paddle boarding or surfing, snug fit rash guards are best seeing as they will conform to your body while you move about. A high quality rash guard will allow for full range of motion and won’t result in chafing or irritation.
When it comes to things that require less exertion such as beach bumming or light swimming, opt for a loose fit rash guard. The moisture wicking properties will pull moisture off of your body and a looser fit is generally more comfortable.
There are several different rash guard materials available, each best suited for different activities.
Neoprene is stretchy and insulated, making it excellent for paddling or surfing in cold weather or water.
Nylon and spandex dries quickly, providing lots of breathability on hot days and forms a tight fit to your body. This is a good choice for paddle boarding, surfing, diving, or swimming in warmer climates.
Lycra is the stretchiest of options, so it will mold tightly to your body. If you find yourself in conditions that require you to make sudden drastic movements, such as with surfing, lycra is your best bet.
Finally, polyester is the most breathable, but what you gain in breathability, you compromise in stretchiness. This is a solid choice for paddle boarding, swimming, or diving.
While many rash guards are a step down from the warmth provided by a wetsuit, they do give you an extra barrier of thermal protection against chilling winds and bracing cold water. Certain rash guards, most of them long sleeve, are coated with Metalite on the inside for added thermal protection. If you do happen to get wet on a cooler day, the moisture wicking qualities mean you’ll get warm faster in a quick drying rash guard than if you were wearing a regular t shirt that takes forever to dry.
Wet fabric rubbing against skin when you’re paddling or swimming strokes can cause rashes and chafing, but a snug, form-fitting rash guard is made to cut down on friction and greatly reduce chances of rashes and irritation. Rash guards are also great to wear under wetsuits too, reducing chafing from neoprene.
Most rashies are crafted from special fabric that blocks the damaging effects of the sun’s harmful rays from your skin, and they’re ranked in their efficacy with a UV Protection Factor rating. The higher the UPF rating, the more damaging UV rays are prohibited from hitting your skin.
Aim high and look for a UPF 50+ factor in the fabric: This rating blocks 98% of harmful UV rays, only exposing your skin to 1 out of every 50 UV rays that cause sunburn, skin cell damage and skin cancer.
Zero in on your ideal rash guard by defining what features are going to make or break it for you, based on your needs. Consider what level of activity you’ll be doing most to decide how tight-fitting it should be. Be sure to think about how much sun protection you’ll need, and finally, evaluate the conditions to help decide the level of insulation and sleeve length required to keep you comfortable.
To streamline your search, we’ve compiled our ultimate guide on the ideal rash guard for you, based on activity. Here’s our comprehensive buying guide.
Paddle boarding attire needs to check a lot of boxes in order to keep you comfortable, cool and protected from the elements, and these high-performance rash guards fit the bill for everything your day out paddling demands.
A perfect blend of sweet designs and optimal functionality, the LAFROI men’s long sleeve rash guard is one of our two top choices for water sports due to its blend of 80% nylon and 20% spandex, elastic closures, and UPF 50+. The 5,000+ reviews on Amazon averaging at 4 ½ stars helps, too.
Coming in at a close second, the O'Neill Men’s Short Sleeve Rash Guard is another great rash guard for paddle boarding; it’s like wearing your favorite casual tee with the added bonus of drying 3x as fast.
Made for any water sport but especially shines for paddle boarding. This Cressi women’s rash guard is our top choice. The design, functionality, and durable yet comfortable material makes it rise above the rest.
Featuring a tight enough fit with enough wiggle room for maneuverability, an adjustable zipper-neck, and added hand protection, the HISKYWIN women’s UPF 50 long sleeve rash guard is our other top recommendation. Not only is it good for paddling, but it’s also an excellent choice for surfing, diving, kayaking, snorkelling, and other popular water sports.
These high-achieving rash guards pull more than double-duty in their versatility; they’re the best overall to take you from paddle boarding to beach lounging without skipping a beat.
O’Neill has become one of the top brands for outdoor gear since 1952 for their constantly reliable and comfortable attire. This O'Neill Men’s Basic Skins long sleeve rash guard lives up to its brand name due to its unparalleled quick dry, strategic seam placement, and breathability.
Perfect for paddling, diving, yoga, fitness, surfing, kayaking, and pretty much anything else you can think of, the RELLECIGA women’s UPF 50 long sleeve rash guard is one of the best rash guards for women. The snug fit, adjustable tightness, and quick dry capabilities make it perfect for anything outdoors, whether you’re on land or on the water.
Keep the sun and sand off when you’re catching a wave at the beach with these rockpool, breaker, and dune friendly designs. For men, we’ve provided a short sleeve rash guard and swim shirt. For context, rash guards are designed for sports that require a lot of movement while swim shirts are designed to be comfortable and block ultraviolet rays.
If you’re just swimming, you’ll want a swim shirt that’s not skin tight, but also not too loose. Our top short sleeve swim shirt pick comes from Speedo because of the reputable brand name, 100% polyester material, and quick-drying properties.
You can't go wrong with a rash guard for swimming from a surfing company like Kanu. A tad tighter than the aforementioned Speedo yet still loose enough to provide a comfortable swim, this Kanu Men’s Short Sleeve Rash Guard Swim Shirt may be a better option for men who are on the skinny side.
Coming in hot with over 3,700 reviews averaging at a 4 ½ star rating, the Kanu Short Sleeve Rash Guard is your best option for a women’s swim top. Featuring cute designs, vibrant colors, and near-perfect fit, you can’t go wrong with this Kanu.
