The Best Performance Shirt Review

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Chris McNamara wears the Patagonia Capilene 1 at Sunset Beach in Oahu.
Credit: Lita Collins
We took six of the best selling performance shirts and put them through the paces to help you find the one that’s right for you. These shirts can be layered as any true base layer should, but they can also perform on their own. We hiked, biked, paddled, and climbed our way through nine different categories – judging everything from style to breathability. We wanted to find the ones that performed the best, but also the ones that looked and felt the best. All the shirts had their perks and many of them scored extremely similarly. With active base layers, so much of it comes down to personal preference, and through our review you will be able to compare these nine tops side-by-side.

First, some definitions. What we call a "performance shirt" is also called an active base layer or a running shirt by REI.

Read the full review below >

Review by: and Emily Zell

Top Ranked Running Shirts - Men's Displaying 1 - 5 of 7 << Previous | View All | Next >>
Our Ranking #1 #2 #3 #4 #5
Product Name
Asics Favorite Short Sleeve
Asics Favorite Short Sleeve
Read the Review
REI Fleet T Shirt
REI Fleet T Shirt
Read the Review
Patagonia Capilene 1 T-Shirt
Patagonia Capilene 1 T-Shirt
Read the Review
Nike Miler UV T-Shirt
Nike Miler UV T-Shirt
Read the Review
Under Armour Catalyst Shirt
Under Armour Catalyst Shirt
Read the Review
Editors' Awards  Editors' Choice Award  Best Buy Award  Top Pick Award     
Street Price Varies $34 - $42
Compare at 4 sellers
$30
Compare at 1 sellers
Varies $23 - $39
Compare at 7 sellers
Varies $38 - $42
Compare at 3 sellers
$30
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Pros Lightweight, Superior breathability, Excellent ease of movement, 50+ UPF protectionGood warmth for a short sleeve, inexpensive, dries quickly.Durable, breathable and quick-drying, ease of movement.Soft and lightweight, stylish color, durable.Cool, retro design very warm, long and lean fit.
Cons Not very warm, Breathable mesh panels not cozy until softened with wash and wearA bit restrictive in the arms/shoulders, not very soft.Not stylish, limited to warmer temps, expensive.Slow drying.Limited versatility, fit can feel restrictive for some, not very breathable.
Best Uses Hiking, exercise/aerobic classes, gym workouts, backpacking, horseback riding, kayaking, rowing, sailing, running, tennis, golf, cross-training, yoga, pilates, road cycling, mountain bikingHiking, exercise/aerobic classes, gym workouts, backpacking, horseback riding, running, tennis, cross-training, climbing, warm weather camping, kayaking, water sports.Hiking, exercise/aerobic classes, gym workouts, backpacking, horseback riding, running, tennis, cross-training, climbing, warm weather camping, road cycling, surfing, sailing, kayaking, water sports.Hiking, exercise/aerobic classes, gym workouts, backpacking, horseback riding, running, tennis, cross-training, climbing, warm weather camping, kayaking.Hiking, gym workouts, backpacking, horseback riding, tennis, cross-training, climbing, cool weather camping, road cycling, mountain biking, winter/snow sports, yoga, pilates.
Date Reviewed Jun 22, 2014Jun 22, 2011Jun 22, 2011Jun 23, 2011Jun 22, 2011
Weighted Scores Asics Favorite Short Sleeve REI Fleet T Shirt Patagonia Capilene 1 T-Shirt Nike Miler UV T-Shirt Under Armour Catalyst Shirt
STYLE And FIT - 12%
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WARMTH And TEMP REGULATION - 11%
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LAYERING ABILITY - 11%
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DURABILITY - 11%
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BREATHABILITY - 11%
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DRYING SPEED - 11%
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VERSATILITY - 11%
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EASE OF MOVEMENT - 11%
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VALUE - 11%
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Product Specs Asics Favorite Short Sleeve REI Fleet T Shirt Patagonia Capilene 1 T-Shirt Nike Miler UV T-Shirt Under Armour Catalyst Shirt
UPF Rating 50 40 15 30 50
Material Polyester Recycled Polyester Recycled Polyester Polyester Recycled Polyester

