Best Women’s Running Shirts of 2021

When it comes to painstakingly picking out running gear, the lowly t-shirt often gets overlooked. And look, we get it. You can get away with running in any old cotton tee with far fewer consequences than hitting the trails in a pair of Crocs.

But here’s the thing. Like ditching Crocs for actual shoes, once you try a technical running tee, you won’t be able to go back to that ratty freebie from 2002. Unlike that old cotton tee, a good running shirt doesn’t get wet and heavy when you sweat. You can wear it for days on end without washing it — gasp! — and it won’t stink. A good running shirt moves with you, allowing your shoulders and arms to go through the full range of motion without fabric bunching up or sliding off one shoulder.

A good running shirt acts like a small security blanket, keeping you cool when it’s hot, and warm when it’s cold. It helps prevent you from burning under the sun, and it serves as a key base layer on snowy mountain summits. And for long outings, a good running shirt provides a protective layer between your skin and that abrasive hydration pack weighing down on your shoulders. Small details like flatlock seams, body-mapped mesh paneling, raglan sleeves, and underarm gussets conform the shirt to your body without irritating your skin. A good running shirt feels so light, breathable, and comfortable that you forget you’re even wearing it.

After a summer of testing the spectrum of running shirts up the windy 14ers in Colorado and down through the hot, humid bogs of the U.S. East Coast, we’ve rounded up the best women’s running shirts for trail running, ultrarunning, everyday running, and everything in between. Click on a shirt below to skip straight to its review. You can also read more about our buying advice for women’s running shirts, our testing and reviewing methodology, as well as our answers to some frequently asked questions many have about women’s running shirts.

Abby Levene - Best Womens Running Tees - Patagonia Cool Capilene Lightweight Shirt

The author Abby Levene wore the Patagonia Capilene Cool Lightweight Shirt for a recent very muggy race. Photo: Michael Scott

Best Overall: Patagonia Capilene Cool Lightweight Shirt ($45)

Best Women's Running Shorts - Patagonia Capilene Cool Lightweight Shirt - Product

The Patagonia Capilene Cool Lightweight Shirt. Photo: Patagonia

Ultralight, extremely breathable, and quick drying, the Patagonia Capilene Cool Lightweight Shirt is what we turn to on the hottest days. Double-knit polyester fabric feels oh-so-soft on the skin and moves with you on the trail, making this modestly priced shirt a great option for everything from a weekday run to a 100-mile race.

Hands down, this high-performance shirt is the women’s running shirt we wore most frequently this summer. It kept our primary tester as cool as possible during a steamy ultra through the bogs of New Hampshire and withstood the wear and tear of many days in the Colorado Rockies with a fully loaded pack. Try this shirt on a blazing summer day and you’ll never go back to that freebie cotton-polyester blend again.

The Patagonia Capilene Cool Lightweight Shirt feels simple, but the thoughtful design lies in the details. Even Goldilocks would approve of the fit: not too tight, not too loose. And the length sits just where we like it as well, right below the hip bone. You can tuck it into your shorts or let it hang loose. The sleeves are long enough to cover your shoulders and an ample section of upper arm, and gussets under the sleeves give enhanced range of motion without tugging. Flatlock seams across the shoulders may be a little irritating with a pack, although our testers didn’t have an issue. A slightly wider neck enhances the breathability and freedom of movement, although doesn’t provide as much protection from the sun or from hydration-pack chafing as other options.

We practically forgot we were wearing this incredibly light, quick drying, and stretchy shirt. Once it gets wet, it does cling a bit, but also seems to cool you off. A Polygiene treatment prevents bacteria from growing, hence reducing odor. After multiple sweaty sessions without washing, we can attest that it passes the stink test.

