Running is an inherently uncomfortable activity — labored breathing, tired muscles and, when the weather heats up to intensity or cools down to extreme frigidity, you’re stuck dealing with sweat-ridden clothes — and probably a ton of smelly workout laundry.
However, if you’re like most runners, you probably spend more time reading up on running shoes than running shirts. Makes sense; besides color, shirts all look pretty similar online. Even our own research on features began to blend together. Everything is lightweight, keeps you cool and wicks moisture — the typical marketing jargon for technical clothing. However, we found that seemingly identical-looking shirts varied quite a bit when we put each through the trial of miles, even if their online descriptions read alike.
BEST OVERALL RUNNING SHIRTBlack Diamond Rhythm Tee Read More
BEST UPGRADE RUNNING SHIRTSatisfy MothTech T‑Shirt Read More
BEST BUDGET RUNNING SHIRTBaleaf Quick Dry Short Sleeve T-Shirt Read More
BEST RUNNING SHIRT FOR HUMID RUNSThe North Face Wander Short-Sleeve Tee Read More
BEST MERINO WOOL RUNNING SHIRTJanji Repeat Merino Tech Tee Read More
How Should a Running Shirt Fit?
Running shirts are not like your daily tops. They have a purpose, namely, to keep you cool and comfortable as you rack up the mileage. Because of their purpose-built profiles, most running shirts will have a slimmer aesthetic than other t-shirts. You should look for tops that lightly hug your body without feeling restrictive. Now, you can cater your fit to your preferred preference, whether that be tighter or looser, but make sure that if you go for more room that the fabric doesn’t flow aimlessly in the wind as you jog. This can be distracting and even cause ride-up — which no one wants.
If you prefer to run in long-sleeved shirts, it’s also good to look at the cuffs. Aim for running shirts that feature a cuffed sleeve, so everything stays in place while in motion. Non-cuffed long sleeves can have a tendency to ride up your arm during a jaunt, which again, can cause some annoyances.
What to Know Before You Buy
Fabric technology has come a long way, helping combat sweat, chafing, odor and in some cases, possibly helping you recover faster. Here’s what you should look for when buying a running shirt.
Wicking ability, drying time and fit
Perhaps the two most important qualities of a good running shirt are wicking ability and drying time. Wicking is the process of transferring moisture or sweat away from your body through tiny spaces within the weave of the fabric and then dispersing it to the outer layer to evaporate. Evaporation rate, or drying time, will vary depending on the dew point, but generally, a quality moisture-wicking shirt should dry within a couple of minutes after you stop running.
Brands categorize fit based on body type, using terms such as fitted, slim/trim, athletic or regular. The actual fit will vary quite a bit from brand to brand and based on your body type, but in most cases, fitted shirts are close to skintight and regular shirts are fairly loose, with slim and athletic falling somewhere in the middle. A proper-fitting running shirt is somewhat dependent on personal preference. One thing to keep in mind: Shirts that are too tight will be more likely to cause rubbing, whereas ones that are too loose will be less likely to wick sweat and more likely to chafe.
Look for polyester or wool blends
The two most common moisture-wicking fabrics are polyester — a synthetic fabric — and wool — a natural fabric. On paper, polyester holds a slight advantage over wool for running, mainly because it is less expensive and offers better durability. Wool, which has somewhat of a cult following in the hiking world for its exceptional odor control, is our go-to while traveling or when washing between each use isn’t possible. A third material, cotton, is one of the worst moisture-wicking fabrics. Instead of dispersing moisture over a large area to evaporate, cotton absorbs and retains moisture, leaving the shirt feeling heavy and damp. Think back to field day in school; when your cotton tee got soaked during the water balloon toss, you likely weren’t dry for the remainder of the day.
Beware of chafing
Chafing is the bane of many runners during the dog days of summer. The repetitive friction between your skin and the fabric causes the condition, and sweat- or rain-dampened skin is more prone to it. The best remedy is to try a shirt with a different fabric make-up and fit. If you’re running in a 100 percent polyester, regular-fit shirt, try switching it up to a wool blend with a more athletic cut.
Wash with care
Moisture-wicking shirts require a little more care than your cotton-based clothes if you want to keep them in your rotation year after year. Excess detergent and fabric softeners can trap the odor-causing bacteria, making it increasingly difficult to remove the stench over time. What you’ll want to do is turn your clothes inside-out and reduce the amount of detergent used, or try sports-specific cleaning products such as Win Sports Detergent. Avoid high heat settings and any form of fabric softener, too.
