There’s something to be said about investing in quality fitness apparel. Sure, that t-shirt in your closet can suffice, but to truly give your training a boost, there’s nothing better than throwing on a top that’s ready to perform.
A quality workout shirt — tee, tank or long sleeve — can be that spark and then some. With sweat-wicking properties, comfortable stretch and even odor control, these training essentials give as much as you do in the gym.
What to Look for in Workout Shirts
When adding to your workout ensemble, you definitely want to pay attention to the materials. The most common fabric in workout shirts is polyester, with nylon, jersey and tencel following behind. You’ll also see spandex and elastane included for stretch, providing a little more movement and flex without sacrificing comfort. And for those wanting to work out sustainably, some shirts will contain recycled materials. This feature isn’t widespread, however, so purchase based on what matters to you.
You can also look for added perks like odor and UPF protection to further enhance your training, but these coatings and protectants can come at a higher cost. In the end, you want to ensure you’re capable of comfortable performance no matter your workout environment.
How We Tested
To come up with our list of the best workout shirts, we put the following picks to the test across a wide variety of fitness disciplines. From the streets to the CrossFit box, the trail to the squat rack, we compiled our notes and gave it our all, highlighting key findings in comfort, durability and overall aesthetics. We tested these shirts in both indoor and outdoor settings, seeing how well they wicked sweat in each environment as well.
Ten Thousand Versatile Shirt
Ten Thousand collected thousands of measurements and fit preferences before making its workout shirt so that when it did, it'd be as close to perfect as can be. One of the learnings from the process was that one size doesn't fit all, so it made the shirt in three fabric blends to suit all kinds of people. We love the Versatile edition, which feels great and lives up to its name by rolling with all kinds of workouts, from light cardio to heavy lifting.
Materials: 84% Polyester, 16% Spandex
Lululemon Metal Vent Tech 2.0
Lululemon's Metal Vent Tech shirts are pricey but peerless in combining breathability and odor-protection in a fabric that doesn't feel plasticky. They are ultra-comfy, thanks to a design that minimizes seams and positions them where they won't chafe. Everyone from professional trainers to elite mountain climbers are on board, and having worn them for running, biking and other activities, we can understand why.
Materials: 49% Nylon, 43% recycled polyester, 4% Elastane, 4% X-static nylon
Brooks Run Within
We’ve already praised the cross-functional Brooks Run Within Collection, so it made sense to include the Short Sleeve on this list. This flexible top features four-way stretch so you can move comfortably whether logging miles, finding a yoga flow or chasing a bench PR. Plus, the DriLayer fabric provides a breathable, quick-drying fit that keeps you focused on your progress, not on your pit stains. And at less than $40, this is one shirt that easily fits any budget or training program.
Materials: 76% recycled polyester, 15% polyester, 9% Spandex/Elastane
Patagonia Capilene Cool Trail Shirt
This Patagonia tee is deceptively lightweight at 2.6 ounces, and its 100 percent recycled polyester fabric fights stink far better than other synthetic shirts thanks to a HeiQ odor control treatment. It's also great at wicking away sweat and drying quickly and has a closer fit than some of the other shirts on this list, which make it ideal for a wide range of activities — including, given the heritage of the brand, hiking and climbing.
Materials: Solids: recycled polyester double-knit; heathers: 63% polyester, 37% recycled polyester; Stripes: 83% recycled polyester, 17% polyester
Born Tough Core Fit Shirt
One of our testers stated that he throws this shirt on when he knows he's getting into an intense workout. "It's very comfortable, made of this [kind of] beefy material and has a look and attitude that weirdly compels me to add an extra five pounds to any lift," he says. "Nice price, too."
Materials: 93 % Viscose, 7% Spandex
Saxx Hot Shot
When you're about to sweat in the sun or a gym where the AC is down, reach for the Hot Shot. It features DropTemp, which beats heat not through chemical treatments but through a fast-wicking fabric structure that German scientists found tops the competition when it comes to "evaporative cooling." Like most Saxx products, this shirt just happens to be comfy as hell too.
Materials: 85% recycled polyester, 15% Elastane
Path Projects Pyrenees T19
The Pyrenees's long sleeves make it ideal for working out in cooler temperatures, yet are tight enough to stay up when pushed up. What's more, this shirt's Tencelite 19 fabric is incredibly soft and stretchy, dries quickly and fights stink, you don't have to be dainty about laundering it, and its UPF 50+ rating makes it a sneaky great sun shirt, too. For extra sun protection, use the full length pull out hand protection, and throw up the hood for good measure.
Materials: Tencelite 19 fabric: 74% polyester, 19% tencel, 7% Spandex single jersey
Nike Pro Dri-FIT ADV
Show off those arms with this tech-filled tank. Boasting Nike’s Dri-FIT technology, this workout tank helps pull sweat from your skin for easier evaporation, leaving you cool and comfortable through every set. Plus, the buttery smooth fabric has a great feel that’s sure to leave you ready for progress. While there’s not a lot of color to choose from, the Nike Pro Dri-FIT ADV is a must-have for letting the guns out.
Materials: 87% polyester, 13% cotton
Arc'teryx Cormac Crew Neck
This mountain-oriented running top may seem simple at first glance, but give it another look and you'll see it packs quite the punch. This performance long sleeve is made with a gridded, breathable polyester that allows moisture vapor to escape, regulating temps and enhancing comfort. The fabric is treated with DAO, the brand's proprietary durable anti-odor finish, and has a UPF 50+ rating to block the sun's rays. The articulated pattern of the fabric increases mobility in movement, making for a more comfortable workout overall.
Materials: 100% Ostria, stretch knit polyester
Mack Weldon AIRKNITx Crew Neck
Thanks to four-way stretch and strategic cool zone panels, this shirt fits incredibly well. The fabric — a mix of polyamide, polyester and Elastane — feels ultra comfy and breathable while wicking moisture and fighting odor. And though it's fantastic for tough routines, its understated style is also suitable for working from home, running errands and meeting up for brunch.
Materials: 50% polyamide, 33% polyester, 17% Elastane
According to one tester, the Reign is "light, comfortable and always fresh no matter how many times I wear it without washing it — probably too many times to admit." Rhone makes it with a nylon-polyester blend in a raglan construction to keep annoying seams off your shoulders. Perhaps best of all, it comes in lots of colors.
Materials: nylon, polyester and elastane
If you want to flex your style as much as your muscles, you can’t go wrong with the Cloud Merino T-Shirt from Satisfy. Made from the lightest merino in the world and hand-dyed in Japan, this is a great top that blends fashion and function. A reflective print on the back right shoulder enhances visibility in low light conditions, while raw hems help block against chafing for a fit that’s ultra-comfortable. It might be a stretch to justify the high price tag, but you definitely get what you pay for.
Materials: 100% Merino Optimol wool
Editor’s Note: Looking for more run-centric gear from this anti-running running brand? Check out the Boston Marathon kit Satisfy launched in collaboration with funk artist Boulevards.