It’s getting hot out there, and whether or not you’ll be out enjoying the fireworks this fourth (or a sadder virtual version), it’s time to start busting out those thinner summer tops that got pushed to the bottom of the drawer. With a big influx of really nice fabrics from big and small brands, this is the year to invest in a go-to shirt for your long or super hard run sessions. While we covered some of the best summer essentials for triathletes in our column a few weeks ago, as well as running shorts in May, this week we’re going to focus solely on running tops for both men and women with the help of Podium Runner’s editor-in-chief Jonathan Beverly and writer Molly Hanson. But before we look at the best six running shirts for the summer, a few quick tips:
Light’s Great, But Evaporation Is Better
A good running shirt will feel light when you put it on and not cause you to overheat when the pace starts to pick up, but the best running shirts this summer are the ones that breathe AND evaporate sweat off your body. We talked about this a few weeks ago in the summer essentials column, but it bears repeating here: If your shirt is soaked with sweat early on, you won’t be able to cool properly, and you’ll likely end up with sweat in your shorts—which can cause all sorts of “undercarriage issues” and maybe even wet feet depending on the environment. For instance, I’ve worn some lightweight Merino wool blend shirts that feel fantastic on my skin, but they don’t let water evaporate fast enough and cause a big sweaty mess if it’s too hot out.
Fit Matters (and Costs)
Lots of the best running shirts this summer will have more panels of fabric in an effort to more closely map your body’s contours. In other words, when you see the price tag on some of the shirts we love, before you ragecomment on social media, remember that while the materials might cost a little more, the difference in cost is likely due to how difficult it is to actually work with those materials AND arrange them in multiple smaller panels to hug your body better. Oftentimes that flattering shirt you have is flattering because it’s not just two sheets of cloth sewn together with holes for tubes of arm fabric.
Get That “Good Shirt” For Big/Hard Days
Sometimes we need a little “material motivation” to get out the door—now more than ever. Doing some retail therapy isn’t the worst idea, and with something as simple as a great shirt, your dollars-per-use breakeven is actually quite good. Though it may seem like a lot to spend on a simple shirt, I can speak for myself in knowing that that go-to shirt you’ve been saving for the weekend is a miracle worker for getting out the door when it’s already hot and muggy and you’re running late into the early afternoon hours. While it may be more fun to spend a bunch of money on a set of race wheels, a good shirt is something you’ll use all of the time, so it’s money well spent—even if you just invest in one good one.
Now that you’re fired up about nice tops (and you should be!), here are some picks for Jonathan and Molly’s best running shirts for the summer:
Arc’Teryx Cormac Comp Shirt
Testers were crazy about the fit and feel of this shirt and said that the different density of panels across the slightly-stretchy fabric helped a ton with breathability. (Remember? Breathability: That’s important.) “Panels on the side and back are even more breathable than the primary fabric, which provides sun protection, never feels clingy, dries quickly, and doesn’t smell,” Beverly said. “It works so well we often continued wearing this stylish tee for hours after a run.”
Though pricey, this shirt has some embedded “natural tech” that Salomon is known for harnessing. Inside the fabric, Salomon has impregnated the shirt with tiny active particles of volcanic sand. The idea here is that Salomon claims the sand reacts to your sweat and helps wick and breathe. While we weren’t able to dig in on a microscopic level, testers liked the results: “We can confirm that the shirt kept us cool and comfortable when working hard, and dried almost instantly,” Beverly said. “We liked it so much we dug it out of the dirty clothes basket to wear on a run more than once.”
You know it’s an exclusive/pricey list when a Tracksmith piece is the cheapest shirt in the roundup. But of course, there’s nothing cheap about this silky-soft Italian mesh fabric with a bit of stretch. Though a little thicker than the others on the list, testers felt that the heavier fabric might mean more longevity—even though it still did a great job of breaking, wicking, and evaporating. “Mostly, it made us feel comfortable, whether cranking out miles or hanging out with friends (in small groups, of course),” Beverly said.
Rabbit Criss Cross Tank Top
Testers loved the combination of everyday style, simplicity, and superlight fabric on this tank. “Knitted with gossamer sheer polyester fabric, this top kept us cool the entire way through a mid-day summer long run,” said Hanson. The Criss Cross boasts a slim cut, but not so tight that air wouldn’t get through, and it kept testers cool without much clinging.
Athleta Ultimate Crop in SuperSonic A-C
Using a higher cut than the other tank on this list, the swoop neck helped make this a supportive and flattering piece that made testers feel fast. The hemline of the Ultimate ends just above the wearer’s waistline to provide ventilation plus coverage and stayed loose enough on testers’ stomachs to avoid any clinging.”This was great for hot and humid workout days in which you can’t afford an inch of extra fabric on you,” Hanson said.
Patagonia Women’s Ridge Flow Shirt
One of two “outdoor-focused” tops on our list, this sleeved shirt is light and super soft feeling. “Its comfortable semi-loose fit and keyhole back design maximize air ventilation while you’re running and keeps you feeling cool while you hit the trails,” Hanson said, and added that the “window” in the back of the shirt gives it a modern, elegant detail.