Rash vests have become one of the must-have accessories for anyone taking part in a water sport. Originally, they were designed to prevent chafing (rash) but now they come in a variety of designs and styles that are suited for many different purposes.
A rash vest was originally designed to stop the body from developing a rash from surf wax when paddling on a surfboard. They are usually made from elastane, Lycra, nylon or polyester and they create a tight-fitting piece of clothing that is intended to be worn next to the skin.
A snug, skin-tight fit helps the vest to do its job well.
From their surfing origins, modern rash vests are not just for water sports enthusiasts, as children, swimmers and beach lovers increasingly wear them to get extra protection from UV rays. Don’t be fooled by the lack of sunshine in the UK. Even with light cloud coverage, your skin can be harmed by the sun’s rays and they can cause not just sunburn, but also long term damage and even skin cancer.
Surfers find rash vests useful to get protection from their surfboard wax or to reduce friction burns. Divers and snorkellers often use rash vests that can be worn under wetsuits. This may compromise the insulating properties of a wetsuit, but it will help reduce skin irritation.
Using a rash vest with thermal insulation under a wetsuit can actually improve warmth during the winter months. Choosing a thermal rash vest also makes perfect sense for activities that are affected by wind chill and may be particularly valuable in the UK climate.
Whether you are planning on going paddle boarding, kayaking, surfing or any other outdoor water activity, when looking for a good rash vest, remember that UV protection is essential. You might also want to consider extra benefits such as quick-dry fabrics, wicking and thermal protection. Well-known brands such as O’Neill and Quiksilver are long established in the market and their expertise, knowledge and experience will give you peace of mind so you can trust in their claims.
Reviews the best men’s rash vests
Versatility is one of the magnificent things about rash vests, but with this comes the difficulty of deciding which rash vest to buy as there are so many choices to be made. To help you make the right decision when buying a rash vest, we have done all the hard work for you and we’ve put together a review of men’s rash vests. We have considered price, brand and style as well as the different features that are unique to each one.
O’Neill Basic Short Sleeve
Best value men’s rash vest
• Cleverly designed seam placement and stitching
• Good stretch fabric
• Classic styling
• Close fitting
This no-frill option by O’Neill comes with the knowledge it is backed by one of the top surfing brands. This Californian company has over 60 years of experience in producing quality surf wear and has made a bold commitment to sustainability.
You can be assured that this rash vest, despite being their basic option, comes with the approval of the Skin Cancer Foundation providing UPF 50+ UV protection. Its lightweight construction is perfect for swimming as well as a variety of water sports such as surfing, paddle boarding or sailing.
Coming in a completely plain short-sleeved design in a variety of colours with just the original style logo, it is made to be close fitting and is backed up by O’Neill’s research, prototyping and testing making it excellent value for money.
It benefits from strategic seam placement, and it has been flat locked stitched to help to reduce chafing. The fabric provides an excellent four-way stretch to allow for full movement when taking part in sporting activities.
Decathlon Long Sleeve Rash Vest
Budget rash vest
From £12.99 – View on Decathlon >
• Security Loop
• Long Sleeves
• Mesh Design
Decathlon is a sports retailer from France that opened its first store back in 1976. Now with stores in over 38 countries, they are renowned for producing their own in-house sporting goods that are good value but retain excellent quality. They keep prices low by cutting out the middleman and passing on the savings to the customer.
This budget rash vest is a perfect example of how a Decathlon product can give you everything you need at a good price. It certainly hasn’t skimped on UV protection as it has UPF 50+ fabric and its long-sleeves help to block out a minimum of 95% of UV rays even when wet.
The tight-fitting design reduces chafing, and you will have extra peace of mind with the loop that secures the bottom of the vest to your shorts. The material also benefits from a mesh design that keeps sand from sticking. This comes in an attractive storm grey colour and has a drawstring feature that will ensure it stays in place when the going gets tough.
Mountain Warehouse Rash Vest
Most popular on Amazon
• Lightweight and stretchy
• Flat seam technology
Mountain Warehouse has been around for over 20 years, specialising in all forms of outdoor gear. Like Decathlon, they design and make their own branded gear which means they can produce quality goods at a competitive price.
