Amazon HOLIDAY SALE: Save 25% off shoe purchases with code 25OFFSHOES
Running Warehouse: Great prices on closeout shoes! View men's and women's selections.

Shirt or No Shirt When Running in Heat?

Shirt or no shirt while runningLast winter I wrote a post on a topic of intense debate among runners: shorts or no shorts over winter running tights? It wound up being one of the most popular posts on this site, and it became clear that we runners have strong opinions about fashion etiquette!

Now that the weather has warmed up and my tights have been packed away for the summer (though one can never be sure winter is really over in May in New Hampshire), I thought I’d tackle another pressing question about running fashion. This one was spurred by a question my friend Adam posted last week over in the Running Shoe Geeks group on Facebook (join us!). Adam’s question: Do you prefer a shirt or no shirt when running long in the heat?

Rather than leave all of the fun on Facebook, I thought I’d pose the same question here along with my own answer.

Personally, there are a number of factors that determine if/when I would run shirtless. These include:

1. My Current Body Weight. I’m a bit ashamed to admit it, but as someone who has been on the heavier side of average weight on more than a few occasions in my life, I tend to be very self-conscious of my body. Since becoming a runner there have been a few times when my weight has dipped down in the mid to low 160’s, and on those occasions I have felt comfortable enough in my own skin to run without a shirt. And I loved it! One of my most memorable runs was a fairly long run on a hot day where all I had on was a pair of shorts and a pair of Vibram Fivefingers (double running fashion faux pas?). I remember loving the simplicity of that run. I jumped in the Merrimack River on the way home, and didn’t have to worry about my shoes being wet or having to carry a soaked shirt home with me. Given a choice, I’d prefer to run without a shirt if my self-image and running conditions allow it.

2. Tree Cover. New Hampshire is a pretty heavily forested state, and even on my road runs there is usually ample tree cover on at least one side of the road. I would not go shirtless if I planned to be out for a long time in the direct sun. I’ve been burned enough in the past to know that this is not a wise idea, and I’d rather not slather my entire torso in sunscreen before every run. Sometimes a shirt is both safer and easier.

3. Heat. Several of the commenters on Facebook pointed out that a light shirt will actually keep you cooler on a really hot day than no shirt at all. One pointed out that nobody goes shirtless at Badwater. I haven’t experimented enough to have an opinion on this, but it’s something I’d be interested to play around with. My biggest issue with wearing a shirt in heat is nipple chafe (a fun topic for another day!). That can be dealt with with lube or bandaids, but lube can stain and bandaid application is one more hassle I’d rather not deal with on a regular basis.

4. Hydration Packs. If I plan to wear a pack to carry water on a hot day, I wear a shirt. I’m prone to chafing, and thus a bit afraid to risk wearing a hydration pack without a layer of fabric between the pack and my skin. Anyone have experience with this?

So, will I go shirtless this summer? Maybe, I still have some extra pounds to drop from last winter before I’m willing to expose my pasty white northern skin for all the world to see!

How about you, shirt or no shirt on hot runs?

Running Warehouse: Great prices on closeout shoes! View men's and women's selections.
Amazon.com: 25% or more off clearance running shoes - click here to view current selection.
Trivllage: Save 18% on run, swim, and cycle gear. Use Code: RBTri18.

Recent Posts By Category: Running Shoe Reviews | Running Gear Reviews | Running Science

About Peter Larson

This post was authored by Peter Larson. Pete is a recovering academic who currently works as an exercise physiologist, running coach, and writer. He's also a father of three and a fanatical runner with a bit of a shoe obsession. In addition to writing and editing this site, he is co-author of the book Tread Lightly, and writes a personal blog called The Blogologist. Follow Pete on Twitter, Facebook, Google+, and via email.

Comments

  1. Put me in the shirtless camp. The vast majority of my runs are early AM. Here in south Louisiana, it’s typically very humid early in the morning. It’s nice to get out of the bed, put on shorts and shoes and just take off. There’s no soaked shirt to deal with afterwards, and I’ll often jump right into the pool to cool off.

    Summer is my favorite time of year to run, even if it’s more difficult. I love to sweat and feel like I’m accomplishing something, since the runs are harder in the heat.

