Best Running Shirts for Women of 2020
Best Overall Women's Running Shirt
Salomon XA Tee - Women's
Over the course of testing, we found ourselves gravitating towards one shirt over and over again. The Salomon XA Tee is just simply our favorite all-around, everyday running tee. With a super comfortable fit, highly breathable and quick-drying fabric, and durability to make it your staple for years to come, this one is certainly a winner!
Unlike some other lightweight running tees, you won't find yourself snagging the fabric while running on singletrack, meaning you can take it backpacking, climbing, or biking without a worry. Although it's not the absolute lightest and we wouldn't mind another reflective decal for a bit more visibility, the XA is still the one we'll be recommending to all of our friends this year.
Read review: Salomon XA Tee
Best Bang for the Buck
The cute, boxy style of the Nike Miler boasted high performance across all of our metrics along with a reasonable price. We were pleasantly surprised by both its breathability and how it performed in our drying speed test. With a large mesh panel on the back, constant airflow helps regulate your body temperature while running, and it's also just a fun stylistic feature!
While it's not as versatile as other shirts we tested since it doesn't have any odor control treatment in the fabric and the cut of the shirt makes it a bit difficult to wear for other sports, we still found a lot to love. Hopefully, you agree with us that its average price is well worth its above-average performance.
Read review: Nike Miler
Best for Hot Summer Running
Patagonia Capilene Cool Lightweight Tee - Women's
When the dog days of summer set in, there's one shirt we want to be running in above all the rest — the Patagonia Capilene Cool Lightweight. Ultralight, ultra-breathable, and ultra-fast drying, this shirt is built to keep you comfortable in the hottest temps. We love the double knit polyester that creates significant stretchiness, and the fit is just right.
There are a few drawbacks that come with this fabric, though. The first is that, as with a lot of ultralight gear, it's just not quite as durable. The fabric can snag, and the lighter colors are pretty see-through. It might not be versatile enough to wear once the weather cools off, and we would be careful wearing it for sports such as rock climbing. Still, this is an amazing piece for a specific season, and if you run in serious summer heat, you're sure to love this one.
Read review: Patagonia Capilene Cool Lightweight Tee
Best for Variable Weather
Smartwool Merino 150 Short Sleeve - Women's
If you're looking for a shirt with incredible versatility, the Smartwool Merino 150 Baselayer is calling your name. Made from a merino and nylon blend, you get the natural odor-control and body temperature regulating effects of wool along with increased durability and comfort. Thanks to the structure of the merino fibers, you'll stay cool in the heat and warm in the cold, even if you're caught in a rainstorm. It's slim-fitting, but not too tight, and is comfortable enough that you'll easily find yourself wearing it in your day to day life, not just on your daily miles.
While this wouldn't be what we'd wear in super hot weather, for variable temperatures, it can't be beaten. We also love that it functions well for a lot of different activities, including rock climbing, backpacking, winter sports, and traveling. If you've never experienced the wonders of merino wool, give this one a shot!
Read review: Smartwool Merino 150 Baselayer
Why You Should Trust Us
This spring, Paige Klugherz took on the task of testing the new crop of women's running shirts. She lives in the Eastern Sierra and has been an avid trail runner, hiker, and backpacker for years, and like all of the other locals, also climbs, skis, and bikes. There's not much else to do there except to go outside! Versatility is one of her favorite characteristics to look for in gear, and with access to diverse weather between the mountains and the high desert, she's learned what to look for in great running apparel.
When choosing which shirts to test, we looked to what was most popular across a number of different sources. There were product claims that we wanted to test out for ourselves and comments from customer reviews that we wanted to dig deeper into. Our testing took us around the Eastern Sierra on roads, trails, and 4x4 dirt roads, and thanks to some seriously diverse spring weather, the shirts in this review got put through the wringer!
Analysis and Test Results
These shirts are all primarily designed for running, except for one which doesn't specify a main sport, and we took them out for as many miles as we could. Since we were sheltering in place (luckily in an area where running was allowed and encouraged), we couldn't always test them in every scenario we usually would, so at times we relied on our own years of experience with gear and knowledge of what works for different seasons, sports, and athletes. We feel confident in our recommendations, and hope you find the perfect new running shirt among the ones we tested!
