A high-quality rash guard while surfing is essential not only for a rash-free chest but also to avoid being that old leathery guy who let the sun have its way with him over a few decades. Aside from warding off the ever-annoying chafe, rash guards protect you from the sun’s harmful UV rays. We all know what someone who has been in the sun for too long looks like. Don’t be the guy who looks 70 when you’re 50. So although keeping the chafe away is admirable, these garments do a lot more than the name suggests.
While it’s hard to go wrong with a rash guard, there are a few that stand out as doing it right. We tested about a dozen of the best rash guards and swim shirts on the market this summer – in the water and out, paddling kayaks, paddling surfboards, with life jackets, on hikes, and more. Below are the finest rash guards money can buy, from the basic to the feature-rich, and the pros and cons we noticed while testing each of the below products.
If you ‘d like to see how all the different models stack up, check out our Comparison Table below. For more information on buying the perfect rash guard, see below for our Rash Guard Buyer’s Guide. For women’s-specific styles, check out our guide to the Best Women’s Rash Guards.
The Best Rash Guards of 2023
Best All-Around Rash Guard: Vissla Easy Seas Eco
Best Budget Rash Guard: O’Neill Basic Skins
Best Women’s Rash Guard: Carve Designs Kona Rash Guard
Best Loose-Fitting Rash Guard: Quiksilver Saturn Surf Shirt
Best Tight-Fitting Rash Guard: Dakine HD Snug Fit
Best Hooded Rash Guard: Patagonia UPF Hoody
Most Comfortable Rash Guard: NRS H2Core
Best All-Around Rash Guard
Made in: China
Materials: 85% recycled polyester, 15% recycled spandex
Pros: Comfortable and unobtrusive logo means it looks great as a regular shirt.
Cons: Hard to get your hands on – often sells out.
Vissla was once the new kid on the block, but after a decade of building the brand it’s pretty safe to say that they are a staple in the surf scene. Their next big break will be addressing the masses, which could very well be where the Easy Seas Eco rash guard comes into play. With the right combination of comfort, simple design, and relaxed fit, this rash guard will do the job and look great out of the water as well. Additionally Vissla uses recycled materials, so it’s also a wise decision for our planet. Add in the fact that the price point was lower than comparable models from other brands, and it was enough for us to give it the nod as the best all-around rash guard.
Best Budget Rash Guard
Made in: Mexico
Materials: 87% polyester, 13% spandex
Pros: Form fitting for those in good surf shape.
Cons: Accentuates your dad bod if not.
If all you want is a bit of sun and chest protection (which is most of us), simple is almost always better. That’s why O’Neill’s Basic Skins offers a solid choice for no-nonsense performance. We found the longsleeve version to be slightly longer than other brands, so if you’re the lanky type these might be for you, and vice versa if the opposite. It was also a bit more of a relaxed fit in the neck than others tested. This can be both a good thing and bad thing depending on your preference – if you’re in huge surf you might want something tighter but if not you’ll appreciate having a bit more room to breathe.
Best Women’s Rash Guard
Made in: Indonesia
Materials: 82% recycled polyester/18% spandex
Pros: Cute front-zip, longer cut provides extra sun protection.
Cons: On the larger side – size down if between sizes.
Carve Designs has come up with the perfect women’s rash guard with their Kona Rash Guard. The top is made of recycled fabric, with a longer cut for a bit of added sun protection and a half-zip that provides easy in/out as well as some extra style-points.
In testing we found the Kona to be incredibly soft and comfortable, with a bit of a relaxed fit, so be sure to size down if you prefer a tight-fitting rash guard. Our tester found the loose fit to be a pro rather than a con, allowing the rash guard to be worn as a sun shirt out of the water, and providing all-day comfort both in and out of the water. For more women’s rashguards, check out our guide to the Best Rash Guards for Women.
Best Loose-Fitting Rash Guard
Made in: Egypt
Materials: 86% polyester, 14% spandex
Pros: Relaxed fit, lower price.
