Forget about winter. Summer is coming. And that means it’s time to upgrade your swim suit. A new pair of trunks is always a good idea and this year, you should also incorporate a swim shirt into your summertime game.
Swim shirts, aka surf tees or rash guards, are great for extra sun protection or if you’re feeling a little beach body shy. They come in various styles and thickness, but all are generally water-wicking, practically weightless and feature a UPF 50+ rating (that’s Ultraviolet Protection Factor). Plus, technology has advanced so far that you can wear one on a blazing hot day and still feel cool and comfortable.
There are two main types of swim shirts to choose from:
1. Rash guards: Designed to be tighter-fitting, rash guards are primarily worn by surfers to protect their chests from surfboard or boogie board rashes. Most rash guards come with connectors that you can attach to your board shorts so they don’t ride up. If you’re looking for a shirt that will stand up to water sports and other activities, these are a great option. If you’re a bit self-conscious and prefer not to show off every upper body curve, pass on a rash guard and instead go with a looser fitting swim shirt. One more note about rash guards- they aren’t meant for lap swimming, and constant movement and chlorine exposure will cause most of them to degrade more quickly.
2. Swim shirts, aka surf tees or surf shirts: Primarily used for extra sun protection, these shirts are looser fitting than rash guards and also lighter weight. They come in a variety of styles, ranging from slimmer athletic to looser t-shirt-esque, as well as a spectrum of colors and even patterns. If you’re looking for some extra coverage at the beach, on the boat or even in the yard, a swim shirt is your ideal option. A few general tips when it comes to selecting a swim shirt: the lighter weight paired with lighter colors can turn see-through when wet and black will be warmer than other colors. A happy medium is to choose a vibrant color you like that coordinates well with your swim trunks.
Here are our top picks for best swim shirts, in no particular order.
1. Kanu Surf Men’s Rash Guard/Swim Shirt
Kanu Surf is a go-to brand for many different surfing and water sport needs. For under $20, their hybrid rash guard/swim shirt is really nice when it comes to performance as well as looks. There’s a wide range of vibrant colors to choose from and the side panels offer a bonus slimming-effect too. It’s looser t-shirt fit and lighter weight make it more of a swim shirt than a durable rash guard, so it’s not the best choice for hardcore wear. It is though an excellent pick for weekend warriors looking for an affordable, quality shirt to get them through the season. Plus, the style is also available in kid sizes so the whole family can squad up at the beach.
- UPF 50+
- Quick drying
- Comfortable fit
- Not as thick or durable as other options
- No loop to attach to board shorts
2. Speedo Rash Guard Swim Tee
When you think of swimming, most of us think Speedo right? So when you need a swim shirt, they offer a great choice in their Rash Guard Swim Tee. This sporty style features a looser fit, nice coverage and raglan sleeves that offer a wider range of motion for water sports. It’s also flattering on men of all shapes and sizes. The quality and construction is impressive, it doesn’t cling to you while swimming and also dries very quickly. One heads-up? The style runs large, so if you’d like something a bit more fitted, size down.
If you prefer this selection in a long-sleeved style, you can find it here.
- UPF 50+
- Flattering cut for men of all sizes
- Nice quality
- Sizing runs large
- Not as many color options
3. Vapor Apparel Performance T-Shirt
If you’re all about an active outdoor lifestyle, whether it be fishing, sailing, rowing, swimming, hiking or surfing, this pick is for you. The loose and airy fit is comfortable and the sleeves are long enough to cover the tops of your hands if you desire. Plus, it not only incorporates special moisture-wicking properties, it also utilizes anti-microbial technology to help keep the shirt odor free. What guy doesn’t love that?
- UPF 50+
- Anti-microbial technology helps keep the shirt odor free
- Wide range of color options
- Vapor Apparel provides excellent customer service
- Unisex cut runs small
4. O’Neil Sun Shirt Rash Guard
The O’Neil Sun Shirt Rash Guard is definitely for guys on the summertime go. While it’s part sun shirt, it fits and performs all rash guard with a form fitting style designed to feel like a second skin. The compression fit is not for everyone, but once you have it on it’s very comfortable and allows for a great range of motion for water sports, especially kayaking and paddleboarding.
