The Best Running Shirt for Women Review
What's the women's best running shirt? To find out, we chose five of the most popular running t-shirts on the market and put them to the test. The varied terrain of the San Juan mountains and valleys had us running everything from desert landscapes to 13,000-foot ridge lines. Over the last three months we wore them every day through all conditions Mother Nature could throw at us: humidity, dry heat, cold, storms, and more! We even performed in home air dry tests in a controlled environment to sort out some nitty gritty details. We then comparatively rated them using six metrics, including comfort & fit, breathability, drying speed, versatility, features, and style. Read on to see how they all stacked up.
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Test Results and Ratings
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Analysis and Award Winners
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Analysis and Test Results
So you're on the hunt for a new shirt and you don't know where to begin! So far you've taken the correct steps by researching online and finding this article. Good for you! So let's take the next step and look at three of most important things to consider.
"Barely There" Comfort: Any good product should leave you feeling like you're wearing hardly anything at all. That means it needs to be lightweight and comfortable without any heavy friction points that can cause discomfort in the long run.
Protection: Wind, rain, and even sun shouldn't be an issue with appropriate protection. This also means a shirt that is long enough and/or won't ride up while wearing a hydration pack. This characteristic is related to our comfort, drying speed, and features metrics.
Breathability: Though some people like to believe women "glow" instead of sweat, this is an unfortunate misconception - especially when you're a running. That's why it's of the utmost importance that your shirt both wicks and breathes. Unlike a base layer, the tops in this review are meant to wick moisture to keep you cool and dry not to keep you warm. As a result, you should look for materials that are polyester or polyester blends like all the shirts we tested here.
In our opinion, "barely there" comfort, protection, and breathability are the three most important things to have in a running top. In this review, we compared five running t-shirts specific to the female shape, and they all fulfilled each of these requirements. To differentiate the best, we dove deep down into the nitty gritty during miles of running and hours of at-home tests.
Criteria for Evaluation
In our review, we chose six different metrics to evaluate and compare each product. We rated each shirt on a scale of 1-10 and weighted each metric to reflect its overall importance.
Comfort & Fit
When you hit the road or trails for miles on end, it's important to wear a shirt that is a) comfortable, and b) fits well. If a shirt doesn't fit properly or feels scratchy on the skin, you could be left with chafing, blistering, or general discomfort as the miles accumulate. The most important points that accounted for comfort and fit included the types of seams and fabric weave. For fit, we considered the length of the top, lack of constriction points, and whether it was form fitting and stretchy or stiff and rigid. Comfort & fit accounted for 30% of the overall score.
Seams are really important for comfort. All shirts sported flat locked seams but they varied in depth between shirts. Deeper seams were more uncomfortable than the shallow seams. For example, the seams on the New Balance Ultra Short Sleeve - Women's were much more comfortable than the Salomon Fast Wing Tee - Women's seams because they weren't as pronounced in their depth. We also liked the welded seams found on The North Face Better than Naked Short Sleeve - Women's because there were few friction points and less abrasion which equals barely there comfort.
In terms of fabric weave, we noticed that polyester blends found in the Adidas Supernova Tee - Women's and the New Balance short sleeve were much softer than 100% polyester tops like the Fast Wing tee or Better than Naked. The reason that polyester is used for these techy tops is because it is composed of plastic fibers that don't absorb water, but wick it away from the skin. Blend components like nylon or spandex give the top more stretch and may make the top feel more comfortable. However, breathability is sometimes sacrificed as a result of using these blend materials, especially when the weave of the fabric is tight.
For fit, we loved tops that were flattering and followed a women's shape nicely. While the Patagonia Capilene 1 T-Shirt - Women's was incredibly boxy and baggy, The North Face Better than Naked did a great job of contouring to the torso of our testers and provided a feminine touch.
Breathability is one of our most important metrics and accounted for 20% of the evaluation criteria. Since running is a high output sport, you will be sweating. It doesn't matter if you're running in the dead of winter, or in the heat of summer, you need a top that will a) wick moisture and b) keep your skin dry. Breathability is dependent on the type of fabric used, the tightness of the weave, use of mesh paneling, and the placement of vents. A breathable shirt will balance all of these features nicely to keep you cool while you sweat.