Cons: Massive logo on the chest, too baggy for large waves/fast swimming.
Yes, it’s true that a tight rash guard is better performance-wise, but a lot of us aren’t so serious all the time and would rather be more comfortable in the lineup. For those days the go-to for a relaxed fit is the Quiksilver Saturn Surf Shirt. The logo is a bit 80’s reminiscent and fairly ostentatious, but the upside to the free advertising is a low price point. I suppose that’s a decent trade-off for many.
Best Tight-Fitting Rash Guard
Made in: Cambodia
Materials: 87% recycled polyester, 13% spandex
Pros: Flexible and responsive.
Cons: Not as breathable as others tested.
Dakine has been around for a while, making all kinds of accessories from backpacks to surfboard leashes and many more. Their HD Snug fit rash guard is as advertised: a snug fitting rash guard meant to keep you protected from sun and chafe while also having a semblance of style. The tie-dye arms help show off your paddling prowess in the lineup without bogging you down like a looser-fitting rash guard.
Best Hooded Rash Guard
Made in: Thailand (Fair Trade Certified)
Materials: 85% recycled nylon, 15% spandex
Pros: Pocket in the back, sun visor on top.
Cons: Material felt more rubbery than others – not great for wearing out of the water.
Patagonia uses nylon made from recycled fishing nets in their rash guards. That alone is a great reason to support a brand that is ever-commited to helping improve the ocean and our planet’s well being. That alone should help you sleep better. But with added protection on their R0 UPF hoody, you’ll have a better time for longer under the hot sun. The visor attached to the hood is ideal for those midday sessions that are simply not healthy or safe to do in the long term. Yes, other brands also sport these features, but none seemed to fit as well to the whole package as Patagonia’s. Add in their reputation for fixing what rips, and chances are you will have this shirt as a part of the kit for a long time to come.
Most Comfortable Rash Guard
Made in: Cambodia
Materials: 85% recycled polyester, 15% recycled spandex
Pros: Simple design, good stitching.
Cons: Thicker material can feel too warm.
NRS is known inland as a paddlers brand, and as a result may not be on some surfer/beachgoer’s radar. The H2Core rash guard felt the least balloon-like of the spandex armada that is the rash guard section of your local shop. Although it’s a similar blend of materials than others tested, the extra thickness gives a level of comfort that felt good both in and out of the water. Naturally, with extra thickness comes extra warmth so if the sun is beating down in warm water this might not be the best choice. But when the water is cold and the sun is hot (pretty much anywhere north of 40° latitude) a bit of extra weight might come in handy. We also found it to dry quickly and wick moisture away from the skin well, despite being on the thicker side, which is always a huge bonus.
|Vissla Easy Seas Eco||Best All-Around Rash Guard||$55||Relaxed||China|
|O’Neill Basic Skins||Best Budget Rash Guard||$32||Tight||Mexico|
|Carve Designs Kona||Best Women’s Rash Guard||$72||Loose||Indonesia|
|Quiksilver Saturn Surf Shirt||Best Loose-Fitting Rash Guard||$42||Loose||Egypt|
|Dakine HD Snug Fit||Best Tight-Fitting Rash Guard||$60||Tight||Cambodia|
|Patagonia R0||Best Hooded Rash Guard||$79||Tight||Thailand (Fair Trade Certified)|
|NRS H2Core||Most Comfortable Rash Guard||$58||Relaxed||Cambodia|
How We Tested The Best Rash Guards
As surfers, the best way we know to try and get a rash is to get out in the water and paddle. Wax isn’t the kindest to the skin so paddling for any length of time will cause a bit of chafing. It may come as no surpise, but all the rash guards we tested aced this pretty well. Let’s hope so, right?
The second criteria is sun protection – while they boast UPF 50, the only way to truly test was to go out midday without sunscreen (at least where the shirt was covering) and see if things got hot. Black naturally feels warmer, but sun effect is a different story. So all the models listed here did not leave any adverse effects on the skin after use.
