Has the search for the perfect running shirt stopped you in your tracks? Here at OutdoorGearLab, we researched over fifty of the top women's running shirts on the market and picked the top nine for months of hands-on testing. Our expert team spent weeks upon weeks running, hiking, traveling, and exploring in each model to learn all the details of their construction. We judged their comfort and fit by wearing them everywhere we went and tested their breathability by constantly working up a sweat. Through both adventuring and controlled research, we looked into the versatility, design features, and drying speed to round out the review. Keep reading for the scoop on all our award winners and more information on how to pick the shirt that's best for your adventures.
The Best Running Shirts for Women
|Price||$49.00 at REI|
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|$55.99 at MooseJaw||$34.00 at Backcountry|
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|$19.57 at Amazon||$75 List|
|Pros||Lightweight, super breathable, fast drying||Comfortable, breathable, versatile||Breathable, great features, comfortable||Inexpensive, comfortable, versatile||Comfortable, warm, versatile|
|Cons||Expensive, not as versatile||Expensive, slower to dry||Expensive, boxy fit||Slower to dry, no cool features||Not as breathable, heavy|
|Bottom Line||The Windchaser is an ultralight, super breathable shirt that is both comfortable and made for performance.||The PhD Ultra Light is a lightweight, comfy shirt great for any adventure.||The ColdGear Reactor is a breathable, comfortable winter layer with an excellent collar.||The Reaxion Amp is a simple, inexpensive shirt with top-notch performance.||The Notch Thermal is a bargain winter layer that will keep you warm and cozy.|
|Rating Categories||Windchaser||PhD Ultra Light||ColdGear Reactor Run Funnel||Reaxion Amp V-Neck||Notch Thermal|
|Drying Time (20%)|
|Features & Versatility (20%)|
|Specs||Windchaser||PhD Ultra Light||ColdGear Reactor Run Funnel||Reaxion Amp V-Neck||Notch Thermal|
|Material||100% polyester||56% merino wool, 44% polyester||86% polyester, 14% elastane||100% polyester||90% polyester, 10% spandex fleece|
|Weight||2.2 oz||3.7 oz||8.2 oz||2.8 oz||7.6 oz|
Best Overall Running Shirt
Patagonia Windchaser - Women's
Out of the box, we couldn't believe how light and airy the Patagonia Windchaser was, and as the weeks of testing ticked by, we only grew more and more impressed. We found this shirt to dry extremely quickly, and no matter how hot and sweaty our workouts, we always felt fresh in this shirt. With a superbly comfortable torso below a silky smooth collar and sleeves, this top was incredibly comfortable on our bodies. Our testers loved the fit, which was spot-on for sizing and not too loose or constricting. With hidden taped seams, the Windchaser kept us free from sore spots or chafing.
The only negative thing we can say about this shirt is related to its versatility, or lack thereof. A limited amount of stretch in the chest, back, and sleeves, coupled with a looser fit, makes for comfortable running but less than ideal hiking and climbing. For any activity requiring a fuller range of motion, the Windchaser wouldn't be our first pick. But, this is a running shirt review after all, and for a hot day on the track or trails, we can't imagine a better companion.
Read review: Patagonia Windchaser - Women's
Best Bang for the Buck
The North Face Reaxion Amp V-Neck
While traveling in Argentine Patagonia, The North Face Reaxion quickly became one of our favorite pieces for just about anything the mountains could throw at us. Whether we were climbing in the mountains, running in the hills, or sprinting to catch a bus, we knew that the Reaxion had our backs. Its design was one of our favorites: form-fitting but stretchy with an attractive cut, and we found it relatively quick to dry and always odor-free. The best news? This was also one of the least expensive shirts we tested for this review, solidifying its spot at the top of our charts.
No, the Reaxion wasn't the most breathable, and no, it wasn't chock-full of running-specific features. But for those looking to shield their wallets from the purge of expensive athletic wear, we found this shirt to be an excellent bargain well-worth the investment.
Read review: The North Face Reaxion Amp V-Neck - Women's
Top Pick for Versatility
Smartwool PhD Ultra Light - Women's
The Smartwool PhD Ultra Light is different than any other model in this review, and at first, we weren't quite sure what to think. Its stretchy merino wool had a cozier feel than its synthetic counterparts, and we were worried about its subsequent breathability. What we found, however, was an incredibly comfortable top that bends and stretches with us no matter what activity we're doing. It wicked moisture away from us while being naturally odor-free, and over weeks of testing, we really grew to love this product.
