The Best Running Shirt Review for Men
What's the best men's running shirt? To find out, we chose five shirts from the leading running and outdoor manufacturers and compared them head-to-head. We wore these shirts day-in and day-out for months while running on roads and trails, while training and during races, in hot weather and in cold pouring rain. We tested them specifically for how comfortable they are, which ones are the most breathable, and which ones dry out the fastest after getting soaked with rain or sweat. We also rated them based on their versatility, specific features, and individual style. In the end, it was easy to determine our overall favorite, as well as the shirt with the most uniquely awesome features. Check out the full review below to see how they compared.
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Test Results and Ratings
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Analysis and Award Winners
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Analysis and Test Results
The five shirts that we chose to test for this review are all specifically tailored to fit men's bodies and be used while running. An ideal running shirt is one that you wouldn't even be able to tell you are wearing, while still offering the functionality one expects from a technical shirt: protection from sun and wind, moisture wicking, protection from other abrasive layers like a pack or jacket, and eye catching reflectors for nighttime road running. We chose to test shirts that would work well for any kind of running you like to do, whether on roads or on trails. In the end, we found that all of these shirts are great products that almost any runner would be happy with. There are, however, slight differences in construction, material, fit, and features that differentiate each shirt. We had to get very picky to decide what shirt was actually the best, but each one has unique features that make it a great option. Check out the individual reviews if you are interested in their main selling points and best uses.
Criteria for Evaluation
To accurately compare and decide which product was the best, we chose six important criteria and ranked each shirt on a scale of 1-10. A detailed description of each criteria and how we tested it is below.
The most important thing about a shirt is how comfortable it is. Itchy fabrics, restrictive cuts, or abrasive seam sewing might not be super noticeable while standing around, but try running a marathon in an uncomfortable shirt and you may end up with rashes, chafing, or worse. We found that the most important things when determining the comfort of a shirt are how the seams are sewn, the weave of its fabric, and finally its fit. Comfort accounted for 30% of a shirt's final score.
The North Face Kilowatt Short Sleeve employs taped seams over the shoulders to minimize the feel of rubbing against the skin, but all the other shirts had normally sewn seams. How much and where these rubbed were big detractors in the comfort of most shirts. Despite having many features we loved, the Salomon Fast Wing Tee had many seams that felt abrasive and rubbed us wrong the wrong way.
All of the shirts we tested are made of polyester, although some are also blended with other materials like elastic or nylon. However, the weave of each shirt differs drastically, making some far more comfortable than others. The New Balance Ice Short Sleeve and Patagonia Fore Runner Short Sleeve had the most comfortable fabrics.
Each shirt was cut to a different shape, despite all being men's size large. Fit is a subjective thing based on body shape. We did our best to mention the fit in the individual reviews.
Let's face it, if you are running then you are going to sweat. These shirts are designed to make sure your sweat leaves your body as fast as possible, cooling you quicker. The most common method for improving breathability is by using lighter weight mesh panels in areas of frequent sweat build-up. Several of the shirts we tested used these panels on the shoulders and neck, under the armpits, and in the middle of the back to let moist, humid air escape more easily. Two of the shirts, however, did not include this feature and were instead made of a single fabric that wicked moisture better and dried out faster. More on that in drying speed, below. The most breathable shirt in our review was the New Balance Ice, while we found The North Face Kilowatt to be made of the heaviest, least breathable fabric. Breathability accounted for 20% of a product's final score.
Drying speed goes hand-in-hand with breathability, but interestingly we found that the manufacturers seemed to emphasize either one or the other in their respective strategies to keep a runner dry, and no shirt scored at the top of both breathability and drying speed. To test for drying speed, we got each of the shirts dripping wet, hung them up next to each other, and then felt them every half hour to see which ones dried the fastest. While most of these shirts took all day to dry, in real life they would be aided by environmental conditions like wind, sun, and body heat to drive quicker evaporation. Interestingly, the two shirts that did not feature special mesh breathing panels - the ASICS PR Lyte short Sleeve and the Patagonia Fore-Runner - were the fastest drying shirts. The fabric weaves used in conjunction with the mesh breathing panels on the other shirts did not dry nearly as fast. Drying speed accounted for 15% of a shirt's final score.
Why is Drying Speed Important?
The drying speed of a shirt is important because it affects how well the shirt works at keeping you cool. A running shirt acts like a second layer of skin while you wear it. Your body sweats as it builds up heat, and the evaporation of that sweat is what cools you down. A shirt needs to have the same characteristics. Sweat needs to evaporate quickly from a soaked shirt in order to cool you down, and one that dries more slowly will cause your body to retain heat and not cool off as quickly.
In versatility, we tried to account for how well the shirt will perform at other things besides simply running - or how well it will perform in different running disciplines. Think of this score as how well the shirt will work as a base layer instead of a running shirt. Other questions we asked include: how easily will the shirt handle wearing a pack? Do its special features mean that it will be especially good at other activities as well? How durable is the shirt?
With the heaviest and most durable fabric and construction, we found The North Face Kilowatt to be the most versatile shirt in the bunch. On the other end of the spectrum, since its shoulder areas are constructed almost entirely of mesh, we felt that the New Balance Ice shirt would be a very poor choice for wearing a pack, which limits its versatility. Versatility accounted for 15% of a product's final score.
What kind of features can a shirt have, you ask? Well, as we found out, surprisingly many. For instance, the Salomon Fast Wing Tee, our Top Pick for Features, has all sorts of interesting and useful extras, our favorite being side pockets similar to those found on a bike jersey. Rather than being on the back, these are on the sides so they won't interfere with a running pack. The North Face Kilowatt features taped seams on the shoulders to reduce rubbing and chafing, and to a greater or lesser degree all the shirts had reflective panels or logos for nighttime running. Each shirt's features are described in greater detail on their individual reviews. Features accounted for 15% of a shirt's final score.
One feature that some shirts have is a UPF rating. UPF stands for Ultra-violet Protection Factor, and is a rating comparable to the SPF ratings of sunscreen. Some manufacturers use special fabrics or dyes that boost a product's UPF. For instance, if a shirt has a UPF rating of 30, that means that only 1/30th of the ultra-violet light rays are getting through to hit your skin. But what about the shirts with no rating? Well, all clothing protects the wearer somewhat; it is estimated that average is between 8-15 UPF. However, a clothing product is not allowed to advertise its UPF rating unless it is measured at 15 or above, so those products with a rating have been specially designed to give you extra protection.
We all know that style does matter, but we also know that it's a subjective thing. So we only chose to rate style as 5% of a shirt's final score. When we assessed for style we tried not to take color into consideration, since they all come in many different colors, and only rated the shirt on whether it looked "good," or even like "normal" clothing. You be the judge.
Finding the perfect shirt for running means finding a technical shirt that offers an array of features including weather protection, moisture wicking, comfort, and even reflectors for safe night running. Using this review, we hope that you were able to find the shirt that fits your running needs and desires.
— Andy Wellman
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