Coming in at less than two ounces, the Patagonia Capilene Cool Lightweight Shirt is featherlight and packs down efficiently, making it a great option if you like to strip down mid run and throw your shirt in a pack or in the back straps of your sports bra. The tradeoff to this super fine, light fabric: it’s nearly sheer in some colors and may not provide the most sun protection. It’s also not the most durable, so watch out for branches and abrasive rocks. However, Patagonia’s generous lifetime free repair policy means you can get any wear and tear fixed for free. Sounds like a pretty good deal for such a fairly priced piece of apparel.

For hot days when you want to feel whatever breeze may pass by, the Patagonia Capilene Cool Lightweight Shirt fills this necessary spot in your quiver of running apparel at a great value.

Specifications:

  • Material: 100% polyester
  • Seam type: Flatlock
  • Actual weight: 1.7 ounces

Pros:

  • Ultralight
  • Extremely breathable and quick drying
  • Soft and stretchy feeling
  • Anti-odor

Cons:

  • Seams on the shoulders
  • Delicate
  • Not great for cold weather
Shop the Patagonia Capilene Cool Lightweight Shirt
Patagonia Capilene Cool Lightweight Shirt - Front View

A front view of the Patagonia Capilene Cool Lightweight Shirt. Photo courtesy of Abby Levene.

Best Runner-Up: Ultimate Direction Nimbus Tee ($70)

Best Women's Running Shorts - Ultimate Direction Nimbus Tee - Product

The Ultimate Direction Nimbus Tee. Photo: Ultimate Direction

Cool and wicking on hot days, warm and insulating on cool days, the Ultimate Direction Nimbus Tee exemplifies how high-tech materials can elevate a humble piece of apparel.

While it looks and feels nothing like any other shirt we’ve seen, the Ultimate Direction Nimbus Tee does just about everything you could ask of it. Ultimate Direction takes advantage of the most advanced wicking, cooling, and odor-control technologies in this tee, which just hit the market this summer. While traditional wicking treatments wash off over time, Polartec Delta technology is incorporated into the very fibers for a non-chemical wicking and cooling solution. A specialized knit weave of hydrophobic and hydrophilic yarns in a radiating structure expertly wick away moisture, suck away heat, and increase airflow. Flatlock seams help prevent chafing, and Polygiene antimicrobial odor control technology successfully keeps odor at bay after multiple sweaty sessions in a row.

Rather than feeling over-engineered, the Ultimate Direction Nimbus Tee is highly breathable, light, and quite thermoregulating. As one tester noted, it’s “SO nice. Breathable and wicking on hot days. Warm on cool days. Shirt love.”

Raglan sleeves mean you don’t have to worry about seams on top of your shoulders, which can cause irritation with a hydration pack. But the short cut on the sleeves may not provide as much sun or chafe protection as you’re looking for. A wide scoop neck also limits protection from the sun, and runners with long torsos may find that this shirt runs a bit short.

Specifications:

  • Material: 52% polyester, 44% lyocell, and 4% spandex
  • Seam type: Flatlock
  • Actual weight: 3.1 ounces

Pros:

  • Breathable and quick drying
  • Does great at moderating temperature
  • Feels light while wearing

Cons:

  • Short sleeves and wide scoop neck provide less sun protection and more chafing opportunity
  • Pricey
Shop the Ultimate Direction Nimbus Tee
Best Women's Running Shirts - Ultimate Direction Nimbus Tee

A front view of the Ultimate Direction Nimbus Tee. Photo courtesy of Abby Levene.

Best Budget: Under Armour Streaker Run Short Sleeve ($35)

Best Women's Running Shorts - Under Armour Streaker Run Short Sleeve - Product

The Under Armour Streaker Run Short Sleeve. Photo: Under Armour

The Under Armour Streaker Run Short Sleeve shirt punches above its pay grade in terms of performance benefits while also providing a cute, form-flattering fit with just the right amount of coverage.

