The Best Running Shirts

When most runners talk about running gear, shoes, fueling items and hydration packs will come to mind. Rarely will runners discuss clothing such as shirts and shorts, however these items are just as important. Companies will invest a lot of resources behind clothing design and finding the best materials for technical running clothing. Cotton for example, is one of the worst fabrics a runner can wear. Cotton absorbs moisture and takes extremely long to dry, meaning once you sweat you stay wet. This causes issues in both hot and cool weather. Choosing clothing that can wick moisture away from your skin while evaporating that moisture is key: enter polyester.

We focused our test on shirts made with a polyester blend, the gold standard of technical fabrics.  Polyester is essentially plastic cloth and is the most common fabric found in technical clothing. It’s lightweight, allows airflow through the material (which helps with moisture removal and evaporation from the skin) and is highly durable, perfect for high output activates such as running. Companies will often times blend two or three materials (For example wool, polypropylene or spandex maybe woven into the clothing) into an article of clothing to take advantage of the benefits of other fabrics. This blending of materials, along with thoughtful and functional design is the art of technical clothing design.

Running Shirts Test Results


In this test we looked at some of the top long sleeve running tees. We focused our field on leading companies that specialize in multiple high output activities, not just running, such as climbing, hiking and skiing. The long sleeve tops were judged on six criteria: Comfort, Fit, Wicking Ability, Features and Durability. The test was conducted over several months on both road runs and in the mountains surrounding Santa Barbara, CA. Temperatures varied between 45 and 60. Since fit can be subjective we tried to standardize our review by comparing the fit on a 5’8” 140-pound athletic build.

After testing each long sleeve tee, two emerged as clear leaders across all six criteria: The Arc’Teryx Motus Crew and Smartwool PhD Ultra Light. Out of these two the Smartwool PhD Ultra Light Crew narrowly emerged as the Best In Class. It’s ability to wick moisture away from the skin while offering more protection from cold temps helped it earn the top spot.  The Arc’Teryx Motus Crew matched the Smartwool PhD Ultra Light Crew in nearly every criteria, but fell short in it’s ability to provide warmth giving it a close second.

Bottom spot went to the North Face Ambition Long Sleeve Tee. While it was the most durable and affordable of all the tops, it’s wicking ability and tight fit scored low enough to earn the bottom spot. The Patagonia Capilene Lightweight Crew easily took home best layer of the test.

Review Year
Best in Class
Overall Rating
Name Overall Rating Ratings The Good The Bad
Smartwool Men’s PhD Ultra Light Long Sleeve Shirt
Best in Class
Comfort 7
Fit 7
Wicking Ability 9
Warmth 8
Features 6
Durability 8

Great fit

Incredibly Soft



Wool blend may irritate skin

Slow to dry

Arc’Teryx Motus Crew Neck Shirt Long Sleeve
Comfort 7
Fit 9
Wicking Ability 9
Warmth 5
Features 7
Durability 6

Outstanding moisture control

Excellent mobility

Versatile as base layer or standalone

High Price

Loses stretch over time

Outdoor Research Ignitor Long Sleeve Tee
Comfort 9
Fit 8
Wicking Ability 6
Warmth 6
Features 7
Durability 7

Super comfortable against skin

Excellent fit for athletic build


Odor Protection

Stitching showed signs of pulling

Noticeable hem seam design

Drying time longer than others

The North Face Ambition Long Sleeve
Comfort 6
Fit 6
Wicking Ability 5
Warmth 8
Features 7
Durability 9

Mesh ventilation in hot zones

Suitable as standalone for colder temps

High durability

Rather heavy

Thick internal seams

Short length of body & sleeves

Patagonia Capilene Lightweight Crew
Comfort 6
Fit 7
Wicking Ability 9
Warmth 4
Features 5
Durability 6

Doubles as base layer

Elastic thumb loops

Fast to dry

Very little warmth control

Fabric unravels easily

Smartwool Men’s PhD Ultra Light Long Sleeve Shirt

Due to its wool blend, the Smartwool PhD Ultra Light Long Sleeve may feel more like a ski layer. But don’t be fooled, this top offers better wicking than most of the polyester blends tested. As one of the thicker and warmer tops of the test, the Ultra Light Long Sleeve retains heat better than any other, but also takes the longest to dry out too.

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The North Face Ambition Long Sleeve

The North Face Ambition Long Sleeve Tee is very durable but doesn’t quite have the same wicking and drying ability as some of the other tops tested. It is however the only top to have mesh ventilation strategically placed in high heat areas, allowing for excellent breathability in the back and underarms.

Read the Full Review Shop Now at Outdoor Gear Exchange

Patagonia Capilene Lightweight Crew

The Patagonia Capilene Lightweight Crew is the thinnest and lightest top tested and can be used as a standalone running top for warmer days to provide some protection from the sun. It does not provide much standalone warmth on cooler days during which it is best used as a baselayer.

Read the Full Review Shop Now at Berg's Ski and Snowboard Shop

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