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The best running tops 2022: for roads, trails, hills and mountains

Best running tops: Helly Hansen Lifa Active Solen T-shirt
Many running T-shirts now boast solid environmental credentials, like Helly Hansen's Lifa Action Solen T (Image credit: Pat Kinsella)

The differences between the best running tops and ordinary T-shirts are stark. A premium running top is designed to have a barely-there feel, weighing as little as possible and giving you total freedom of movement. It also needs to wick sweat away from your body and allow it to evaporate fast. 

After all, we sweat around three to four liters during an hour's run. You wouldn't dream of carrying that much additional weight when faced with a hard 15k, so why would you wear a T-shirt that holds on to a load of it? The best running tops enable rapid evaporation, keeping you nimble on the trail.

So, a quality top is often the unsung hero in a runner's armoury, the praise instead going to their best trail running shoes or socks. Yet, having one of the best running tops is absolutely essential for your comfort and speed.

Brands are also working hard to make their running tops as sustainable as possible, creating T's that are made from recycled fabrics or even used coffee beans! It's widely reported that an espresso can help before a run, but this is surely taking it to the next level. With this in mind, we begin our round up of the best running tops with the most environmentally friendly choices.

For T-shirts suited to the female form, see our guide to the best women's running tops.

The best environmentally friendly running tops

best running tops: Patagonia Ridgeflow running T-shirt

(Image credit: Patagonia)
A completely recycled, extremely lightweight, highly ventilated top, perfect for summertime running on all sorts of terrain

Specifications

RRP: $55 (US) / £55 (UK)
Style: T-shirt
Weight: 105g/3.7oz
Sizes: XS–XL
Materials: 4-oz 100% recycled polyester
Colors: Plume grey / Lago blue / Cloudberry orange / Black
Compatibility: Trail and road running, racing and training

Reasons to buy

+
Ultra lightweight
+
Good ventilation
+
Wicks moisture excellently
+
Odour control
+
Entirely recycled and fair-trade made

Reasons to avoid

-
Expensive
-
Low protection against flora and sun
-
No rear reflective details

Impressively made with entirely recycled poly material, and fair-trade sewn in Sri Lanka, Patagonia’s Ridgeflow running T-shirt is ideal for tackling trails throughout the summertime and in warmer climates. The jacquard patterned T has a mesh design, which allows air to flow through the garment constantly while you’re running, and any sweat that does build up is wicked away and very quickly dries. Unsurprisingly, given its mesh construction, the T-shirt is extremely lightweight and very comfortable to wear, with flat seams throughout. 

It also features HeiQ odor control, which should prevent the build up of nasty smells. It won’t keep aggressive flora and fauna at bay, however, and the level of sun protection isn’t particularly high. Also, while the Patagonia logo is reflective, road runners going out amongst traffic after dark should be aware that there is no high-vis detailing on the back. Overall, though, this is an excellent, if slightly pricey, top for summer running. 

Read our full Patagonia Ridgeflow running T-shirt review

best running tops: Helly Hansen Lifa Action Solen T

(Image credit: Helly Hansen)
Very light, made with mostly recycled materials and providing great sun protection, this is a top T

Specifications

RRP: $55 (US) / £35 (UK)
Style: T-shirt
Weight: 150g/5.3oz
Sizes: S–XL
Materials: 60% recycled polyester, infused with used coffee grounds
Colors: Cloudberry / White / Ebony / Navy
Compatibility: Trail and road running, racing, training, hiking, climbing

Reasons to buy

+
Super lightweight
+
Quick drying
+
High sun protection
+
Made with partially recycled material

Reasons to avoid

-
No reflective details
-
No mesh (can run quite warm)
-
Baggy fit won’t suit everyone

This relaxed-fit active-wear T-shirt from Norwegian brand Helly Hansen is extremely lightweight and breathes well when worn during trail and road running outings. The Lifa Active poly material, which is 60% recycled, wicks sweat away beautifully, and the fabric has been infused with used coffee beans (a process HH call S.Café), which heightens the garment’s ability to protect the wearer from the harmful effects of the sun, giving the T-shirt a UPF sun protection rating of 50+. 

The coffee – which the brand claim will not wash out – also helps prevent the build up of bad odours caused by bacteria. While good for a range of outdoor pursuits, the lack of any reflective detail on the T-shirt is a shame for road runners who venture out after dark.

