Choosing The Perfect Running Top: The Ultimate Guide

As a beginner, I thought any shirt will do for running. But as I’ve gained experience and run longer distances, I noticed that certain kinds of shirts do better than others. So I’ve gathered what I’ve observed running in different types of tops and added a little bit of research to help you find the perfect running top.

In general, a good running top is something that is breathable, moisture-wicking, light, and quick-drying. It should not be too tight that it restricts motion, and not too loose that it interferes with your stride.

Ahead, we will dive deeper into the fabric, fit, and color of a good running top. We will also look at the 3 types of top to choose from. In the end, I will recommend my favorite running top so you can go ahead and skip the decision-making process.

The Fabric

If you’re a beginner, it’s easy to make the mistake of running with your casual cotton tops. Although cotton is soft and comfortable for casual wear, you should never wear them for running.

Cotton absorbs water as you sweat. It becomes heavy and unbreathable making it a nightmare for a long-distance run, especially in hot temperatures.

Another problem that could arise from cotton tops is chafing. When cotton absorbs water it becomes rough which increases the friction between the shirt and your skin. This could lead to chafing which is something you want to avoid when running.

In choosing the fabric of your running clothes, think of breathable, moisture-wicking fabrics such as polyester and nylon. Some tops even have technical fabrics designed to increase breathability in certain areas of the body.

This is a type of fabric that is good for running.

Shirts like these are moisture-wicking, fast-drying, and are breathable. They prevent chafing, keep you fresh and comfortable through your run.

The Fit

One more thing that’s as equally as important as the fabric of your top is the fit of your top.

As a general rule, you should aim for a reasonable tight-fit top so there will be less excess fabric that could get in the way of your run. But make it loose enough that it doesn’t restrict your arm swing or cause any discomfort. 

A running shirt that fits well looks like this.

A good rule of thumb is that it should fit just like any other casual clothes you’re comfortable with. Too tight and it might lead to chafing and limitation of motion; too loose and it will bounce around and get in the way of your stride.

You should avoid clothes that feel tight in the arm and underarm, and have short sleeves. Think of “muscle-fit” shirts. Based on my personal experience, shirts that fit like this often chafe the medial part of my arm because it rubs against the cloth in the side of the ribs.

This is a photo of a running shirt that’s too tight. Notice there are lots of wrinkles in the armpit area. That’s a sign that the shirt is too small.

You should also avoid shirts that are too tight in the neck area. They may not cause any chafing or have any physical hindrance to your runs but during long runs, little discomforts like that can get in your way mentally.

When wearing a sleeveless top, make sure the seams are not too close in your armpits. The seams at the sides should be at least 4 inches below your armpits so it doesn’t rub with the side of your arms during arm swing. Some tank tops have seams high up your armpits and may cause some problems.

This is an example of a good sleeveless top for running. There’s a lot of space for my arms to swing without causing friction with the seams of the shirt.

Before running in your running top, make sure you try them on. Check for any spots where friction might occur. Try on different sizes to make sure you’re getting the one that fits you best.

The Color

Helping you choose the color of your shirt might seem irrelevant, but there are actually a few pointers in choosing a shirt color for running.

  • When it’s hot, avoid black – Black might seem a popular choice, but black actually absorbs more heat than any other color out there. So when it’s scourging hot outside, avoid wearing black.
  • Wear light colors when it’s dark – Make yourself visible for other drivers that may be having a hard time seeing you on the side of the road by wearing a light-colored shirt. Wearing something that pops like neon green, pink, and yellow is also ideal.
  • White and gray match with everything – If you don’t want to be “that guy” who runs in random flashy colors, wear a white or gray top. It matches with whatever the color of your shorts or shoes.

What Type Of Top Should I Wear?

Aside from the fabric, fit, and color, you will also decide on whether you should wear a sleeveless, t-shirt, long sleeves, or compression. Although most of the choices will come down to your personal preference, I’ll give you a few things to note regarding the type of tops you might want to wear.

  • Sleeveless – They are the most breathable and free among all types of running tops. They are the best option when you’re running on a hot summer day. It is the most common type of top worn during races.
  • T-shirt – They offer style and breathability. Shirts are the most common type of top worn by recreational runners. It’s a type of top you can wear when you run and stop by for coffee.
  • Long sleeves – During cold temperatures, long sleeves are a great option to provide more warmth during a run.
  • Compression – Although wearing compression shorts can give you a boost in performance, wearing compression tops isn’t something I’d recommend. Based on my personal experience, running with compression tops feels hot and uncomfortable during long hot runs. It sorts of traps the heat inside your body and restricts the expansion of your lungs (at least that’s how I feel). It might work in cold weather, but on regular days, I think I’d just go with the first two.

In choosing which type to wear, match your clothes to the environment and weather. It’ll be foolish to wear a long sleeve on a summer day and a sleeveless shirt in winter.

Speaking of winter, if you’re wondering how you can stay warm when running in cold weather, check out this article that I made where I gave 13 tips on exactly that.

My Favorite Running Shirt

My favorite shirt that I use for running is the Under Armour Tech 2.0. In my opinion, it does everything we’ve talked about slightly better than everything else that I’ve tried. It’s moisture-wicking, quick-drying, incredibly breathable, and feels better than all the shirts I’ve used in my runs.

I only have 1 pair so I’m not wearing it as often as I’d like, but if there’s one shirt that I’d buy again when it comes time to add more workout shirts to my wardrobe, I’d definitely add more of these. You can check the price on Amazon.

For women, I couldn’t find the women’s version of the exact same shirt, but here’s something very similar to the shirt I mentioned above.

Do you really have to buy a running shirt? No, you don’t. Most athletic shirts that fit the criteria we’ve mentioned above will do well for running. In fact, most of the shirts I use for running are the free shirts given to me every time I sign up for a race. But among all of the shirts I’ve worn, this one’s my favorite.

Nicho Mauricio

Running wasn't always my favorite sport. I was a CrossFit athlete and I loved every bit of it. But since the pandemic began, I was forced to stay away from the gym and train at home instead. Things got boring. That's when I decided to trail run with my friends. I instantly got hooked. So I started training and researching all things running. As a beginner, I want to buy only the best running gear and do only the best practices. This blog is where I share what I've learned in my journey and my experiences as a runner.

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