Running Shirts

Running Shirt Basics

A running shirt is the one of the foundational pieces of a runner’s wardrobe. The perfect running shirt is one you feel most comfortable and confident wearing. Running shirts should help regulate temperature and keep you dry.

Running Shirts for New Runners

There are so many options out there. The fitness and running apparel market is a billion dollar industry. Some advice for first-time runners, don’t get overwhelmed, you don’t need to commit to anything. Just buy a couple of different styles, brands, colors, materials, etc. to find what you feel comfortable in. For warm weather running, try short-sleeved, sleeveless, or tank-tops. When running in colder weather, look for breathable, moisture-wicking, long-sleeved running shirts to keep you warm and dry.

running shirts

Varieties of Running Shirts

The best running shirt fabrics include polyesters, moisture-wicking clothing, spandex, and others. Sock technology has come a long way. Today socks have arch support, compression, cushioning, and even ventilation. The best socks for you are the ones that make it a good experience. There are many varieties of socks available. They vary in size, shape, height, compression level, design, thickness, color, and design.

Different Running Shirt Fabrics

Fabrics make a big difference when it comes to the right shirt for you. Running shirt materials break down into two main categories, natural fabrics, and synthetic fabrics.

Natural Fabric Running Shirt

For runners who are au natural and want natural fabrics, there are options to meet those needs. Here are a few of the fabrics that you can choose.

Cotton Shirts

Cotton is a popular choice for normal everyday use, but it’s not a great material for running shirts. It retains sweat and takes a long time to dry. Damp cotton shirts can cause blisters and chaffing.

nipple chaffing
For more information about chaffing prevention and treatments check out the Nipple Chaffing Guide.
Wool Running Shirts

Merino wool in particular is ideal for both hot and cold weather running. Wool is temperature regulating, lightweight, breathable, wicks moisture, and anti-bacterial. You’ll typically see it combined with synthetic fibers such as lycra to give it a more fitted shape.


Bamboo is a very common eco-friendly natural alternative to synthetic shirts. It’s naturally anti-bacterial, very soft, and effective in sweat-wicking.

Synthetic Running Shirt Fabrics

Running clothing made from synthetic fabric has made a huge impact in the fitness and activewear community. Polyester and nylon are a few of the most popular synthetic fibers for shirts. They wick away sweat, they’re breathable and typically more durable than cotton. Here is a list of some of the most common synthetic fabrics in running shirts.

Nylon Shirts

Nylon running shirts are very popular because they’re wicking, breathable and stretchy to move with you for a comfortable run. 

Polyester Running Shirts

Made from plastic, polyester fabric is inexpensive, durable, lightweight, breathable, and non-absorbent. It also repels UV rays to help protect the skin from the sun. One big downside of polyester is it doesn’t have the anti-bacterial protection found in natural fibers.

Spandex Shirts

Spandex is a stretchy and flexible synthetic fabric. It’s commonly known by the brand name Lycra. Spandex fabric can expand and contract as you run, but also retains it’s shape while offering full-range of movement.

Polypropylene Fabrics

This fabric has become very popular choice for runners because of its water-resistant properties making it perfect as a base-layer.

Running Shirt Features

The shape and materials are the most important considerations in running shirts. But there are other features that can affect your comfort levels and performance as well.

Moisture Wicking

Staying cool and dry when running is the most important factor. Clothing that wicks away moisture effectively will help you accomplish that goal. Wicking is the process of drawing moisture away from the body and into the fabric. There are small capillaries (tubes) built into the fabric’s weave that suck moisture from your skin into the fabric’s inner layer and then to the outer layer to dry. Most running shirts on the market will have some level of wicking, so they are relatively easy to find. But always double check so that your training runs are comfortable, cool, and dry.

moisture wicking shirts
For more information about staying dry and sweat wicking,
read What to Know About Moisture-Wicking Shirts.

Running Shirt Fit

How your shirts fit is somewhat of a personal choice. It depends on your body type, body shape, comfort level, and preference. When shopping for running clothes, brands typically express fit in two main ways: tightness around your body and the length of the hems and sleeves.

Manufacturers describe fits in the following ways, from tightest to loosest, skin-tight, slim-fitting, athletic fit, tailored fit, and relaxed fit.

If you have a larger midsection or trunk you may want to consider a running shirt with a longer hem to ensure it can reach your waistline. For some runners, a loose-fitting shirt can feel awkward and floppy when covered in sweat. If this is the case for you, try a closer cut shirt like athletic-fit shirt. Ultimately the fit is a personal preference, so try out a couple different fits to see which one makes you feel the most comfortable.

UV Protection Running Shirts

Many runners use sunscreen on their face, arms, and legs as a protection from UV rays. But putting sunscreen on the skin underneath your shirt may not be as obvious. The sun’s harmful UV rays can penetrate most fabrics, leaving the skin under your shirt exposed to sunburn. As you run, sweat, wash and repeat, your running shirts stretch and over time the fibers break down. This leaves small openings for the sun to reach your skin. If you run outside in the sun, consider shopping for running shirts with UPF sun protection. This will help to block the sun’s UV rays while your running.

Learn more about UPF clothing from

The American Cancer Society states, “A UPF of 30 – 49 is very good protection, while UPF of 50 or more is excellent protection.” Cotton shirts only offer a UPF of 5, and fabrics like polyester and wool have a UPF of 30.

Some shirts will offer UV protection by adding a chemical treatment that can give a shirt a UPF rating of 70+. As you are shopping for shirts, look for UV sun protection and UPF number on the tag or in the product description.

Seam Construction

The construction of your running shirt may seem like a small issue, but it can actually affect your comfort and your overall training performance. It boils down to seam stitching. There are two main kinds of seams in clothing, flat seams and overclocking seams.

Flat is when two pieces of fabric are bonded together at their edges, creating a low-profile seam where they meet. Overlocking seams are folded over one another. This creates a flap where the seams connect.

Most running shirts have a flat seam construction because it’s less likely to cause chaffing. If you are prone to chaffing around seams, examine the seams. Many of the best running shirts will avoid placing seams in high-friction areas such as under the arms and on the shoulders to avoid irritation and chaffing.

Quick Drying Running Shirts

Most running shirts on the market do a great job of wicking sweat off your body. The biggest difference between brands is how fast they dry.

When sweat wicks away from your body it’s absorbed into the fabric of your running shirt. That moisture is then transferred from the inside layer to the outer layer to dry in the wind and the sun. Shirts with longer drying time, stay wet longer. This increases the risk of chaffing and discomfort. As a rule of thumb, wool has a fast drying time, as does polyester and nylon. The thickness of the fabric may also affects drying time. Things to keep in mind when buying running shirts.

Odor Reduction Shirts

Let’s start with a little B.O. education. Believe it or not, sweat isn’t the sole reason for stank. The real stinky odor occurs when sweat and the bacteria that lives on your skin combine.

Moisture-wicking shirts pull the sweat away from your skin to the outer layer of fabric to dry. Bacteria can grow and get trapped in the tiny capillaries in the fabric. When that happens, you’ll begin to smell the odor.

When looking for odor resistant or odor blocking running shits, there’s a couple things to look for. Natural fibers tend to control odor naturally. Wool has a unique chemical makeup that blocks odor by trapping the bacteria within the fibers.

You can also look for running shirts with an antimicrobial treatment. If a brand does have an anti-odor feature they will be sure to let you know in the description.