The Running Apparel You Need for Spring

We tracked down and tested the newest fabrics, cuts, and running clothing to help you pick the perfect gear to get back outside.

Photo: Alexi Rosenfeld/ Getty Images

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Running in the spring is a special beast. It’s not cold enough to go all out with everything you own, and it’s not hot enough to go minimal. To make things worse, conditions can change abruptly on spring runs, going from hot to cold, dry to wet, and still to blustery. The good news is that running clothing is becoming much more advanced and versatile than it was even five years ago. That thin windbreaker is also now breathable and somehow waterproof at the same time. Advances in fabric tech, more brands entering the market, and better, more effective blends of material mean you don’t need a ton of layers, and you won’t be miserable if you get it wrong. 

While there is an art to the science of spring running gear selection (don’t worry, more on that here), there are a few key pieces of new clothing that we’ve tracked down and tested to give you an edge when the weather turns weird. We purposefully went out in rain showers, on cold, windy days, and even left on clothing as the temperatures rose to see how this new stuff stands up to all conditions. Read here for more on how we test our gear, but if you want the good stuff, scroll down for this year’s hottest (well, not “hottest”…) spring running clothing.

Our list of spring running clothing below reflects a range of new clothes from a variety of brands and pricepoints, and while we don’t cover every single piece of new running clothing offered this season, our reviewers sifted through many lines from many brands to identify products that are new and interesting. Where indicated “men” or “women,” we actually tested that gender’s version, but there’s a good chance that everything except the fit would be accurate for the opposite gender. In rating the clothing below, we’ve used a scale from one to five, with one being the lowest score in that category and five being the highest, based off the following criteria:

Warmth On a scale from one to five, this looks at how warm the garment would keep you in typical 50- to 60-degree spring weather. If you need something that works for a lower temperature, either augment the garment with another layer or look for something with a high rating on this scale.
Breathability On a scale of one to five, we evaluate how breathable this garment is on a moderately paced run on a 60-degree day. If you are a heavy sweater, look for something on the higher end of this rating.
Versatility More of a subjective rating from one to five that evaluates how many different types of conditions this garment would be appropriate for—various temperatures, rain, or wind, even casual wear. 
Fit Rather than a one to five scale here, we look at whether the garment is slim, athletic, or relaxed fit and if there are any notable deviations from the brand’s size chart.


Best Spring Shorts For: Drying Quickly

Tracksmith Twilight Men’s 5” Shorts

Warmth 2/5
Breathability 5/5
Versatility 4/5
Fit Wide, loose legs, “tight” 5-inch inseam

As admitted fans of Tracksmith shorts in particular, this pair of lightweight shorts is an excellent choice for spring because the airy fabric not only keeps you cool, but it dries very quickly if you get caught in unexpected rain. The material is crazy soft—a nearly see-through mesh poly/elastane blend that somehow feels like Merino (it’s not, however).

The liner is a poly/spandex blend with a similarly light weight and slightly high cut. We really loved the presence of three separate pockets sewn into the liner that kept fuel and other small items inside your shorts, between your body and the waistband—as opposed to hanging on the outside where it could bounce or disappear. The only little detail missing from the feature list on these shorts would be an outer zippered pocket that Tracksmith often has on its shorts for super super important things like keys.

And while the Twilight is not a new short for Tracksmith, the introduction of a 5-inch version is notable because it is a much better choice for those of us with…thicc-er thighs (to put it not-so-delicately). Finally, at $58 the Twilight 5” is Tracksmith’s “budget” offering, so you can buy more than one pair without taking out a second mortgage.

Best Spring Shirt For: Getting Out The Door On Brisk Days

Icebreaker Cool-Lite Merino Sphere Short Sleeve Crewe T-Shirt

Warmth 4/5
Breathability 4/5
Versatility 3/5
Fit Regular body, drop tail hem, snug arms

Though Icebreaker touts this shirt as “an ultralight T-shirt for warm-weather,” we actually found this 137g Merino/Tencel/Nylon blend to be moderately warm as a running shirt goes. This is a great shirt for sunny-but-windy days, and when combined with a pair of light arm warmers does a great job at keeping off the chill as you start while wicking well as you start to heat up.

Unlike some Merino shirts, we actually found the moderate thickness to be a blessing, as it didn’t soak with sweat and cling to our bodies as much as super-super lightweight Merino sometimes can. While this won’t be a winner for days over 70 degrees F or wearing solo on soaking wet runs (under a light rain jacket, however, would be fantastic), this is that kill-the-chill shortsleeve that wins in shoulder seasons.

Also note that the fit around the body is not super slim, but the sleeves are fairly tights, and the presence of a drop-tail hem is a fantastic detail for anyone who might use this while hiking or running with a backpack.

Best Spring Long Sleeve Shirt For: Long Runs

Voormi Long Sleeve Merino Tech Tee

Warmth 4/5
Breathability 4/5
Versatility 3/5
Fit Slim, form fitting

Voormi is one of the rare clothing companies that can still boast that their products are made in the U.S., and while they might be known more for their outdoorwear (hike, snow, hunt, etc.), they also make some excellent Merino blend pieces that work great for spring and fall running.

