Once we narrowed down which shirts our review would be focusing on this season, it was time to test! Our goal was to wear the shirts in as many different scenarios as possible — long runs, short runs, desert heat, cool mountain temps, underneath running vests, etc., to make sure our judgments were as well-rounded as possible. We had already determined the qualities that we think are most important in a running tee and kept those in mind with each mile. Most testing was done while running, but we also did some more controlled tests in order to get the most accurate shirt-to-shirt info. Read on as we explain the details of each metric and how we tested for it.
Testing for comfort involved getting really nitpicky about how each fabric felt, the sleeve lengths, hem lengths, seam type and location, range of motion, and overall fit. After each run, we took notes about what we had noticed and also referenced customer reviews for each product to see if other wearers had the same thoughts. We also made sure to wear the shirts with other pieces of running gear, such as windbreakers and hydration vests, to make sure it would work well in your full kit.
Breathability can feel like an abstract metric to accurately pin down. We tried to make sure we ran with each shirt in a similar amount of heat and sun exposure, and this was another case where post-run note-taking was very helpful for compiling our thoughts. If we spent the whole run wishing we were in just a sports bra, the shirt did not score well in this metric!
While not an exact correlation to breathability, we did weigh each shirt and compared our numbers to any weights listed by the manufacturers. Lastly, we looked at the physical characteristics of the fabrics — some use pinprick sized holes in a consistent pattern across the whole shirt, while others have mesh paneling in strategic locations.
To determine the drying speed of the shirts, we soaked each one in a bucket of water until it was fully saturated, hand wrung them dry as much as we could, and then hung them up on a clothesline in partial sun with a timer in hand! The day of this test was 80 degrees and very windy, and we were consistently checking on each shirt. There was a twenty-minute spread between the fastest and the slowest, but a lot of the top performers felt dry within minutes of each other.
Features & Versatility
Assessing features meant first checking the manufacturer claims for each product, and then comparing those with our own observations. While we couldn't specifically test a shirt's UPF, we could test how much it weighs, how packable it is, how reflective any decals are, etc.
A high versatility score means that we think a shirt performs well for numerous activities, in many different weather conditions, and in conjunction with other gear. Not every aspect of versatility could be fully tested this season since we were in the midst of shelter-in-place orders, so we based our judgments on both past experiences with specific fabrics and brands along with as much testing as we were able to do.