While not the least expensive shirt we tested, the Under Armour Streaker Run Short Sleeve competes with the best of the best at a significantly lower price point. Plus, it’s one of the most flattering shirts we tried. A polyester-stretch blend fabric made from two different gridded weave patterns in a body-mapped fit make this shirt exceptionally comfortable and breathable. A touch of elasterell helps give this shirt some stretch and freedom of movement, yet retains its shape when it gets wet. It feels as soft as a casual daywear shirt, and honestly looks just as cute. That’s partly thanks to the perfect fit; we love the semi-fitted hourglass body and the shaped hem, which falls right on the hip bone.

Raglan sleeves eliminate top-of-shoulder seams, helping to prevent irritation from a pack. Under Armour Microthread fabric dries exceptionally fast, and doesn’t cling to your skin when wet. We wore this shirt for long days in the mountains on some of the hottest days of the summer, and stayed as comfortable as humanly possible while profusely sweating for hours on end. Plus, anti-odor technology helped prevent stink.

For those worried about low light visibility, the Under Armour Streaker Run Short Sleeve comes with a few reflective accents on both the front and back. The one design detail that left us miffed is a seam that runs horizontally across the shoulder blades. It adds an element of uniqueness and style, but what is it for? While that didn’t cause any chafing or irritation with a pack, we could see that being an issue for some.

Specifications:

  • Material: 93% polyester and 7% elasterell
  • Seam type: Flatlock
  • Actual weight: 3.2 ounces

Pros:

  • Highly wicking and breathable
  • Soft feeling
  • Flattering style

Cons:

  • Flap of fabric on the back feels superfluous
Shop the Under Armour Streaker Run Short Sleeve
Under Armour Streaker Run Short Sleeve - Back View

A back view of the Under Armour Streaker Run Short Sleeve. Photo courtesy of Abby Levene.

Best Under a Hydration Vest: Rab Sonic Zip Tee ($60)

Best Women's Running Shorts - Rab Sonic Zip Tee - Product

The Rab Sonic Zip Tee. Photo: Rab

Rab clearly built this highly technical top for burly mountain days, and it meets the challenge. The Rab Sonic Zip Tee provides fast wicking and ample venting, and you can throw it on under a pack and forget about it.

Founded in 1981 in England, Rab vows to produce, “nothing fancy or over-engineered – just honest, hard-working pieces that you’d rather repair than replace.” We’re pleased to report this newcomer to the running market delivers on that sensibility. While the Rab Sonic Zip Tee does sport a few functionalities not typically found in a running shirt, we can’t imagine living without them again.

Let’s start with the zipper. Some of our testers were skeptical about the utility of a half zip on a short-sleeved shirt. Not anymore. The half zip provides the ventilation we didn’t know we were looking for while wearing a hydration pack or backpack. The zip is bonded into the fabric to prevent chafing, and it’s so light that you won’t mind the extra couple grams on your sternum.

The high collar adds another unique feature to this shirt. While it may seem a little goofy at first, don’t be fooled. If anyone laughs at you initially, you’ll be the one laughing when they concede how useful a high collar proves when wearing a pack. You never have to worry about your shirt slipping down beneath the straps, leading to dreaded neck chafing.

An ultraviolet protection factor (UPF) 30-plus rating and longer sleeves provide a little more sun protection. Paneling over the shoulders keeps seams off that potential chafe point. Micro-seam stitching also helps keep chafing at bay throughout while simultaneously minimizing the garment’s weight.

Textured Motiv single-jersey fabric effectively wicks away moisture and dries quickly. A star-shaped weave increases surface area over its circular counterpart, speeding up the rate sweat can be drawn into the fabric and off your skin. An antibacterial Polygiene treatment prevents the shirt from starting to smell after many sweaty uses. After wearing the Rab Sonic Zip Tee for numerous missions this summer, our testers confirm that Rab masterfully designed a lightweight top that withstands the rigors of long outings under a pack.

We also reviewed the Rab Sonic Zip Tee in this Rab apparel review.

