In our 10 years of testing women's running shirts, we've purchased and tested 26 options. This review puts the 6 best in a head-to-head comparison, breaking down all the details to find the right one for you. We wore them for long runs on the weekends, quick mid-week laps and while running errands around town. We ran hard in hot weather to test breathability, tossed the shirts in the tub and recorder their dry-out times, and rated them on comfort. Knowing that you run in all sorts of temperatures, we tested both short and long sleeve options. Keep reading to find your perfect running layer.
The Best Women's Running Shirts
Best Overall Running Shirt
Patagonia Airchaser - Women's
We were skeptical when we heard that out Editors' Choice award winner (last year's Patagonia Windchaser) was being updated. Why fix what ain't broken? But we found in the new Airchaser was an even more comfortable shirt that's just as breathable and lightweight as the previous iteration. The Airchaser is stretchier than its predecessor, making it more versatile comfortable. It's unbelievably breathable, and its lightweight design makes it impressively quick to dry.
We would have loved to see more reflectivity in this shirt for added visibility as night, and a UPF sun protection rating could be a great way to improve on this shirt that's built for warm, sunny days. That said, this shirt was still our favorite and we're happy to award it our Editors' Choice award.
Read review: Patagonia Airchaser - Women's
Best Bang for the Buck
Marmot Aero - Women's
The Marmot Aero is new to the lineup of running shirts, and we were impressed by how comfortable it is. Our testers loved the polyester/ jersey blend and found it to be versatile for nearly any high-output activity. A rear mesh panel promotes breathability, and an affordable price tag made this shirt an obvious contender for our Best Buy award.
While the Aero isn't quite as quick to dry as some of its competitors, it does perform just as well in this category as other shirts in its price range. The sleeves are a little tight, so we recommend trying this shirt on before purchasing. Despite these two negatives, the Aero's comfortable, breathable construction is one of the best bargains we've found.
Read review: Marmot Aero - Women's
Best 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, plus 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.
The inner material wasn't as cozy at some of its competitors. Its fit was a little bit awkward and boxy, and we found the torso a bit too short.
Read review: Under Armour ColdGear Reactor Run Funnel - Women's
Analysis and Test Results
These awesome shirts are all designed primarily for running, but 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.
For our metrics we identified the four most important traits in a running shirt: comfort, breathability, drying time, and features and versatility. At the end of our testing period, we awarded each shirt a score of 1-10 in each of the four categories, rating how each product performed compared to the others. These scores are relative to other top-performers on the market. Additionally, when we added two long-sleeve models, we compared them first to each other.
Below, we describe each testing metric in more detail. We gave weighted percentages of the following categories to each product's final score. "Comfort" and "Breathability" were each designated 30% of each shirt's score, while "Drying Speed" and "Features and Versatility" were each given 20%. Of the four categories, most runners would say that comfort and breathability are more important than the other two categories. If you're looking for something a bit more well-rounded, focus your attention more on the "Features and Versatility" section. If heat is a big issue, "Breathability" may be worth more than 30% to you.
Running shirts are available in a very wide price range — the most expensive shirts were almost three times the price of our least expensive ones. We tested every product without knowing the price. Once we were done testing, we factored in price. We consider "value" to be how well a product performs in comparison to its peers in direct relation to its price. The Marmot Aero was an unbeatable value. On the other hand, our testers just couldn't get enough of the Patagonia Airchaser despite its steep price tag.
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 is. If we can run a marathon without thinking about our shirt, the product has largely succeeded.
The first characteristic we looked at in this scoring metric was material. Was it synthetic materials, cotton, or some combination? Was it itchy? Smooth? Soft? Heavy?
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 Airchaser, was one of the least stretchy shirts we tried, but its looser fit allowed for a decent range of motion. This feature is closely tied to fit. Despite all the tested shirts being the same size, there was a wide variety of sizes and fits, from tight, form-fitting v-necks to loose, traditional tees.
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 Airchaser was the only one with taped seams. These were incredibly comfortable and smooth, and also indicative of the shirt's high price tag. Next up for comfort is the flatlock seam in the Arc'teryx Motus and Marmot Aero. This seam is much more expensive than the typical overlock in the remaining four shirts. We awarded more points for seams that were placed in locations less prone to rubbing and chafing, like the tops of shoulders.
At the top of our comfort charts were some very different products. The Airchaser 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.
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 describes how well the shirt allows for air to pass through it, as opposed to drying speed, which tells us how quickly a shirt dries once saturated.
We wanted to know which shirts could help us beat the heat. We measured the type of materials used as well as if the product was one fabric or it featured panels of different construction.
We ran until we worked up a sweat, and then we kept going. We were most impressed with the Airchaser, whose lightweight material always kept us dry, as well as the Marmot Aero, whose rear mesh panel really promoted air flow. 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 our winter layers breathed well, too. The Under Armour ColdGear Reactor had great underarm panels and a light polyester material that let heat escape.
"Breathability" is the measure of how air passed through a garment, whereas "drying speed" measures how quickly moisture that has accumulated in the shirt dries out.
We soaked each shirt in a bucket of water, wrung them out by hand, hung them up to dry and started the stopwatch.
The Airchaser from Patagonia had the fastest drying time. The weight of a shirt pretty much suggested a short drying time, which is good to notice if you're shopping and considering another shirt that we haven't tested.
Features and Versatility
At OutdoorGearLab we appreciate a piece of clothing that we can use for a wide variety of activities. We often find ourselves traveling with little space and without deep pockets, so we favor things we can use over and over again.
Here we look at any unique features, like reflective markings, sun protection, and odor control, that are particularly suited for the runner. The only shirt we tested with a UPF rating was the Arc'teryx Motus. Nearly every shirt we tested had reflective logos, but none had big reflective markings that we'd want if we frequently ran at night.
As a winter shirt, we were enamored with the Reactor's two-layer neck, built to breathe and seal out wind. We wanted to know which shirts were best for running, but we were also curious which could be used as base layers for other outdoor activities. The Airchaser is perfectly suited for running but is less adaptable to other activities. We liked tops that were stretchy and/or looser fitting to accommodate a wider range of motion than running necessitates. Cotton is a big no-no for the backcountry, so we'd avoid the Tailwind and Distance if venturing off the track.
All six shirts chosen for this review were among the cream of the crop, topping the charts in popularity from running's biggest retailers. All of the scores are relative to each product's competitors. Remember to identify the most important metrics for your individual purposes and to potentially focus on those scores rather than just our overall rankings.
— Lauren DeLaunay