Read our full Helly Hansen Lifa Active Solen T-shirt review

The best running tops for racing

Best running tops: Inov-8 Base Elite Short Sleeve Base Layer

(Image credit: Inov-8)

Inov-8 Base Elite Short Sleeve Base Layer

Super-breathable, lightweight, performance-running t-shirt made from recycled technical polyester yarns

Specifications

RRP: $60 (US) / £45 (UK)
Style: T-shirt
Weight: 138g / 4.9oz
Sizes: XS-XL
Materials: Main body: Recycled polyester (100%); Airflow panels: Recycled polyester (88%) and elalstane (12%)
Colors: Red / Blue / Green
Compatibility: Trail and road running, racing and training

Reasons to buy

+
Lightweight 
+
Extremely breathable
+
Made from recycled materials
+
Reflective flourishes 
+
Anti-odor treatment

Reasons to avoid

-
Reflective details very small
-
Wind porous 
-
Quite expensive
-
Antimicrobial technology will only last so long

The inov-8 Elite Base Layer running tee is exactly what most people are looking for when hunting for an all-purpose trail training and racing top. It’s lightweight, boasts breathable mesh panels right across the back and under each arm, and has been treated with an anti-stink treatment to prevent the build-up of friend-losing aromas. 

Despite being synthetic the next-to-skin comfort levels are good, and we experienced no rubbing during testing, even wearing it straight out the packet for a 20-mile race. Being entirely synthetic, it dries super quickly, doesn’t get heavy when wet and still provides some level of thermal cover even when drenched – although the amount of mesh in the design does mean that this top is far from windproof, so it can be a bit breezy while you’re waiting on the start line (once you’re running, this turns into a real positive). 

While the design is quite loose, allowing for plenty of freedom of movement, and feels aimed more towards trail runners, there are reflective flourishes that will help drivers see you if you’re running on dark lanes and roads at night (although these are very small). And, of course, it’s made almost entirely with recycled polyester, which each top accounting for around eight 500ml PET bottles. 

It’s available in both long and short-sleeve versions, and the longie has thumb loops. 

Best running tops: Dynafit Ultra S-Tech Shirt

(Image credit: Dynafit)

Dynafit Ultra S-Tech Shirt

One of the best running t-shirts for anyone who wants to prioritize lightweight performance over everything else

Specifications

RRP: $50 (US) / £65 (UK)
Style: Short-sleeve T
Weight: 77g / 2.7oz
Sizes: S / M - L / XL
Materials: Polyamide (73%), polyester (21%), elastane (6%)
Colors: Nimbus / Petrol / Reef / Winter Moss
Compatibility: Trail running races

Reasons to buy

+
Extremely light
+
Race cut
+
Quick drying

Reasons to avoid

-
Limited sizing
-
Super-tight fit not for everyone

Pulling the Ultra S-Tech Trail Running t-shirt over your head instantly puts you in a racing frame of mind – the material mix and very close-fitting cut of this dynamic tee means it clings on tight to your torso, which is perfect if you’re in top fighting fitness form and want to avoid snagging on anything while running through the mountains and woods (but it leaves nowhere to hide if you’re carrying a few extra rations in the belly department). 

Despite the tightness, the material boasts four-way stretch, so it doesn’t feel restrictive when you’re hopping over rocks and tackling other trail obstacles. It’s unbelievably light, and the poly material barely takes on any moisture if you get caught out in the rain, so it won’t get any heavier no matter what the weather throws at you. 

The breathability levels are decent, with good mesh elements employed across the back and chest, and the design is seamless, which adds to comfort levels. On the downside, there is no recycled material content in this top, and it hasn’t been treated with an anti-pong/bacteria substance, so odors could accumulate after extended use. You need to be a bit careful how you wash it too – there’s not much room for it to get any tighter.

Best running tops: Montane Sabre T-shirt

(Image credit: Montane)

Montane Sabre t-shirt

A super-light, moisture-wicking base layer running top designed for speedy runners

Specifications

RRP: $45 (US) / £35 (UK)
Style: Short-sleeved T
Weight: 105g / 3.8oz
Sizes: XS-XL
Materials: Polyester (100%)
Colors: Flag Red / Narwhal Blue / Kelp Green
Compatibility: Trail and road running

Reasons to buy

+
Snug, stylish fit

Reasons to avoid

-
No recycled content 
-
No mesh

Designed to offer a dynamic race fit, the Sabre hugs your torso and upper arms tight, so there’s no excess material to flap around in the wind or get caught on brambles and bushes when you’re out on the trails. It doesn’t feel restrictive, however, as the material has a reasonable amount of stretch – more than expected for a 100 per cent polyester garment. Weighing in at just 105g / 3.8oz, the Sabre barely feels like you’re wearing anything when you out it on. 