If you plan to go swimming in colder or more rough water, you’ll want a long sleeve rash guard for extra warmth and protection. The Lopie Women’s Aztec Long Sleeve Rash Guard is our top pick not just for its durability, comfort, and breathability, but because it’s one of the few that comes with a matching bikini bottom.
The best rash guards for diving, snorkelling, and scuba diving are long sleeve, designed specifically to keep you warm and protect you from the sun’s rays. An extra layer of protection and warmth is vital when you’re submerged underwater and exposed to the sun’s harmful UVA rays for a prolonged period of time, be it exploring the reef, snorkelling or scuba diving to the depths.
The more affordable yet still quality option for a men’s snorkeling or diving rash guard is the Mares Trilastic Long Sleeve Rash Guard. The combination of lightweight fabric lowers your overall weight and the metalite inside coating provides thermal protection, both crucial elements when underwater for prolonged periods of time.
This premium option for snorkeling or diving comes from Scubapro, one of the world’s top suppliers in deep sea diving equipment. This men’s long sleeve rash guard is 100% polyester, making it comfortable, durable, and abrasion resistant.
You can’t go wrong with over 6,200 reviews. The comfortable, slim fit, and stylish TSLA Women’s UPF 50 Long Sleeve Rash Guard has all of the qualities you need while diving or snorkeling and a wide variety of different styles and colors to choose from.
If you’re looking for something that’s tight fitting but can also quickly and easily release body heat if needed, the zip-up women’s rash guard from Roxy is your best bet. Aside from everything you need in a quality rash guard for diving, the fabric is recycled polyester made from plastic bottles. Score for the environment!
Surfing exposes you to some of the ocean’s most powerful waves as well as any objects that might get swept up in them, so you’ll need something rugged. These form-fitting rash guards are exactly what you need seeing as they hug close to your body, provide extra sun protection when compared to their counterparts, and won’t create any drag or get tangled while you’re trying to catch that wave.
You’ll want a rash guard for surfing from a surfing company, and Kanu is one of our top picks for a UPF 50 long sleeve rash guard. This Platinum guard boasts over 3,000 reviews on Amazon, fits snug, and looks pretty awesome.
For something that’s not as tight and provides more sun protection, the Hurley Dri-Fit Men’s Long Sleeve rash guard is what you’re looking for. This one in particular is also designed specifically with fast drying material and the long sleeves provide more sun and thermal protection.
Comfort and durability are two of the biggest factors when choosing women’s rash guards for surfing, and O’Neill hits a home run in both departments with the Women’s Basic Skins Long Sleeve Rash Guard. To top it off, it’s also a recommended product from the Skin Cancer Foundation.
For an option that’s still durable but not as tight, go with the Roxy Women’s Long Sleeve Rash Guard. It’s not too tight and not too loose and still provides protection against the sun and the sea.
Children’s young and developing skin require extra sun protection from both the sun and the sea that’s still comfortable and “cool”. If they don’t feel comfortable, they’ll let you know. With that in mind, all of the kid’s rash guards below meet that crucial criteria and also feature cool designs that the youngsters will love.
With over 7,200 Amazon reviews and dozens of colors and styles to choose from, you can’t go wrong with the Boys’ Short Sleeve Rash Guard from Kanu. He’ll love the comfortable fit and feel of the material as well as the wide variety of vibrant color options.
Featuring a vast assortment of pretty designs your little girl will love, the girl's long sleeve rash guard from TFJH E will be your little princess’ favorite rash guard. The front zip design makes it easier than ever to change in and out of and has a UPF rating of 50+, blocking out at least 97% of the sun’s harmful UV rays.
For a more neutral option that still provides protection, the Boys’ and Girls’ Hooded UPF 50 Long Sleeve Rash Guard is your best choice. The added hoodie provides extra neck protection that most regular rash guards lack and is made in the USA.
Paddling on a budget? Check out our best budget rash guards and save your hard-earned dollars for your paddle boarding accessories instead! These budget rash guards don't skimp on quality but still bring the features you need most.
Everything you need for ultimate protection under $20 sounds impossible, but the 1,100+ Amazon reviews of the BALEAF Men’s Rash Guard would say that it is indeed possible. Featuring a snug fit, board short connectors, and flatlock seams, this rash guard is almost too good to be true.
Wolddress truly outdid themselves with this two-piece long sleeve rash guard that’s under $30. This two piece long sleeve rash guard set comes with a zip-up top and boyshorts with a drawstring that are both comfortable, versatile, and protective against the sun.
A new rash guard may be an item you think you don’t need or just haven’t gotten around to purchasing yet, but as you can, see it’s importance can not be understated. Spending all day out on a paddle board under the blazing sun can do a number on your skin, and you never know what could be hidden beneath the waves waiting to leave an annoying scrape or abrasion. We all know how annoying it is to deal with a totally avoidable scrape for days on end…
One last pro-tip before we wrap this up; be sure to get both a long sleeve and a short sleeve rash guard. Having a short sleeve rash guard is great for comfortable temperatures, but wearing a long sleeve rash guard on hand provides more protection from the UV rays and helps to retain body heat if you find yourself in colder waters.
Taking the time to find the right for you will allow you to spend more time on your SUP by protecting you from the elements without any chafing, irritation, or restriction of movement. Good luck, and happy paddling!
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