While not as light as our Editors' Choice Award winner, we found ourselves gravitating toward this shirt for sweaty missions where we needed more maximum flexibility. This top excels as a mountain base layer, especially for long, sweaty missions. This shirt isn't as friendly on your wallet as it is to your torso, but even the steep price tag couldn't keep us from admitting its excellence.
Read review: Smartwool PhD Ultra Light - Women's
Top Pick for Winter Workouts
Under Armour ColdGear Reactor Run Funnel - Women's
The Under Armour ColdGear Reactor is an impressive shirt that is fit for just about any winter activity. We were impressed with its blend of breathability, drying speed, and warmth, and its double funnel neck is truly genius. With a light layer underneath to cover the face and a thicker layer to block wind from the torso, the Reactor's design is one-of-a-kind.
That being said, the inner material wasn't quite as cozy at some of its competitors. Its fit was a little bit awkward and boxy, and we found the torso to be a bit too short. That being said, this expensive shirt is worth every penny!
Read review: Under Armour ColdGear Reactor Run Funnel
Best Buy for Winter
Brooks Notch Thermal - Women's
The Brooks Notch Thermal is truly a winter dream come true. The fleece-striped interior finds an incredible balance between warmth and breathability, all while being fabulously comfortable. The fit was one of our favorites: it was stretchy, athletic, and flattering, with a long enough torso to keep the cold breeze out. And with a more affordable price tag than our Top Pick, this shirt is a keeper.
There are a few things that we can nit-pick about: the neckline isn't as effective as that of the Reactor, and the lack of reflective logos make it a poor choice for running in low light, which we do a lot of in winter. But those things aside, we can't deny that we kept this shirt on for hours after our workout ended!
Read review: Brooks Notch Thermal
Notable for Comfort
Nike Dri-FIT Tailwind
The Nike Dri-FIT Tailwind top from Nike gave us mixed feelings, but at the end of our testing period, we had to admit how much we liked it. On the one hand, our testers found it to be super soft and luxurious. The cotton/polyester blend was one of the nicest feelings on our skin out of any of the shirts we tested, and we were psyched to keep wearing it long after our workouts ended. We found the fit to be great, albeit a bit loose. The long sleeves and back easily accommodated gym workouts and hiking with a backpack. The holes in the back weren't as gimmicky as we had predicted: they were useful, breathable, and stylish.
On the other hand, the Tailwind was one of the slowest shirts to dry in our controlled line-drying experiment, and the cotton blend makes it a questionable choice for use in the backcountry. Some of our testers found the loose fit less flattering, but overall, we had to make a note of how comfy this top was, even if it wasn't perfectly suited for running.
Read review: Nike Dri-FIT Tailwind
Analysis and Test Results
The nine awesome shirts we picked for this review are all designed primarily for running, but during our many months of testing, we often found ourselves venturing out of this designation and wearing these tops for a variety of activities. Many of them function well at the gym as well as in the mountains, though we tried to keep our analysis specific to running.
Before we started testing, we needed to come up with our metrics, or characteristics, that would form the basis for our evaluations. After brainstorming with our co-workers and running buddies, we came up with four of the most important traits in a running shirt: comfort, breathability, drying time, and features & versatility. Once we started testing, we used these characteristics to guide our judgments. At the end of our testing period, we awarded each shirt a score of 1-10 in each of the four categories, picking a number that describes how each product performed compared to the others in this test. This distinction is important: these scores are relative to other top-performers, as only the most popular models on the market were chosen for testing. Additionally, when we added two long-sleeve models, we compared them first to each other, and it would be unfair to judge a fleece-lined winter layer next to a mega-light summer top. That being said, these shirts surprised us with their awesome performances, and we now agree that their scores reflect their overall performance in the entire lineup.