Sun protection and odor control
Additional features such as UPF sun protection and odor control are common in running-specific shirts. UPF is a rating system used in clothing to measure how harmful UVA and UVB light passes through the fabric. The higher the rating, the better the protection the shirt offers. This becomes an important consideration for summer running, especially during long runs and high-altitude runs when sun exposure is high.
Over time, bacteria can form within the fabric, causing a lasting odor that laundry detergent can’t remove. Odor-protected fabric works to prevent the buildup of these smelly bacteria. To achieve odor protection, companies will treat the fabric with an anti-odor finish such as Polygiene. Wool, on the other hand, is naturally resistant to the buildup of odor-causing bacteria.
How We Tested
Sifting through the multitude of options, we browsed countless online reviews to narrow down what the “Internet” claimed were the best running shirts. Our search resulted in a plethora of options, which were tested over many weeks, months, and yes, miles. From the sunny beaches of California to the rolling, pothole-filled streets of Pittsburgh, we tested these tops highlighting key features like breathability, comfort, odor resistance and more. Here’s what we found to help you build out your closet full of better times, better splits and, most importantly, better fits.
Best Running Shirts
Black Diamond Rhythm Tee
Seriously, we can’t get enough of this shirt. Whether out on your nightly jog or logging some intense mileage, the Rhythm Tee feels weightless and ready to perform. The NuYarn Merino Wool — an innovative knitting process that wraps merino wool around a nylon core — provided excellent stretch and drying capabilities as we traversed new and old routes. Pay close attention to the washing instructions, though. We did begin to notice some pilling after only a handful of cycles.
- Material: 57% Nylon, 43% NuYarn Merino Wool
- Weight: 3.35oz
Satisfy MothTech T-Shirt
Yeah, yeah, we know. We said cotton isn’t great for running. But this MothTech tee from Satisfy is one of the lone exceptions. With body-mapped holes for better ventilation, we thoroughly enjoyed jogging in this top from the boutique brand. If you can get over the sticker shock, this can be a great option for short, stylish jaunts through your neighborhood. We wouldn’t recommend any cotton tee for a marathon, but for less intense mileage, this is one can’t-miss garment.
- Material: 100% Cotton
- Weight: N/A
Baleaf Quick Dry Short Sleeve T-Shirt
If you’re building out your running wardrobe, it helps to mix in a few budget picks to even out the lineup. This quick-drying short sleeve from Baleaf is an excellent choice providing moisture-wicking capabilities at less than $20. A tagless collar and flatlock seams help prevent skin discomfort, but some have reported that the higher cut in the raglan sleeves can lead to chafing in the armpits. Still, if you want a good introductory running shirt, you can easily build a week’s rotation with this silhouette alone.
- Material: 90% Polyester, 10% Spandex
- Weight: N/A
The North Face Wander Short-Sleeve Tee
If you live in stickier climates where you can cut the air with a butter knife, this is the shirt for you. We traversed multiple roadways and trailways in this impressive top from The North Face during muggy afternoons and felt no sense of condensation or added sweat weight. The lightweight, moisture-wicking materials allow for focused pacing, and you’re able to stylize how you like, thanks to a number of available colorways.
- Material: 96% Recycled Polyester, 4% Elastane-knit Jersey with FlashDry
- Weight: 5oz
Janji Repeat Merino Tech Tee
Merino wool is often praised for its exceptional performance in hot and cold conditions, and across our testing, we found no better example of this in the Repeat Merino Tech Tee from Janji. Across multiple routes and pathways, we admired the comfort, stretch and breathability built into this sustainable top. Plus, the odor-resistant merino blend allowed for multiple wears between washes, cutting down on water consumption and continuing the brand’s eco-friendly mantra.
- Material: 47% Merino Wool, 38% 37.5® Nylon, 15% Nylon
- Weight: 3.7oz
Saucony Solstice Crew
This soft, brushed-feel long sleeve not only feels great but is responsibly manufactured; recycled polyester holds its own and performs whether you're running or resting. The loose fit is comfortable for runs without being restrictive. As a bonus, the kangaroo pocket keeps all your essentials at hand, although we’d recommend carrying your heavier essentials in a separate pack, as this pouch can disrupt your stride once you begin to quicken the pace.
- Material: 79% Recycled Polyester, 21% Spandex
- Weight: N/A
Arc'teryx Cormac Crew Short Sleeve
This is one top that can do it all. Despite Arc’teryx being more in-tune with the trail running and hiking spaces, we found this running shirt more than capable — and comfortable — when worn on road running days. The engineered, synthetic fibers provided plenty of stretch and moisture-wicking performance, and we also appreciated the added sun protection when the clouds gave way to hot, unfiltered rays. At less than $70, this is an exceptional performance top that’s sole passion is simply getting the job done.