Next was the comfort factor, where we simply judged how well the shirt would hang from the skin. Since all body types are a wee bit different, we had a couple different guys (all in the M shirt range) of different body types try it on – from the svelte to the working-class dad bod – and averaged out the consensus. The result? A wide range of fits, from skin-tight to loose and baggy. We made note of them in each review.
Lastly, we simply wore the shirts around in everyday life to see how they could double up in town. While this isn’t a huge factor given that its purpose is to do a job in the water, it’s still nice to know if you can wear it in the day-to-day without looking too strange about it.
Rash Guard Buyer’s Guide
Rash guards are one of those items where there isn’t a whole lot of variation out there when it comes down to it. After having been readily available on the market for decades, most brands have refined their product through testing and redesign long enough so that it’s pretty hard to go wrong with anything out there. But there a few key differentiators that will help you decide which is the best rash guard for you and your needs. The following few key points are essential to helping you choose the ideal rash guard:
Materials: Most rash guards are crafted from a blend of nylon, polyester, and spandex, each contributing to specific characteristics. A nylon and spandex blend gives the rash guard a high degree of stretchability, allowing unrestricted movement – a crucial aspect for high movement activities such as surfing or martial arts. However, when it comes to durability, especially in a chlorinated pool environment, a polyester and spandex blend outperforms, thanks to polyester’s resilience. This blend is also swift to dry and offers superior UV protection.
Size and fit: This depends largely on what you’ll be using your rash guard for most of the time. If you’re a surfer or a martial artist, a tight fit rash guard is your go-to choice. It lessens the risk of getting tangled with your surfboard or giving your opponent a grip in martial arts. For more relaxed activities like casual swimming or beach lounging, a loose-fitting rash guard or surf shirt provides ample breathability and comfort.
Stitching: One element that sets high-quality rash guards apart from their lower-quality counterparts is the stitching. Flatlock stitching is a mark of a premium rash guard. It not only enhances durability but also provides comfort against the skin, reducing potential irritation or chafing.
Sun Protection (UPF)- If keeping your skin safe is a factor (everyone should be raising their hand), take note of the Ultraviolet Protection Factor (UPF) rating. For instance, a UPF 50 rating means that just 1/50th of the sun’s UV radiation will hit your skin. For effective protection, aim for a rash guard with a minimum UPF rating of 30.
Design and coverage: The design and coverage are largely a matter of personal preference and climate conditions. Short-sleeve rash guards allow a greater range of motion and are perfect for warmer weather. Long-sleeve variants cater to colder conditions and are a favorite among Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu practitioners due to the additional protection they provide, as well as those doing big midday surf and beach sessions in the sun.
Brand reputation: A brand’s reputation also plays a crucial role in your decision-making. Seek out brands known for their quality and durability. Delve into reviews (like this handy one you are reading now) and ask for recommendations to get a clearer picture of what to expect.
What is Important When Choosing A Rash Guard?
When choosing a rash guard, there are a few important factors to consider. Firstly, comfort is key, as you’ll be wearing the rash guard for extended periods.
Look for materials that are soft, stretchy, and allow for unrestricted movement. Additionally, quick-drying properties are crucial to ensure you stay dry and comfortable throughout your day.
Rash protection is, of course, another essential aspect. A good rash guard should minimize skin irritation and chafing caused by friction with equipment or contact with surfaces. Consider models with flatlock seams and smooth fabric to enhance comfort and reduce the risk of rashes.
Sun protection is vital, especially when spending time outdoors. Look for rash guards with UPF (Ultraviolet Protection Factor) ratings to ensure effective shielding against harmful UV rays. This helps prevent sunburn and reduces the risk of long-term skin damage. Most these days claim a UPF of 50+, which has become the standard. If they don’t claim this, then it’s worth getting one that does.
Last, but certainly never least— don’t forget to consider style. Rash guards come in various designs, colors, and patterns, allowing you to express your personal style while enjoying whatever activity you choose.
Editor’s Note: For more gear reviews and gear features from The Inertia, click here.