Specifications:

  • Material: 100% polyester
  • Seam type: Flatlock
  • Actual weight: 3.0 ounces

Pros:

  • Fast wicking and quick drying
  • Half zipper offers great venting
  • No chafing with a pack

Cons:

  • Half zips and high collars may turn heads in America
Shop the Rab Sonic Zip Tee
Rab Sonic Zip Tee - Front View

A front view of the Rab Sonic Zip Tee. Photo courtesy of Abby Levene.

Best for Unpredictable Weather: Black Diamond Rhythm Tee ($75)

Best Women's Running Shorts - Black Diamont Rhythm Tee - Product

The Black Diamond Rhythm Tee. Photo: Black Diamond

The lightest wool shirt on the market also happens to be incredibly quick drying, stretchy, soft, and thermoregulating. The Black Diamond Rhythm Tee transitions seamlessly from hot miles in the valley to cold, breezy mountain summits.

Thanks to NuYarn Merino wool technology, the Black Diamond Rhythm Tee is significantly lighter than any other wool shirt on the market – with marked performance improvements. Black Diamond claims NuYarn fabric dries five times faster than standard Merino, which our tests seem to corroborate. It’s also 35% more stretchy, meaning that this shirt moves with you despite its simple design. The wool/nylon combo sits softly on the skin while maintaining exceptional breathability. And thanks to wool’s natural antimicrobial properties, this running shirt doesn’t smell after being worn for days on end running, backpacking, cycling, and lounging.

The simply designed tee shines above many options with gussets and fancy body-mapped panels. Raglan sleeves connect to the collar, and minimal seams combined with the qualities of NuYarn make this an exceptionally comfortable shirt while also helping to preserve its durability. The running shirt is so stretchy that it will stretch out when it gets wet. But miraculously, it reduces to its original shape once it dries.

For summer mountain outings, backpacking adventures, and colder expeditions, our testers turned to the Black Diamond Rhythm Tee all summer. As a running shirt or base layer, it gives you a little bit of extra added confidence that you’re prepared for whatever Mother Nature may have in store.

Specifications:

  • Material: 57% nylon and 43% Merino wool
  • Seams: Flatlock
  • Actual weight: 2.1 ounces

Pros:

  • Great mobility
  • Very durable
  • Feels soft and comfortable to wear
  • Good odor protection

Cons:

  • Stretches out when wet
Shop the Black Diamond Rhythm Tee
Black Diamond Rhythm Tee - Back View

A back view of the Black Diamond Rhythm Tee. Photo courtesy of Abby Levene.

Most Flattering Fit: Oiselle Flyout Short Sleeve ($58)

Best Women's Running Shirts - Oiselle Flyout SS - Product

The Oiselle Flyout Short Sleeve. Photo: Oiselle

From running to the restaurant, we can’t take this shirt off. The Oiselle Flyout Short Sleeve simultaneously provides the performance benefits of a high-tech tee while looking stylish enough to get compliments as a casual daywear item.

Don’t let this shirt’s stylishness fool you. It’s still a highly technical garment. Oiselle uses what they call HoverFit technology that truly does make the fabric feel like it’s hovering above your skin. The honeycomb pattern feels highly breathable, yet also surprisingly soft to the touch. It also adds a subtle contrast in color that makes this shirt almost shimmer. The polyester/Tencel/spandex fabric stretches and moves with you. It also works with your body’s natural cooling process, moving sweat to the surface where it evaporates off your skin.

Raglan sleeves move with you and keep seams off your shoulders. However, the sleeves are quite short and may not be for everyone. A slightly tailored cut renders this shirt just the right amount of form fitting without uncomfortably clinging to your body. The hem hits at just the right length on the waist. The Oiselle Flyout Short Sleeve dries remarkably quickly, and offers UPF 15 sun protection.

Our testers kept coming back to this shirt for its flattering fit, and kept marveling in its breathability, comfort, wicking, and freedom of movement. Anytime we can run straight from the trail to the pub without needing to change into something dry and/or less geeky is a big win.

