How to Prevent UV Exposure While Outdoors

Hikers and campers must take care to protect themselves from the damaging rays of the sun, no matter what the season is. By taking some simple steps, backcountry travelers can enjoy their time in the outdoors while preventing sunburn from ultraviolet radiation. Over time, UV radiation can damage the DNA in the skin, causing both melanoma and non-melanoma skin cancer.

Sunscreen For Hiking

Applying sunscreen is a simple way to protect the skin. Use a brand with at least an SPF 15, and apply it regularly throughout the day. Even though some brands advertise as being waterproof, such as sport sunscreen, it can still wear off after a long day of hiking and sweating.

Some places to apply sunscreen to the body include:

  • The face, including the nose and cheeks.
  • Tops of the ears.
  • Back of the neck.
  • The arms, including the tops of the hands.
  • The legs, especially the back of the calves.

Wear a Sunhat

A hat with a brim such as a baseball cap can protect the face from direct sun exposure. Wearing a hat with a 360-degree brim, will also shield the back of the neck. A boonie hat or straw hat will work well. Many different kinds of hats are available from retailers, and can be purchased at little cost.

UV-Protection Clothing

Covering the arms and legs with a long sleeve shirt and pants also protects the body from the direct effects of the sun. During the summer, lightweight nylon trekking pants and a shirt works well, and are designed to ventilate moisture from the body. REI sells clothing that has been designed to protect from sun exposure with an SPF built into the fabric, such as the Nike UV t-shirt.

Preventing Winter Sun Exposure

During the winter months, the sun’s rays can reflect from the snow back onto exposed skin. Those who enjoy snow camping and winter sports can apply zinc oxide cream to the nose and cheeks. The white cream reflects sunlight off of the skin. Use a lip balm with an SPF to sooth cracked lips and moisturize.


The eyes can be particularly sensitive to sunlight, especially during winter, when the rays reflected from snow can cause snow blindness. When shopping for sunglasses, look for a pair that have polarized lenses, which blocks 100% of UVA/UVB radiation. When wearing eyewear don’t forget to apply sunscreen to the cheeks and nose, as light reflected from the lenses will shine on the skin.

On the Trail

While hiking on the trail, there are some tricks travelers can use to reduce sun exposure. When taking a rest break, stop in the shade where it is cooler. Hike in the morning or late afternoon, when the sun is lower in the sky, instead of midday, when it is highest and most bright. Drink water to prevent dehydration.