Below, we describe each testing metric in more detail and explain more about what traits we were evaluating. We did our best to approximate the average runner's needs, allotting weighted percentages of the following categories to each product's final score. "Comfort" and "Breathability," therefore, were each designated 30% of each shirt's numerical score, while "Drying Speed" and "Features & Versatility" were each given 20%. If you're looking for something a bit more well-rounded, you'll want to focus your attention more on the "Features and Versatility" section. If heat is a big issue where you live, "Breathability" may be worth more than 30% to you. Only you can know your particular apparel needs, so we encourage you to keep reading to get the skinny on each scoring metric and to delve into each product's full-length individual review for all the details.
One more note: originally, we wrote this review with seven great short-sleeve products. As the months wore on, we realized the need to add some winter garments, as well, so for winter 2019, we added two amazing long-sleeve tops. These products were scored primarily against each other, not against the short-sleeve tops. Spoiler alert: they're both awesome!
As with many of our reviews here at OutdoorGearLab, we found running shirts available in a very wide price range. Our most expensive shirts were almost three times the price of our least expensive ones, but would they perform three times better? As is our policy, we tried to test every product as blindly as possible, without knowing the price. Once we were done testing, we started factoring in price. We consider "value" to be how well a product performs in comparison to its peers in direct relation to its price. After months of testing, we found that the North Face Reaxion was an amazing value. On the other hand, our testers just couldn't get enough of the Patagonia Windchaser, despite its steep price tag. Similarly, for winter, the Best Buy winning Brooks Notch Thermal is steep, though it is definitely more affordable than the Top Pick Under Armour ColdGear Reactor. If you're on a tight budget, or if you're just not sure how much you're willing to commit to a running-specific wardrobe, take a look at the chart below to directly compare performance scores to cost.
Running is hard enough, and if you're dealing with uncomfortable clothing, it can be just about impossible to motivate to get out the door. And while all of these shirts seemed comfortable enough at first glance, after hours of moving, we started to notice features that we really liked and disliked. One of the main ways we judge apparel comfort is how noticeable the garment was. If we can run a marathon without thinking about our shirt, the product has largely succeeded. On the other hand, we were fairly quick to notice discomfort, especially after hours of continuous use.
The first characteristic we looked at in this scoring metric was material. We noted what each shirt was made of, whether wool, synthetic materials, cotton, or some combination. Our testers then made notes about how this fabric felt on our skin: Was it itchy? Smooth? Soft? Heavy? We used a lot of qualitative research here and asked friends and fellow runners for feedback on their favorite shirts to wear.
We also looked at the range of motion as a factor of overall comfort. We evaluated not just how stretchy each shirt was but also how it fit. For example, our Editors' Choice Award winner, the Patagonia Windchaser, was one of the least stretchy shirts we tried, but its looser fit allows for a decent range of motion regardless. This feature is closely tied to fit, in which our testers critiqued each top on the way it was cut. Despite all being the same size, we noticed a wide variety of sizes and fits, from tight, form-fitting v-necks to loose, traditional tees. In each individual review, we'll explain the fit of each shirt and how it compares to its competitors, and then make a judgment of which fit was the most appropriate and comfortable for running specifically (as well as other adventure sports).
Last by not least, we talk about seams. Seams come in a variety of types, and in this category, we not only evaluated the type of seams used but also how many seams each shirt had and where they were located. The three main types of seams we found were taped, flatlock, and overlock. Of these, the Windchaser was the only with taped seams. We found these to be incredibly comfortable and smooth, and also potentially indicative of the shirt's high price tag. Next up for comfort is the flatlock seam which we found in the Taema and PhD Ultra Light. This seam is much more expensive than the typical overlock, which we found in the remaining four shirts. We awarded more points for better seams that were placed in locations less prone to rubbing and chafing, like the tops of the shoulders.
At the very top of our comfort charts were some very different products. The Windchaser had an incredibly smooth, light fabric and taped seams that never chafed or rubbed. The Nike Tailwind was the most comfortable short-sleeve shirt we tried, and its loose fit made it a top choice for lounging or going to the gym. With yet another different fit was The North Face Reaxion, whose tight, stretchy cut was similar but softer than many of its competitors. As for long-sleeve options, the Brooks Notch Thermal was outrageously cozy, with a fleece-lined interior and high neck to lock in warmth on cold days.
To make this review more specific to running, breathability became a very important factor. Even when it's cold outside, running is a sweaty activity, and staying fresh and dry is crucial to its enjoyment. Breathability, as far as this review is concerned, describes how well the shirt allows for air to pass through it, as opposed to drying speed, explained below, which tells us how quickly a shirt dries once saturated.
