How We Tested Running Shirts

By:
Andy Wellman
Senior Review Editor
OutdoorGearLab

Last Updated:
Friday
April 13, 2018
The spring of 2018 marks the second time that we have tested and reviewed running shirts on OutdoorGearLab. Since most of the shirts that we reviewed the first go-around are no longer available, we selected and purchased 10 all new models for this review. The majority of our testing took place in the field, that is, while running. Since we did most of our testing in late winter and early spring, we took these shirts to warmer desert climates where the temperatures and weather more closely approximated summer in other areas of the country. While these shirts work great for either road or trail running, we did most of our testing on trails, because that is where we enjoy running more. Most of the testing took place in and around Zion National Park in Utah, Death Valley National Park in California, on trails near Las Vegas, NV, and on trails near Grand Junction, CO. In order to spend more time in the shirts we also wore them during our everyday lives, camping, climbing, skiing, and on hikes and short runs in the San Juan Mountains of CO.

Testing the Dri-Power Core Performance from Russell - out on a fantastic ridgeline trail in Death Valley National Park. This shirt is supremely affordable and presents good value for the budget conscious.
Testing the Dri-Power Core Performance from Russell - out on a fantastic ridgeline trail in Death Valley National Park. This shirt is supremely affordable and presents good value for the budget conscious.

While our extensive field testing gave us very good ideas about the merits and problems with each individual shirt, we also found it necessary to devise more controlled tests for some metrics, where shirts could easily be compared side-by-side. The details of how we tested for each individual metric are described below.

Free running (google it!) on the dirt hills created long ago in Death Valley National Park  while wearing the Agile SS Tee.
Free running (google it!) on the dirt hills created long ago in Death Valley National Park, while wearing the Agile SS Tee.

Comfort


Testing for comfort was largely done in the field while out running. We made special note of what kind of stitching was used in all the seams, what sort of fabric weave was used, and how the fit affected our comfort levels, and then paid special attention to these factors while running. We also had multiple people try on each shirt, one after the other, to help verify our opinions about comfort.

Here are the inside seams of the Dri-Power Core Performance Tee  which are sewn in an overlock pattern. You can see one ridge of material sticking up  while the other one is sewn with the same method  but then pinned flat to the fabric. Surprisingly  these seams didn't rub as much as some other flat locked seams.
Here are the inside seams of the Dri-Power Core Performance Tee, which are sewn in an overlock pattern. You can see one ridge of material sticking up, while the other one is sewn with the same method, but then pinned flat to the fabric. Surprisingly, these seams didn't rub as much as some other flat locked seams.

Breathability


This is a difficult metric to accurately assess for. Our assessments began with field testing on runs in warm temperatures, paying attention and keeping notes about our experiences. We paid special attention to the effects of shirts with mesh panels versus those with more solid materials, and the locations of those panels. Based on the accumulation of experiences and notes, we came up with scores for breathability for each product.

This is the inside of the shirt  showing what the mapped on mesh looks like. As you can see  despite having many different perforations on the upper body  fabric still effectively covers the openings  so not as much direct air flow as you would expect manages to make it through to the skin.
This is the inside of the shirt, showing what the mapped on mesh looks like. As you can see, despite having many different perforations on the upper body, fabric still effectively covers the openings, so not as much direct air flow as you would expect manages to make it through to the skin.

Drying Speed


This metric, which constitutes half of the story of how well a shirt aids in evaporative cooling, was much easier to test. We simply dunked every shirt in water until it was dripping wet, then hung them all up to dry next to each other. While we opened windows and turned on the ceiling fan to allow some airflow, there was no sunlight or direct wind on the shirts. We then checked the shirts every 30 minutes until they were dry, arranging them and grading for drying speed.

Although it wasn't one of our grading metrics  we still weighed each shirt before using them to compare in our specs table. Weight  which essentially just means amount of fabric  was a pretty decent indicator of drying speed as well.
Although it wasn't one of our grading metrics, we still weighed each shirt before using them to compare in our specs table. Weight, which essentially just means amount of fabric, was a pretty decent indicator of drying speed as well.

Versatility


When assessing for versatility, we tried to determine how effective the shirt would be for the maximum amount of other uses. Much of this testing took place by using the shirts for other activities such as hiking, climbing, and skiing. We wore every shirt on cold days under warmth layers to see how well they fit as a layer. We then looked at perceived durability, since we didn't have time to test all these shirts for the long haul, as well as fit, and how they affected the versatility of the shirt.

Checking out the Narrows of Zion Canyon on a rest day hike while wearing the Motus Crew.
Checking out the Narrows of Zion Canyon on a rest day hike while wearing the Motus Crew.

Features


To test features, we first identified what features a shirt had, and then set about testing them. While it was not possible to test whether a shirt's UPF rating was working or not (we never got sunburned, FYI), it was possible to test features like the media loop on the New Balance Ice 2.0. We also tested the odor controlling properties of some shirts by comparing them after they had sat in the laundry basket for up to a week.

It sure is hard to beat vistas like this one  which is why we love trail running. Here wearing the PhD Ultra Light.
It sure is hard to beat vistas like this one, which is why we love trail running. Here wearing the PhD Ultra Light.