Specifications:

  • Material: 65% polyester, 32% Tencel, and 3% spandex
  • Seams: Flatlock
  • Actual weight: 2.9 ounces

Pros:

  • Highly breathable and quick drying
  • Flattering fit

Cons:

  • Fabric can snag
  • High undercut arms
Shop the Oiselle Flyout Short Sleeve
Oiselle Flyout Short Sleeve - Back View

A back view of the Oiselle Flyout Short Sleeve. Photo courtesy of Abby Levene.

Best Sun Protection: Montbell Cool Light T ($39)

Best Women's Running Shorts - Montbell Cool Light T - Product

The Montbell Cool Light T. Photo: Montbell

Unbelievably light and airy, the Montbell Cool Light T also blocks about 90% of the sun’s harmful rays.

Made from the brand’s signature Wickron Cool fabric, the Montbell Cool Light T lives up to its name. Wickron Cool takes advantage of capillary action to wick sweat from the skin and move it to the surface of the fabric, where it can evaporate in the sun and wind and provide temporary cooling relief. Plus, the outside of the fabric gets a high-density ceramic treatment to block out ultraviolet rays and visible sunlight for a UPF rating of 90 – the highest of any shirt we tested.

The Montbell Cool Light T fabric receives a photo-catalytic agent that reacts with sunlight to generate effective odor control. Plus, the clover-shaped fibers prove unexpectedly resistant to wear and tear, making this paper-thin shirt quite durable. Raglan sleeves and flatlock seams minimize chafe points, and underarm gussets allow for full freedom of movement. We also love the sensible cut of this shirt: a classic crew neckline, sleeves that cover your sun-exposed shoulders and upper arms, and a hemline that falls below the waist.

Wickron Cool isn’t the softest fabric on the market, or the quickest drying. But it proves plenty comfortable and dries fast enough. The Montbell Cool Light T proves you can protect yourself from the sun and stay cool at the same time. Hallelujah.

Specifications:

  • Material: 100% polyester
  • Seams: Flatlock
  • Actual weight: 2.2 ounces

Pros:

  • Ultralight and breathable
  • Excellent sun protection

Cons:

  • Not super quick drying
Shop the Montbell Cool Light T
Montbell Cool Light T - Front View

A front view of the Montbell Cool Light T. Photo courtesy of Abby Levene.

Best of the Rest: Decathlon Quechua MH100 Short-Sleeved Hiking T-Shirt ($10)

Best Women's Running Shorts - Decathlon Quechua MH100 Short Sleeved Hiking Shirt - Product

The Decathlon Quechua MH100 Short-Sleeved Hiking T-Shirt. Photo: Decathlon

This is a super-soft, moisture-wicking, and quick-drying tee that costs just $10. Need we say more about the Decathlon Quechua MH100 Short-Sleeved Hiking T-Shirt — other than its name is a mouthful?

It seems almost too good to be true that you can purchase an acceptable performance run tee for one third of the price of the next decent budget piece. Decathlon claims that’s because state-of-the-art production processes and direct-to-consumer retailing allow them to keep their costs low. And apparently they’re not cutting costs on materials: the Decathlon Quechua MH100 Short-Sleeved Hiking T-Shirt is made from 100% recycled polyester originating from plastic bottles. Cost and eco-friendly fabric aside, this shirt holds its own against its much pricier counterparts.

We love the soft feel of this shirt, and its extremely fast-drying rate. After sweating profusely up a mountain, one tester’s shirt was dry within minutes on the breezy summit. Stretch mesh and underarm gussets provide full freedom of movement. And this shirt was one of the lightest we tested.

While the Decathlon Quechua MH100 Short-Sleeved Hiking T-Shirt sports 75% polyamide underarm panels to help minimize odor, this shirt does retain some stink after a sweaty session. Our primary complaint with this shirt are the plain seams, which could cause some irritation for some people on very long outings. However, smart seam placement, such as in front and behind the shoulder instead of directly on top, help to mitigate any potential seam irritation. Overall, if you’re looking for a basic performance tee at a price that absolutely breaks no banks, this shirt is it.

