Our Editors independently research, test, and rate the best products. We only make money if you purchase a product through our links, and we never accept free products from manufacturers. Learn more
Looking for a new running shirt? We've tested over 40 unique shirts in the last 11 years, with our top 16 in this review. The market is flooded with options, and it can be difficult to determine what is best for you. Our team of testers picked some of the most popular and cutting-edge options on the market today and put them through a variety of tests and extensive daily use to help you figure out how to spend your money. We've compared and analyzed the comfort, breathability, drying speed, and versatility to help you pick the perfect shirt for your adventures and your budget.
Material: 57% nylon, 43% Merino wool | Weight: 3.3 oz
REASONS TO BUY
Exceptional temperature regulation
Natural odor control
REASONS TO AVOID
Droops when wet
Warm in extremely hot conditions
The Black Diamond Rhythm Tee is the best-performing running shirt we've ever tested. When tackling big adventures, your clothing needs to be adaptable. This shirt's unique blend of nylon and wool creates a light and airy garment with excellent temperature regulation. Adapting to temperature changes is crucial, especially when you desire to carry minimal amounts of clothing. This model scored higher than any of the competition when evaluating versatility. The substantial breathability makes it perfect for all but the hottest days, and the wool provides considerable warmth when paired with a shell — perfect above treeline.
The nylon blend in this shirt makes it extremely stretchy, and it does tend to droop, especially when wet. Unfortunately, the Rhythm is not well suited for sweating in humid environments either. The wool element can feel intense in extremely hot temperatures — if you often find yourself in temperatures above 90°F/32°C, you may want to look elsewhere. We find the sweet spot for this shirt is a warm, dry environment. Due to its exceptional three-season performance, we think the Rhythm is an essential piece to have in your quiver.
Material: 100% recycled polyester | Weight: 4.1 oz
REASONS TO BUY
Remains cool in warm temperatures
REASONS TO AVOID
Higher water absorption
Longer drying time
The Patagonia Capilene Cool Daily provides great comfort and versatility for a stellar price. If you want to add a bit more flair to your runs, Patagonia offers this model in a wide array of colors, and we are impressed with the cool feel of the fabric, even in high temperatures. It's one of our all-around favorites for daily use and activity. The Capilene is sleek and simple and does not contain any extra features that we sometimes find overkill, like ultrasonic welds and seams. The simplicity of the design allows the price to stay lower, and we're here for it. Due to its synthetic fabric, it will retain some warmth even when wet and does not suffer sagging, a common issue on natural fabrics.
The Capilene Cool lacks some breathability, and those in extremely hot or humid climates may desire something that absorbs less moisture and dries more quickly. But if you are looking for a shirt that can do it all at an amazing price point, we think you should strongly consider this model.
The Janji Helio Tech is, without a doubt, a favorite of ours for hot and humid conditions. This fabric is less stretchy than the competition, meaning it doesn't get the sag or drooping feeling when the threads start to absorb moisture. Often times we find that a shirt can have great breathability but also absorbs moisture, leaving the shirt feeling sticky or moist. While not as versatile due to the lightweight, thin fabric, the Helio Tech is still one of our favorite models we tested.
The less stretchy fabric doesn't breathe as well as some of the competition but is still plenty breathable for most applications. This shirt isn't cheap, but we think it could be a good addition for someone that runs in more humid conditions — if you are running in a purely dry climate, you may prefer maximum breathability.
Material: 100% recycled polyester | Weight: 2.6 oz
REASONS TO BUY
Cutting edge breathability
REASONS TO AVOID
No thermal regulation
Less useful in shoulder seasons
The HOKA Glide is the lightest, most breathable, and fastest drying out of all the shirts we tested. If you often run in extremely hot conditions, you should seriously consider this model. We found the Glide perfect for everything from mile repeats on the track to hot trail runs. If we could pick one shirt for race day, this would be it. Thanks to its stretch, it also feels great when wearing a pack on the trail.
While we experienced no durability issues during our testing, this is the thinnest shirt we tested, and we speculate that it may prove to be less durable than its heavier competitors. The substantial breathability also makes this shirt less ideal for changing conditions and less versatile for all-day use.
