The right running top will keep you dry and free from chaffing while you train. Luckily there are so many innovative brands offering high-tech running tops, it’s hard to make a bad decision. Still, the perfect option is out there waiting for you. This guide will help you learn how to choose the best running top for your needs.
Style: There are three basic styles of running tops, differentiated by arm length: tank, short sleeve, and long sleeve
Tanks: Running tanks are typically made for women, though they can also be found for men. Tanks, especially those that are racerback style, provide the most flexibility for movement in the arms and the most airflow to the underarms—which can help keep things cool and dry during long or hot (or both) runs.
Short Sleeve: The most popular style of running top for men, technical short sleeve shirts provide flexibility and comfort when made from the right materials. Running-specific short sleeves are typically made from fabrics that will keep things nice and dry to prevent chaffing and discomfort, while still offering a high range of movement in the arms.
Long Sleeve: When the weather gets cooler, long sleeves keep the runner warm, whether in the form of a long sleeve baselayer, pullover (some come in half-zip style), or zip-up jacket. Layering long sleeves over shorter sleeved shirts or tanks can be a great way to maintain comfort during a long run, especially if the weather might change. Long sleeves are typically worn during regular exercise runs or training runs. Most runners prefer to keep clothing minimal during races to maximize speed.
Fabric: Running tops are typically composed of synthetic fibers, synthetic-cotton blends or cotton fibers. Fabric type generally dictates how well the top fits, how breathable it will be and how long it will hold up in the long run.
Synthetic Fibers: Running tops made of 100 percent polyester, like tech shirts, provide the highest amount of moisture-management for breathability, but styles with sleeves sacrifice best fit for women. While short and long sleeve tech shirts tend to fit men better than women, tanks made completely from synthetic fibers do fit the female torso well. However, synthetic blends (think polyester-elastic) can also provide great fit for women in sleeved styles without sacrificing sweat wicking capabilities, especially in pullovers or zip-up jackets.
Synthetic-Cotton Blends: Synthetic-cotton blends (like a polyester-cotton or nylon-cotton blend) tend to provide fantastic fit, while still having a good amount of sweat-wicking moisture management. These fabrics tend to be a little less breathable than completely synthetic blends and are more likely to show sweat.
Cotton Fibers: Shirts made of 100% cotton, although breathable, provide the least amount of moisture management. Though breathable, they are also highly absorbent and will soak up sweat, which can lead to chaffing and overall discomfort since the shirt will feel heavier. That said, cotton is soft to the touch and provides a comfortable fit for shorter-distance runs.
Seasonality: When running in colder or unpredictable weather, it’s best to layer running tops to maintain comfort through the entire run. Long sleeve baselayers under a short sleeve t‑shirt and jacket can keep the runner dry and warm in the winter. In the heat of summer, it’s best to wear as little as is comfortable on top to avoid overheating.
Reflectivity: Most running jackets and some t‑shirts and tanks have reflective strips on either the back or arms to help keep visibility as high as possible for running in the dark and around areas with high vehicle and bicycle traffic. Some materials like 3M’s Scotchlite can reflect light up to 160 Meters (a car can see a person wearing dark colors at 30 meters, giving over five times the distance for a car to recognize you on the road).