This short-sleeved rash vest comes with the standard UPF 50+ UV protection to protect the wearer from sunburn and damage. The quick-drying properties of the vest make it perfect for activities where you don’t want to wear a soggy top. The stretch design also makes this vest ideal for all kinds of activities where full movement is required.
This vest is ideal for wearing under a wetsuit as you will find the flatweave seams needed to stop chafing and it is made from a lightweight material that reduces bulkiness.
If you are a surfer, I doubt you’ll go for the Decathlon or Mountain Warehouse rash vest, just because they aren’t the coolest of brands. However, for occasional beach goes it’s perfect. This vest comes in a wide choice of colours including black, grey, blue and even a bright yellow for those who want to stand out. Most of the designs feature attractive contrast stitching to give it a more expensive look than the price would suggest.
Vissla Twisted Surf T-Shirt
Loose-fitting rash vest
From £31.95 – View on Surfdome >
• Moisture-wicking properties
• Short sleeve Crew neck t-shirt style
• Integrated loop to the hem
Vissla is an innovative and creative surf wear brand that emphasizes great performance. This contemporary company has already won several awards in the surfwear industry.
This rash vest is a great example of a looser fit style that will suit those who want to wear it as a standalone item rather than under a wetsuit. Giving the feel of a conventional t-shirt with the performance you need from a rash vest it is perfect for surfers and paddleboarders in warmer weather as it allows for movement and is lightweight.
This one is not focused on the UV properties as it’s more about having a comfy, on-trend t-shirt that can cope with the water.
Its unobtrusive styling is complemented with understated Vissla branding and comes in a bright aqua colour that is perfect for the beach.
Made from a blend of polyester and spandex it has great moisture-wicking properties that will help to keep your skin dry. You will also find a loop at the hem for keeping the shirt secure during activities.
Quiksilver 1m Syncro Short Sleeve
Best thermal rash vest
• Lightweight wetsuit top
• Thickness: 1mm
• Flexible and warm
• Superior seam construction
Quiksilver is an iconic surf brand that started in 1969 in Australia before relocating to California. It has become synonymous with adventure, style and performance.
This thermal short-sleeved fitted rash vest is perfect for wearing as a lightweight wetsuit top. If you really wanted to it can work underneath your winter wetsuit for an extra layer of warmth, though you might find it restricts movement a little too much.
Made from neoprene it will give you a high-performance fit and feel that gives you the insulation you need in the water without the need for a full wetsuit.
Styled in black and with subtle branding, it is a quality looking item that offers extras in the design such as drainage holes. Suitable for water between 21°C – 23°C, it has innovative coil lock-stitched seams and a comfortable neck seal to provide more protection while in the water.
C-Skins hooded long-sleeved rash vest
Best hooded thermal rash vest
From £69.99 – View on Ann’s Cottage >
• Superior insulation
• Quick Dry properties
• Flexibility and stretch
• Breathable seams
C-Skins is a trusted and reputable brand based in California that produces wetsuits. They have built up a good reputation by designing products that deliver performance and quality and continue to bring out new products that improve their range.
The C-Skins HDi Skins Hooded Rash Vest comes only in black and provides excellent insulation alongside excellent quick-dry properties.
Although it looks like a wetsuit, there is a good balance between insulation from the Poly Pro with well-designed seams that help to provide ultimate flexibility to encourage unrestricted movement and greater comfort for the wearer.
This is what I wear when windsurfing and surfing under my wetsuit in winter to keep me and my head toasty warm. The close-fitting style and hood make it a superior choice for wearing under a wetsuit and the flexibility of the design is perfect for an assortment of activities.
Quiksilver Arch This Long Sleeve
Best looking rash vest
From £31.95 – View on Surfdome >
• Long sleeve rash vest
• UPF 50 sun protection
• Chlorine-resistant fabric
• Moisture-wicking and quick-dry material
• Raglan cut sleeves
• Checkerboard print side panels
Another vest from the iconic Quiksilver brand. This time it has been designed with long sleeves and is ideal for summer water sports.
