When’s the last time you dug through that overflowing drawer of free 5K race tees? If you’re like most runners, you’ve probably accumulated enough running shirts to outfit an entire track team, yet have only a few that you actually enjoy wearing. But having the right shirt for your workouts is important. After all, it’s hard to love your run if your tee is heavy from the rain, soaked from sweat, riding up, or chafing.
So while it’s perfectly fine to keep your lucky race-day singlet and your nostalgic high school gym top, we recommend replacing a few of those shirts crammed at the back of your drawer. You have plenty of options these days, from all-natural merino / tencel shirts that are silky soft and wick sweat to heavier synthetic long-sleeves that still feel like soft, natural fibers but will keep you warm and dry on colder runs.
We’ve included everything from breezy racerbacks to our favorite insulated shoulder-season top, looking for running shirts that provide unrestricted freedom of movement as well as the wicking properties and odor-resistance we look for in our highest performing running apparel.
Best Running Shirts
Features to Consider When Shopping for Running Shirts
As you shop, there are a few key things to focus on that will help you find your new favorite running shirt
Consider Your Ideal Fit and Style: Most running shirts have an athletic cut that’s more fitted than your average tee. So if you’re between sizes or just like a little more room, don’t be afraid to size up. Also, take note that women’s tops are shorter and tend to have a more tapered, narrow fit around the waist.
You also have to choose between sleeveless, short-sleeve, and long-sleeve styles. The weather and your natural temperature tendencies while running are two things to consider when it comes to sleeve length. Break out sleeveless tops for hot runs and long-sleeve shirts for chilly runs. If you prefer less material, sleeveless is the one to go with. But if you like more coverage, choose a short-sleeve or long-sleeve running shirt. These styles not only offer protection from the sun, but also reduce chafing.
Pick Your Favorite Material Blend: The best options are technical fabrics that blend various materials, such as polyester, elastane, spandex, and nylon. If you want a shirt that really wicks sweat fast, choose a mix with a higher percentage of nylon. If extra stretchiness is a must-have, seek out more spandex.
Synthetic fabrics with open weaves or larger fibers also breathe better on humid runs, and some even have antimicrobial properties for combatting bacteria and odor. For year-round temperature regulation, Merino wool has excellent moisture-wicking properties to keep you warm or cool, and the fibers are naturally odor-fighting.
If you’re a diehard for the comfort of cotton, try a 50-50 blend that pairs it with a second, more sweat-friendly material like polyester. You’ll still get some of that cottony softness but with added durability and even UV ray protection.
How We Evaluated These Running Shirts
I live in Montana and run throughout the year… but certainly less frequently in the winter. My preferred layering is a long-sleeve, wicking running shirt in cooler temps, and a loose-fitting sleeveless in the summer for maximum breathability and range of motion.
This article incorporates some new product picks, as well as roughly half of the original picks made by Emily Shiffer, who is a consistent runner and also takes bootcamp classes weekly. She wrote the original version of this article and contributed her expertise and knowledge to determine what you should consider when shopping for fitness apparel.
We test running shirts constantly, putting them through a veritable gauntlet indoors and outdoors, on track and trail, in all four seasons. Our team of wear-testers gauges odor control by forgoing washes, then running through rain, high heat, and blustery winds, and finally submitting them to (several) laundry cycles to find out whether they come apart in the dryer.
In addition to testing many of these shirts and evaluating their comfort, fit, and design, we also considered price point. Severals options cost $30 or less, so you don’t need to break the bank to have solid pieces of running gear in your closet. Here are 14 of the best running shirts that made the cut.
Merino and tencel is a high-performing combination, with the tencel bringing a soft, silky quality to merino’s wicking and odor-resistant properties. The addition of nylon lends a sturdiness to this tank that belies its lightweight, feathery feel, and Ibex has left the shirt entirely tag-free for more streamlined comfort. We love the looser cut that allows unrestricted movement without feeling too baggy, and the length hit just below the tops of our shorts for a flattering cut without gaps.
This newly updated shirt has a UPF50+ rating for maximum protection, and is now made with recycled fabric and a more ergonomic collar design (read: won’t feel like a strangulation device when it gets twisted). Arc’teryx’s Phasic LT polyester is entirely recycled and has incredibly efficient moisture-management properties, and the shirt itself is highly air permeable for hot-weather endeavors. This shirt performs well in humid conditions as well, and has articulated, body-mapped patterning for freedom of movement.