Material: Ostria (100% polyester) | Weight: 3.9 oz
REASONS TO BUY
High UPF rating (50+)
REASONS TO AVOID
Not super breathable
The Arc'teryx Cormac Crew is one of the best-fitting shirts we've worn. We found ourselves wearing this shirt more when not running than any of the other models we tested. It features an excellent stretch design that feels unrestricted but doesn't droop or sag even after days of use. If you are looking for the perfect daily t-shirt for activity and daily life, we don't think you could go wrong with the Cormac, especially because it boasts the highest UPF rating in our lineup at 50+.
This shirt is less breathable and may not be the best choice for super-high output activities and efforts. Breathability and drying times are not the best due to the more substantial material, and while far from hot, this may not suit those who live in super hot, humid climates. Those caveats aside, if you are searching for the best-looking shirt, we think this is the model for you.
The Ibex Merino Tencel is our favorite natural fabric model for layering. While not the lightest, it proved to be the warmest thanks to the thicker fabric and slightly less breathability. A t-shirt baselayer is a good starting point for your winter clothing system and is also great for shoulder season running. This shirt feels durable but soft and is extremely comfortable, even with a pack on.
Really the only downside of the Merino Tencel is the cost, but for a natural fabric t-shirt, it's comparable with the competition. If you plan on purely running in hot conditions, we would recommend a lighter, more breathable model. But if you want a t-shirt that can handle a wide range of conditions, this is an excellent choice.
Why You Should Trust Us
Not only did we wear these shirts for all of our aerobic and outdoor pursuits over three months, but we used them for day-to-day activities too. We hope to convey what products will work best for you via our rigorous testing methods and, in turn, make your decision process easier. Our goal is to help you spend your hard-earned money in a way that fits your style. We don't recommend anything to you that we wouldn't also recommend to our friends and family. We focused our testing of each running shirt across four metrics:
Comfort (30% of overall score weighting)
Breathability (30% weighting)
Drying Speed (20% weighting)
Features & Versatility (20% weighting)
This review is led by Matthew Richardson, a review editor with years of outdoor experience. Some personal highlights include an out-and-back day trip to the Chicago Basin 14ers in the San Juan Mountains and a 2021 solo ride of the Colorado Trail. With a passion for gear, Matthew is always looking for the best when setting out on a new project. After years of using various products, he hopes to convey the best products for your use cases and specific needs.
Laying the foundation for this review was Jeff Colt. He has years of industry experience working with trail-running brands and over two decades of competitive running, including the last five years as an elite ultramarathoner.
Analysis and Test Results
Over the years, we have developed a thorough test process that evaluates the most important metrics to use when deciding if a running shirt is right for your activities. While we primarily focused on running while performing our tests, we realized there are a wide variety of uses for a shirt, and we wanted to ensure we captured as many of these use cases as well.
Layering, thermal regulation potential, breathability, and the temperature use range were all things we considered. We also performed quantitative tests analyzing drying speeds by comparing weight during drying time intervals. Once we gathered the data, we sat down to score and compare the various models to help you determine which options are best for you.
It can be difficult to determine what shirt is best for you and how much you should spend on such a basic item. We tested shirts with a wide range of prices to be able to recommend products that fit everyone's budget. With a price increase, you often receive more premium design elements such as ultrasonic seams, thin stitching, and advanced materials. Sometimes these materials are more versatile; other times, they are ultrathin and light and stand out for their weightlessness.
If you are looking for the best performance-to-value ratio, we would recommend the Patagonia Capilene Cool Daily. This shirt scores high in comfort and versatility, and while you don't receive perfectly flat seams and material blends, we think that the performance cannot be matched at this price point. The Baleaf Laureate Quick Dry is the cheapest we tested, and while the price is nice, we can't recommend it over the competition when it comes to performance. The REI Co-op Active Pursuits hits a nice middle point between these two — it performs better than the Baleaf while saving you some bucks over Patagonia. It's heavier and doesn't breathe quite as well, but if you're not in a super hot climate, that might not be a dealbreaker, especially for the price.