We wanted to know which shirts could help us beat the heat, so we took a bimodal approach to our evaluations. First, we researched the type of materials used as well as if the product was one cohesive fabric or if it featured panels of different construction. Our experts read reviews and descriptions of each shirt's performance, and then we put our findings to the test.
We ran until we worked up a sweat, and then we kept going. We pushed ourselves as we pushed each product to its limit, and we'll describe each shirt's performance in its individual review. We were most impressed with the Windchaser, whose lightweight material always kept us dry, as well as the Smartwool PhD Ultra Light, constructed of sleek merino wool that naturally shed moisture. The Marmot All-Around and Reaxion had similar breathability measures; both were snug and constructed with one cohesive fabric, yet still airy enough to let us breathe. We generally preferred looser fits, like that of the Nike Tailwind, as opposed to snug ones, like that of the Brooks Distance. We were pleasantly surprised to find that out winter layers breathed well, too. The Under Armour ColdGear Reactor had great underarm panels and a light polyester material that let heat escape before we got bogged down.
Now, we realize that this metric sounds a whole lot like the one described above. But, during our testing, we found it important to separate "breathability" from "drying speed," and we'll explain why. As far as our calculations go, "breathability" is the measure of how air passed through a garment, whereas "drying speed" is the measure of how quickly moisture that has accumulated in the shirt dries out.
Aside from making subjective notes on our experience with shirt drying times, this metric required an actual test. We soaked each shirt in a bucket of water, wrung them out by hand, and hung them up to dry. We started the stopwatch, and then we waited. While the end time isn't necessarily important, what we were looking for was comparisons. Our testers wanted to know how quickly each shirt dried in relation to its competitors, and this test was a great indicator.
Like we predicted, the Windchaser from Patagonia had the fastest drying time. Our testers noticed that the weight of a shirt pretty much indicated drying time, which is good to notice if you're shopping and considering another shirt that we haven't tested. After the Windchaser came the Brooks Distance Short-Sleeve, which surprised us because of its partially cotton construction, as well as the Arc'teryx Taema which we expected to be a close contender in this category.
Features & Versatility
Although the main intention of this review was to identify your best apparel choices for running, we here at OutdoorGearLab always appreciate a piece of clothing that we can use for a wider variety of activities. We often find ourselves traveling with little space, and without deep pockets, we like to save money where we can by purchasing things we can use over and over again.
In this scoring category, we first look at any unique features, like reflective markings, sun protection, and odor control, that are particularly suited for the runner. The only shirts we tested with a UPF rating were the Marmot All-Around, at 30 UPF, and the Arc'teryx Taema, at 50+. The PhD Ultra Light, since it is predominantly merino wool, is more naturally odor-free than any other shirt in this review. And while the Windchaser included an odor control in the fabric, none of the other synthetic blends did. Nearly every shirt we tested had reflective logos, but none had big reflective markings that we'd want if we frequently ran at night.
Different features came into play with the winter layers. Both shirts we tested were built with a high funnel neck, similar to a turtleneck but not as constricting. We were enamored with the Reactor's two-layer neck, built to breathe and seal out wind. The Notch, on the other hand, featured excellent thumb loops, an unbeatable feature when the temperature starts to drop.
Our testers wanted to know which shirts were best for running, but we were also curious which could be used as base layers for our other favorite outdoor activities. Our Top Pick for Versatility, the PhD Ultra Light, for example, makes for an outstanding base layer for both hot and cold weather, for ski tours or long mountain biking missions. The Windchaser, on the other hand, is perfectly suited for running but is less adaptable to other activities. In order to be versatile, we liked tops that were stretchy and/or looser fitting, to accommodate a wider range of motion than running necessitates. We also agreed that cotton is a big no-no for the backcountry, so we'd avoid the Tailwind and Distance if venturing off the track.
Before you dive into our individual reviews to get to the bottom of your shopping dilemmas, we'd like to make one more note. All seven shirts chosen for this review were among the cream of the crop, topping the charts in popularity from a variety of running's biggest retailers. All of the scores given are relative to each product's competitors, and each has their pros and cons. Remember to identify the most important metrics for your individual purposes and to potentially focus on those scores above our overall rankings.
— Lauren DeLaunay