I love spending time outside and in the water working on my butterfly kick but I don’t love getting fried to a crisp or showing off my Buddha belly to the world.
And if I want to hit the water without a friend there are simply spots on my back that I can’t reach with sunscreen no matter how hard I try. Of course, even if I bring a friend I may not want to ask them to help with the sunscreen and not every relationship is ready for that.
That’s where a good swim shirt can help. Not only can keep my belly in check but swim shirts completely solve the sunscreen problem. But as you already know, finding gear and garments that actually fit a bigger body isn’t easy.
That’s why I’ve done the research (and the testing) to find the best darn swim shirts for fat guys, big dudes, tall men, or however you describe yourself when you’re bigger than the average guy.
If you want to do your own research, I’ll also explain everything you need to know about picking out the perfect swim shirt but if you want to skip the background info and get straight to the recommendations you can see my favorites here:
- Best Overall: Kanu Surf Swim Shirt With Big and Tall Sizes
- Best Size Options: Harbor Bay Big and Tall Swim Shirt
- Best Long Sleeve Swim Shirt: H2O Sport Tech Long Sleeve Swim Shirt
- Most Unique Designs: Aqua Design Rash Guard Sun Shirt
- Best Rash Guard For Big Guys: BALEAF Men’s Short Sleeve Rashguard Swim Shirt
Let’s start but clearing up some commonly confused terminology.
The Difference Between Swim Shirts and Rash Guards
If you’re just getting started with your research, you’ve probably seen the terms rash guard and swim shirts used interchangeably but in reality, they’re quite different.
Just like a swim shirt, a rash guard can provide UV protection and keep you covered while you’re swimming, but rash guards are really designed with surfers in mind and they’re specifically intended to protect surfers from the constant chafing that comes from sliding on and off their board. In order to reduce drag in the water, they’re also designed to be tight on the body…like really tight in most cases.
So while big guys can wear rash guards (and yes fat dudes can shred it on a surfboard too) most big guys don’t need one unless they’re serious about hitting the waves.
Swim shirts, on the other hand, still keep you covered and protected but they generally fit much looser. At least for me, that’s going to be a much better look than trying to squeeze my big body into a skin-tight rash guard.
For that reason, we’re going to focus on actual swim shirts for this article and skip rash guards except for the last pick on this list.
The last thing to mention is that you might also see swim shirts referred to as surf tees or surf shirts but it’s all the same thing and we’ll be sticking the term swim shirt for the rest of this article.
What Big Guys Should Look For In A Swim Shirt
A good swim shirt is a lot more than just a shirt you happen to swim in and there’s even more to consider when you’re a big guy or fat dude so let’s break down some of the key considerations.
Size and Fit
As every big guy knows, size is going to be the limiting factor and it doesn’t matter how good that swim shirt looks (or how many positive reviews there are) if you can’t get it to fit. We’re going to be focusing on brands with extended sizes or big and tall sizing but the size is only the first part of the equation. You also need to consider the cut of the swim shirt and how it fits.
Most guys will prefer something a little looser but we don’t want to go too loose. If your shirt is too loose, then it puffs up and floats around you like some kind of sea debris. You can also end up with weird air pockets that aren’t great either. If you’ve ever swum in a shirt that wasn’t actually designed for swimming then you know exactly what I’m talking about.
We also don’t want to go skin tight so what we’re really looking for is a Goldilocks situation where we find something that’s just right.
Because swim shirts are usually made with an athletic or slimmer cut, your best option is typically to order a slightly larger size than you normally would. However, don’t go crazy with this and in most cases, you just need a slight adjustment. You’ll also need to consider the individual brand before you start sizing up.
UV Protection and Material
Some guys want a swim shirt to keep their belly covered in public but that’s far from the only benefit you get and protecting your skin from harmful rays can have a huge impact on your life.
Seriously. In fact, a study in the International Journal of Cancer found that “91% of all melanomas in the US were linked with ultraviolet (UV) radiation—mostly due to sun exposure.” Swim shirts are specifically designed to block UV rays and while all clothing can block UV rays to some extent most lose a lot of their power when they’re wet.
The folks at US Dermatology Centers go on to explain that “Fabrics are made of tiny fibers that are woven or knitted together. UV rays can pass through these “holes” and directly reach your skin. The tighter the knit of the fabric, the less UV exposure there is for your skin. Generally, polyester, nylon, wool, silk, and denim provide the most UV blockage, whereas light, loosely woven cotton provides the least.”
When guys swim with a shirt that wasn’t designed for it, they’re usually rocking a cotton t-shirt (or at least a blend) that isn’t going to actually do much to protect your skin- especially once it’s wet.
Because of that, you won’t see any cotton shirts on this list and we’ll be focusing on the materials recommended by the US Dermatology center like polyester and nylon.
All these factors combined make swim shirts an extremely practical option not just for fat guys but for any person. And while I can’t blame my lack of flexibility on being fat, even skinny dudes can’t reach every spot on their back with sunscreen!