For our metrics, we identified what we believe to be the four most important characteristics of a running shirt: comfort, breathability, drying speed, and features/versatility. We took copious amounts of notes, and at the end of our testing period, we awarded each shirt a score of 1-10 in each of the four categories. These scores are relative to the other shirts in the review as well as other top-performers on the market. Since we did our research ahead of time and picked the best and most popular shirts out there, we had to get nitpicky and really break down the differences. Hopefully, the hours we spent wearing these shirts and the conclusions we drew prove useful to you in your decision-making process.
Below, we describe each testing metric in more detail. We gave weighted percentages to the following categories to help us determine each product's final score. "Comfort" and "Breathability" were each designated 30% of a shirt's score, while "Drying Speed" and "Features and Versatility" were each given 20%. If you're in need of a reliable daily running shirt, "Comfort" might be the main metric you want to look at. If you're on the hunt for something a bit more well-rounded, focus on the "Features and Versatility" section. If heat is a big issue, pay closest attention to the "Breathability" ratings.
For such a seemingly simple piece of gear, running shirts can get pretty pricy, so we made sure that the shirts we tested covered a wide range of price points. When it comes to value, we want to make sure that you're getting your money's worth in terms of quality, durability, and performance. Sometimes we discover that the expensive shirts are absolutely worth their cost if their features fit in with your running conditions and goals, and sometimes we find less expensive options that perform far better than we'd expect. While the price of a shirt isn't one of our metrics, we do give an assessment of what we believe their value to be at the end of every review.
Value is impacted by many factors, one being the quality of the fabric and construction. A good way to determine this is to look at the seams. Low profile flatlock seams, such as the ones on the Salomon XA Tee, are more expensive to produce but are more durable and more comfortable over long miles than the plain seams on many cheaper options.
Better durability means you won't need to replace your shirt as often, increasing the value. So while the Brooks Distance shirt has a lower price, we think the Nike Miler is better constructed and therefore has a higher value. Additionally, if you're looking for a highly specialized running top because you live in a specific climate, the value of getting better breathability in exchange for a higher price, like is the case with the Patagonia Capilene Cool Lightweight, might be more than worth it to you.
Before all else, comfort is the first metric you should look at when buying a running shirt. Running is a sport of repetitive movement, so when you have fabric and seams rubbing over the same spots on your body thousands of times, you want to be sure that they are as minimally irritating as possible. 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 others that we disliked. The shirts that score the highest in this category are the ones that we practically forgot we had on by the end of our long runs.
One component of comfort is the fabric itself. Some of the shirts in this review are 100% polyester, others are a polyester blend, and one is a merino wool blend. They all have very different feels against the skin, with some feeling like more traditional athletic wear such as the Outdoor Research Echo, and others being so soft they feel like shirts meant for lounging on the couch, such as the Brooks Distance. Additionally, the weave of the shirts utilize different patterns in order to increase breathability, like the gridded polyester knit of the Patagonia Capilene Cool that has a lot of stretch but ends up being pretty see-through.
Next, we looked at fit and range of motion. While some of this will come down to personal preference and how each shirt fits your specific body, we noted things like stretchiness, gussets around the sleeves, and the length of the sleeves and body. The Under Armour UA Tech V-Neck has the longest overall body with a relaxed fit, whereas the Smartwool Merino 150 is a bit shorter and has a more skin-skimming fit. Our favorite fit is the not too tight, not too loose silhouette of the Salomon XA Tee, with its slight scoop neck and sleeves that hit at just the right length and lay flat against the arm.
We not only evaluated the type of seams used but also how many seams each shirt had and where they were located. This batch of shirts features flatlock, overlock, and plain seams, with flatlock being both the most expensive to produce and the most preferable to wear. Found on numerous shirts including the Capilene Cool and the Echo, their low profile is comfortable and the least likely to cause any chafing. More points were also awarded to shirts whose seaming avoided the tops of the shoulders since that is a prime location for potential rubbing underneath running vests or packs.
Style is the last component of this metric, and although it obviously is not as important as how a shirt feels after twenty miles and wasn't give much weight in the rating, it's still nice to like how you look in your shirt when sweaty and breathing hard. The Nike Miler with its mesh panel on the back and the slightly cropped front is probably the one you're going to look the coolest in when throwing on a pair of pants after a run, but check out each review for more detailed pictures and descriptions to make your own judgment.