Our highest weighted metric when analyzing scores and comparisons is comfort. Shirts need to be comfortable under a variety of circumstances and activities. Comfort needs to be maintained when your shirt is wet, under high/low humidity, in cool/hot temperatures, and with or without a pack. We carefully tested each model and determined which we felt were the most comfortable. Some shirts attempt to minimize discomfort by including top-of-the-line technology to reduce seams and increase airflow or by integrating multiple fabric types to have different breathability zones. After our testing and research, we determined the two most important elements are seam type and fabric type, followed by fit.
When searching for a shirt, think about how the seams feel on your current shirt. If you often are plagued by seam chafing, you may want to lean towards a shirt with more ultrasonic welds (taped seams). These seams are welded together under heat, and they are much thinner and protrude less than your classic stitched seams. One downside of these types of seams is their lack of stretch. The ON Performance-T features the highest amount of taped seams with minimal stitching throughout the entire shirt. Unfortunately, we found the neck and back panel to be a bit stiff and restrictive feeling. Similarly, the The North Face Flight Weightless has a taped neck seam we weren't huge fans of, though the shirt is still comfortable overall.
For a more classic seam design that offers premium comfort, we would recommend the HOKA Glide, Patagonia Capilene Cool Daily, and Janji Helio Tech. One of our favorite types of stitching is merrow stitching which joins two pieces of fabric in a thin, low-profile manner. The Arc'teryx Cormac Crew offers this, and we find it to be one of the most comfortable for all-day use. This shirt has our favorite seam design out of any of the models we tested.
Fabric Type and Weave
The majority of the shirts we tested are polyester. This synthetic material provides great durability and warmth when wet and absorbs less water than more natural materials such as wool and cotton. We found all of the models in this test group to contain comfortable face fabrics that didn't irritate our skin. The Vuori Strato Tech stood out as being the most comfortable shirt with synthetic fabrics. We were surprised by how soft the shirt felt, and at first, you'd think it was a natural blend like cotton or wool.
The Black Diamond Rhythm Tee was previously the only model to feature a Merino wool and nylon blend. It is incredibly thin and very stretchy, so it conforms to the body and is great when wearing a pack. These fabrics feel more pleasant on the skin, but we can't say that this model felt substantially better than the best polyester competitors. Another great choice for a more natural blend is the Ibex Merino Tencel, which has a Merino/Tencel mix. We were impressed with the comfort of both of these shirts, as well as those mentioned above — they stand out as being perfect for everything from everyday use to long adventures in the backcountry. The softest fabric in our lineup was the Rabbit EZ Tee, which features a spandex, polyester blend.
We were impressed with the fit of all of the models we tested and have really no complaints about the various cuts/shapes. Fit is incredibly variable from person to person. If you often find yourself having difficulty with the fit or are picky when it comes to length, we suggest you purchase from a retailer that has a good return policy. We found that each shirt was not overly long or short in any of the dimensions. If we had to pick our favorite fitting shirt, it would be the Janji Helio Tech.
Breathability is important in a running shirt, and you should determine what conditions you plan to run in before making a purchase. A breathable shirt will help move heat away from your body and improve drying times, but it can also make the shirt thermoregulate less. If you plan on running in hot, humid conditions, we would recommend a shirt with a high breathability score. If you want your shirt to be a bit more adaptable to various conditions, you may want to stick to a shirt with less breathability.
The HOKA Glide had the greatest breathability out of all the shirts we tested, and it was our go-to pick for hot trail runs and laps around the track where we craved an airy feel. The Black Diamond Rhythm Tee also has great breathability while retaining some heat thanks to its wool blend. Both the Nathan Rise 2.0 and Rabbit EZ Tee received high marks for their breathability which was surprising given these models have thicker fabric. This is nice for chilly runs that warm up later. The high-visibility colorway of the Nathan Rise 2.0 is also great for pre-dawn starts where the heat ramps up throughout the morning.
If you run in various conditions throughout the year, you may find yourself wanting a dedicated summer shirt for maximum breathability and something a bit more insulating for colder shoulder season runs where it's still t-shirt weather but you aren't sweating as much.
Nobody wants to run in a shirt soaking in sweat, so drying time is an important factor for us to consider when comparing these running shirts. Drying time is directly influenced by the material type and breathability. Generally, the fastest-drying shirts weighed the least which makes sense given there is less fabric to absorb moisture. If you live in a humid or hot climate, this will probably be your most important metric.