This moderate-fit shirt layers well under a wind jacket for cooler days, but wicks sweat and stays dry during warmer runs. Made with a similar material blend as pricier shirts, it holds up just as well as designer brands and has custom-cut sections for men’s and women’s fit, as well as a split hem for freedom of movement.
The women’s style comes in a deeper v-neck and the men’s has a classic crew. This shirt has plenty of color options for women, and comes in a two-pack for a total steal of a deal.
This longline tank is my go-to running top… and backpacking top… and biking top… and climbing top. It comes in a range of bright, trendy colors and has a drapey, flattering cut that feels breezy and loose without being baggy. This is made with a nearly 50/50 combination merino / tencel that keeps it lightweight and odor-resistant, and has a generous cutout in the racerback style for unrestricted movement. Plus, it’s made with Smartwool’s ZQ-certified merino wool to ensure lower environmental impact and maintain animal welfare.
This long-sleeve, hooded shirt has an incredibly soft brushed texture that feels about as far from a polyester tech shirt as you can get, while still performing at the same wicking level you want from your high-performing running apparel.
This has become my shoulder-season go-to, with a draped fit and sleeves wide and stretchy enough to accommodate climber arms (a lot of us aren’t only running). This is a mid-weight hoodie that functions well on its own in cooler temps, but will also wick sweat in warmer weather.
Be seen on dark roads with this reflective long-sleeve top that has targeted reflective detailing without going overboard and making you look like a floodlight running down the sidewalk.
Like our other favorite running tops, this polyester shirt is highly wicking and comfortable for long runs, but it has the added reflective trim in places that make the most sense, with broader reflective paneling on the back and reflective striping on the arms to show form and movement. If you wear this as a base layer, just be sure to wear a reflective vest over top to maintain visibility.
GORE has stepped up its running apparel over the last few seasons, with streamlined, intentional designs from base-layer tops to sleek running tights. This lightly insulated running shirt is ideal for colder temps where you don’t want to pack on the layers and lose mobility, but need to maintain body heat.
The microgrid lining helps keep the weight down without losing heat, and the quarter-zip top can be opened for venting or zipped all the way up for draft protection. It also has convenient zippered pockets to stash a key, credit card, gels, and even a phone for longer outings.
You’ll stay focused on the trail instead of worrying about friction, stressing over visibility, or sweltering under the sun in this ultra-soft T-shirt. Part of Nathan’s foray into apparel, the Rise has a mesh chimney panel on the back, so-named because it allows body-generated heat to escape as you run. It also has reflective panels on the sleeves and back and is woven with flat-lock seams to prevent chafing.
Hands down, lululemon’s women’s-only Swiftly collection is a favorite among Runner’s World editors. Not only is the Swiftly Tech lightweight, but it comes in 11 sizes and tons of bright colors and prints to go with any running outfit. The fabric is also soft, and as one editor noted, “helps with armpit chafing.”
We also recommend the Swiftly Tech Long-Sleeve Shirt 2.0 and its relaxed fit counterpart, which are warm yet breathable for chilly runs. All three shirts are expensive, but they hold up amazingly. One editor noted, “I’ve had two of my three since 2013 or ’14, and I’m just now thinking about replacing them.”
And if you’re pregnant, it’s also a great maternity shirt. “I bought one a size up and am currently wearing it at 32 weeks pregnant,” an editor said.
This men’s-only singlet is made of stretchy poly-elastane fabric woven from flat yarn to disperse heat. Under Armour combines this with titanium dioxide, which helps absorb and protect against UV rays. Finally, the material is infused with an antimicrobial tech to fend off bad odors.
Reflective logos and accents enhance visibility, and a back mesh panel provides ventilation. Our tester liked how the cut allowed free movement and commented that it was so lightweight “it feels like there is nothing there.”
If you prefer a natural-fiber running shirt, Smartwool has great options. And this Merino wool and nylon blend short-sleeve tee does a good job of wicking sweat. One RW editor noted, “The Merino wool is soft on my skin, absorbs sweat, and isn’t too heavy for high-intensity workouts. I’ve worn it back-to-back days during weekend backpacking trips without feeling stinky.”
The wool’s temperature-regulating function means we also reach for it as a baselayer for runs during fall and winter. Bonus: It also has UPF 20+ to offer some extra protection from the sun during outdoor training.
If sun protection is important to you, then you need this long-sleeve top from Coolibar. The LumaLeo is made with organic cotton, yes, but that’s combined with moisture-wicking bamboo viscose and elastane for a hint of stretch. Coolibar also infuses the blend with zinc oxide sun protection that won’t wash out. The UPF 50+ fabric promises to block 98 percent of UVA and UVB rays.
