Running is an inherently uncomfortable activity — labored breathing, tired muscles, worn out feet. Who would rightfully sign up for this? Plus, when the weather heats up to boiling marks or cools down to extreme frigidity, you’re stuck dealing with sweat-ridden clothes — and probably a ton of smelly workout laundry.
Yet still, despite all the discomfort, many athletes return to running each and every day (we’re sort of crazy that way), and getting back to our “routes” is a far easier pill to swallow when we know our gear is up for the challenges. While many take a hard look at performance when it comes to their running shoes, your running shirt can prove just as feature-ridden for the sake of better jogs ahead — you just need to understand what you’re looking for.
Admittedly, browsing for running shirts online can be a bit of a drag. After all, comparing material makeup, weight and on-skin comfort is way easier when the apparel is in your hand rather than on your screen. This is where a keen eye for detail and a knowledge of performance keywords comes into play.
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 SHIRTIbex Springbok Short Sleeve Tee Read More
How We Tested
We’re constantly on the lookout for the best and most performance-laden apparel to add to our training ensembles, and we routinely test a number of tops across a variety of conditions and environments. From the sunny beaches of California, to the rolling, pothole-filled streets of Pittsburgh, we logged our miles highlighting key features like breathability, comfort, odor resistance and more. Plus, thanks to extended time with a number of these silhouettes, we’ve had the opportunity to run these running shirts through plenty of wash cycles to test how well they hold up against some water, heat and laundry detergent.
Here’s what we found to help you build out your closet full of better times, better splits and, most importantly, better fits.
Our Top Picks
Black Diamond Rhythm Tee
- Material: 57% Nylon, 43% NuYarn Merino Wool
- Weight: 3.35oz
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. Our tester was definitely pleased with the performance of the NuYarn Merino Wool — an innovative knitting process that wraps merino wool around a nylon core —as it provided excellent stretch and drying capabilities as they traversed new and old routes.
We do recommend paying close attention to the washing instructions, though. After a handful of cycles and errantly throwing it in with your normal linens, this silhouette can begin to pill up, leading to some itchy discomfort when out on your routes.
Satisfy MothTech T-Shirt
- Material: 100% Cotton
- Weight: 4.23oz
Yeah, yeah, we know. 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. Plus, our tester enjoyed the small interior pocket that easily held their house key without a ton of jostling during movement.
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 — the cotton still has its flaws in moisture control and weight — but for less intense mileage, this is one can’t-miss garment.
Baleaf Quick Dry Short Sleeve T-Shirt
- Material: 90% Polyester, 10% Spandex
- Weight: 5.64oz
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.
The North Face Wander Short-Sleeve Tee
- Material: 96% Recycled Polyester, 4% Elastane-knit Jersey with FlashDry
- Weight: 5oz
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.
The only thing we would have preferred across this sleek top would have been more reflective logos or decals. Oftentimes, when running through muggy, foggy mornings, visibility can become compromised for both you and passers by. These additional hi-vis treatments could do a lot for athlete safety without taking too much away from the overall stylish build, in our opinion.
Ibex Springbok Short Sleeve Tee
- Material: 45% Tencel, 45% Merino Wool, 10% Nylon
- Weight: 4.95oz
Merino wool is often praised for its exceptional performance in both hot and cold conditions, yet some find it difficult to make the plunge into wool-based gear for summertime jaunts (face it, wool’s winter marketing team is top notch). Well, this new Springbok Short Sleeve from Ibex circumnavigates those predispositions thanks to a unique inclusion of Tencel fabric in the blend. This created a moisture-wicking, breathable sensation that far surpassed our previous experience with merino wool apparel of yesteryear.
Our tester also enjoyed the simple, design and regular fit of this latest running shirt, but we understand that this no-logo aesthetic may not fit with some athlete’s style choices. Additionally, we noticed that the neck opening was a little more round than your typical t-shirt. While this didn’t hinder our comfort or performance, for skinnier athletes, this could lead to showing more chest than wanted (think V-neck without the V).