It has full UPF 50+ protection and has innovative chlorine resistant material for when it is used in a swimming pool. Made from a moisture-wicking, quick-dry material it will help regulate your temperature and keep you dry.
Styled in black, the top has a unique checkerboard print panel on the sides that brings a touch of elegance without being overpowering and it will help you stand out from the crowd. The raglan design sleeves bring the ultimate comfort for activities whilst the close fit style will work brilliantly under a wetsuit.
Billabong Unity Rash Vest
Short sleeves rash vest
From £21.95 – View on Surfdome >
• Short raglan sleeves
• 50+ sun protection
• High neckline
• Overlock hidden seams
Billabong is an Australian brand of surfing apparel founded in 1973 by Gordon Merchant. They are still dedicated to making their customers feel special and this Unity Rash Vest is no exception.
With excellent UV 50+ protection, this short-sleeved vest featuring comfortable raglan sleeves looks classy in either black or white. With the familiar Billabong logo featured prominently across the chest it is a good looking item that has some helpful features. The high neckline offers increased protection while the overlocked hidden seams help to provide strength and prevent chafing.
The silky feel polyester and elastane mix material make this comfortable to wear on its own or under a wetsuit for extra protection.
Xcel 1mm Axis Sleeveless Pullover Rash Vest
Sleeveless rash vest
From £35.95 – View on Surfdome >
• Wetsuit top made from neoprene
• Sleeveless design
• Ultra-stretch for flexibility
• Flatlock seams
Xcel is a specialist wetsuit company that has won wetsuit of the year three times thanks to its innovative designs and attention to detail.
This sleeveless rash vest is a unique design that provides a wetsuit top that is perfect for sports that require lots of arm movement such as paddle boarding or sailing. Made from 1mm neoprene it is particularly lightweight and stretchy and has been manufactured with a close weave designed to absorb less water.
The seven thread seams are designed to lay flat against your skin for comfort and reduced friction. With its subtle branding and black colourway, it provides a close-fitting utilitarian look that is extremely practical to wear.
Rip Curl Boys 0-6 Long Sleeve
Best boys rash vest
From £23.95 – View on Surfdome >
• UPF50+ certified
• Lightweight and quick-drying
• Plenty of skin coverage for ultimate protection.
• Eye-catching with contrasting side panels
• Easy access back zip
• Rip Curl branding printed on the chest and back
Rip Curl is one of the largest surfing apparel companies across Australia, America and Europe. If you are looking for a rash vest for your little man, then this lightweight wetsuit style for ages 0-6 will provide all the protection they need.
Fully UPF 50+ certified and made with a high neckline and long raglan sleeves for extra coverage, this is perfect for beach and swimwear as well as water activities. The striking turquoise and neon yellow colouring will help you to spot your boy as he plays.
There is a back zip for easy dressing and undressing as well as the material being quick to dry for kids who love to dip in and out of the water.
Rash Vests Buyers Guide
If our handy guide hasn’t yet narrowed down the choice for you, you may want to know what you should be looking for when choosing a rash vest. Here are some handy tips for deciding which one is right for you.
What does a rash vest do?
A rash vest was originally designed to stop the body from developing a rash from surf wax when paddling on a surfboard. These days the variety of rash vest on offer mean they do so much more, from sun protection to keeping warm as a thermal underlayer…
Most rash vests are made of material that has excellent UV protection so you will not be harmed by the sun’s rays. This is essential for those who wish to spend any time outdoors and particularly for those participating in water sports where the dangers are increased. Men especially may have their upper body fully exposed, so a rash vest is very helpful in reducing their risk.
Ultraviolet Protection Factor (UPF) is a measurement for fabric that specifies the amount of UV radiation (including UVB and UVA) that will be able to get through to your skin through the material. So, UPF 50 blocks 98% of the sun’s rays and this will significantly reduce your risk of exposure.
