5 Hot and (Not) Heavy Sun Protection Items

Abby Evans

Sun protection gear for PCT and other trails

As I prepare for my Pacific Crest Trail thru-hike, I’m wary of the first section: the desert. I’ve never hiked through a desert before, but I have experienced some miserable days of unbearable heat and humidity on my Appalachian Trail thru-hike. During alpine zones, the sun was inescapable. Exposure to sunlight can increase the heat index by 15 degrees Fahrenheit. This is why I’m taking careful precautions to prepare myself with the best gear to mitigate my exposure to the sun on the Southern California section of the Pacific Crest Trail.

1. Really Good Sunscreen

Aloe Up sunscreen

There are few things more frustrating than runny, greasy sunscreen. When I used to apply sunscreen while backpacking, I would usually just sweat it off within the next hour, and my whole body would feel oily and disgusting. With Aloe Up Sunscreen, you can still have the same 30 or 50 SPF protection — without any of the greasy feelings! In a small one or three ounce container, you can slip it into your fanny pack or a side pocket of your hip belt. Even if you’re wearing a hat while hiking, it’s still best practice to wear sunscreen as well, especially in high exposure areas such as Southern California’s desert. It’s better to take preventative measures to save your skin from the sun rather than spend time after your thru-hike at the doctor’s office.

2. A Really Good Hat

sun hat sun protection - Long Haul Cap by Territory Run

The Long Haul Cap from Territory Run is my go-to hat for hiking. At 2.1 ounces, this hat stuffs easily into your pack and is made of lightweight, breathable material. When I’m hiking, I barely notice it’s there. It also has a longer brim than some other trail running hats. The longer brim can help to shield more of your face from the sun, and in sections with a lot of bugs, keep a bug net further away from your face. Trail running hats can also help keep your hair out of your face, similar to a neck gaiter, but they have the added bonus of shielding your eyes and face from harmful UV rays at the same time.

3. Reliable Sunglasses

armless sunglasses by Ombraz in the sun

Ombraz sunglasses are a simple solution to keeping your eyes safe from continued exposure to sunlight. Wearing sunglasses on a thru-hike can save you from squinting for twelve hours a day, can allow you to pleasantly watch sunrises and sunsets, and might also save you some headaches. I constantly get headaches while hiking in exposed areas due to light sensitivity. Ombraz sunglasses are armless sunglasses that won’t slip down your face when you hike. They’re scratch-resistant, smudge resistant, and made to withstand impact. Ombraz are a pair of sunglasses you can shove anywhere in your pack and be confident that you can still count on them to protect your eyes the next time you pull them out. 

4. A Sun Hoodie

PCT gear lineup

My favorite thing about sun hoodies is that they allow you to stay protected from the sun while wearing something light and breathable. It's such an easy way to protect the back of your neck from the sun's line of fire. The best thing about a sun hoodie from Town Shirt is that you can wear a pattern that represents native flora and fauna from your favorite long trail — possibly even while you’re hiking it! Their sun hoodies protect you from the sun for up to 50+ UPF, and the hood is large enough to cover the sides of your face to protect them even more from the sun. Thumb holes can keep your sleeves in place while hiking, and a kangaroo style pocket allows a small place to keep hair ties, your phone, Sawyer filter O-rings or a Clif Bar while you hike. 

5. An Ultralight Umbrella & Hands-Free Attachment

sun protection umbrella

I was on the fence for a while about whether or not I thought an umbrella was worth the extra weight and then realized it would only be around six or seven extra ounces. If I don’t think it’s worth it, I can always just send it home. An ultralight umbrella can provide shade while you’re walking or while you’re taking a lunch break. Without it, a 90 degree day on an uphill could feel more like a 105 degree day. I would rather take my chances with the 90 degrees! Additionally, when I overheat, I find that I don’t want to eat at all. An umbrella gives me the opportunity to take a break wherever I want and create my own shade patch to eat in. And — you don’t even need to carry it with a Hands Free Kit (two tiny bungee cords) that simply straps the umbrella to your shoulder strap!


Anytime you set out on a hike, make sure you’re mindful of how much of your hike will be spent in exposed terrain. Exposure to the sun is an easy dilemma to mitigate ahead of time, but if not prevented, can lead to heat exhaustion or sun poisoning. In the past, I’ve experienced both and know how quickly it can make a fun backpacking trip into a dangerous ordeal. Finding a balance of the right gear to suit your capabilities and the environmental conditions is the perfect way to enjoy backpacking in sunny conditions — without having to worry about suffering through extreme temperatures (as much).




Abby Evans, or S.W. Fireball Queen of the Salamanders, enjoys thru-hiking, jumping in mud puddles and catching salamanders. When they're not doing these three things, they love to write about their on-foot adventures. They recently finished the Appalachian Trail, and they're looking forward to hiking the Pacific Crest Trail this year!

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