The last thing to consider is the UPF rating of the shirt and you’ll see this term thrown out quite a bit. UPF stands for the ultraviolet protection factor and it describes how much UV radiation is blocked. While there’s a lot of science behind this, in order to get the Skin Cancer Foundation’s seal of approval a UPF of 30 is required and every shirt on this list has UPF 30 or more.
Sleeves or No Sleeves
If you’ve been big all your life, you’re probably used to being the kid at the pool that’s wearing a t-shirt to swim. When I think back on those days, I couldn’t imagine adding long sleeves to the mix which would only draw even more attention to me.
These days, I’m big and proud so I don’t really mind swimming in a shirt with long sleeves but the idea of sleeves could still sound a bit strange to some big guys- at least when it comes to a swim shirt.
But hear me out, by going for sleeves you add even more protection from the sun and make sure you don’t end up with one of those weird shirt tans. If you’re surfing, you also protect your arms from chafing on your board. So if sun protection or performance are your priorities, going with sleeves should be too.
Additionally, because swim shirts are designed to be worn in the water, the sleeves aren’t going to drag or even feel that weird.
On the other hand, if you’re wearing a swim shirt just to feel more comfortable on the beach then sleeves probably aren’t going to be a big deal, and if you’re surfing your belly is going to take the brunt of the damage.
So consider what’s your prioritizing in your swim shirt before defaulting to either sleeves or no sleeves. But if you go for the short sleeve options, just don’t forget the sunscreen!
Best Swim Shirts For Big Guys
Now that you know the basics of what we’re looking for, let’s take a look at our recommendations starting with the best overall.
Best Overall: Kanu Surf Swim Shirt With Big and Tall Sizes
- Available in sizes up to 5XL which is designed for 58 inch waist
- UPF 50 for exceptional sun protection
- Available in 16 different colors with something for everyone
- More than 10,000 five star reviews
When it comes to finding the best overall pick, we want something that will work for the vast majority of big guys and that’s exactly what we have with the Kanu Swim Shirt. With more than 10,000 five-star reviews, it’s a popular swim shirt for guys of any size. But one look at the reviews and you’ll see dozens of big guys checking in and leaving a positive review.
So why are fat dudes so happy with this shirt?
To start with, the UPF 50 rating is also above average and rates as excellent according to the Skin Cancer Foundation. However, you can find a lot of swim shirts with a UPF 50 but finding ones that fit is a different story which is why it’s great to see size options up to 5XL here. It’s hard to find a 5XL in any shirt but even more so when it comes to specialty garments like dress shirts or swim shirts.
That gives plenty of room for most big bellies but just remember that swim shirts usually run a little small and there’s no exception here. Roughly 20% of big guys reported that this shirt was a little on the small side so if you want to play it safe or just want a looser fit then consider sizing up.
There aren’t specific tall sizes available but if you’re big and tall then sizing up should do the trick for most big guys.
As an added bonus, you can also pick from 16 different colors and patterns. Just remember that black is going to be hot and white is probably going to show off your nips when wet so I’d say there are effectively more like 12 colors which are still more than enough to find what you want.
The only downside here is that this swim shirt is only available in a short sleeve version. For most guys, that’s not going to be a problem but if sun protection is your priority then check out the next option on this list.
But if you think this swim shirt sounds like a good fit (literally), you can read more reviews, check out all 16 colors, and see the latest price on Amazon by clicking here.
Best Size Options: Harbor Bay Big and Tall Swim Shirt and Rash Guard
- Available in sizes up to 6XL including tall sizes
- 50% UV protection to keep your skin safe
- Five simple but stylish colors to pick from
- Specifically made for big guys and big bellies
Harbor Bay is one of my favorite brands within the big and tall space and they’re one of a handful of brands that are committed to offering real big and tall sizes. We’ve featured them across dozens of reviews and they’re also one of our top brands for short fat guys that want clothing that actually fits.
So it’s no surprise to see them here and especially when it comes to the category of the best size options.
All Harbor Bay garments, including this swim shirt, feature larger and more spacious cuts across the chest and stomach in order to provide a better fit to bigger bodies. That means most guys will be fine ordering their usual size or even sizing down. Yes, I know you probably don’t hear that often but the vast majority of guys report this garment to run small and that’s usually because they’re not used to the more spacious big and tall sizing.
Even though you only have 5 colors to pick from, I really appreciate that Harbor Bay isn’t offering a plain white. If you’re comfortable going for a pure white swim shirt then you’re a braver man than me and I don’t want to risk showing off more than I want to!
Instead of white, Harbor Bay offers an off-white sort of tan color that keeps the color light without any see-through-type of problems.
There are also more than 200 five-star reviews at the time of writing and while that might not seem like a ton these reviews are a little more valuable since this is a big and tall item which means those happy reviews are most likely from other big guys.
That goes a long way, at least for me.
Even if you don’t need a 6XL, you may enjoy having a swim shirt with a big and tall cut which makes this one worth taking a look at. You can check out all the sizing options, read more reviews and check today’s price on Amazon by clicking here.