It’s not only the sun that can cause a problem. On a windy day, you can get windburn and the risk is even greater when sand is involved. Whether it’s wind chill or windburn, a rash vest can help to protect your skin.
If you have ever suffered from chafing, you won’t need too much persuading from us to avoid it. It’s very painful! Most modern wetsuits are designed to reduce unwanted chafing, but you still might appreciate the extra protection. If you love to use a surfboard you will know that laying down means you are risking friction burns particularly when sand and grit gets in the way. A rash vest can prevent any irritation or friction burns.
Whilst a rash vest is no substitute for a wetsuit in cold conditions it can provide the ideal protection in the warmer months. It will keep your body protected from the water without making you overheat in warmer temperatures. In a cool climate like the UK, you will find a thermal rash vest a perfect accompaniment to swim shorts to keep off the chill of a cool summer day for activities like paddleboarding. Choose a quick-dry material to reduce the chill when you get out of the water.
If you suffer from eczema or have dry skin, then being in the water for prolonged periods can exacerbate the problem. This is particularly true in the sea where the salt can cause dryness and irritation. Wearing a rash vest will not only offer a layer of protection but will also allow you to wear medicated or barrier creams that can stay on your skin in the water. Look out for rash vests that have some breathability or moisture-wicking properties to help reduce the drying effects of the water on delicate skin.
What fit should I look for in a rash vest?
Most will want a close-fitting rash vest that reduces friction and allows for flexibility of movement. The benefit of a close-fitting style is that it can easily be worn under a wetsuit to protect from chafing or as an extra insulating layer. Check out the styles of the seams to ensure that the close-fitting style allows for enough arm movement for your activity.
A looser fit rash vest imitates a t-shirt style, and this can be useful as long as it is not to be worn under a wetsuit. Under a wetsuit, the loose-fitting material will rise and gather causing more chafing and reducing your flexibility.
The purpose of a looser fitting style is to act as a superior moisture-wicking t-shirt that is suitable for activities such as paddle boarding, kayaking and surfing in the summer months. It is also great as beach apparel for those who wish to increase their protection from the sun.
Is a rash guard or vest the same as a wetsuit?
A rash guard may look similar to a wetsuit from a distance but get close up and you will see that the material is very different. Wet suits are made from neoprene, and they are designed to give you insulation in the water. They are important to keep users warm in cold waters or conditions.
Rash guards are normally made from polyester and elastane to provide a stretchy top that protects the skin from chafing. They can be worn alone in the warmer months to protect the body from the sun or to prevent chafing caused by friction from equipment such as surfboards and bodyboards.
They do not offer the same insulating or waterproofing as a wetsuit although a thermal rash guard will offer an extra layer of protection under a wetsuit.
Do thermal rash vests work?
Thermal rash vests are made from neoprene (like a wetsuit) or fleece-lined Lycra to trap some heat between the suit and body. They will help keep you warm for extended periods in colder conditions. In extremely cold conditions they can be worn under a wetsuit to provide an extra insulating layer.
If it’s too warm for a wetsuit then a thermal rash vest might be the answer for water sport enthusiasts who will appreciate their skin having some protection from the sun and the water.
Does a rash vest provide buoyancy?
A rash vest is made from lightweight material that has no buoyancy properties. For safety, a proper buoyancy aid should be worn in the water over a rash vest.
How do you care for a rash vest?
Once you have decided to splash the cash you will want to ensure that you take care of your precious item.
Luckily, rash vests are easy to take care of. To protect the fabric, simply rinse it in cool water and lay it out flat rather than scrunching it up. If it has got particularly dirty and you feel the need to wash it more then hand wash it with the gentlest of washing detergent.
Never place a rash vest in a washing machine or tumble dryer as the delicate fibres will be destroyed and the unique properties will be ruined.
About the author
Watersports Pro is managed by Ollie, who has been in the industry since 2007. A paddleboard and advanced windsurfing instructor, Ollie has travelled the world teaching these sports.
Now based on the South Coast of England, he shares his experience and knowledge on watersportspro.co.uk.