Specifications:

  • Material: 100% recycled polyester
  • Seams: Plain
  • Actual weight: 2.8 ounces

Pros:

  • Quick drying
  • Light and soft feeling

Cons:

  • Plain seams
  • Retains some smell
Shop the Decathlon Quechua MH100 Short-Sleeved Hiking T-Shirt
Decathalon Quechua MH100 Short-Sleeved Hiking T-Shirt - Front Side View

A front view of the Decathlon Quechua MH100 Short-Sleeved Hiking T-Shirt. Photo courtesy of Abby Levene.

Best of the Rest: Tracksmith Twilight Tee ($58)

Best Women's Running Shirts - Tracksmith Twilight Tee - Product

The Tracksmith Twilight Tee. Photo: Tracksmith

A silky-smooth mesh feels soft and cool against the skin in the simple and lightweight Tracksmith Twilight Tee.

Made from an Italian micro-polyester and elastane blend called Bravio, the Tracksmith Twilight Tee feels luxurious. It’s silky smooth, highly breathable, and dries immediately. An added bonus: this perforated fabric is naturally antimicrobial and doesn’t smell after multiple sessions without washing it. The high-gauge knit contains small pointelle holes which maximize airflow, help the shirt dry very quickly, and also give it plenty of stretch.

We love the cut of this sporty tee, although Tracksmith apparel runs notoriously small, so consider sizing up. Raglan sleeves keep the flatlock seams away from your shoulders. While it’s slightly heavier than other options, it feels more durable as well. Our primary tester found this was the tee she turned to most often on cooler mornings, although it keeps you cool on the hottest days as well.

Specifications:

  • Material: 85% polyester and 15% elastane
  • Seams: Flatlock
  • Actual weight: 3.06 ounces

Pros:

  • Soft and smooth feeling
  • Breathable and dries quickly

Cons:

  • Runs very small
  • Slightly heavier weight than other shirts in this guide
Shop the Tracksmith Twilight Tee
Tracksmith Twilight Tee - Front View

A front view of the Tracksmith Twilight Tee. Photo courtesy of Abby Levene.

Buying Advice: How to Choose Women’s Short-Sleeved Running Shirts

Finding the right women’s running shirt is admittedly a lot easier – and lower stakes – than finding a lot of other running-related gear. But the options are endless, with vastly different performance, cost, and functionality that can easily lead to choice paralysis.

We’re sorry to report there is no silver bullet running shirt for every runner on every type of run. Use this guide to get a sense of some of the best options out there, and to learn about the subtle differences and features among shirts. We’re here to help steer you in the right direction and to hone in your choices. To do so, there are some characteristics to which you should pay attention.

Use

When selecting a running shirt, ask yourself what you will be using it for. Do you want a shirt for long days in the mountains, or something to keep you warm for a five-minute warm-up before you ditch a shirt entirely during a speed workout? Will you be wearing it during a hot, muggy summer or an arid winter? Do you need a shirt you can wear for days on end without washing? A sun protectant, or a base layer for winter adventures?

Style

You gotta’ look good to feel good. The rationale behind this motto extends beyond pure vanity. Some people may find a form-fitting hourglass shirt looks and feels more comfortable than a boxy one, and vice versa. Same goes with capped or boxy sleeves, a crew neck or scoop neck, and a short or long hemline.

We absolutely loved the style of both the Under Armour Streaker Run Short Sleeve and the Oiselle Flyout Short Sleeve.

Comfort

As with any garment, comfort is probably the biggest deal breaker for a short-sleeved tee. Comfort largely comes down to three elements for a tee: fabric, fit, and seams. Stretch comes into play as well, since stretchy fabrics tend to move with you. If you plan on running with a hydration vest, consider how the shirt feels with a loaded pack on your shoulders as well. Does the material rub against your back, slip under the pack’s shoulder straps, or ride up your torso?

We found the Rab Sonic Zip Tee to be the most comfortable for wearing underneath a hydration pack.