To test each shirt, we put them all in the wash and weighed them after the spin cycle; this gave us a "saturated" weight that we could then compare to the shirt's dry weight. We then put them into the dryer individually and pulled them out to weigh them every five minutes. This gave us a nice graph of how quickly each shirt would return to its dry weight.
It's no surprise that the HOKA Glide and Janji Helio Tech were the fastest drying, given they were also the lightest shirts we tested. Other top drying shirts are the The North Face Flight Weightless and ON Performance-T. After our testing, we found that dry weight is a better indicator of drying speed than the breathability score. Running in wet conditions is tricky because if it's hot, you want the least amount of fabric weighing you down. If it's cool out and you're running in the rain, high breathability can quickly make you feel cold; having a thicker shirt even though it's heavier can provide more heat retention. As with most outdoor gear, it's good to have a few options for the various conditions you will encounter throughout the year. For cooler running in wet conditions, we would recommend the Nathan Rise 2.0, Patagonia Capilene Cool Daily, and Ibex Merino Tencel.
Features and Versatility
We love gear that is versatile and functional across many different types of activities. It's crucial for us, especially when spending this much money on a shirt, that it can be used for more than one of our recreation activities. If you only find yourself running in your shirt and then taking it off as soon as you finish, any of the shirts we tested will probably work well for you. If you want your investment to function for wide-ranging activities and temperatures, we think you should seriously consider making this category a priority. Our main attribute when looking at versatility is how well each shirt works across a wide temperature range and under various conditions. We also took into account items like reflective areas, UPF ratings, and odor control mechanisms but largely, the score can tell you how well the shirt will perform under a range of conditions.
Thanks to its light Merino wool blend, the Black Diamond Rhythm Tee is a standout among all of the models we tested. We tested these shirts in a wide range of temperatures, from desert conditions to higher elevations in the mountains and the adaptability of this model stood out from the rest. As runners, we develop a lot of heat, and the Rhythm's ability to regulate that heat is superior. Adaptable to almost all temperature conditions, the heat was dissipated in the valley sweating but retained when the pace slowed and the wind picked up on ridgelines and above treeline. For trail running in dry conditions, this is our favorite model, and its versatility heavily influenced why it received our top award.
Other top performers included the REI Active Pursuits, Patagonia Capilene Cool, and Arc'teryx Cormac Crew. While these models are heavier than some of our lightweight options, they have the ability for more all-day use outside of running. Each of these shirts also feels great with a backpack or hydration pack, which is a key consideration given we do lots of long-distance trail runs.
Two new models which score highly in this category are the Rhone Reign and Ibex Merino Tencel. The Reign has a tighter knit weave and is similar to what is found on the Arc'teryx Cormac Crew. This model was great for all-day usage and a favorite of ours for wearing out after our activities. Unfortunately, it absorbed more water than the competition and was noticeably heavier, so we don't think it's the best option if you are purely looking for a running shirt.
The Ibex Merino Tencel is our favorite model to layer. It contains natural materials similar to the Black Diamond Rhythm, but the weave is tighter, making the shirt warmer and smoother against the skin. This tighter weave also increases the durability, so we find ourselves pulling this shirt out for other activities that are more demanding on gear, like bouldering or biking.
We hope we've made it easier for you to decide what shirt will work best for your lifestyle. Remember to take your location and climate into consideration when buying a new shirt. Hot or cold, warm or dry, there is a shirt here for you. For hot conditions, we recommend going with the lightest shirt you can afford. For trails and ultra runs, you should prioritize versatility for regulating across a wide temperature range. Running in wet/humid conditions? Choose something that dries fast. If sweating is an issue, choose a model that has high breathability. This lineup has some of the best shirts we've ever tested, and we know there is something for everyone. Have fun out there!
Looking for a new pair of trail runners? We have tested...
Ad-free. Influence-free. Powered by Testing.
GearLab is founded on the principle of honest, objective, reviews. Our experts test thousands of products each year using thoughtful test plans that bring out key performance differences between competing products. And, to assure complete independence, we buy all the products we test ourselves. No cherry-picked units sent by manufacturers. No sponsored content. No ads. Just real, honest, side-by-side testing and comparison.