The North Face Better Than Naked is an extremely light and super breathable running shirt that does a superb job keeping you cool and dry when sweating. It is so effective that we decided to award it our Top Pick for Hot Weather, as no other shirt offers the same insane amount of breathability to aid in evaporative heat loss. It wasn't only super breathable, though, it was also very comfortable, employing taped seams on the back of the shoulders. It also dries out extremely quickly. The only knock against this great running shirt is that it isn't as versatile for use with a pack or for other outdoor sports. Regardless, it was the second highest overall scorer and is a great choice for any style of running, especially when the temperatures are soaring.
The North Face Better Than Naked Review
Compare prices at 2 resellers Pros: Extremely breathable mesh, dries very quickly, comfortable
Cons: Super light mesh has durability concerns, not many features
Manufacturer: The North Face
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Our Analysis and Test Results
The North Face Better Than Naked shirt is exceptionally light, weighing in at a mere 3.0 ounces for our size large. This was the lightest shirt we tested, which was no surprise to us considering it seems to be made almost entirely of mesh. The back is made up of hyper-thin perforated mesh in a sort of shattered glass-looking pattern, while the front, sides, and sleeves, are also polyester so thin as to be almost see-through. We found it to be ever so slightly more breathable than the Patagonia Windchaser, but those grades were flip-flopped when it came to drying time, which the Windchaser barely won. The gist of it is: this is a fantastic shirt for running, especially in hot weather, but the thinness of its fabric means it wouldn't be our first choice for use as a base layer.
The Better Than Naked shirt was easily among the top scorers when it came to comfort.
We find that for running shirts comfort is usually dependent on smooth seam sewing, soft and slippery fabric, and an athletic, but not too tight, fit. This shirt nails it in all three departments.
The fabric used is 100% polyester, giving it a smooth, slippery texture that feels great against the skin. The North Face claims on their website that this shirt uses "stitch-free" construction, but this is only true for the seams that cross the back of the shoulders, which happen to be the most noticeable seams on a running shirt. These seams are taped using adhesive in the same way that all of the seams on the Patagonia Windchaser are. The rest of the seams on the shirt are sewn together using flatlock seams, which are low profile and don't rub or chafe noticeably. The fit is very similar to that found on the New Balance Ice 2.0, that is, athletic and slim but not hugging the body. It was not as form fitting as the Nike Dri-FIT Knit, but was in no way loose and flowy like the Under Armour UA Tech.
We thought the fit was pretty much ideal for running, with no constrictions at all and gave it 9 out of 10 points for comfort.
When it comes to allowing direct airflow to quickly aid in the evaporation of sweat and its transport away from the body, no shirt could hold a candle to the Better Than Naked.
The mesh panel on the back of this shirt was far and away the lightest, thinnest, and most breathable piece of fabric found on any shirt in this review. Of course, the front and sleeves of the shirt were slightly heavier, but still super light and on par with the mesh found on the back of the New Balance Ice 2.0. This shirt is made using FlashDry fabrics, which The North Face says is engineered to accelerate the removal of sweat from the skin. They don't exactly tell us how this works, but we know that it works great. We gave this shirt a perfect 10 for breathability, outscoring the Windchaser and Ice 2.0.
Despite the fact that it was by far the most breathable shirt, the Better Than Naked was barely beaten out for the title of fastest drying shirt in our dedicated drying speed test by the Patagonia Windchaser.
Since polyester fabrics such as the one used on this shirt cannot absorb water, any wetness is simply water droplets trapped and held between the fibers. Evident from our drying speed test was that the lightest shirts had the fewest fibers, and trapped the least amount of water, allowing them to also dry out the fastest. Heavier shirts, such as the Russell Athletic Dri-Power Core Performance or Under Armour UA Tech, dried out considerably slower than either this shirt or the Windchaser. As the second fastest drying shirt, we awarded it 9 out of 10 points.
If there is one knock against this shirt, it would be that it isn't super versatile for uses other than running. In fact, we scored it as the single least versatile shirt of this review, lower than the similarly mesh Salomon Agile SS Tee.
The main reason for this low score was the super thin fabric and preponderance of mesh. While we admit that we didn't test this shirt long enough to trash it completely, we have worn so many technical synthetic shirts till they were in rags that we feel we understand what is likely to withstand abuse and what isn't. Rubbed daily under pack straps while backpacking, climbing, or even just day hiking, this shirt wouldn't survive for long. Reserve this shirt strictly for running, and check out the Arc'teryx Motus Crew, our Top Pick for use as a base layer, if that is what you want out of your tech shirt.
The features found on this shirt work fine, but there aren't very many of them. On the back of the neck can be found a nice, well-sewn sweatband, and this shirt has three reflective patches — one logo on the front and two little strips on the sides of the back.
However, it does not have any odor control or additional UPF, like the Smartwool PhD Ultra Light, which has natural odor control and a UPF 30+ rating. It also doesn't have the plethora of reflectors found on the Arc'teryx Motus Crew for safer nighttime running. We awarded 6 points for features.
As our Top Pick for Hot Weather, we naturally think that this is where this shirt will shine. It will also work just fine for any other sort of running, long or short, although it wouldn't be our top choice if we always ran with a running vest on. Due to its delicate mesh, we wouldn't choose to purchase it for activities where we wear a pack.
This shirt retails for $50. While this seems pretty expensive for a t-shirt, the fact is that it is the second most affordable of all of our top scorers. We think that this shirt presents pretty good value as an everyday running shirt, and simply caution against activities that will quickly trash it.
The North Face Better Than Naked is the lightest and most breathable shirt that we tested. Since it works to aid evaporation so well, we chose to recognize it as our Top Pick for Hot Weather running. It is a specialty shirt that will thrive on the trail or roads but probably won't stand the abuse of backpacking or hiking with a pack on. As one of the highest rated shirts, as well as the most comfortable, we wholeheartedly recommend this shirt to any dedicated runner.
— Andy Wellman