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The Moisture-Wicking (and Non-Smelly) Running Shirts I Wear for Workouts

The author in his Columbia running shirt. Photo: Courtesy Steven John

If you’re going to run when it’s hot out, or even if you’re going to be sweating on a treadmill, you need to wear the right shirts. Any runner who’s logged miles in cotton shirts knows what I’m talking about — cotton tees soak fast and dry slow, they smell while wet, and if you work out in them enough times, that odor will never come out no matter how much you try to scrub it out.

But with the proper running shirt made of quickly evaporating materials, you’ll stay cool and dry (or as cool and dry as you possibly can). On the hottest days, they actually make more sense than going shirtless, not only keeping you cooler but protecting you from the sun, too. These are the five running shirts I rotate through all summer long and well into autumn.

My go-to running shirt

I own three Columbia Sportswear Titan Ultra T-shirts, and when it’s hot out, they are my go-to for neighborhood jogs or shorter trail runs. It’s got a soft, smooth feel that’s comfortable as soon as you put it on and remains that way even when you’re hot and sweaty a few miles down the way. Its 86 percent polyester, 14 percent elastane blend material isn’t clingy even as your body heats up and sweats, and an antimicrobial treatment reduces odor even on long runs. The shirt wicks plenty of sweat away and dries relatively fast, so that only a V-shaped area under my neck tends to actually saturate. This one’s my favorite.

The running shirt I wear on the hottest days

There’s one reason that my Rab Merino 120 is the best shirt for the hottest days: 37.5 technology, so called because it’s the supposed ideal human body temperature during exercise (37.5 degrees Celsius). Minerals from coconuts and volcanic ash are fused with the fabric blend of polyester and merino wool to draw moisture away from the body and absorb infrared body heat, which not only keeps you cooler but also speeds the drying of the garment. When I run wearing this shirt, I swear I feel cooler every time, and I don’t think it’s the power of suggestion. Note that the shirt also takes on a vaguely skunklike smell after long runs, but that’s what washing machines are for.

The running shirt I wear for extreme sun

It might seem counterintuitive to wear a long-sleeve shirt on a hot day, but for longer runs when the sun is beating down unmercifully, the added coverage the Baleaf Cool Running shirt offers my arms is always welcome. I also appreciate the extended hem of the back, which keeps my lower back protected against the sun, too. Because the shirt’s made from a lightweight polyester and spandex blend that wicks away sweat while maintaining breathability, it won’t keep you much warmer than a short sleeve T-shirt either. It’s also a solid thermal base layer for cold weather, too.

The running shirt I wear for sprints

To be honest, I don’t much like running in sleeveless shirts because they feel a bit funny, but there are times when I like to put on my Under Armour Threadborne Streaker Singlet for sprinting. When I’m doing training runs that involve sprints, I love the freedom of motion this tank affords. On longer runs, I prefer a shirt with more coverage that provides more wicking, but for running wind sprints I prefer trying to stay cool in the first place, and for that, less fabric is always better.

The running shirt I wear at night

RTY’s yellow High Visibility Enhanced Dynamic T-shirt is so bright, it’s almost hard to look at in daylight. Any runner caught in the headlights wearing this shirt is immediately visible to drivers from the bright color alone, but the front and back triangular reflectors don’t hurt, either. The all-polyester shirt doesn’t wick sweat or breathe as well the other shirts on the list, but it tends to be cooler after dark anyway, so I’ll gladly trade superlative thermal regulation for the safety that comes with high visibility. And if the neon yellow is too much for you, the company also has high-visibility shirts in red, white, and blue.

If you’re looking for a different style of running shirt, here are some highly reviewed options from Amazon, according to hyperenthusiastic runners.

Best running shirt with UPF protection

“My dermatologist strongly recommended that I start wearing UPF shirts. I was given a catalog and the prices were sky-high and beyond my budget, but I came here to Amazon and found this shirt. It fits well, looks good, and was more than half off the catalogue merchandise. I will definitely be buying more.”

Best quick-drying mesh running shirt

“For the price, you really can’t beat these if you only are going to wear them and get them all sweaty (gym use). Saved me more than $25 buying these, when it’s essentially the same thing as the higher-end brands. They came less smelly than the other brands, too; one wash and all the smell was gone. Dries in a few hours on the line.”

Best fitted running shirt

“Fit: Snug in the shoulders (I have a size 40 chest, wearing this shirt in size M) and a bit looser around the midsection. Snug around the upper arms and the sleeve ends mid-bicep. So aesthetically it’s a good, flattering fit for a man (and who among us doesn’t want to look good in the gym?). I bought this in both black and gray and am very happy with the look. The styling otherwise is trendy and comparable to more expensive tees from U.A., Lululemon, etc. I believe this is made possible by using very thin material. This may reduce durability but definitely aids cooling/wicking, along with the mesh panel vent along the spine. I also noticed some sleeve stitching coming loose after one wash, so I highly doubt this will last as long as a $50-plus tee, but at this price I think the tradeoff is worth it.”

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The Moisture-Wicking Running Shirts I Wear for Workouts