  2. John Jackson says:

    I’ve shed my shirt only once, on an incredibly hot day at the beach when I was finishing up a run. I was a blue, sleeveless top and was willing to take any measure to cool down. That had more to do with poor preparation and not enough water than anything. Most times, I prefer to keep a shirt on.

  3. I’ve got the same hang up as your #1. I’ve lost about 20 lbs since last sept so, while I’m still a bit jiggly, it’s not as much of an issue now. However, if I forget to apply some nipple tape the shirt comes off regardless of whether my belly is hanging over or not. I generally run in the woods so I’m not worried about sun. I also find that I sweat well above the normal level (when out with people who tell me they sweat a lot I’ll be soaked and they’ll have a bit of a glisten on their skin) and no kind of tech shirt helps. A shirt is just as likely to wick away a torrential rain as my sweat…

  4. For me, running shirtless has been a slippery slope. Once you start its hard to stop haha. I generally enjoy running in high temps 80+, 90+ no matter. I got into the habit of shedding my shirt during the first mile and using it to dry the sweat on my face. I have done that so much that running WITH a shirt feels unnatural??? During the winter months when I am confined to the treadmill inside my home I still find myself yearning to go topless and do for the most part. Maybe I just haven’t ever owned proper ‘upper’ running attire that is comfortable enough. My normal spring/summer route is along a fairly busy highway. Reactions range from a friendly honk and wave to a lunatic passenger yelling “put a shirt on!”. Either way, I just own it and keep on running!

    • Yes, it is indeed a slippery slope, and I myself have gone from critic to proponent. My blog is my way of doing penance for my former recalcitrance.

    • Yes, it is indeed a slippery slope, and I myself have gone from critic to proponent. My blog is my way of doing penance for my former recalcitrance.

      My gym still bans shirtlessness (luckily for my shirtless sisters, running bras are fine for some reason), which is a pain when I cannot run outdoors, barechested and free.

  5. Unshod Ashish says:

    Have you found the little/round bandaids? They’re easy to apply and get the job done.

  6. re nipple chafing – I found that by sizing down and wearing smaller/snugger t-shirts practically eliminated chafing for me. I’m guessing it’s because the shirt had a lot less room to bounce & jiggle. YMMV

  7. I think the thing I love most about running is the simplicity and somehow ditching a shirt feels so much more simple and free. There’s something about the fact that all you need is a pair of shorts and a pair of shoes (though some would argue you don’t need the latter).

  8. Shade, spring, or fall I prefer shirtless Summer with the sun high in the sky and temperatures over 90 degrees I prefer a shirt. The sun down here in Texas can cook a fella. When I grew up in Oregon I always preferred shirtless when it was hot but normally had a lot of shade to run in.

  9. Corey S says:

    I prefer shirtless whenever possible. If I’m going to be out for less than 1.5-2 hours, so as to only need a handheld, I definitely go shirtless. I usually also double down and pair no-shirt with the short, split running shorts I wear anytime the temps are >35F.

    I do have the benefit of E.Asian genes which allow for the development of a really good base tan, so burning in the Midwest sun is a rare concern.

    I’m far from the “ideal” runner build, but I really could care less.

  10. This morning I completed 13 miles since it rained all day yesterday and I had to postpone my run. The conditions were humid, and I took out a Nathan hydration pack with a two liter bladder. I didn’t need much fluid, oddly enough, but I would not run this distance (it was an easy run and took just under two hours) without a shirt.

    I didn’t notice any hot spots or chafing as I tightened the straps periodically to keep the vest locked down across my chest, shoulders, and back.

    In terms of a shirt, I would say that direct exposure to the sun is a significant factor. I live north of Atlanta and runs in June-August can be brutal between the heat and humidity. If I can get out very early or late in the evening between these months, I may opt for no shirt. I’ve always used a tech shirt, but I’d like to try some singlets to see how this feels for some bit of skin covering.

    As to self-image, I’d say this also factors into the equation. I also visit the gym 5-6 days a week and lift weights and do core work. My abs aren’t ripped by any means, but I’d say my core is better than some. I believe men and women alike are more likely to go with a full shirt versus no shirt for men and sport tops or tanks with an exposed core area for women based on the perception of self-image.