Though slightly unconventional-feeling for a piece of runwear, this tech tee is actually one of the best long run shirts we’ve tried. It’s slightly thicker than most Merino pieces we’ve tried, and while you’re not moving it actually heats up a ton. But once you start running in it, the airflow gets through the loose weave and does a shockingly good job of keeping the garment breathable and moisture wicking. Even thinner Merino shirts can sometimes get overloaded by sweat, but this piece never did.

While we wouldn’t recommend this shirt for super fast days—unless you wore it only as a warm-up or cool-down piece—it’s the perfect blend of warmth and evaporation for medium- to slow-paced long runs in the upper 40s to 50s. Wear it underneath any garment for any activity and get ready to cook.

Best Spring Jacket For: Heavy Rain To Bright Sun Transition Runs

Hoka GORE-TEX Shakedry Run Jacket

Warmth 4/5
Breathability 3/5
Versatility 4/5
Fit Relaxed, extra space for a pack, long drop tail

Price notwithstanding, this is hands-down the most water repellant light/spring jacket we’ve tried, but despite the sealed seams and feel of the material, this jacket still breathes very well, even when showers end. On first look, this jacket appears to be a watertight dry bag that would steam up in seconds, but it’s not the case at all. The side zips are a great way to ventilate heat—and allow access to chest-mounted hydration if you run with that on long runs. Even though the jacket felt stiff, loud, and “crinkly” at first, it’s surprisingly quiet and doesn’t raise a ruckus as you run.

The hood has a rear cinch to tighten down in heavy, chilly downpours, but we found that in spring showers a cinched hood made things heat up pretty quickly. Though the lack of any pockets at all is a little bit of a bummer, and no bungee along the bottom hem or velcro for loosening/tightening sleeves might feel missing, this is a wildly lightweight jacket that packs down quite small and weighs next to nothing. If Hoka is reading, I would love one small, single, double-zippered pocket that could double-up as a pouch for storage, but the more zippers and entry points, the more chances for water entry and gained grams.

Be aware that the fit of this jacket is very very relaxed, and it wouldn’t be a good choice for biking unless you order at least one size down. The large size lends itself to good freedom of movement and space for an 8L pack beneath, but it can billow a bit in heavy wind. One more ask for Hoka: Make this jacket in a color that doesn’t exactly match the pavement for better runner visibility on nasty days.

Best Spring Socks For: Warm Cushioning

Swiftwick Maxus Zero Tab

Warmth 4/5
Breathability 4/5
Versatility 4/5
Fit True-to-size, moderate cushioning

Though we’ve been fans of Swiftwick’s complex design patterns for years, this pair of pillowy-soft cushioned socks is probably their nail-on-the-head moment. Using a mix of super lightweight and nearly compressive fabric and weave on the top with a very soft forefoot and heel, the Maxus blends light weight and cushion in a perfect package.

We love how cool our feet stayed (and how quickly they dried when they got wet), but we also loved the amount of cushion for long runs or days with a lot of heavy pounding downhills. In the past some of Swiftwick’s socks have been so thin that they don’t provide much protection or wear out quickly, or they’re been so thick that they affect the fit of our shoes and heat up our feet.

In fact, before closely looking at the materials on this pair of socks, we were sure that there was a Merino blend (we love Merino for spring/fall), given the level of softness and wicking capabilities. While we were slightly disappointed by the more “simple” poly/nylon/spandex blend, it’s also slightly encouraging as we’ve had mixed experiences with durability on Merino socks.

Best Spring Shorts For: Staying Dry And Storing Gear

Oiselle Toolbelt Roga Shorts

Warmth 3/5
Breathability 4/5
Versatility 5/5
Fit Wide Leg

Oiselle is known as a brand for women, by women, and their clothing reflects that attitude in every little detail. As such, you’ll see unique and always-changing prints and styles like in these Toolbelt Roga Shorts that come in seven eye-catching colors with a novel 360-degree pocket and more.

For those of you unfamiliar with the term “Roga,” these shorts combine the flattering features and familiar fit of yoga shorts and pants with the freedom and breathability that runners require. This pair takes it a step further with four mesh pockets around the waistband for small items like gels, hand sanitizer, or small personal protection and a rear zip pocket for more delicate essentials like keys.

The fit of these shorts is compressive around the waistband (though there is no drawstring) and baggier around the legs. The good news is that the 4-inch length and the loose fitting around the legs gives a good dose of modesty without any constriction that longer shorts might sometimes give while running. In terms of breathability, this pair also hits top marks with a thin, quick-drying material, but don’t expect any heat retention on super chilly days.

Best Spring Shirt For: Warm Spring Days And Quicker Runs

Nathan Women’s Rise Short Sleeve Shirt

Warmth 3/5
Breathability 5/5
Versatility 3/5
Fit Slim

While Nathan has been in the hydration game for some time, it’s a newcomer to the run apparel market, having only launched its first collection in early March. Yet what it’s lacking in apparel history, it’s most definitely making up for with intelligently-designed and superior quality clothing. The Rise Short Sleeve Shirt feels superb—incredibly lightweight, breathable, and form-fitting without being uncomfortable. Awarding it top marks for fit was a no-brainer—and ditto when it comes to breathability.