- Material: 100% Polyester
- Weight: 3.9oz
Vuori Strato Tech Tee
Soft, sleek and sun-blocking, this premium tee from Vuori is a must-have for warmer weather. UPF 30+ helps defend against harmful rays when logging your miles under cloudless skies, and we really appreciate the odor-resistant qualities baked into this impressive top. Four-way stretch allows for a great range of motion, too, but taller athletes be warned — you may be showing off a bit of midriff.
- Material: 96% Polyester, 4% Elastane
- Weight: N/A
Patagonia Capilene Cool Lightweight Shirt
Trail running is all about traversing through the outdoors in an efficient manner, and this lightweight option from Patagonia proved to be extremely up to the task. We enjoyed the feather-like feel this top gave across the skin, and always appreciate the brand’s commitment to sustainable practices. While we’d like to see more colorways offered in this highly technical top, this is one garment that’s sure to be along for many more trail runs.
- Material: 100% Recycled Polyester
- Weight: 2.6 oz
Unsanctioned Deep Blurple Tee
Running is a great way to connect with the Earth, so it makes sense that a lot of brands are doing their part in helping preserve it. Boasting a plethora of sustainability credits, Unsanctioned makes uncompromising gear that isn’t into eco-friendly marketing ploys. This Deep Blurple Tee is a great example of that notion, featuring moisture-wicking four-way stretch in a profile that’s composed of 100% recycled plastic bottles. We wear this shirt any chance we get, whether fighting for a new best time or simply fighting toward extending Mother Earth’s lifespan.
- Material: Fabrics Knitted from 100% Recycled Plastic Bottles
- Weight: N/A
Under Armour UA Seamless Run Long Sleeve
There are runs during which we like the cozier feel of a long sleeve for extra protection from the cold, but also need to be able to dump heat if temps unexpectedly rise. UA's option is ideal for these days, thanks to its body-mapped mesh ventilation, placed in the hot spots we need it most. The four-way stretch enhanced comfort, while the anti-odor tech allowed us to go straight from a run to seeing friends if short on time. Plus, the eye-catching fox colorway is as easy on the eyes as it is on our workouts.
- Material: Body: 52% Nylon/48% Polyester
- Weight: N/A
Rhone Swift Short Sleeve
From one of our favorite fitness brands, Rhone, this sleek and simple t-shirt not only kept us cool mid-run, but the lightweight construction makes it feel as if you’re running shirtless. Visible horizontal mesh lines maximize airflow through the fabric, providing a cooling effect, while GOLDFUSION Anti-Odor tech keeps the funk from fogging up your training. While we didn’t have any issues regarding range of motion or chafing, some users have said the slimmer cut could present sizing issues, so keep this in mind when ordering a top for yourself.
- Material: 88% Polyester, 12% Elastane
- Weight: N/A
Rabbit EZ T-Shirt
That next-to-body feel can be a welcome aesthetic when planning out your running attire, and this snug top from Rabbit definitely fits within that category. There are plenty of moisture-wicking, comfortable perks sewn into this tailored silhouette, and you’re sure to find a favorite colorway from the variety of hues available. The material could be susceptible to wear and tear over extended use, but at less than $50, you shouldn’t sweat buying a replacement or two down the road.
- Material: 94% Polyester, 6% Spandex
- Weight: N/A
Want to run shirtless without actually being shirtless? This next-to-nothing option from On Running is one of our favorite tops for lightweight, undistracted miles. The mesh-like weave promotes exceptional breathability to keep you cool, and the taped seams effortlessly lay across your skin for superior coziness. The Performance-T was designed for running at the highest levels, too, making it an exceptional pick for race day attire as well.
- Material: 100% Polyester
- Weight: 3.17oz
Nathan Rise Short Sleeve 2.0
Sequels aren’t always the greatest editions, especially when the original is a fan favorite. Thankfully, though, Nathan didn’t follow the Hollywood route and instead kept everything we loved about the original Rise Short Sleeve while making key updates. We loved the improved range of motion as well as the more athletic fit, all while the traditional back mesh panel kept conditions cool and pleasant. While we did notice some moisture retention during longer, hotter routes, this is still one silhouette that has a laundry list of tech specs worth considering.
- Material: Body — 1100% Recycled Polyester, Back Panel — 92% Polyester, 8% Elastane
- Weight: N/A