OutdoorGearLab Editors' Hands-on Review


  • Review Photos
  • Editors' Choice Winners
  • All Reviewed Products
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REI Fleet T Shirt
$30
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Nike Miler UV T-Shirt
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Under Armour Catalyst Shirt
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Nike Legend T-Shirt
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North Face Ruckus Short Sleeve
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Warmth and Temperature Regulation
A key component in an active top is temperature regulation. They need to be able to keep you warm enough when outdoors but be light enough to breath easily when your heart rate jumps. A careful balance was paid attention to for these tests; does the top aim to be warm? And if so, does it dry quickly enough to not give us the chills? And if its goal is to not only be warm, does it respond well to fluctuating temperatures?

The winner in this category, based on its ability to regulate hot and cold, is the Asics Favorite Short Sleeve. This shirt breathed so well that after sweating in it for hours it dried in minutes. It kept us warm on early morning, foggy runs and yet was lightweight enough for midday boot camp on the warmest of days. Challenging the Favorite Long Sleeve is the Under Armour Catalyst, based on its awesome warmth. However, the Asics edged out the Catalyst based on its versatility, as opposed to the Under Armour’s limitations in warmer weather.

Breathability and Drying Speed
Far and away the Patagonia Capilene 1 takes the prize here. This top dries in what feels like seconds, making it perfect for water sports. Even after being washed, the Capilene 1 never saw the inside of a dryer, as the spin cycle was enough to dry it almost completely. This drying ability helped the Patagonia become a favorite of ours for kayaking, high intensity runs, and even just throwing on over a wet bathing suit. Close second place honors go to both the Asics Favorite, which breathes amazingly well, and the REI Fleet.

Falling short in this category are the Nike Legend T-Shirt and Nike Miler UV T-Shirt, both short and long sleeve, which for being so lightweight and soft, and having decent breathability, take extremely long to dry. Also, the REI Tech top left something to be desired, becoming soggy and heavy during most workouts.

Durability
All the tops performed relatively well in this category. The best performers were those that were not affected by washing and drying, as well as those that performed well when “getting dirty." The Patagonia Capilene 1 gave us no surprises with shrinking or pilling, but is so lightweight as to seem fragile for a lot of rougher activities. The Asics Favorite, on the other hand, not only holds its size and fit when washed but also offers more in the way of a thicker, stronger fabric and seams.

Layering Ability
While these base layers will presumably be the “next-to-skin” layer, it is an added bonus when you can wear a tank or tee underneath if you expect conditions to warm up.

Style/Fit and Ease of Movement
These were two separate categories, but they are very closely tied together. So often the fit of an active top directly influences its ease of movement, and, more obviously, its style, or lack thereof. We found a tie for the most stylish in the Asics Favorite and the Under Armour Catalyst tops. Both have extremely flattering and functional design, giving them style points. However, the Asics takes the win here as it was slightly less restrictive than the thicker Under Armour top, thereby making it easier to move in. The Favorite is slim and sleek without being as tight as the Under Armour – especially in the arms, which gives it an advantage and adds to its versatility as it was easier to push the sleeves up and therefore cooler. On the opposite end of the spectrum is the Patagonia Capilene 1 which offers good ease of movement but minimal style/fit points due to a bland appearance in the former, and a boxy cut in the latter.

The Bottom Line
Our favorite overall active base layer top is the Asics Favorite Short Sleeve. This top offers the complete package: it is stylish and flattering, extremely lightweight and breathable, is easy to move in and take on and off, dries in a flash, and has UPF protection. Whew! The Asics can be used for so many different activities and in all the ones we put it through it performed extremely well. While there is no mistaking it for an “athletic” top, it was so comfortable and soft that I was never in a hurry to take it off.

A close second is the REI Fleet T-Shirt which was our runaway Best Buy winner and also our favorite short sleeve model. The Fleet also has superior breathability and drying speed while being flattering and comfortable.

The Honorable Style Award goes to the Under Armour Catalyst T-Shirt.

The Best Water Sports Active top goes to the Patagonia Capilene 1 T-Shirt.

Chris McNamara and Emily Zell
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