The Nike Dri-FIT Knit is probably the most unique running shirt we tested. Its nearly seamless construction uses a single, continuous piece of fabric around the entire torso, eliminating the seams in this area altogether. This same piece of fabric has variably mapped mesh holes to aid in breathability in places where it is needed most, such as the middle of the back and shoulders, but eliminates the need for panels of different material sewn together. It is also the only shirt that includes a blend of polyester with nylon, in nearly equal ratios. Unfortunately, these unique attributes didn't translate directly to performance, and the Dri-FIT Knit scored in the lower half of our review.
Nike Dri-FIT Knit Review
Cons: Expensive, tight fitting, slow drying, few features
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Our Analysis and Test Results
The body mapped mesh ventilation combined with the single piece construction that literally wraps all the way around your body without a single seam makes the Nike Dri-FIT Knit one innovative and interesting shirt. Sadly, there were a number of downsides to the performance of this shirt that eventually left the overall impression a bit lower than we would have wished. Its unique features allowed it to score a bit higher than our Best Bang for the Buck award-winning Under Armour UA Tech, but the difference in price is $55! This is a shirt that we enjoyed wearing and running in, but that didn't quite live up to its price tag.
When comparing the comfort of each shirt, we took detailed looks at the fit, the seam sewing, and the fabric. Probably the most remarkable thing about the Nike Dri-FIT Knit is the fact that the torso of this shirt is made of one continuous piece of fabric, and is never sewn together at all. The only seams present are where the sleeves are joined to the main body of the shirt, and these are stitched together with a low profile flatlock stitch. Normally, we don't tend to notice rub from the seams on the sides of the torso anyway, as they hang away from the body, but this shirt is the most form-fitting that we tried. It hugs the body in a way that even the slimmest fitting competition, the Salomon Agile SS Tee, couldn't replicate. While we prefer a bit more space between our shirt and skin, we thought it fit us fairly well.
However, dudes with bigger pectorals or biceps are likely to be bulging out of this tight fit, so consider sizing up. The fabric itself felt great against the skin, but rest assured, you will feel it right against your skin. We thought the comfort level was roughly similar to the Smartwool PhD Ultra Light — that is, not uncomfortable, but certainly present in our minds. We gave it 7 out of 10 points.
The "knit" part of the Nike Dri-FIT Knit name stands for the fact that lighter weight mesh ventilation is knit directly into the main panel of fabric. Essentially, little mesh perforations are mapped onto the body in the areas of most need, like the upper shoulders, back, and underarms. There are four different densities of knit perforations in different areas of the shirt, designed to allow heat to escape from the most likely areas of heat buildup. While this idea is both quite cool in concept and the actual look of the fabric, we found that even the most densely perforated zones still do not rival the openness or lightness of mesh found on The North Face Better Than Naked, or even the New Balance Ice 2.0. While the idea is cool, it feels a bit gimmicky compared to the performance of the most breathable shirts, and we gave it 8 out of 10 points.
The Nike model was one of the slowest to dry during our tests. It is made of a nearly equal blend of polyester and nylon. Why this is significant is that nylon is capable of absorbing water into its fibers, in contrast to polyester, which is not. At 5.0 ounces for our size large, it was one of the heavier shirts in this test and clearly absorbed more water than the rest. After the Under Armour UA Tech and the Russell Athletic Dri-Power Core Performance had finally finished drying, this shirt was still damp to the touch, so we awarded it the lowest score.
This very slim fitting shirt is a good candidate to be worn underneath another warmth layer as the temperatures drop, and is also a good choice for running as well as working out indoors. However, we question whether the mesh knitting patterns on the tops of the shoulders and back will be able to withstand very much abuse beneath pack straps. We thought it was a bit more versatile than our Best Overall running shirt, the Patagonia Windchaser, but not as versatile as the New Balance Ice 2.0. 6 out of 10 points.
This shirt has a couple of well-executed basic features but does not go as far as the Smartwool PhD Ultra Light in providing odor control and an elevated UPF rating. On the back of the neck is a long and nicely sewn on sweatband that helps cover up the seam there. It also has two reflectors: a large Nike logo on the front and a large vertical band on the back, but doesn't include reflectors on the sleeves like the Arc'teryx Motus Crew. Most disappointingly, the newest version of this shirt no longer includes a loop to hold headphone cords in place, like we loved using on the New Balance Ice 2.0. We rated this one right about in the middle for features, giving it 6 points.
This shirt is best used specifically for running but is also a pretty good choice for use as a workout shirt in the gym. While it is easy to layer over the top of in colder conditions, it is not our first choice for activities where a pack is needed.
The Nike model costs $80, making it one of the most expensive in the fleet. Much of this expense can likely be attributed to the complication of producing a single-piece seamless shirt with mapped perforations. However, the performance compared to the competition simply doesn't back up the price, and we aren't sure this shirt represents very good value.
The Nike Dri-FIT Knit shirt is one of the most unique in this review due to its seamless construction. It also features body mapped, knit perforations that help with breathability and heat dumping. Unfortunately, a tight fit, very slow drying speed, and lack of features, not to mention the high price tag, outweigh the good.
— Andy Wellman