Best Running Shirts for Women of 2021
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|Pros||Exceptionally breathable, taped seams, lightweight, packs down super small||Ultralight, super breathable, packs small, smooth and stretchy fabric||Super comfortable, breathable, quick drying, versatile||Soft fabric, super breathable, comfy fit, strategic mesh||Very breathable, quick-drying, flattering fit, raglan sleeves|
|Cons||Expensive, a more open crew neck that requires a bit more sunscreen||Delicate fabric, not as versatile||Heavier than some, only one small reflective decal||Barebones||High cut underarms, fabric can snag|
|Bottom Line||The most well-designed running shirt we tested, it excels across the board||Unbelievably light and breathable, this is the shirt for hot summer days||An all-around lightweight winner with high performance that can withstand endless miles||An ultralight running tee that has all of the performance without any unnecessary features||This highly breathable and comfortable tee can handle running in any weather|
|Rating Categories||ON Performance-T -...||Patagonia Capilene...||Salomon XA Tee - Wo...||Ultimate Direction...||Oiselle Flyout Shor...|
|Drying Speed (20%)|
|Features & Versatility (20%)|
|Specs||ON Performance-T -...||Patagonia Capilene...||Salomon XA Tee - Wo...||Ultimate Direction...||Oiselle Flyout Shor...|
|Weight||2.22 oz (size S)||1.69 oz (size XS)||2.93 oz (size S)||2.22 oz (size S)||2.86 oz (size 4)|
|Material||100% polyester||Polyester double knit||89% polyester, 11% elastane||body-mapped mesh, antimicrobial||65% polyester/32% TENCEL/3% spandex|
|Reflective Areas?||Yes, logos on front and back hems||No||Yes||No||No|
|Odor Control?||No||Polygiene||Polygiene||Antimicrobial fabric||No|
|Zip Neck Option?||No||No||No||No||No|
Best Overall Running Shirt for Women
Salomon XA Tee - Women's
Throughout testing, we found ourselves gravitating towards one shirt over and over again. The Salomon XA Tee is, hands down, 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 our clear winner.
While some ultralight running tees have a tendency to snag, this one does not. You can feel confident taking it on tight singletrack or even 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, thanks to its all-around performance, the XA is still the one we'll be recommending to all of our friends.
Read review: Salomon XA Tee
Best Bang for Your Buck
Patagonia Capilene Cool Lightweight Tee - Women's
When the hottest days of summer descend upon us, there's one shirt we want to be running in above all the rest — the Patagonia Capilene Cool. Ultralight, ultra-breathable, and ultra-fast drying, this shirt is built to keep you comfortable in the most extreme temps, all at a very fair price. We love the double knit polyester that creates impressive 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. Although it's comfortable to wear with a running vest, 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 Race Day
ON Performance-T - Women's
For the runner without any budget constraints looking for a top-of-the-line product, the ON Performance-T is an absolute standout. Ultralight and ultra-breathable, this tee is a breeze to wear. The fabric has just enough stretch to move with you, and the actual cut of the shirt is nearly perfect. Taped seams and raglan sleeves mean that there's very little chance of chafing, no matter what pack you're wearing or how far you're going.
The Performance-T earns versatility points for its reflective decals and style points for its color-blocked back. More than just an aesthetic choice, the back panel is more of a mesh, providing extra breathability. The rest of the shirt is made of a tear-proof fabric that we didn't manage to snag even on a burly overgrown ridgeline. It's durable enough to withstand your daily workouts, but it really shines as a high-output race day shirt that is minimal enough that you'll forget you have it on.
Read review: ON Performance-T
Best for the Easy, Breezy Minimalist
Ultimate Direction Ultralight Tee - Women's
For the runner looking for a super lightweight and comfortable tee without bells and whistles, give the Ultimate Direction Ultralight Tee a look. Featuring a loose style and made of a body-mapped polyester mesh, this tee takes breathable to a whole new level. The antimicrobial nature of the fabric means that it resists mold and mildew growth, helping it smell fresher for longer, and we found ourselves sweating less in this one anyways, thanks to the constant airflow.
We love the gussets under the arms for enhanced fit and movement, and the fabric is soft with the right amount of stretch. The inner seaming is particularly good on the Ultralight — thin, flat, and no exposed edges. We have some slight reservations about the durability, and it doesn't have extra features like reflective decals or a hanging loop, but for the minimalist runner who prioritizes comfort across long distances, this is the one to try.
Read review: Ultimate Direction Ultralight Tee
Most Flattering Fit
Oiselle Flyout Short Sleeve - Women's
The Oiselle Flyout Short Sleeve pulled ahead from the rest with its universally flattering fit and unique fabric. The cut of the shirt is slightly tailored without being tight or restrictive. It hits at the perfect length, nips in at the right spots, and we feel cute and comfy every time we run in it. The HoverFit fabric has lots of stretch and a honeycomb-like pattern that provides ample breathability no matter the weather.