  11. Maybe it goes back to my high school/college days but I’m 100% on the shirtless side. Once the temp is above 60, my shirt is off. I remember a college teammate who refused to wear a shirt between May 1st and October 1st. And this was in northwest Wisconsin. Things can get cold in May and early September.

    If I were in the desert southwest, I might look at things differently. Here in Wisconsin, I’ll remain shirtless.

  12. From what I’ve seen, I would say most guys who run without shirts are proud of their physique and are trying to show it off, so you won’t usually see too many moobs. I did it once when I was in my 20s. Now that I’m old, I would feel kinda dumb without a shirt.

  13. David Byczek says:

    I enjoy running in the summer mostly shirtless after I’ve lost most of my winter coat(fat). I always wear a hat to keep sun off my face. For under 2 hr run I put sunscreen before. On 2+ hr runs I will put sunscreen on before and about once an hr after that. I also take a shirt with me on longer runs to use as a sweat rag or put on towards the end of the run if I feel like I’m starting to burn. There’s just this feeling of ‘being free’ with no shirt on. I usually run on trails with water fountains bit if I need a hydration pack, the shirt goes on no chaffing occurs.

  14. I live in southern Arizona at ~4000 ft. With no tree cover and less atmosphere to filter the sun’s rays I definitely don’t go shirtless (not to mention being a pasty-white guy). In the summers, when temps can be upwards of 110, you don’t really run during the day (unless you’re training for Badwater). Early morning and late evening are much more suitable times.

    But, even without the heat I wouldn’t run shirtless. Body image has a lot to do with it.

  15. The last time I ran shirtless, some dude in kentucky went on the news and said he saw bigfoot. Then there was the time at Wind Cave national park, one of the bison thought I was his buddy and licked me…. so no, never again.

  16. I wear a moisture-wicking shirt or a singlet when running on hot days, not really out of modesty, but to cut down on the risk of sunburn, heat exhaustion, and dehydration. I find a moisture-wicking lightweight shirt/singlet more comfortable than the greasy and/or sticky feeling of extra amounts of high-SPF sunscreen. (I’m also a little wary of the high amounts of oxybenzone in sunscreen… sure, studies of the oxybenzone in sunscreen getting through human skin have proven inconclusive thus far, but why risk it when a perfectly workable alternative exists?)

    The weather in my locale is also rather fickle especially during the spring and early/late summer, so it pays to have a top on in case of sudden precipitation or unexpected drops in temperature.

    I don’t have a problem with other runners choosing to run shirtless, though. (Of course, whether one chooses to run shirtless should probably partially depend on a place’s customs/practices. I’ve run in places where anyone—male or female—frolicking around half-naked in public could potentially get in trouble with the locals or certain authorities, so it’s only sensible to be mindful of local societal mores.)

  17. leeapeea says:

    In NH it’s not just the heat/sun that’s a factor, but the bugs. Nothing is grosser than wiping 10 dead (hopefully) black flies off the muck of sweat and sunscreen that coats my skin in the summer.

    Above all, modesty is a factor for me. When I run on trails where I’m unlikely to encounter someone, I will occasionally remove my shirt (sports bra stays in place, for legal and comfort purposes). I haven’t found it to be that much less warm when I’ve done it, so the desire dropped off.

    Unlike the shorts/tights debate, I don’t feel as offended if anyone, man or woman, in any shape, decides to run with a top off. I may make my silent judgements (hey, I’m only human), but then move along with my day. I’d prefer to see an out-of-shape topless guy than a guy with blood weeping down his shirt from chafe though…. poor dudes… :-/

  18. I try to run shirtless when I can, but usually there aren’t that many days here in Scotland where it’s warm enough to consider it.

    Since we don’t get reliable amounts of sunshine I feel that going shirtless helps provide an extra kick of Vitamin D to help my immune system.

    I do tend to run with a shirt and wear it when running through population centres and then if it it’s warm enough take my top off and tie it round my waste. Once back in busier areas I’ll done my shirt. Not that I care what too much about my own modesty, but I don’t want to offend others. My kids especially are embarrassed about the idea that there dad goes topless!

