What are the ingredients for a great running shirt? We dove feet first and got running to figure out just that. We deteremined which attributes kept us reaching for the same shirts over and over and put a host of highly-rated running shirts through tests designed to find the best!
While our extensive field testing gave us excellent ideas about the merits and problems with each shirt, we also found it necessary to devise more controlled tests for some metrics, where shirts could easily be compared side-by-side. The details of how we tested for each metric are described below.
Testing for comfort was largely done in the field — while out running. We made special note of what kind of stitching was used in all the seams, what sort of fabric weave was used, how the stretch affected the fit — and then paid special attention to these factors while running. We also had multiple people try on each shirt, one after the other, to help verify our opinions about comfort.
This is a difficult metric to assess accurately. Our assessments began with field testing on runs in warm temperatures and keeping notes about our experiences. We paid special attention to the effects of shirts with mesh panels versus those with more solid materials, and the locations of those panels. Based on the accumulation of experiences and notes, we came up with scores for breathability for each product.
Buckle up for some kitchen science! Yeah, science! To determine which of our shirts would dry quickest, we ran them all through a wash cycle and spin dry. The initial weight was post spin-dry and preheated dryer cycle. After obtaining the initial wet weight, we weighed the shirts every five minutes to determine which of the shirts would lose this weight fastest!
We also took each shirt out on a jog with the post-spin cycle dampness to see if we could determine a drying speed from this more subjective test. In the end, this was significantly more difficult to assess but did give us valuable insight into how each shirt felt when it was moderately damp.
When assessing for versatility, we tried to determine how effective the shirt would be for the maximum amount of other uses. Much of this testing took place by using each contender for other activities, such as hiking, climbing, and skiing. We wore every shirt on cold days under warm layers to see how well they fit as a base layer. We then looked at the perceived durability as well as fit and how they affected the versatility of the shirt.
To test features, we first identified what features a shirt had and then set about testing them. While it was not possible to test whether a shirt's UPF rating was working or not (we never got sunburned, FYI), it was possible to test things like the sweatband sewn into the neck of certain shirts or visually test the reflective logos of some shirts. In general, running shirts aren't highly featured and that's okay! They're meant to be simple and functional layers for aerobic exercise.