This is a particularly fast-drying shirt, which we love for staying comfortable throughout both summer and winter. It gains versatility points in our eyes for its year-round wearability and comfort underneath running vests, insulating layers, and shells. It's possible to snag the fabric, and there aren't any reflective decals, but those are minor drawbacks to an otherwise fantastic top. Ready to move with you on both your easy runs and max effort races, this super cute shirt is definitely one to consider.
Read review: Oiselle Flyout Short Sleeve
Best for Variable Weather
Smartwool Merino 150 Short Sleeve - Women's
If you're looking for a shirt with outstanding 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 paired 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, it can't be beaten for variable temperatures. It layers well with shells and worked with every vest and pack we tried it with. We also love that it functions well for a lot of different activities, including rock climbing, backpacking, winter sports, and traveling. If we're going to be living out of a backpack for a few weeks, we're without a doubt bringing this shirt along. If you've never experienced the wonders of merino wool, give this one a try.
Read review: Smartwool Merino 150 Baselayer
Why You Should Trust Us
Paige Klugherz continues to tackle women's running shirts testing season after season. A recent transplant to Salt Lake City from the Eastern Sierra, she's been exploring new-to-her trails in the Wasatch and the deserts of Southern Utah. As a trail runner, fast packer, and climber, she puts her gear through the wringer and needs it to withstand backcountry travel. Durability, versatility, and, of course, comfort, are some of her favorite attributes to analyze when testing gear. With access to diverse weather and environments thanks to the mountains and the high desert, she's learned what to look for in great running apparel.
When deciding which shirts to include in this review, we looked to what was most popular across a number of different sources. We set out to dig deep, test product claims for ourselves, and delve into new clothing lines from pillars in the running world community. Our testing took us around Utah on roads, trails, and even a few ridges, and thanks to some impressively diverse spring weather, the shirts in this review got put through the wringer.
Analysis and Test Results
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. 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. We're confident in our recommendations and excited for you to check out this impressive lineup.
Below, we describe each testing metric in more detail. We gave weighted percentages to our chosen metrics to help us determine each product's final score. Comfort and breathability were each designated 30% of a shirt's final score, while drying speed and features & 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 & versatility section. If heat is a big issue, pay closest attention to the breathability ratings. And if you're going to be using your shirt in the winter, pay attention to drying speed.
For such a seemingly simple piece of gear, running shirts can get shockingly 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 expected. While the price of a shirt isn't one of our rating metrics, we do assess their value 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 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. The taped seams of the ON Performance-T are top of the line for comfort and come with a high price tag, but if you're looking for a perfect race day shirt, the value of that may be worth it to you.
Better durability means you won't need to replace your shirt as often, increasing the value. Although the Nike Miler has a lower price, we found that both the Rabbit EZ Tee and Outdoor Research Echo outrank it for just a few more bucks. Additionally, the value of getting better breathability for a tiny jump up in price, as with the Patagonia Capilene Cool, might be worth it to you. We feel the Capilene offers one of the best balances of price and performance, especially if you live in a hot climate.
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, we started to notice features that we really liked and others that we disliked after hours of moving. The shirts that score the highest in this category are the ones 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 more like 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 shirts utilize different weave patterns in order to increase breathability, like the gridded polyester knit of the Patagonia Capilene Cool which has a lot of stretch but ends up being pretty see-through, or the body-mapped mesh of the Ultimate Direction Ultralight that is strategically placed for extra airflow.
Next, we look 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. Our lineup of shirts features flatlock, overlock, taped, and plain seams, with flatlock and taped being both the most expensive to produce and the most preferable to wear. Found on numerous shirts, including the Capilene Cool and the Oiselle Flyout, their low profile is comfortable and the least likely to cause any chafing. The rare shirt utilizes taped seams. In this review, the only one to do so was the ON Performance-T, and it really is the pinnacle of comfort. 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. Tops that include gussets underneath the arms, such as the Ultimate Direction Ultralight, also gain additional points here for increased range of motion.
Style is the last component of this metric. Although it's obviously not as important as how a shirt feels after twenty miles, it's still nice to like how you look when sweaty and breathing hard. The Oiselle Flyout has our favorite, slightly tailored fit. The ON Performance-T is also nicely styled with a breezy back panel in a contrasting color.
Whether it's hot or cold outside, running is pretty much synonymous with sweating, and how breathable your clothing is will play a huge role in how comfortable you will be throughout 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 efficiently. Some shirts use mesh to achieve this like the Miler, and others rely on an overall looser fit like the Ultimate Direction Ultralight or the ON Performance-T with its flowy back panel.
One of most breathable shirts is 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 Flyout and Echo also have fabric with minuscule holes that help them to breathe 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 and Performance-T were right on their tail, with the Flyout and Ultralight 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. As long as a shirt was fairly close in drying time to the rest, we didn't nitpick too much since there are bound to be tiny discrepancies in our testing.
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 we 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, fights odors, and is more durable than some other lightweight tees. Superb packability, like you get with Performance-T, and durability also factor into how likely we are to stuff a shirt into the crevices of our packs repeatedly.
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, reflective elements, and odor-fighting properties in the fabric. An additional feature that we saw on some of the new shirts this year was an integrated hanging tab, which can be handy in locker rooms.
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 Nathan Rise and 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