The back of the shirt has what Nathan calls a “chimney” (a ventilated back panel that allows heat to escape) and having tested this shirt during many sweaty treadmill workouts lately, we can attest to the efficacy. Otherwise, the fit is slim/athletic and runs true to the size chart. It boasts a super soft feel on your skin and has flatlock seams throughout so there’s zero chance of rubbing or chafing. There are reflective details on the right side of the shirt, which is great if you’re running after dark.

When it comes to warmth, this shirt is fine for warmer spring runs, but it won’t keep the wind out nor will it protect you from the rain. It is remarkably lightweight and is designed with performance and speed in mind—this is a PR-day shirt, not an all-weather shirt. If you’re looking for something that you can pull on and perform in on a fine spring day when there are no questions about the weather, then this is the choice.
– Emma-Kate Lidbury

Best Spring Long Sleeve Shirt For: Mild Mornings

Under Armour UA RUSH Long Sleeve

Warmth 4/5
Breathability 2/5
Versatility 4/5
Fit Close silhouette, good length

While Under Armour is usually known for its high-end fabrics and unique, techy paneling on their clothing, the key to this piece is fit. Using a fairly basic polyester blend, this shirt has a close, flattering silhouette due to well thought-out stitching with a dropped, shaped hem for coverage while running. Though the fit is close and fitted, it’s not super tight, like many women’s long sleeve running shirts.

The shirt itself is surprisingly on the warmer side—given its thin feel—thanks to what Under Armour says is a “mineral-infused fabric that absorbs and reflects energy back.” Whether there’s energy being absorbed and emitted or not, the end result of this well-cut shirt is something that could be worn either casually or on a mild morning spring run. Breathability is decent, but for sure expect to work up a good sweat.

Finally, in a time where specialized running clothing seems to be getting more and more expensive, it’s good to see that Under Armour still makes some budget pieces that perform on the higher technical level while still fitting like something nearly twice the price.

Best Spring Jacket For: Warmth And Water/Windproofing

Jack Wolfskin JWP Shell

Warmth 5/5
Breathability 2/5
Versatility 2/5
Fit Relaxed, spacious

Known for their recycled products and sustainable ethos, most triathletes might not recognize the name Jack Wolfskin, but the German outerwear brand has been making tough and eco-conscious gear for 30 years. For those who train in chillier and wetter areas during the spring (midwest and northeast, I’m looking at you), this heavier waterproof and windproof mesh-lined shell is a great choice.

Using a mixture of recycled and eco-friendly materials, the JWP shell feels and looks more like a basic windbreaker, but this jacket actually protects entirely from all elements. While it’s certainly heavier than lightweight running shells, this is a good choice if you need to layer up—given the roomy cut—and keeping out wind and rain is crucial.

Our testers found it to get quite hot above 50 degrees and despite its claims of breathability, it can bake a little bit if not vented once you warm up. But when it comes to sealing out the wet and cold, the high-neck zipper and cinchable hood along with velcro-sealed cuffs definitely keep you toasty. Even if this serves as a warmup or cooldown jacket for nasty days, it can also easily be used for other outdoor activities like hiking and backpacking, given it’s packable size.

Best Spring Sportsbra For: Coverage And Stashing Stuff

Tracksmith Allston Bra

Warmth 4/5
Breathability 4/5
Versatility 4/5
Fit Long, very form-fitting

Boasting more coverage than most sportsbras, the Allston Bra uses excellent fabric to give support, but doesn’t feel overly tight. Despite the greater amount of fabric running down towards the stomach, the lightweight nylon/elastane blend still wicks very well. A second layer of internal blended “Inverno” fabric still allows for a soft feel on the inside.

The clearly running-specific bra also has a unique internal pocket for small items like fuel or keys, and because of the sleek fit helps keep everything in place. Ideally paired with the similarly-constructed Allston tights, this is another quick-drying garment that will shine in spring when conditions change and heat isn’t a huge concern.

Best Spring Socks For: Lightweight Fabric And Compression

SockGuy SGX

Warmth 2/5
Breathability 5/5
Versatility 2/5
Fit Not overly compressive

Though advertised as a compression garment, these socks are very light on compression for those who don’t like a big squeeze. On the other hand, the compressive fabric and weave make for a very very lightweight sock that breathes well on hot days and sheds water quickly when things get wet.

In terms of fit, most compressive socks can be tough to get on, and wearers will sometimes size up for comfort, but with this pair, our testers could have sized down. While they weren’t sagging off our feet, they were about as tight as most thin, un-compressive socks. Because they’re still extremely thin, this is a great choice for those who get hot, sweaty feet, and the mesh allows feet to breathe and prevent moisture. This is not a pair of socks for early spring runs where temperatures are low, however.

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