Equally functional for on-road or off-road running adventures, the tee comes in three pleasing colors and boasts reflective flourishes on the side and back, so car lights should pick you out (although, as with many designs, these are not very big). The rounded, low-profile merrow-stitched seams don’t rub or irritate during wear, and the material wicks moisture away when you sweat (and barely takes on any extra weight when it’s wet). 

The Apex PK fabric features polygiene permanent odor control – we will report on how this holds up after extended use. Sadly, there doesn’t appear to be any recycled fabric in the material mix, which is a bit of a let down. 

Best running tops: Karpos Moved Evo Jersey with Polartec

(Image credit: Karpos)

Karpos Moved Evo Jersey with Polartec

This lightweight, fair-weather, mesh design is one of the best running t-shirts for tearing up the trails

Specifications

RRP: $78 (US) / £65 (UK)
Style: Short-sleeved T
Weight: 112g / 4oz
Sizes: S-3XL
Materials: Polartec Delta (synthetic)
Colors: Outer Space & Tangerine / Pond & Sulphur / Outer Space & Black / Flame Scarlet & Ombre Blue / Ombre Blue & Jasmine Green
Compatibility: Trail or road running in relatively warm conditions

Reasons to buy

+
Excellent breathability
+
Superb moisture wicking
+
Body-hugging design

Reasons to avoid

-
Very little thermal protection
-
No wind protection

Firmly a running top for people who run hot, or who run regularly in warm conditions. This collaborative product, made by Italian brand Karpos with Polartec Delta as the main component, is comprised almost entirely of a mesh material, which means it breaths like an absolute dream when you’re working up a sweat on the trails, and wicks moisture away from the skin like a champion, but can leave you shivering somewhat if you get caught out in less warm or more windy conditions. 

However, this is exactly how it’s been designed, and so long as you’re aware of this and wear it in appropriate scenarios, it works really well. 

It’s a real body hugger this one, which most faster runners will appreciate. There’s plenty of dynamic movement across the garment, but it can ride up a little bit under other layers or packs.  The fabric has been treated with polygiene to reduce the accumulation of pong, and we wore this top on sweaty runs all last summer, and can happily report that it remains relatively stink free. 

The best running tops for comfort

Best running tops: Salomon Outspeed Wool Seamless

(Image credit: Salomon)

Salomon Outspeed Wool Seamless

A majority-merino, versatile running top with plenty of natural attributes

Specifications

RRP: NA (US) / £70 (UK)
Style: Short-sleeved t-shirt
Weight: 109g / 3.8oz
Sizes: S-XL
Materials: Wool (59%), polyamide (41%)
Colors: Black / Fiery Red
Compatibility: Trail running, fast-packing, hiking, biking

Reasons to buy

+
Extremely comfortable
+
Lightweight
+
Breathable 
+
Natural anti-odor properties

Reasons to avoid

-
No rear-facing reflective details
-
Expensive
-
Needs to be cold washed

Salomon have used an interesting material mix with the Outspeed, making it with almost 60 per cent merino wool, which brings so much to the table in terms of breathability, moisture wicking, next-to-skin comfort, odor control and thermal capability. Merino, being a natural product that has worked well for sheep for millennia, knows how to perform in challenging outdoor conditions, and this makes it excellent for adventure garments. 

The problem with it is, if you’re not re-growing and replenishing it, like those canny sheep do, it tends to wear through quite fast – especially if you’re doing things like wearing running packs with abrasive harnesses and sticking safety pins through it with race numbers on. By including a hefty element of a tough man-made material like polyamide, Salomon are ensuring that you get a good bit more wear from this top – which, for the price, you will both want and expect. 

It still won’t last as long as an entirely synthetic top, but it’s a lot more environmentally friendly, and feels a whole lot nicer to wear. As a running top, the Outspeed is very comfortable, especially because it has a seamless design. The fit is trim, so there’s no material flapping about, and there’s a waist hem, to stop it riding up if you’re running with a pack. There is one reflective element, but it’s on the front, so it’s not the safest tee to run along dark lanes in. 

