Swim Tank Top vs. Rash Guard: Which Is Better?

If you’re looking for some high-coverage swimwear, you’ve probably checked out both swim tank tops and rash guards. While they have a lot of similarities, it can be hard to decide which one is better suited to you and your lifestyle.

Let’s break down these two swimwear pieces and when one might be better than the other!

What Is a Rash Guard?

A rash guard is a lightweight swim shirt originally worn by surfers under wetsuits to prevent chafing; it is often long-sleeved but can have shorter sleeves as well. Made of regular swimsuit material like nylon or polyester, rash guards have moisture-wicking and sun protection qualities. You can wear them in and outside of the water.

For example, we’re all about this ribbed swim sun shield crop top. It features a built-in shelf bra for plenty of security alongside a high coverage design. Being cropped, it also pairs perfectly with high-waisted swim bottoms.

What Is a Swim Tank Top?

A swim tank top has a lot of the same qualities as a rash guard; it’s moisture-wicking, adds coverage and vital sun protection, and can be worn in and outside of water.

The difference is that a swim tank top is sleeveless. It also often features a more relaxed fit, allowing for more breeziness all around. It is also often called a tankini top.

What Advantages Do They Have in Common?


One major bonus of the swim tank top and the rash guard is that they are remarkably comfortable. Part of that is physical: as long as it’s made from high-quality material and fits well, these swim tops are meant to protect you from the sun and allow you plenty of range of motion while engaging in physical activities.

They also lend peace of mind; with the extra coverage, you don’t have to worry about UV ray exposure or wardrobe malfunctions.

Sporty Quality

While anyone can rock these looks, both the rash guard and the swim tank top are primarily intended for sporty activities. From water sports to beach volleyball or even a beachside jog, we’re talking about high-performance gear:

Whether you’re a surfer who wants to lay on your board without waxing your back off, or a jet skier trying to avoid a sunburn, these come in handy. The rash guard and swim tank top are ideal for an active lifestyle.

Medium To High Coverage

People have a lot of reasons to cover up. For example, maybe you want to avoid a blistering sunburn. Depending on how much skin you want to show, you can go with either of these tops and expect a good level of coverage.

Either will help protect your chest, belly, and back from being exposed to harmful UV rays. Of course, the rash guard comes with the added bonus of arm coverage as well.

Pair Well With Swim Bottoms

In terms of putting together your beach or pool outfit, you can’t really go wrong with either one of these swim tops. They will go well with whatever swim bottoms you’re wearing –– whether we’re talking about trunks, board shorts, bikini bottoms, or briefs. 

In fact, if you're wearing swim shorts, you can easily get away with this whole ensemble as an outfit even outside of the water.


When you’re swimming in the pool or playing beach volleyball, you want to ensure a certain range of motion. While a rash guard can be a bit more restricting in some cases than a swim tank top, they still allow for plenty of dynamic movement. A big part of that is the fabric.

Most swimsuits, or swimming gear, are made of synthetic fibers such as nylon, polyester, Spandex, or some blend of these. These fabrics are popular because they are moisture-wicking (which means they dry quickly) and hold their shape well, even when soaked in water.

They also provide plenty of smoothness and flexibility. That means these swim tops adapt to your shape while also providing stretch. This is a big improvement from the wool swimsuits of the early 1900s

Multitude of Styles

No two rash guards or swim tank tops are exactly the same. Some are cropped, have different straps, or feature different necklines. They may also come in different textures and, perhaps most notably, different prints and colors.

With all the different types of swimwear out there today, you can be sure to find the perfect print, pattern, or color that suits you. There’s no shortage of self-expression with either of these tops.

When Should You Wear a Rash Guard?

There are a couple of scenarios where rash guards come in handy. First of all, wearing one under a wetsuit can prevent chafing and rashes. If you plan on doing water sports in a colder climate, you can also gain warmth and insulation from a rash guard.

There are also non-water-based sports where you can wear a rash guard –– for example, tennis or martial arts –– to wick away sweat. Any activity that requires you to be out in the sun for long periods of time can benefit from the UV protection a rash guard provides.

When Should You Wear a Swim Tank Top?

Swim tank tops are ideally suited for athletic activities on the beach or at the pool. From water polo to beach volleyball, you can feel protected and unrestricted in this kind of garment.

It’s also great when you want sun protection in the front but still want to get a nice golden tan on the arms and shoulders. But it isn’t just for sporty folks; a swim tank top is also a chill, casual top for your day-to-day.

What Are Other Swim Styles?

If you want something that is more secure than a bikini top but with less coverage than a swim tank top or rash guard, consider one of these two styles.

Swim Sport Top

A swim sport top is basically the swimwear equivalent of a sports bra. It’s basically a cropped tank top featuring thick straps and a waistband. This is an athletic, practical style that still lets you tan your arms and tummy while still having a moderately high neckline.

This swim sport top has you covered with three layers of fabric for ultimate protection. The brilliantly colored floral pattern is just the cherry on top.

Swim Zip Top

A swim zip top is another popular style you may have seen worn by people who do water sports, for example, surfers, kayakers, windsurfers, or jet skiers. It’s also beloved by people who adore a chance to make a fashion statement. 

The front zipper allows for accessibility, making putting the top on and taking it off easy and speedy. You can adjust the zipper depending on how much skin you want to show. These tops are usually thicker and more secure than your average bikini or tankini top.

This swim racerback zip top imitates a retro, sporty colorblock style. It also features mesh-lined panels and pockets for removable cups, making it perfect for keeping everything in place.

Final Verdict: Which Swim Wins?

As with most things fashion, the answer is really up to you. Depending on your personal taste, needs, and occasion, it can go either way. If you want the maximum amount of coverage and sun protection, a rash guard might be better for you. However, if you want more freedom around your arms and a more relaxed fit, go with a swim tank top.

Whatever you choose, it’s time to hop on it! We’re deep into summer now, and fall is around the corner –– unless you live in a hot climate, now’s your chance to get in some last-minute beach and pool sports. Grab the swim top of your choosing, and get going!


What is Rash Guard? | Sports and Hobbies

Sun Safety | Skin Cancer | CDC

History of Women's Bathing Suits | HowStuffWorks