We started by doing hours upon hours of research, talking to running friends, checking out the most popular models from some of the country's biggest online retailers, and reading copious amounts of reviews. We narrowed our selection to six of the most intriguing models, from expensive, top-of-the-line brand names to less expensive competitors. We purchased each shirt (we don't accept free products!), and off we ran.
For the first few weeks of testing, we wore these shirts everywhere, running, climbing, hiking, and exploring South America before coming back to continue testing home in California. We ran on the road and on trails, in cold weather and hot, in dry climates and humid ones. After time, we came up with the qualities that seemed to be most important in shirts, and we worked with our whole team and our support system of enthusiastic runners to confirm the significance of these traits. We ended up with four scoring metrics: comfort, breathability, drying speed, and features/ versatility.
While comfort, breathability, and features and versatility were tested mostly in the field, we did devise a more controlled experiment for drying time. All seven of these products were tested side-by-side with direct comparisons. Below we explain the ins and outs of how we tested.
We looked into the structure of each fabric, and we explain what each shirt is made of, as well as our subjective ratings on how this material felt on our skin during a variety of activities in different climates.
We also critiqued seam location, range of motion, stretchiness, and overall fit for this metric. We asked our friends and colleagues to confirm our findings, and we continued to wear these shirts just about everywhere we went.
To test breathability we ran in a very wide range of conditions, from the dry, arid climate of Patagonia to the warm, damp spring of Yosemite. We tried to use multiple shirts in the same day, switching them out mid-run or mid-hike, to get more side-by-side testing.
Whereas "breathability" describes the ability of a shirt to wick away moisture and keep air flowing through it, "drying time" explains how quickly a shirt can dry once it is saturated. Being dry and comfortable in any running shirt is a blend of these two qualities.
We soaked all eight shirts in a bucket of water, saturating them fully. We then wrung them out by hand as and hung them on a line to dry. While we did record times, it was most important to report the order in which the shirts dried.
Features and Versatility
One shirt had a UPF rating, but the rest did not, and our testers concluded that we wouldn't have enough data to provide scores for features alone.
We decided to include "Versatility" as one of the features. So we gave each shirt a description of how well it would do in other scenarios. We asked each manufacturer to describe their design features, and then went out and played to see how well we agreed with their claims.