Whether you're working out or just hanging around, feeling hot and sweaty puts a (literal) damper on any warm day. But the best cooling T-shirts use moisture-wicking fabrics to keep you cool, dry, and moving comfortably.
How moisture-wicking fabrics work
Moisture-wicking fabrics work by pulling moisture away from your skin and moving it to the outer layer of the fabric. While other materials trap sweat close to your body and make you feel hot and sticky, wicking fabrics allow your sweat to actually evaporate, cooling you off in the process.
Choosing a fabric
Polyester is a synthetic fabric that is commonly used for workout gear because it’s lightweight, durable, moisture-wicking, and budget-friendly. One drawback of polyester, however, is that it tends to retain odors.
If funky odor is a concern for you, consider Merino wool instead, which is both naturally moisture-wicking and odor-resistant. Merino wool is made of fine wool fibers that feel soft to the touch (unlike other types of wool that are known for being scratchy). It's naturally breathable and temperature-regulating, too, meaning it's insulating in the cold and ventilating in the heat. Merino tends to be more expensive and delicate than polyester, though.
Make sure you steer clear of breathable but non-wicking cotton or non-breathable, non-wicking cotton spandex — when you’re sweaty, the last thing you want is a fabric that soaks up moisture and holds onto it.
Other features to look for
Design features like mesh panels are also helpful for keeping you cool, as they allow air to circulate through your shirt. And while it has no impact on keeping you cool, you may also want to opt for reflective details if you'll be running or cycling in your shirt, to make yourself more visible to drivers. Some shirts even come with the ability to help protect you from the sun's rays, which is especially helpful for outdoor wear.
Whether you want a polyester shirt to keep you cool during daily workouts or a Merino tee to wear as a base layer while hiking, the picks below are designed to keep you dry and comfortable no matter how much you sweat.
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The basic pick
For a cooling workout tee, look no further than the adidas Men's Own the Run Tee. It's made of wicking polyester (a portion of which is recycled) to keep you dry and cool, even when you sweat. Aside from the fabric, it also has a couple of important details that make it perfect for working out. If you look closely, you'll spot barely visible mesh panels (also made of polyester) on the back and down the sides of the tee. The panels allow even more air to circulate through the shirt to cool you down. Plus, the fabric offers 360 degrees of reflectivity to keep you visible and safe in low-light conditions. This pick is available in 10 different colors.
One reviewer says: “Really like wearing this for my runs. Light weight, breathes well and dries as fast or faster as anything else I've worn. I like the fit as well.”
- Available sizes: Men's X-Small to XX-Large
Like the men's version, this adidas Women's Own the Run Tee is made from polyester that wicks sweat and features mesh paneling that increases air circulation. On top of that, 360-degree reflectivity helps keep you visible while you work out. The tapered hem of the shirt is a bit longer in the back to provide additional coverage, and it's available in 14 colors.
One reviewer says: “Love it, keeps me cool while running. Very nice material. Best for warmer climes.”
- Available sizes: Women's XX-Small to 4X
The budget pick
This two-pack of Hanes Men's Short Sleeve Cool DRI Tees makes for an affordable way to stay cool. Available as a pack of two, these crew neck shirts are made of performance polyester that's designed to pull sweat away from your skin, and their Cool DRI technology speeds up the drying process when they do get wet. They boast an excellent Ultraviolet Protection Factor (UPF) rating of 50+, which means the fabric blocks 98% of the sun's UV rays. They also have double-stitching to reinforce the sleeves and hem, plus a comfortable tag-free design.
This pick comes in 15 different colors ranging from navy to white to neon green, as well as a long sleeve version.
One reviewer says: “Great shirts for the price. I've worn them for workouts and they definitely help keep me cool and dry.”
- Available sizes: Men's Small to XXX-Large
This Hanes Sport Women's Cool DRI Performance V-Neck Tee is very similar to the men's version, except that it doesn't come as a two-pack. It's made of 100% polyester that's moisture-wicking and fast-drying, and it has a UPF 50+ rating to block the sun's most harmful rays. According to the manufacturer, this V-neck tee adds FreshIQ technology to its arsenal, which inhibits the growth of odor-causing bacteria and keeps you smelling fresh (or at least fresher) for longer.
It has a tag-free design with double-needle stitching, and it's available in seven different colors.
One reviewer says: “For the price you can't beat the fit, comfort and coolness! Great in the Florida heat!”
- Available sizes: Women's Small to XXX-Large
If you want to give wool a shot, you can't go wrong with the ultralight Woolly Clothing Men's Merino Wool V-Neck Tee Shirt. It's made of 100% Merino wool, which is naturally stretchy and boasts anti-microbial (read: odor-resisting) and moisture-wicking properties. Available in eight colors, this shirt has a tagless neckline and flat-lock seams to reduce chafing as you move.
It may look like a regular old V-neck tee from afar, but its breathability and insulating fabric make it an all-around safe bet for warm weather, cold weather, wet weather, and everything in between.
One reviewer says: “I sweat a lot and the smell isn't there like synthetics. Plus these don't hold the sweat, cools while active, warm while still, a great combo.”
- Available sizes: Men's Small to XX-Large
Like the men's wool shirt from the same brand, this Woolly Clothing Co. Women's Merino Wool Flex Crew Neck Tee Shirt is made of 100% Merino wool. It's a great lightweight T-shirt for everyday wear, no matter what you're up to — whether that's running errands, working out, or lounging at home. Plus, it'll be comfortable to wear all year long, in both warm and cool weather.
The Merino shirt is available in eight different colors and designs, including three options with nature-inspired, line-drawn illustrations.
One reviewer says: “I love this shirt, [it’s] breathable, lightweight and fits nicely!”
- Available sizes: Women's X-Small to X-Large