How to Choose Running Shirts

The Best Running Shirts: How to Choose the Right One

 Sure, you can run a couple miles in any shirt. But if you have goals beyond a short jog, you want a shirt that will keep you comfortable, so you can focus on your running and not your shirt rubbing. Here’s what to look out for. 


The repetitive motion of running means that any seam that rubs you the wrong way when you try it on at a store will really, really rub you the wrong way—and cause chafing—when worn on a run. Shop for running shirts that have flat seams or minimal seams placed well out of high-friction areas (like your underarms).

If you’ll be running with a hydration pack or vest, make sure no seams will irritate you underneath pack straps or along your back underneath the pack.


Depending on the conditions, you may opt for a minimal silhouette, like a tank or singlet for hot weather; a crewneck tee for all seasons (layered in cold temps); or a long-sleeve crewneck, mock- or cowlneck, or zipneck for cooler temperatures or layered in cold conditions.

Long-sleeved, mockneck- or cowlneck-style shirts provide a little extra warmth around the neck. Zipneck tops also provide extra coverage around the neck if they’re cut high, and can be unzipped to add airflow (though unzipped zippers can flop around a bit). Both work well as second layers over tanks and tees. 


Since cotton retains moisture (your sweat), is slow to dry, and can cause friction and chafing when wet, opt for either synthetic or a natural fiber such as wool or a wool blend. Either will wick sweat away from your body and move it to the outer surface of the shirt where it will evaporate. Here’s what you’ll see:

  • Polyester blends. Fabrics made out of polyester blended with various amounts of spandex, Lycra, rayon, nylon, or other synthetic materials generally wick sweat and dry quickly.
  • Spandex/Lycra. Both are synthetic materials that add stretch and are sometimes blended with polyester. 
  • Rayon. Rayon is a semi-synthetic, lightweight material sometimes blended with polyester.
  • Nylon. This synthetic is stronger and softer than polyester.
  • Merino wool/wool blends. Wool has the natural ability to breathe and regulate your body temperature. It also has natural odor-fighting ability. Quality running apparel uses soft and lightweight merino wool.


Look for coatings and other treatments that provide extra performance benefits. 

  • Cooling fabrics: For hot weather running, look for “cooling” fabrics that incorporate cooling threads or a topical treatment that creates a cooling sensation when activated by moisture (sweat).
  • Warming fabrics. For cold weather, “warming” fabrics have special threads woven into them that reflect and trap body heat.
  • Odor-fighting fabrics. While wool naturally fights odor, synthetic can get funky fast. In order to minimize the laundry cycle, look for fabrics that are treated with odor-control coatings or have odor-fighting yarns woven into them. These work by slowing the growth of bacteria.
  • Sun-blocking fabrics. Some synthetic fabrics have UV-blocking treatments applied to them, and some are woven more densely than others to provide additional sun-blocking properties. Look for a UPF rating. 


Other features to consider: thumbholes or foldover sleeves on long-sleeve shirts. Both are intended to keep hands warm without, or in addition to, gloves (depending on the temps). And some longsleeve shirts (and occasionally shortsleeve shirts) have small zippered, open, or envelope-style pockets on the backside. 


To get the most out of your technical synthetic or wool/wool-blend running shirt and extend its life, it’s best to wash in cold water (regular detergent should be fine, but wash made specifically for athletic gear exists and is extra gentle on apparel). Air drying is your safest bet; hang on non-wire hangers for airflow and to avoid metal hanger imprints. Drying on low settings should also be fine, but read care labels for specific wash instructions.

All articles are for general informational purposes.  Each individual’s needs, preferences, goals and abilities may vary.  Be sure to obtain all appropriate training, expert supervision and/or medical advice before engaging in strenuous or potentially hazardous activity.