When the conditions change throughout the warmer months of the year, spending 20 minutes trying to pull on your wetsuit might not always be necessary. That’s when the lesser-spotted swim shirt comes into its own.
Swim shirts, also known as rash guards or vests, are designed to offer a degree of sun protection, making them a useful tool for swimming, surfing, or paddle boarding. Given the potential for damage from UV rays, it can be a great way to ensure you’re protected without needing to apply (and reapply) sunscreen, which is always in danger of being washed off in the water.
A good swim shirt can also reduce chafing and irritation that can occur in saltwater or chlorine, and provide some insulation against water that isn’t quite cold enough for a wetsuit but still requires some coverage.
There are a number of thicknesses for different temperatures and textures. Most swim shirts are around 1-2mm in thickness, but can also come in around 3mm for added warmth. The sun protection is determined by the UPF (ultraviolet protection factor) rating, which usually ranges from UPF 15 to UPF 50+.
We’ve included options for both men and women, as well as short- and long-sleeve options. The picks below were chosen based on in-depth research and analysis of user reviews.
Best swim shirts
Gill Mens Pro Short Sleeve Rash Guard
Gill’s short-sleeved rash guard claims to offer a ‘next-to-skin’ fit, with four-way stretch fabric designed to fit close to the body. The aim is to ensure it doesn’t feel like there’s any drag in the water and that the shirt feels as natural as possible.
The seams are flatlocked – meaning there shouldn’t be any overlaps in the fabric – so it’s designed to reduce chafing and ensure a higher level of comfort.
The fabric is mostly made from lightweight polyester, with built-in UV protection of 50+ to keep your skin safe. It’s available in sizes from XS to XXL and is stated to be built for sailing, board sports, and swimming.
Roxy Surf Element Women’s Long Sleeve Rash Vest
Surfing industry giant Quiksilver’s women’s line, titled Roxy, has been going strong since 1990. They initially began as a swimwear brand and have since expanded to snowboarding and surfing, manufacturing the first pair of board shorts marketed towards women.
This long-sleeved rash vest is made from recycled fabric, and is stated to offer a stretchable fabric and a fitted design. There’s Roxy’s branding on the left sleeve and the front, with a wider collar designed to provide a little extra comfort for the neck.
The fabric also offers a UPF of 50+ to keep your skin protected.
Quiksilver Short Sleeve Rash Vest
- Buy now from Quiksilver (£25.00)
A mainstay in Quiksilver’s men’s line, this short-sleeved rash vest is made from recycled yarn, which they claim to be saltwater resistant.
It’s stated to have a snug fit, with a high collar and Quiksilver branding on the left sleeve and the centre of the chest.
It offers UPF protection of 50 and is available in up to six different colours, including an eye-catching orange and a speckled navy.
Olaian 100 Men’s Long Sleeve Surfing Top
Olaian’s swim shirt is said to have been manufactured with surfers in mind, with a long-sleeved design and UPF 50+ fabric, which is claimed to maintain protection when wet.
It’s made from a textile mesh, which Olaian claims prevents grains of sand from getting stuck in the fabric.
It also features a loop that can be attached to board shorts or swimming trunks, which is designed to keep the top from being moved or pulled up when hit by waves, ensuring there isn’t any unwanted skin exposure.
O’Neill Basic Sun Tee Shirt
Another surfers’ favourite, San Francisco brand O’Neill have been making neoprene wetsuits and rashguards for the best part of half a century.
Their men’s swim shirt is designed to offer a slightly looser fit for swimmers and surfers who feel like skin-tight fits aren’t for them.
It’s said to feature seamless zones where you’re likely to move your arms when paddling or swimming. This is down to flatlock seams, which claim to be soft and breathable throughout long periods of exercise.
The fabric is stated to be quick drying and offer UPF 50+ protection. There is a board short connector too, designed to keep the shirt from riding up while you’re in the water.
Arena Short Sleeve Rash Vest
- Buy now from Arena Sport (£27.00)
Arena’s short-sleeve rash guard is designed to offer a seamless feel, with flatlock seams to prevent chafing.
It’s said to feature a slightly more relaxed fit than snug rash guards, with contrast stitching and Arena’s branding on the chest.
The polyester fabric offers a UPF rating of 50+, with a high neck and a longline waist. It’s available in the fetching navy-blue colour pictured above, with a long-sleeve option also available.