Sun Protection and LNT
The convenience of cool temps and cloudy skies is just about over and I find myself reevaluating my sun protection systems. Sun protection, especially at altitude or in the deserts, has the potential to quickly make or break a trip and should be considered very carefully. Getting older and taking preventative measures like having suspicious moles and sunspots burnt off by a dermatologist is testament to the importance of being smart in this area. While I love being relatively unclothed in the outdoors, slathering on sunscreen all day long is increasingly unappealing. It’s messy, attracts dirt and grime, and soils all of your gear and sleeping bags on extended trips. In addition, in places like the High Sierra, with small and pristine water sources full of life, I question the ethics of getting into a small pool or stream for a bath when you’ve been slathering yourself in chemical oils all day long. It just doesn’t feel right; these places are special enough to me that I want have as minimal an impact as possible.
My system on last summer’s trip into the Upper Kern with Tom proved to be the best I’ve used for extended full sun exposure to-date. I don’t believe I used more than a dime-sized drop of sunscreen on the entire trip, just a little for the backs of my hands and my nose. Both of which are small enough areas they can be washed off well away from water sources. I believe with slightly more precaution, I could eliminate the use of sunscreen altogether and plan on trying to do so on this year’s upcoming trip into the high country.
Here’s what I’m using so far:
Sunday Afternoons Adventure Hat.
My beloved man-bonnet. Most people hate them based on sight. In certain conditions they’re too much (bushwhacking, hunting, or anything technical), but for backpacking the high country or deserts it’s proven to be one of the most functional pieces of gear I own. It allows me to go out without using a drop of sunscreen on my neck, ears, or face, and that’s worth something. The black under the brim shades the world nicely, especially at 10,000+ feet, and I’ve found it to be far more secure than you’d imagine in wind. In addition, I think it’s the coolest hat I own; plenty of air flow and it dries quickly. I know people can’t stand the look of them, but if you’re worried about fashion over practicality in the mountains, I suggest you check your premise.
REI Sahara LS
The SPF 50+ seems legit, as I’ve shown absolutely no signs of sun exposure through this shirt, even after weeks at over 10,000 feet and full sun. It breathes well enough, even at 90+ degrees, doesn’t seem to stink as bad as other synthetics I own, dries quickly, and has a good enough feel against the skin (some synthetics feel too plastic-like and sticky). This year I plan on slitting some thumb loops into the sleeves so I can pull it down for back of the hand protection, an area I neglected and burned last year. So far it’s been good enough and durable enough. While merino wool feels better on the skin, the price and the durability aren’t worth it to me.
Patagonia Rock Craft Pants
My favorite outdoor pants, period. A little stretch woven into them so they move well, they dry fast enough, and the cut is good. I suspect I could find a slightly cooler pant for 80+ degree temps (the Patagonia Gi III pant looks appealing), but these have done well enough so far. I pair them with a synthetic boxer brief (most of what Target sells seems to do just fine versus more expensive name-brand offerings I’ve tried). Fast drying, they eliminate chaffing, and briefs are great for swimming when one needs to be modest.
I’m looking into the possibility of palmless sun gloves to take care of the hand issue. While it may sound like overkill, sunburned hands and fingers have been pretty common- and annoying.
As for eye protection, I typically use my Ray Ban Wayfarers or any other typical UV protection glasses, but plan on getting something darker and more full coverage for this summer, likely the Julbo Tensing (so far as I can tell, some of the most reasonably priced dark mountain glasses). Time to get more serious; my eyes are pretty sensitive to brightness, I’ve already developed early stages of surfer’s eye, and I would like to avoid cataracts in old age.
While t-shirts, shorts, and the wind on bare skin feel pretty damned good, I ultimately think full coverage is the far more sustainable (and simple) way to go; less sunscreen on me, less sunscreen in pristine water sources, less consumables to pack. Fashion be damned, practice what will keep you outdoors and healthy into old age.