The most breathable shirt tested was The North Face Better than Naked, featuring a larger 100% polyester weave with mesh paneling on the back. The New Balance Ultra Short Sleeve (polyester blend) was a close second, featuring a mesh panel in the back with a wide weave. The Salomon Fast Wing wasn't as breathable as these front runners, but had a great 1/4 zip venting option that allowed for personal temperature regulation. The Patagonia Capilene 1 was our least breathable top tested and not recommended for hot weather, but showed promise as a good active base layer.
If you're a fan of running through any conditions, drying speed is important to keep you comfortable - especially on long runs. To test this metric we did two things. First, we ran in the rain and noticed if the shirt dried out quickly while in motion. Second, we performed an at home controlled air dry test to see which which ones were quick to dry. Drying speed accounted for 20% of the overall score.
Unlike our Best Running Shirt for Men Review, there wasn't too much variation in drying speed between the women's selection, except for one standout piece. The North Face Better than Naked dried out the quickest, followed by the New Balance, Salomon Fast Wing, then Adidas Supernova. The differences were minute and varied only by 10-15 minutes. Unsurprisingly, the Patagonia Capilene top was the slowest to dry - it took two hours longer than the rest.
Even though companies try to market items as specific to one sport, products can typically be used in other areas of recreation. For example, a running shirt can also be a walking shirt or a hiking shirt. For this metric, we looked at how the shirts tested transcended these boundaries and whether they could be used for anything else other than running. Versatility accounted for 15% of the overall score.
Lightweight and simply designed tops like the Better than Naked, New Balance, and Adidas Supernova turned out to be the most versatile because of their non-specific design and great performance. We thought they would all do well for many sports including running, team sports (i.e. soccer, lacrosse), hiking, biking, going to the gym, backpacking, etc. Since the Patagonia Capilene 1 wasn't as breathable as the others, we thought it would be a great base layer. The design and look of the Fast Wing were so running specific that we had a hard time wearing this top anywhere else (except perhaps road biking); as a result, it was ranked the least versatile of the five.
Features on a running shirt are always a nice addition. Stash pockets, zip necks, reflective strips, odor resistant fabrics, and UPF ratings help to make a high performance shirt, but a lot of features doesn't necessarily translate into the best running shirt. Features represented 15% of the overall score.
UPF stands for Ultraviolet Protection Factor and is comparable to the ratings you would find on a tube of sunscreen. A shirt on its own (without a UPF rating) has a natural protection factor of 8-15 UPF. If you get a shirt with a rating like 50+ UPF, this is extra protection on top of that natural rating.
The Salomon Fast Wing Tee had the most features, which in turn helped it earn our Top Pick for Mountain Running. It features two stash pockets, a 1/4 zip neck line, and reflective strips. Not only that, but the fabric is ultra durable. The North Face Better than Naked (Our Editors' Choice Winner) didn't have any of these features, except a reflective strip for night running. That said, it still scored higher and performed better in most of our other metrics. When choosing the features that are right for you, it's important to remember that the fanciest or most expensive shirts may not be the best.
Some utilitarian ladies may say that style doesn't matter, but according to our testers and an online poll, we learned that most women do care! When considering this metric we realize that is totally subjective. Some women prefer form-fitting and techy-looking tops while others prefer baggier, boxier designs that don't like like they typical running shirt at all.
When assessing this metric, we commented on the overall look of the top and whether it was flattering or not. For example, the New Balance Super Short Sleeve features a low crew neck that adds a feminine quality that the boxy and frumpy Patagonia Capilene 1 t-shirt doesn't emulate in any way. Our testers also weighed in on whether each shirt had a "techy running look" or if it could be worn outside of the running or exercise world. As always, take our style metric with a grain of salt - you may love the look of something that we hate. We accounted only 5% of the score in this metric because of its subjective nature.
Finding the perfect shirt for running means combining weather protection, comfort, and breathability. With the addition of other features, it can be confusing to sort through the available options on the market. It is our hope that the ratings in this review have helped you to find the shirt that suits your running needs.
— Amber King
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