Best running tops: BAM Skua training t shirt

(Image credit: BAM)

BAM Skua Training T-shirt

A super-comfortable, bamboo-made running and active-wear tee for trail adventures

Specifications

RRP: $43 (US) / £34 (UK)
Style: Short-sleeved T
Weight: 160g / 5.6oz
Sizes: S-XXL
Materials: Bamboo viscose (68%), organic cotton (28%), elastane (4%)
Colors: Blue & White / Charcoal & White
Compatibility: Ideal for running, hiking and biking in dry weather

Reasons to buy

+
Exceptionally comfortable
+
Highly breathable
+
Brilliant odor control
+
High UPF protection (50+)

Reasons to avoid

-
Heavy when wet
-
Dries slowly
-
Thermal performance low when wet
-
No reflective safety details 

Bamboo-made garments are typically an absolute pleasure to wear next to the skin, and the Skua training tee is no exception. It feels luxuriously soft and forgiving while you’re running, and the material works hard to keep you comfortable, wicking away sweat and allowing your poor perspiring body to breath naturally. 

The design of this T is especially comfortable, with single-piece side panels built in to avoid underarm seams, which can cause issues. Bamboo is, of course, a natural and fast-growing material, which is far kinder to the environment than synthetics, and it deals well with bacteria so you don’t get the kind of bad odor build-up that can make man-made tops unwearable in polite company after a few extreme wears. 

We like the design of this top too, with its stylish but non-flashy colorways, crew neck and tidy cut (not too tight, not too baggy). On the downside, there are no reflective flourishes to help drivers see you when running in the dark, and if you get caught out in the rain while running in this top, it will get soaked through and weigh you down quite a bit – and then take a long time to dry. 

The material mix includes a big percentage of cotton, which is fine on sunny summer days, but offers no thermal properties whatsoever in wet and cold conditions (quite the opposite). As a fair-weather running, hiking or biking top, this is almost perfect, but if there’s a chance of rain – go with another option.  

The best running tops for value

Best running tops: Berghaus Short-Sleeve Crew

(Image credit: Berghaus)

Berghaus 24/7 Tech Tee Baselayer

A relatively basic, but highly reliable running t-shirt for everyday runs on any terrain

Specifications

RRP: £25 (UK)
Style: Short-sleeve T
Weight: 130g / 4.6oz
Sizes: S-3XL
Materials: Polyester (100%)
Colors: Red / Green
Compatibility: Trail and road running, hiking, biking

Reasons to buy

+
Good price
+
Odor-resistant fabric
+
Quick drying

Reasons to avoid

-
No recycled content
-
Synthetic feel
-
No reflective details

As we have come to expect from the British brand Berghaus, this running top is a no-nonsense garment that does exactly what you want it to do, for a very reasonable price. No bells, no whistles, just a functional tee that’s ideal for running trails or roads. 

It’s made with entirely synthetic poly materials, which means it’s light, won’t absorb water (and therefore gain weight) if you’re running in rain, wicks sweat away excellently, and will still provide a level of thermal protection, even when wet. It also dries very quickly. 

On the downside, such materials are not great for the planet – we’re pleased to see the fabric used is bluesign approved (although we’re not sure why, as there doesn’t appear to be any recycled content). The material has been given an anti-stink treatment, which is also a relief, since synthetics do tend to get a bit nose-wrinkly after a few good hard wears. 

We found the fit to be a bit on the baggy and generous side, with quite a lot of excess material. There are no reflective flashes on the top, which would have been nice safety addition for running on roads and lanes in the dark. 