Best Long Sleeve: H2O Sport Tech Long Sleeve Swim Shirt
- Available in sizes up to 6XL with options for tall sizes too
- UPF 50 for exceptional sun protection
- 4 simple but stylish colors to choose from
- Dozens of reviews from big, tall and fat guys
The folks at H20 Sport Tech are taking big and tall very seriously. So much so that they even say, “If you’d like a more normal fit, we suggest you buy 1 -2 sizes smaller than your usual size” and these long sleeve shirts really are big and tall with expanded room in the chest and shoulders.
That extra room leaves plenty of space for bigger guys and bigger bellies and when combined with sizing options up to 6XL means that most guys are going to be able to find the right size. Tall guys can also go with tall sizing that includes longer length in the torso and arms.
However, it’s not just about sizing here and big guys can also pick from 4 color options that aren’t going to blow your mind but you will still find something you like. My favorites are either black or blue but heather gray is a solid choice too and doesn’t change color when wet as much as a normal heather shirt would.
But what really helps this shirt stand out from the rest of the swim shirts on this list is the option for long sleeves which offers can more protection from the sun. With a long sleeve shirt, obviously, you still need to make sure you’re protecting your hands, head, and neck with sunscreen but that’s still a lot less surface area to worry about than a short-sleeve option.
Most guys will still probably prefer the short sleeve options but I can tell you that this long sleeve swim shirt does not drag the way you might think and it’s just as comfortable when wet as it is when dry.
Overall, it makes a great choice for guys that want some extra protection from the sun or chafing and you can read more reviews, check out all the color options and see today’s price on Amazon by clicking here.
Most Unique Designs: Aqua Design Rash Guard Sun Shirt
- Sizes available up to 6XL
- UPF 50+ to keep your skin safe
- Water-inspired and stylish design that fits right in at the beach
- More of a rash guard than a swim shirt which means it can be a little tight
Swim shirts are more about function than style, which makes perfect sense, but if you want to mix things up with a unique design and awesome size options then it’s worth taking a look at this swim shirt and rash guard hybrid from Aqua Design.
I’m calling it a hybrid because it’s a bit tighter than the other swim shirts on this list but still not as tight as the rash guard (and next recommendation) on this list. That makes it a good choice for guys who want a swim shirt but don’t want a super loose fit.
And with sizing choices up to 6XL, big guys and fat dudes can still find the right size despite a slightly tighter cut.
But back to the colors- you only have 4 to pick from but they all feature a sort of blend between camouflage and tie-dye while using very beachy colors. In other words, you’ll fit right in at any beach or lake when you rock most of these colors, especially either of the blues.
There are also hundreds of big guys sharing their personal measurements and fit experiences within the reviews so it helps that this swim shirt is backed by plenty of other fat guys besides me. You can read some of those reviews, take a closer look at the unique designs, and see today’s price on Amazon by clicking here.
Best Rash Guard For Big Guys: BALEAF Men’s Short Sleeve Rashguard Swim Shirt
- Sizes available up to 3XL with a tighter fit because it's a rash guard which means this may be too small for some bigger guys
- UPF 50 protection which is perfect for long days in the sun and water
- Elbow-length sleeve is an ideal length for surfers who want to protect their elbows
- Attaches to board shorts to keep everything in place even during rough waves
While our focus is definitely on swim shirts, there are some bigger guys who are going to want that traditional fit of a rash guard. Rather you prefer the look or just want to reduce drag as much as possible while you’re on your board, a rash guard is sometimes the best option.
But it’s also pretty darn difficult to find the right size and while this affordable rash guard goes up to 3XL, that still may not be enough for all big guys and bigger bellies. You can expect waists around 45 inches to be easily covered by the 3XL but beyond that, you’ll need to be careful.
This shirt uses the same cut that’s quite common with rash guards where the sleeves go around the elbow. For big guys that are surfing, this can be a great way to protect your elbows while you’re waiting for the next wave but even if you’re not surfing some guys may just prefer the look.
You also have more than 10 color choices to pick from but as we’ve already seen with other swim shirts, the white options are only for the brave as the white on this rash guard will become somewhat transparent when wet.
Since this is a more serious rash guard, you also get the benefit of an attachment point between this shirt and your board shorts. This can further reduce drag and just keep everything in place even in rougher waters. For most guys, that’s not going to be a critical feature but for the big surfers out there it can be nice to have.
So if you’re looking for a rash guard that can still fit big dudes, you can take a closer look at the 10+ colors, read some of the more than 900 five-star reviews and check today’s price on Amazon by clicking here.
I feel like swim shirts are one of the most overlooked garments when it comes to the big man’s wardrobe. Basics like flattering shorts or jeans that can fit bigger thighs are usually the focus but extras like a well-fitting swim shirt can not only protect your skin but also make you more comfortable when you hit the waves.
Still, you don’t have all day to check sizes, read reviews and find a swim shirt that can actually work for big guys and big bellies.
But that’s what I’m here for! So I hope you successfully found your next swim shirt and I’d love to know which one you decided to go with!