The Nike Element ½ Zip is a super comfortable, close-fitting long sleeve running shirt that doesn't confine. Its soft fabric feels amazing against the skin, endearing it to the hearts of our winter testers. It makes for a great base layer that can easily be layered over with a heavier jacket, or as the perfect solution for chilly morning runs or on moderately cold winter days. It is made of thinner fabric and isn't quite as warm as our Top Pick for Winter Running, The North Face Ambition ¼ Zip, but is more comfortable and still provides an excellent alternative to short sleeves when the temperatures drop.
Nike Element 1/2 Zip Review
Compare prices at 2 resellers Pros: Super comfortable fabric and stitching, sleek stretch fit
Cons: Dries very slowly, doesn’t have chest pocket
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Our Analysis and Test Results
We compared this shirt directly to The North Face Ambition ¼ Zip in a couple months of late fall and early winter testing, and liked them both. The biggest advantage to the Element ½ Zip is, without doubt, the comfort of the fabric against the skin. While the Ambition's fabric felt synthetic and a bit rough against our skin, inspiring us to most often pair it with a softer undershirt, with the Element we simply wanted to snuggle up in it all day long. However, the fabric is certainly thinner, hugs the body tighter, and therefore doesn't feel as warm or as effective at cutting the wind as the Ambition, despite the fact that they weigh pretty much the same. We also like how the Element has longer sleeves and a longer fit in the torso, helping to fully cover us when we simply want to hide from the cold but the run isn't finished yet.
The Element is easily one of the most comfortable running shirts you can buy. Forget that, we can't think of any shirt that is softer to the touch than this one. Its thin polyester/spandex blend fabric feels similarly soft to the Under Armour UA Tech, but without the clingy static electricity that builds up on that one. It fits sleek through the chest and shoulders and long in the torso, but is made with stretchy fabric throughout so you never feel confined. One interesting thing about the fit is on the forearms. They are cut much thinner so that the fabric does indeed hug the body, not dissimilar from the way that removable arm sleeves feel. The feeling of tightness around the forearms is different from the way the shirt feels on the rest of the body, but we enjoyed its snugness.
Turn this shirt inside out to study the stitching and it is obvious that a lot of care and attention has been putting into making it as comfortable as possible. The minimal seams are stitched flat with very soft thread, and extra care has been shown by applying a small sweat strip over the collar seam around the neck for comfort. Lastly, the loose, rough edges around the zipper have been sewn over with a smooth covering to eliminate any chance of rubbing.
The Element is made of Nike's Dri-Fit technology designed to wick moisture away from the skin. It uses three different weaves of fabric. The back is made of mesh that is fairly light and well perforated to allow for extra air flow. The sleeves and front of the shirt are made of non-perforated, but very thin, raglan material that is densely woven but allows quite a bit of airflow as well. Finally, the shoulders and underarms use the thickest fabric, designed for increased stretchiness and flexibility, although in truth we find that the entire shirt is exceedingly stretchy. The front zipper greatly adds to the breathability of the shirt by allowing venting down to the middle of the chest, just over the sternum. While it is quite breathable, this shirt still couldn't hold a candle to the super thin, lightweight mesh found on The North Face Better Than Naked.
If there is one aspect of the Element that genuinely bums us out, it is the results of the drying speed test. Nike claims that their Dri-Fit technology wicks moisture away from the body quickly so that it can evaporate faster. This claim may be true in a headwind while running outside. However, compared to the competition, this shirt was extremely slow to dry out. We also encountered these same results in this test of a previous Nike Dri-Fit shirt that is no longer available, so didn't find them super surprising. Real world drying speeds will always vary depending on particular conditions such as wind and temperature, not to mention amount of sweat or water, so we don't want to go so far as to say that this shirt doesn't dry out well. We can say that it doesn't dry out quickly compared to the rest of the shirts we tested here, and dried far, far slower than the comparable sleeved shirt, the North Face Ambition.
The Element is a very versatile shirt that makes for a great base layer to be layered over the top of, and also works well as a warmth layer for putting on over a lightweight short sleeve. We most often wore it against the skin, as we simply couldn't find a more comfortable shirt for that purpose, but also tested it out as a pullover above our t-shirt, and experienced no constrictions — it fit fine. This shirt is also a great choice for wearing on cold days doing other sports or activities besides just running. Not only that, but since it is so light, it can be used on warmer days as well, and isn't limited to only the coldest days. In general, while it is quite versatile, we think that The North Face Ambition is the better choice if versatility is the most important factor.
This shirt has exactly the set of simple features that you would expect a running shirt to have. It has reflectors on both the front and the back for better visibility in low light. We love the thumb holes at the ends of the sleeves for helping keep our hands warm on chilly days, and the sleeves are plenty long for comfortably pulling up in this way. The zipper clearly adds a ton of versatility for ventilation. What this shirt lacks, however, is UPF protection, like the Arc'teryx Motus Crew has. It also does not have an odor controlling agent. And while it isn't a feature we have come to expect in a running shirt, the zippered chest pocket found on The North Face Ambition has us a bit spoiled and lamenting the fact that this shirt doesn't have one.
The Element is best used as a long sleeve shirt for running on fall, winter, or spring days when it is a bit too chilly for short sleeves. We enjoyed it most in temperatures ranging from the low 50s down to the mid 30s, although everyone has a different tolerance for heat and cold. It is thin and hugs the body, so it is not very effective at all for cutting a cold wind, and in this case, we recommend pairing it with a lightweight windbreaker.
Retail price for this shirt is $65, which seems about fair to us compared to the price and performance of the competition. While it isn't the most affordable running shirt available, we think it is never-the-less a good value.
The Nike Element ½ Zip is a very comfortable long sleeved running shirt that is ideal for use in colder temperatures. It is best on chilly but calm winter days and on cool mornings in the spring or fall, but can also easily be paired with a shell to extend the warmth range, or be thrown on over a t-shirt on warmer days that suddenly turn chilly.
— Andy Wellman