Whether it's hot or cold outside, running is pretty much synonymous with sweating, and how breathable your clothing is plays a huge role in how comfortable you will be over the course of your miles. Breathability describes how well a shirt allows air to pass through it, and while we don't have as controlled of a test for breathability as we do for drying speed, we tested this metric by running in as many different weather conditions as we could and taking notes on how we felt each time. If we got through a hot, full-sun run in the desert without wanting to strip down to just a sports bra, that was a win!
One of the first things we did was weigh each shirt. This doesn't perfectly correlate to how breathable a shirt is, but it does give a good starting point. We also looked at any features incorporated into the fabric, such as the pinprick-sized holes in the XA Tee that let air move through more easily. Some shirts use mesh to achieve this like the Miler, and others rely on an overall looser fit. The most breathable shirt we wore was the Capilene Cool, which utilizes an all-over gridded pattern in double knit polyester, allowing air to flow through the thinner fabric of the grid lines. The Echo also has gridded fabric that breathes easily and readily.
The Merino 150 Baselayer relies on the nature of the wool fibers themselves to achieve this quality. Even though the shirt is slightly heavier than others, it effectively wicks sweat away from the body and keeps you comfortable in a variety of different temperatures.
Drying speed is another important factor in your overall comfort while running. In hotter weather, quicker drying times mean more efficient and effective evaporative cooling effects, and in cooler weather, a faster drying time can be a safety component, making sure you don't get too chilled. This is another metric where you can look at the weight of the shirt to get a general sense of how fast a shirt will dry, even though it's not an exact parallel.
To test this metric, we soaked each shirt in a bucket of water, wrung it out by hand as much as we could, hung it up to dry, and started the stopwatch. The ultralight Capilene Cool was the fastest in this experiment, but the XA Tee was right on its tail, with the Echo and a couple more following close behind. Overall, we were impressed with how close the performance was for a lot of the shirts, and only a couple lagged noticeably behind.
We also paid attention to drying speed during our real-world testing, especially noting how shirts saturated with sweat felt underneath a running vest, since wet conditions are more likely to cause chafing. We were pleased to see that the results here correlated with our backyard testing, and we assigned ratings accordingly.
Features & Versatility
Like you, we often use our running shirts for a lot more than just running. We love multi-sport days and changing up our activities according to the seasons, and often find ourselves traveling while living out of just a backpack. This is where versatility comes into play, and if we found that a shirt was usable all year long for a variety of purposes, it scored higher in this metric. The Merino 150 does really well in this category because of the natural odor-fighting properties of the fabric and how well it performs across changing temperatures, making it a great travel shirt. The XA Tee is another standout because it works well for so many sports, also fights odors, and is more durable than some of the other lightweight tees. Packability and durability also factor into how likely we are to repeatedly stuff a shirt into the crevices of our packs.
Running shirts are pretty straightforward, so the features we look for are small, but can be very valuable depending on the conditions you run in. These include the level of sun protection, any reflective elements, and odor-fighting properties in the fabric. If you frequently run at night in an urban environment, you will appreciate the reflective logos found on both the front and the back of the UA Tech V-Neck, and if you want more sun protection, look for a higher neckline and sleeves that cover the full upper arm.
Odor control can be achieved in a few ways, with one being the use of natural fibers like merino wool and another being specific treatments on polyester fabrics such as Polygiene. Both fight the growth of bacteria that cause lasting smells, so if you're going to be in scenarios where opportunities to wash are limited, such as backpacking, this feature will be very appreciated both by you and the people around you!
Picking out your next running shirt may not be as complicated as finding your next pair of skis, but there is still a surprising amount to consider before investing. The shirts we chose this season were some of the best-reviewed and most popular according to a number of different sources, so each one is already a step above many others, even if it scored lower in our review. We hope our thorough testing and explanations help you narrow down your decision. Remember that the best running shirt for you is the one that fits your specific running needs, be it long miles or short, heat or cold, or something that works for everything. Identify what really matters to you and let our ratings serve as a guide. We'll see you out there — happy trails!
— Paige Klugherz