Patagonia Capilene Cool Lightweight Shirt
- Material: 100% Recycled Polyester
- Weight: 2.6 oz
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. Additionally, when we did work up a sweat at the end of a trailhead, this impressive top was quick to dry, eliminating any sweat rings just in time to catch up with friends for a post-training bite.
Still, there are some flaws across this featherweight shirt. For one, you’re locked into just a handful of colorways, whereas other silhouettes in Patagonia’s Capilene Cool stable offer a few more hues. Additionally, our tester called out the lack of a side slit at the bottom hem, which limited their mobility when getting into a full stride. Of course, you’re less likely to stretch to your full capacity when navigating winding trails, so we’re okay with this cut being left off the profile.
Unsanctioned Deep Blurple Tee
- Material: Fabrics Knitted from 100% Recycled Plastic Bottles
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.
Of course, though, all that dedication to sustainable practices can begin to add up on the price tag, and that’s not accounting for the international shipping you’ll need to pay, too. Still, we’ll gladly shell out the coin for this sleek, stylish garment, and we’re always happy to support a down-to-earth brand taking greenwashing to the cleaners.
Brooks Distance Short Sleeve
- Material: 88% Recycled Polyester, 12% Lyocell
- Weight: 5oz
Need a shirt that’s ready day in and day out? We really enjoy the budget-friendly, versatile nature of the Distance Short Sleeve from Brooks thanks to its super soft polyester blend, ribbed arm and neck hems as well as its subtle aesthetics. This impressive running shirt doesn’t scream performance, either, which makes it a worthwhile option for those less intense days of running errands or bike commuting around town, too.
In terms of fit, our tester stated it’s more on the athletic side with snug sleeves and contoured yet loose-fitting chest. The only area that could be of concern for some is the length. According to our tester, who stands 6’2” in stature, this shirt barely reached over his waistline and would routinely show his midriff when rotating his arms through his running stride. For taller athletes, you may need to size up to achieve that fuller coverage.
Montbell Cool Light T
- Material: 100% Polyester
- Weight: 2.9oz
Don’t let your running attire weigh down your progress. For those that live the light life, this top is ready with a featherweight frame, breathable construction and a slick anti-bacterial treatment designed to keep the shirt on your body and out of the hamper. The Cool Light T easily became a favorite of ours for heat-filled weekend jaunts, and we also appreciated how fast this next-to-nothing garment dried itself when our workouts ended for the day.
The Cool Light T may disappear across your physique from a touch perspective, but it does make its presence known through a sense not often associated with apparel — sound. During testing, we heard a rather apparent rubbing noise coming from our armpits as the fabric passed over itself. While this was resolved with a quick switch to our handy wireless earbuds, it could be more distracting than not for some.
Bandit Micromesh Long Sleeve Performance Tee
- Material: 84% Polyester, 16% Elastane
- Weight: 5.65oz
Running shirts don’t always need to follow a short-sleeved design. There’s plenty of worth in long sleeves offering more coverage (and comfort) with this sleek silhouette from Bandit Running taking the cake. Not only did our tester enjoy the soft touch of the micro mesh fabric across their skin, they also appreciated how versatile this loose-fitting top became in regards to their other training disciplines. We found this lightweight top to be an excellent outer layer for strength training warmups, as well as a nice, comfortable option for more brisk strolls through the neighborhood, too.
As versatile as this long sleeve proved to be, we wouldn’t categorize it as a dedicated running garment. For one, we feel the loose nature of the fit does lead to some rubbing at longer distances, which could lead to chafing and skin irritation for more dedicated athletes. Also, the cuffs don’t feature a thumb hole, and while they’re snug enough to maintain their placement, they can still ride up on occasion.
Brady Run Short Sleeve
- Material: Front: 88% Polyester, 12% Spandex // Back: 83% Polyester, 17% Spandex
- Weight: 5oz
Okay, there was nothing minimalistic about Tom Brady’s football career, but despite this caveat, the former quarterback’s performance apparel brand has made one exceptionally subdued running shirt. The Brady Run Short Sleeve granted us plenty of mobility thanks to the stretchy polyester blend as well as a convenient side slit at the bottom hem. Plus, the woven mesh back makeup kept us feeling cool without standing apart as a unique component of the build. Everything flowed nicely with one another, lending to a heightened sense of style, too.