Fabric

The material and weave of a shirt largely influences comfort. Most high-performance tees are made from polyester blended with spandex. A synthetic fabric made from oil, polyester tends to feel smooth and doesn’t absorb water. It’s durable and retains its shape. Adding in spandex helps make polyester-based fabrics stretchy and soft. Some running shirts are made from Merino wool blends, including the Black Diamond Rhythm Tee. Merino wool can feel itchy and prove to be not very durable. But good Merino wool shirts provide a natural fiber option with antimicrobial properties which repel odor and have excellent insulating capabilities.

Abby Levene - Decathalon Quechua MH100 Short-Sleeved Hiking T-Shirt - Long Run Mountains

The author Abby Levene wears the Decathlon Quechua MH100 Short-Sleeved Hiking T-Shirt on a long run in the mountains. Photo courtesy of Abby Levene.

Seams

Shirts are composed of multiple pieces of fabric stitched together with seams. When you do the same motion over and over for hours on end as we do when we run, even the smallest bump, such as a seam, may cause serious irritation over time. This means that both seam design and placement play crucial roles in keeping you comfortable and chafe free on the trails. Most running shirts swap out classic overlock seams for flatlock seams, where two pieces of fabric are sewn together flat and without overlap. Some manufacturers ditch stitching entirely, opting for taped seams. Flatlock and taped seams tend to rub against your skin far less than overlock seams. However, taped seams are also more delicate. In addition to seam type, the style of stitching and the thread used also influence comfort against the skin.

Many running shirts move seams off the top of the shoulder by opting for raglan sleeves or paneling. These styles introduce more seams, leading to more places to rub, but critically they eliminate the possibility for a top of shoulder seam to rub against a hydration pack.

If you’re not sure about how seams affect you, we recommend choosing a running shirt with flatlock seams.

Breathability

Breathability and drying speed help dictate how well a shirt keeps you cool. Breathability tells you how well the shirt allows for airflow, helping sweat evaporate out of the garment rather than turning into a sticky mess on your skin. Mesh and very lightweight materials tend to be the most breathable.

The most breathable shirt we tested was the Patagonia Capilene Cool Lightweight Shirt.

Drying speed

A shirt’s drying speed comes down to wicking and water retention. Wicking is how well the fabric pulls moisture from the interior of the shirt to the outside, where it can evaporate. Merino wool and some other materials are naturally good at wicking, while other fabrics gain wicking power from the weave of the fibers or differences between the interior and exterior of the fabric. Shirts that absorb a lot of water, like certain polyester weaves, nylon, and wool absorb more water and dry slower. Garments with a fast drying speed keep you cool on hot days and also help keep you warm on cold days.

Smell Protection

Sweat serves as an excellent breeding ground for bacteria, leading to your running clothes to smell over time. Some shirts counteract bacteria build-up with antimicrobial properties naturally found in the fabric, such as wool. Others add odor-control treatments or elements woven into the fabric itself. Wool tends to be the best fabric at preventing stink, but many of these treatments work pretty well too.

If a lack of odor is one of your chief concerns, try the partially wool Black Diamond Rhythm Tee.

Ultraviolet Protection Factor Rating

Think of ultraviolet protection factor (UPF) ratings for apparel like sunscreen ratings for our skin. A UPF rating of 50 means that only about 1/50th of the sunlight reaches your skin. All shirts provide some sun protection, with most clothing coming in around eight to 15 UPF. Fabrics with certain dyes or weaves can have additional UPF protection. Manufacturers are only allowed to advertise the UPF rating if it exceeds 15.

We appreciated the incredible UPF 90 rating in the Montbell Cool Light T.

Extra Features

Extra features like a half zip, collar, and reflective elements differentiate short-sleeved tees and add elements that can set a shirt apart. Ultimately, each of these boils down to personal preference, especially since something like a zipper or a collar will add a little bit of weight. A half zip and a collar can be useful for providing ventilation and chafing protection if you’re wearing a pack. Reflective elements add a little bit of visibility for running on the streets at night.