    When I ran a local rural marathon back in March it was sunny and warm enough that chaffing was a problem so I stripped down to my waist and enjoyed the sun. I got a comment about being “hardcore” on arriving at a water station. For the finishing straight I suited back up, again for the benefit of others, running without a top here in Scotland is still seen as a bit out there.

  19. Greg Lamb says:

    Pretty much thr same. Am carrying a few extra kilos but have no problem with losing the shirt. On the sunny days here in Oz i’ll always wear it halfway till i get to the point on my usual lunchtime run where there are a lot of trees to run under.

    Am also interested in the nipple chaf debate

  20. Michael says:

    Other than the beach or pool, I don’t think it’s OK for a guy not to wear a shirt for any other activity…regardless of their physique.

  21. I live near Houston. It’s a sweatfest 8+ months out of the year down here. I don’t begrudge anyone running shirtless or ladies in a jog bra/shorts with less-than-perfect-physiques. If you’re out working hard, do whatever makes you comfortable. My one rule: Please, no cracks. If the cracks are covered, run on my friends!

    • Mike Williams says:

      Fort Worth suburbs here. I don’t wear a shirt if it’s over about 75. I run in the morning in the dreaded 1″ inseam shorts. It’s just too hot for anything else.

  22. Lindsay Knake says:

    I recall a run on a hot day last summer when I was in a sports bra and shorts. A little old lady looked scandalized and offended.

    But on those really hot days, especially if there is a breeze, I do love a run without a T-shirt. It’s freeing and makes me feel a bit faster than I am.

  23. I would run shirtless if only I would look good. :P It’s still unchecked in my bucket list.

  24. I log the first day of the year when I can go shirtless, and log the first day when I have to put one on. Here in the bootheal of new mexico, I get about 6 shirtless months and I love them…..now if I could just get away with running without shorts….

  25. As far as sweating is concerned i prefer having an big logo black singlet.As singlets are loose are made from cotton so an sense of easinesss comes with it.

  26. I am a shirt guy. I have found that Salomon S-Lab & Exo Motion are the best. I simply do not chafe. Sure they are very close fitting and my body is not as tight and rewarding as I’d like it to be, but I’ll take comfort over looks after 3 hours of running any day.

  27. I always wear a shirt because (1) I’m a clydesdale (230lbs currently, and that’s after dropping 40 over the last few years) and nobody wants to see that, (2) I’m white as a ghost and more than 30 minutes in the sun will make me burn, and (3) I sweat so much that I prefer the feel of a shirt wicking the sweat away instead of it running down my chest/back/stomach.

    The only time I exercise without a shirt is when doing some intense plyometrics, the sweaty shirt falls in my face and it’s uncomfortable to inhale my own sweat! And that’s usually indoors…

  28. Shirtless when possible Not only cooler and simpler but greater exposure to sunlight and its healthful vitamin D benefits

  29. charlie says:

    Training now for another IronMan. This one will most likely be a hot run. trust me, I have tried all the so called “cooling shirts.” I have also looked at the independent data. No, they simply dont’ work. In training, I am making myself run long runs in 85 degree temps. I can tell you from numerous times experimenting, even the lightest material shirt is still not as cooling as simply going shirtless. Halfway though a ten miler, if I pull the shirt, I can tell. I would say is like dripping temp 5 degrees. Problem: All official IM races you must wear a top. Best solution I found: Get the absolute thinest, lightest wicking tank. then put a zipper in in down to belly button. Running with this shirt with zip all way down is the closest i have come to shirtless alternative.

  30. I’m in the shirtless camp. Neither am I as buff as I used to be, but if my appearance offends you, don’t look!

  31. I am in the shirtless camp as well. As others have said once you feel the freedom and comfort of running this way there is no going back. I have been doing it since high school and most guys in my area run that way when temps are above about 60 – not meant to offend anyone but its just so much more comfortable!

  32. i am not a runner but if i had to choose i would wear a sleeveless shirt or tank top when running if it got wet i might take it off after a while.

Speak Your Mind

*