Last week, we talked sun safety, dispelled a few myths, and got the ball rolling on how to better protect ourselves. As we discussed, skin cancer is more prevalent in our society than any other form of cancer, and the vast majority of cases can be attributed to overexposure to the sunís UV rays. Prevention is relatively simple, yet often misunderstood.
This week, letís dissect the latest American trend in sun protection: sun-specific clothing. Todayís space-age fabrics not only keep us safe, but also keep us cool. Over time, we are learning that covering up, rather than stripping down, is the key to staying both safe and comfortable in the sun.
Like many dangers humans naturally face, it was long ago discovered that our bodyís own defense mechanisms were best at preventing overheating, most often through perspiration. In essence, the body cools itself through the evaporation of sweat secreted through the skin. Therefore, the best way to keep cool is to create a shaded environment where this can occur: in this case through long, flowing clothing. In addition, covering the skin also prevents additional heat from transferring to the body via the sunís direct rays.
Itís no coincidence that cultures living in the most extreme environments on the planet have adapted principles of covering most or all of their bodies. In fact, the Bedouin people of the Middle East have been studied in detail by Western scientists intrigued by their choice of apparel. This nomadic group inhabits desert environments where temperatures often exceed 115 degrees Fahrenheit, yet continue to wear long, dark robes, apparently oblivious to the heat. The secret, again, lies in the ability of the thick garment to create a cool zone against the skin while allowing sweat to do its job.
I can attest to the abilities of proper clothing. Often while fishing in direct sun, Iíll trade in my shorts and T-shirt mid-day, replacing them with a long-sleeved shirt intended for saltwater fishing and flowing, nylon pants. After about 10 minutes, the difference is noticeable: the irritable feeling of being overheated is gone and I approach fishing with much the same vigor I started the day with.
Covering up is the key. But, before you go out and purchase a new wardrobe, understand the principles of sun-protective clothing.
Todayís manufacturers use a UPF rating Ė or ultraviolet protection factor Ė to categorize their products. Technically, UPF can be defined as the amount of UV radiation allowed to reach your skin. Many shirts designed for fishing, for example, advertise UPF ratings from 15 to 50 or more, meaning they allow 1/15th or 1/50th of the sunís UV rays to reach the wearer. By contrast, a plain white T-shirt comes in with a UPF around 7.
The key to the effectiveness of sun-specific garments is the advanced synthetic fibers used to produce them, as well as the way theyíre weaved. The most effective materials for use in such manufacturing are lycra, nylon and polyester; these tight-woven materials best block the majority of the sun. In addition, they dry incredibly quickly, offering an added bonus.
You see, wet clothing actually works against you in a protective sense. As we previously discussed, water reflects the sunís rays and increases UV exposure to the skin, at any level. The T-shirt in our example, with a UPF of 7, shrinks to UPF 3 when wet. Therefore, although I hate to correct classic American culture, a wet T-shirt on a hot summer day is about the worst choice of apparel, at least when it comes to protection against the sun.
Luckily, our ability to cover up properly is expanding each year. Combined with long-sleeved shirts and pants, apparel accessories such as Buffs and sun-gloves help protect hard-to-reach areas that are often overexposed to the sun. Thankfully, the choice in wide-brimmed hats is also expanding to include models that arenít so dorky.
There, too, the tightness of the weave is everything. While I love to don my straw hats around town and at the beach, Iíve learned such fashion does little to protect me against the sun. When fishing, wide-brimmed boony-style hats designed for the sport, like those from Columbia and Simms, are the only choice. And, by all means, stay away from visors. They allow immediate heat transfer from sun to body, resulting in an elevated core temperature and, often, a sunburned scalp.
As bass fishermen, we donít have the luxury of standing beneath a canopy while we fish, or going in an air-conditioned cabin to take a breather. The sun is statistically the greatest threat weíll face while pursuing our quarry, yet itís one we can beat by simply giving it our attention more regularly.
Prevent potential disaster later by planning now. Like Iíve learned along the way, youíll enjoy your fishing more.
(Joe Balog is the often-outspoken owner of Millennium Promotions, Inc., an agency operating in the fishing and hunting industries. A former Bassmaster Open and EverStart Championship winner, he's best known for his big-water innovations and hardcore fishing style. He's a popular seminar speaker, product designer and author, and is considered one of the most influential smallmouth fishermen of modern times.)