The design stands out, too. The relaxed fit shirt is breathable in the heat, has a crew neck that isn’t too high or too low, and features flatlock seams that are comfortable next to skin. And did we mention it has thumbholes?!
The fabric in this top is thick in a good way, and I feel supported by the shelf bra (though this might not be true for all runners). However, it’s not the most breathable material. After two years, my tops are still holding up. Plus, Amazon always has sales on them.
A former Runner’s World feature editor is obsessed: “The quality is good, you don’t need to wear a bra, they’re super comfortable and stylish! I have six.” Another winner to check out if you don’t like spaghetti straps of this model is the Lemedy Yoga Crop Bra Top, which is also a fave among RW editors and has thicker straps.
Soft, breathable, and odor-resistant, the Brighton Base Layer is ideal for cold runs when you need to layer and can also be worn on its own. Test Editor Amanda Furrer was surprised at how warm she felt one day when the weather app read “feels like 28.”
Still, the engineered merino wool mesh provided enough ventilation and moisture-wicking power to prevent sweat buildup. That wool also stood up to a seven-day wear streak without holding on to stench. The Brighton feels flannel-soft with a seamless construction to boot. The only drawback is that we noticed slight pilling around the collar after a few wears, but otherwise, the shirt has held up and become a cold-weather favorite.
Check out the full review here.
What Makes a Great Running Shirt, According to Emily Shiffer and Maggie Slepian
RW: What style of shirt do you prefer to run in and why?
E.S.: I am a bra tank girl. I usually start with a long-sleeve shirt and end up just wrapping it around my waist on my runs. I like the compressive feel of bra tanks. I prefer tighter-fitting running clothes versus looser.
M.S.: I’m the opposite. I like looser-fitting tops paired with compression bottoms. I look for tank tops with a longer, draped fit that breathe well and provide plenty of freedom of movement, and for my cold-weather tops, I still prefer them to fit looser. Otherwise I feel like I’m constantly pickling at the fabric and feeling it cling to me in uncomfortable and unflattering ways.
RW: What’s one feature you pay extra attention to when shopping for running shirts?
E.S.: Thumbholes! I love them in long-sleeve shirts. I think people either love or hate these, but they keep my hands warm, and I like the look.
M.S.: I look for shirts that will help provide unrestricted movement in my upper body. I train for climbing throughout the year, and have larger lats and arms. Many running tee-shirts have smaller arms and feel binding on my upper body, so I like racerbacks with large cutouts, and long-sleeve shirts have to be really stretchy or have more generous arm circumferences.
RW: Any advice on how readers can extend the life of their running shirts?
E.S.: For most of my running clothes, I do my best to hang dry everything. It’s tedious, I know, but it really does keep my clothes in good condition for longer. I also use a ‘sport’ detergent that I think does a better job of cleaning and getting out stink.
M.S.: This might not be the most popular answer, but wear your shirts more than once between washes. Running shirts are made to be odor-resistant and sweat wicking, and unless you’re really getting them drenched, most shirts can handle more than one run before being washed. I air-dry mine over the railing or my shower rod after wearing them, and they’re fine to wear again the next day.
RW: We all like a deal, but when is it worth it for people to consider spending more than $50 on a running shirt?
E.S.: Before I spend a lot on running shirts, I always ask around to see if any of my friends have tried either the brand or model I’m looking at. I also think about wearability for other workouts: Can I throw it on during a HIIT class or while lifting weights? If I can justify it being multipurpose, it’s worth the splurge.
M.S.: If you’re looking for natural fibers like merino or tencel, you’re going to pay more than a synthetic shirt. A deal is a deal, but for ethically sourced natural fibers from a reliable brand, you’re going to be shelling out more money.
Maggie Slepian is a full-time freelance writer in the outdoor industry and has tested gear professionally for almost ten years—she is an avid backpacker, trail runner, bikepacker, and horseback rider and has thru-hiked thousands of miles on the Appalachian, Colorado, and Ouachita trails, along with backcountry travel on terrain including coastal trails, the desert, and high alpine peaks. Maggie has written for New York Magazine, Huffington Post, REI, and Outside. She is a columnist with Backpacker Magazine and is the co-founder of BackpackingRoutes.com. Contact her at MaggieSlepian.com.
Emily Shiffer is a freelance health and wellness writer living in Pennsylvania.
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