The best running tops comparison table
Running topRRPWeightMaterialsCompatability
Patagonia Ridgeflow running T-shirt$55 (US) / £55 (UK)105g / 3.7oz100% recycled polyesterTrail and road running, racing and training
Helly Hansen Lifa Action Solen T$55 (US) / £35 (UK)150g / 5.3oz60% recycled polyester, infused with used coffee groundsTrail and road running, racing, training, hiking, climbing
Inov-8 Base Elite Short Sleeve Base Layer$60 (US) / £45 (UK)138g / 4.9ozMain body: Recycled polyester (100%); Airflow panels: Recycled polyester (88%) and elastane (12%)Trail and road running, racing and training
Dynafit Ultra S-Tech Shirt$50 (US) / £65 (UK)77g / 2.7ozPolyamide (73%), polyester (21%), elastane (6%)Trail running races
Montane Sabre t-shirt$45 (US) / £35 (UK)105g / 3.8ozPolyester (100%)Trail and road running
Karpos Moved Evo Jersey with Polartec$78 (US) / £65 (UK)112g / 4ozPolartec Delta (synthetic)Trail or road running in relatively warm conditions
Salomon Outspeed Wool Seamless£70 (UK)109g / 3.8ozWool (59%), polyamide (41%)Trail running, fast-packing, hiking, biking
BAM Skua Training T-shirt$43 (US) / £34 (UK)160g / 5.6ozBamboo viscose (68%), organic cotton (28%), elastane (4%)Ideal for running, hiking and biking in dry weather
Berghaus 24/7 Tech Tee Baselayer £25 (UK)130g / 4.6ozPolyester (100%)Trail and road running, hiking, biking

How we tested the best running tops

We tested the best running t-shirts during road-running sessions, trail-scampering adventures and races in a range of climatic conditions, both with and without secondary layers and hydration packs.

What to look for when buying the best running tops

Everyone’s running needs are a little bit different, but here are some things to consider when buying a top to make sure you get the the best running t-shirt to suit your needs.

Best running tops

If you’re regularly running in a desert, natural materials are best and friendlier to the environment (Image credit: Getty Images)

Materials

Probably the single biggest factor in any of the best running tops is what material to go for. The choice is typically between synthetic (which will be lightweight, quick-drying, good in wet weather and quite cheap, but are terrible for the environment, can be more abrasive to wear, and often start to pong) and a natural material, like merino wool or bamboo – both of which offer far better comfort, breathability and thermal performance levels than synthetics, and tend to stay nicer smelling. However, they do tend to cost a bit more and don’t last as long. A lot of brands use a mixture of synthetics and natural material, and this can offer the best of all worlds.

Design

A running top is a running top, right? Well, yes and no – not all tees are made equal. There are some obvious considerations to take into account, such as whether you want long or short sleeves, but other things to look at are mesh inclusions in sweaty areas (under the arms and across the back), which will really help with breathability, and extended back panels or good quality waist hems, which prevent tops riding up when you’re wearing a hydration pack

Fit

Some are looking for something baggy in the best running tops, others like their gear to be as streamlined and performance-focussed  as possible – it’s a completely subjective choice. Obviously, if a top is too loose, you may end up getting it snagged during trail runs.

Odor control

Synthetic tops in particular are prone to accumulating nasty sweat smells (which boils down to bacteria building up), so it’s worth seeking out tees that have been treated to deal with this.

Best running tops

Is your running top green? In both senses of the word (Image credit: Getty Images)

Sustainability

Natural materials like merino wool and bamboo have a much lower carbon footprint, and are far less damaging to the environment all round than synthetics, not least because garments made with natural fibers are biodegradable at the end of their useful life, while synthetics t-shirts will be hanging out with the cockroaches long after the rest of us have become extinct. Increasingly, brands are using recycled plastic to make garments such as running tops – this isn’t perfect, because micro-plastics can be released during washing, but it is a step in the right direction. 

Safety features

Whether you run on trail or road, or a mixture, it’s likely you will find yourself jogging along a dark street or lane at some point, and a couple of reflective flourishes on the back and arms of your top can make the difference between a driver seeing you or not. These are always good inclusions. 

Price

The price of seemingly quite similar tops can vary an awful lot. If a top seems expensive, drill down into what it’s really offering you – including elements such as anti-odor treatments that should improve the usable lifespan of the garment – and make an informed decision. 

Writer, editor and enthusiast of anything involving boots, bikes, boats, beers and bruises, Pat has spent 20 years pursuing adventure stories. En route he’s canoed Canada’s Yukon River, climbed Mont Blanc and Kilimanjaro, skied and mountain biked through the Norwegian Alps, run an ultra across the roof of Mauritius, and set short-lived records for trail-running Australia’s highest peaks and New Zealand’s Great Walks. He’s authored walking guides to Devon (opens in new tab) and Dorset (opens in new tab), and once wrote a whole book about Toilets (opens in new tab) for Lonely Planet. Follow Pat’s escapades here (opens in new tab).

With contributions from