Some athletes, including our tester, have noted, however, that it may be wise to size up at first when ordering this sleek top from the former gridiron champion. There’s an apparent snugness at the shoulders and armpits that may turn uncomfortable during more intense activity. If Brady keeps with his winning demeanor, though, we’re sure this fitment issue will iron itself out as the brand continues to progress with age.
Arc'teryx Cormac Crew Short Sleeve
- Material: 100% Polyester
- Weight: 3.9oz
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. It is wise, however, to pay attention to the size chart. We did notice a baggier fit to this top, and for those wanting a more streamlined fit, you may want to order outside of your typical size.
Other Good Options
Vuori Strato Tech Tee
- Material: 96% Polyester, 4% Elastane
- Weight: 4.30z
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.
Rhone Swift Short Sleeve
- Material: 88% Polyester, 12% Elastane
- Weight: 6.38oz
From one of our favorite boutique brands, Rhone, this sleek and simple t-shirt not only kept us cool mid-run, but the quality 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.
Rabbit EZ T-Shirt
- Material: 94% Polyester, 6% Spandex
- Weight: 4.0oz
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.
Nathan Rise Short Sleeve 2.0
- Material: Body — 1100% Recycled Polyester, Back Panel — 92% Polyester, 8% Elastane
- Weight: 4.7oz
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 appreciated the improved range of motion during testing, 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.
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 Look for in Running Shirts
Your running shirts should help you maintain a level of comfort from start to finish, and that means keeping your clothes cool, dry and cozy. To help defend against pooling sweat and blister-prone hotspots, look for tops featuring some form of moisture-wicking material. This can keep your sweat from sitting stagnant across your frame for extended periods, eliminating the chance for friction and chafing. It’s also nice to consider tops that dry quickly to help eliminate those dreaded sweat rings and stains post-run.
Like your favorite gym shirts, running-focused tops often showcase a mix of lightweight, breathable materials like polyester, Nylon and/or Tencel. Additionally, it’s not uncommon to see stretchy, flexible fabrics like Spandex or Elastane in the mix, as these materials can help add some improved mobility to each silhouette without sacrificing comfort. No matter your shirt’s makeup, be sure to look for profiles featuring well-sewn seams and a high grade of durability. You can also opt for wool-based running tops, which also offer moisture-wicking, breathable perks, but this option is oftentimes more expensive and challenging to maintain. You can’t throw wool apparel through a typical wash cycle like you would your other workout clothes, so if you fancy this naturally anti-microbial and odor-resistant option, be sure to understand how to read laundry symbols prior to purchase.
Above all else, though, it’s best to avoid running shirts made primarily out of cotton. This fabric absorbs moisture and retains it rather well, which can create heavy, damp apparel that’s uncomfortable and potentially painful — pooling sweat around your arms and midsection can create hotbeds for blister development and chafing.
Running shirts can feature a wide variety of fits, each dependent on their brand’s given nomenclature. Typically, though, you can assume that “slim” or “fitted” tops will feature a next-to-skin feel, “regular” cuts will fit closer to your normal t-shirts and “athletic” fits will showcase a more streamlined fit that’s somewhere in the middle between loose and snug. There’s no true correct fit for running endeavors, so be sure to play around with varying cuts until you find the one that’s right for your frame.
In addition to moisture-wicking and breathable notes, you can also upgrade your running ensemble with other well-to-do characteristics. For athletes that frequent sunny environments, tops featuring UPF sun protection can be great for keeping your skin protected from harmful rays. For sweat-prone joggers, it can be nice to run in shirts with built-in antimicrobial treatments. This perk can help defend against unwanted bacteria buildup while also keeping your garment fresh for multiple sessions without the need for a trip to the laundry room.
Other components like compact pockets, breathable mesh swatches, thumb holes for sleeve security (long sleeve enthusiasts, rejoice) and more can enhance your wardrobe, too, but they’re not absolutely necessary. Be sure to weigh your wants and needs before making a final purchase, and be on the lookout for these add-ons if you deem them a worthy feature.