Abby Levene - Patagonia Capilene Cool Lightweight Shirt - Snowy Mountains

The author Abby Levene wears the Patagonia Capilene Cool Lightweight Shirt under a pack and jacket on a climb up snowy mountains. Photo courtesy of Abby Levene.

Why You Should Trust Us

We began this guide by researching shirts from the most trusted brands in running, premier outdoor brands, and major companies in the women’s run category. Next, we polled the large iRunFar team as well as trusted running friends to find out which women’s running shirts they love and, well, let’s say don’t care for as much. We narrowed our search to 20-plus shirts that we put to test in the field.

Two iRunFar testers spent four months subjecting these women’s running shirts to the rigors of mountainous Colorado and hot, humid New Hampshire summers. We ran in them for 50-mile outings, 50k races, and multi-day backpacking trips. We wore them several times in a row without washing them — yuck, but you’re welcome.

The primary tester’s body is five feet, 7.5 inches tall, and roughly 125 pounds. All shirts she tested were sizes small and medium. The secondary tester’s body is five feet, six inches tall, and roughly 125 pounds. She also tested shirts in sizes small and medium.

Frequently Asked Questions About Women’s Running Shirts

Can I run in a cotton tee?

You can… if you don’t mind marinating in a wet, heavy shirt once you start to sweat. Cotton drinks up water and hangs onto it like its life depends on it. Your basic cotton and cotton-polyester blend shirts also tend to have abrasive seams which may lead to chafing, and lack the other performance benefits of technical running shirts that keep you dry, regulate your temperature, and allow for full freedom of movement.

Is there any difference between men’s and women’s shirts?

Yes. Women’s running shirts tend to be tailored quite differently from men’s, mostly to accommodate morphology differences. Women’s shirts tend to have narrower shoulders, shorter sleeves, a narrower waist, and a wider hem at the hips. Women’s shirts also give more space in the chest. These design differences allow for full freedom of movement without letting fabric bunch around the waist and shoulders. Of course, these discrepancies also lend to differences in style, with many women’s shirts providing a more form-fitting hourglass shape.

How can wool be a good choice for warm weather?

High-performance wool fabric looks nothing like that wool sweater your grandma knit for you in the 1990s. Performance Merino yarn comes from ultra-fine wool fiber that feels soft and possesses natural antimicrobial properties, helping to prevent stink. These fabrics tend to be highly breathable and thermoregulating. The chemical bonds in Merino change once the wool starts absorbing sweat, releasing heat in the process. While you may feel hot when you first start out, you’ll find that your wool shirt will start cooling you down once you sweat.

Should I run in a short-sleeved tee, a tank top, or no shirt at all?

The answer to this question largely boils down to personal preference. Many runners, especially trail runners and ultrarunners, prefer to wear a shirt for sun protection, to prevent chafing with a hydration pack, and to add a small buffer if they take a tumble.

While a sleeveless tank top may keep you a little cooler on hot days, it also provides no sun protection for the shoulders and arms as well as no protection from underarm chafing. Once you’ve experienced chafing under your arms, you will go to any length to prevent it from happening again. It’s exhausting running like chicken with your elbows out.

Of course, there are many Anton Krupicka diehards who swear by running shirtless at all times. To each their own. Try out different options to see what you like best during different weather patterns.

Call for Comments

  • Ladies, what are your favorite running shirts? Or do you opt for tank tops or just a sports bra?
  • What element matters most to you in a good running shirt: material, cost, durability, style, or something else?
Abby Levene - Rab Sonic Zip Tee - Mountains

The author Abby Levene demonstrates the utility of the high neck and zipper in the Rab Sonic Zip Tee when worn under a pack. Photo courtesy of Abby Levene.

Abby Levene

is a writer, editor, and podcast producer for Gaia GPS. In her free time you can find her sweating in the mountains by foot, bike, and skis, or hiding at home painting or curled up with a book.