- UPF 50+
- Boardshort connector
- Rugged, durable material
- Runs very small – size up
5. Coolibar Swim Shirt
The Coolibar Swim Shirt is a bit of a pricier option, but its unique features help to justify the price tag. It’s made with special saltwater and chlorine resistant aqua SUNTECT fabric and includes a stand-up collar for added sun protection. Comfortable, stretchy and durable are three other keys to this long-lasting swim shirt, so you know that you’re getting a quality item made to last.
- UPF 50+
- Special saltwater and chlorine resistant fabric
- Comfortable, looser fit
- Not a lot of colors to choose from
- Looser fit can also make swimming more difficult
6. Aqua Design Rash Guard
Looking for a swim shirt with a bit more personality? Well, here you go. The Aqua Design Rash Guard features a unique 3-D water pattern print in a looser fit, but in a heavier rash guard material. The four-way stretch fabric also gives optimum movement for paddling, rowing, casting and other activities. Better yet, it’s available in an unusually wide range of sizes, from Small to XXXXXXL. This was a smart, deliberate move, to accommodate many different body types after the company kept hearing from customers about wanting more options. So if you’re a bigger guy or an older guy, or even a younger guy not into a super tight look, you’ll love this one.
- UPF 50+
- Signature “sky-ward” camouflage 3-D water print
- 100% satisfaction guarantee
- Extended range of size options
- Some found the collar a bit too high and uncomfortable
7. Columbia Sunset Stream Swim Tee
Here’s a classic, baseball tee style with all the functionality you need. The Columbia Sunset Stream Swim Tee utilizes their exclusive Omni-Shade technology, that blocks UVA and UVB rays to help prevent sun burn and long-term skin damage. The lighter fabric is also quite durable and will stand up to serious summer fun and subsequent washings. If you’re headed to the waterpark or plan on spending time at the pool this summer, the Columbia Men’s Swim Tee is a good basic to have in your beach bag. You can also get the Sunset Stream in a long-sleeved version.
- UPF 50+
- Classic style
- Good basic
- Not as many colors to choose from
8. Quiksilver All Time Surf Tee Rash Guard
Quiksilver has been making “quality products for boardriders” since 1969, so they know what they’re doing when it comes to their All Time Surf Tee Rash Guard. Firstly, the sporty style is an eye-catcher. Even if you’ve never paddleboarded before, you’ll look like you’re a pro if you sport this slick option. Secondly, the tighter, rash guard fit won’t interfere with swimming. And lastly, even though it has that tighter fit and long sleeves, it’s light and breathable, and not too hot in the sun.
- UPF 50+
- Cool, sporty look
- Great range of color options
- Runs tight/small
9. O’Neill Wetsuits Basic Skins Sun Shirt
While it’s longer-sleeved cousin also made the list, this pick is less sporty and looser fitting. It’s also a #1 seller on Amazon under stand-up paddle boarding equipment. The relaxed fit still lets you move while providing excellent sun and rash protection. Also, while this fits and performs more like a sun shirt rather than a true rash guard, it still offers a bit of warmth for those chillier lakes and un-heated backyard pools.
- UPF 50+
- Good variety of color options
- Excellent range of sizes, from Small through King 6X Tall
- Sizing runs small
10. Hanes Men’s Long Sleeve Cool-Dri T-Shirt
While this last selection isn’t specifically a swim shirt, it can be used for one. Plus, it also has great features that make it a spot-on choice for summertime activities, including the usual UPF 50+ rating and Hanes’ patented Cool-Dri fabric that wicks away moisture and dries super fast. It has double stitching in the neck, sleeves and hem for extra durability as well as the famous, Hanes tag-free collar for extra comfort. If you’re a fan of Hanes everyday basic tees or tanks, you’ll love this shirt that’s specifically designed for warmer weather.
- UPF 50+
- Pack of 2 shirts
- Not as great for swimming
- Fits a bit looser than desired
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