Photos by Michael Grey

No matter the season, weather, or environment, one survival principle is constant: Keep yourself and your kit dry. Why? Dampness can kill. Consider: Anyone who’s ever exercised knows a sweat-drenched cotton shirt doesn’t exactly dry quickly — especially if it’s left in a gym bag. Aside from building a nice “stanky” collection of jock-itch inducing bacteria, a wet cotton shirt can cause hypothermia in even mild weather thanks to the convective cooling action of the wet clothing against your skin.

So what can you do? Invest in moisture-wicking apparel, of course. Modern fabrics have made staying dry much easier than in the past. They’re now developed from synthetics (like polyester) and from complex blends of synthetics and natural fibers (such as wool). Then there are fabrics that are treated with advanced moisture-evaporating coatings.

In this guide, we examine and experiment with 10 different styles of moisture-wicking shirts. Because different manufacturers have their own recipes for quick-drying material, we ran a series of tests to see which materials are most effective at shedding water. Now kick back in your comfy, dry clothes while we run a scientifically titillating, but somehow slightly sad wet T-shirt contest.

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Testing Methods

To test how each shirt performs, we put them through two (somewhat scientific) tests. For the first test, which we call The Absorption Test, we weighed each shirt dry and then reweighed them after they were dunked in a bucket of water for 10 seconds. This gives us an indication of how absorbent each shirt is. Each shirt will soak in a different amount of moisture depending on the type of fabric it’s made of. Since we don’t like our shirts to feel like soaking sponges, we’re looking for shirts that retain the least moisture.

The Absorption Test

Shirt (Size) Dry Weight Wet Weight Weight of Retained Moisture
5.11 Tactical Slipstream Covert Shirt (L) 8.6 oz. 1 lb. +7.4 oz.
Arc’teryx Captive Polo SS Men’s (M) 6.9 oz. 1 lb. 3.1 oz. +12.2 oz.
Beyond Clothing A1 Power Wool Crew (L) 7.8 oz. 1 lb. 5.6 oz. +13.8 oz.
Champion Double Dry T-Shirt (L) 5.0 oz. 13.9 oz. +8.9 oz.
Kühl Stealth (L) 5.4 oz. 11.3 oz. +5.9 oz.
Nike Elite Basketball T-Shirt (L) 5.5 oz. 14.6 oz. +9.1 oz.
Reebok Twist Vector Short Sleeve Shirt (L) 6.9 oz. 1 lb. 4.2 oz. +13.3 oz.
Smartwool NTS Micro 150 Short Sleeve Henley (M) 5.0 oz. 12.1 oz. +7.1 oz.
The North Face Reactor Short-Sleeve V-Neck (L) 5.1 oz. 14.2 oz. +9.1 oz.
Under Armor UA Tech V-Neck (M) 4.7 oz. 14.1 oz. +9.4 oz.

Our results indicate that the Kühl Stealth absorbed only 5.9 ounces of moisture in our dunk test, by far the least of all the shirts in this guide. The other extreme is Beyond Clothing’s A1 Power Wool Crew, which soaked up almost its own weight in water. But also redeeming itself, the A1 Power Wool Crew was the fastest to displace the 13.8 ounces of moisture it retained by drying almost 50 percent of its water weight in just 30 minutes. Plus, the wicking properties of wool are accelerated when worn, bringing us to our second test.

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The Performance Test

Here, we performed the same physical activity while wearing each shirt to see how each one felt after 30 minutes of exertion. In this case, the physical activity was a mixture of outdoor exercises, including jogging and bicycle riding. This was done because body heat actually helps some materials — such as those that incorporate wool — wick away moisture faster.

Besides, unlike some of our competitors (who will remain nameless), we don’t just regurgitate ad copy; we get hands-on with everything we review in RECOIL OFFGRID — how else would we know if a product can perform or not. Plus, how comfortable a shirt feels matters to us, too. So, which shirt felt the best? Read the results in the following buyer’s guide.

Whether you need to keep your body dry from excessive perspiration or find yourself under an unexpected summer downpour, a shirt that is especially constructed to wick away moisture can prove to be a definite must-have.

5.11 Tactical Slipstream Covert Shirt

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Color
Bronze

Material
Nylon/Polyester

Features
Gusseted side panels for superior movement, RAPIDraw placket provides concealed-carry-weapon (CCW) capability, hidden utility pockets, angled chest pockets, and dual pen pockets

MSRP
$60

URL
www.511tactical.com

Notes
The Slipstream Covert’s look is fit for everything from a backyard barbecue to a night out at the movies. Its unassuming style is perfect for its real mission. This shirt has two CCW-capable inner pockets that sit just inside of both sides of the chest and are easily accessed through the front snap buttons and Velcro enclosures on the inside. When worn for our performance test, we found it comfortable, easily wicking away sweat.

Pros: With its multiple pockets and CCW-capable carry, this shirt is built for function and styled to blend in.

Cons: In an emergency, the inner CCW-compatible chest pockets aren’t as easy to access as you might think — at least not without a lot of practice.

Arc’teryx Captive Polo SS Men’s

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Color
Admiral

Material
Cotton/Polyester/Elastane

Features
Gusseted underarms for enhanced movement, lightweight construction

MSRP
$69

URL
www.arcteryx.com

Notes
The Arc’teryx brand has come to symbolize high-end active wear and its Captive shirt follows in the same tradition. Its slim cut and clean lines can make you look good in the woods or at an upscale restaurant. The body is gusseted for free movement. Though the collar does hold onto more moisture than a collar-less T-shirt would, it dried fairly quickly and didn’t bother us when we wore it exercising.

Pros: The Captive Polo combines polyester and cotton with Elastane, which makes it stretchy and comfortable to wear.

Cons: The shirt’s material absorbs more moisture than other shirts in this guide.

Beyond Clothing A1 Power Wool Crew

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Color
Coyote

Material
Polyester/Wool

Features
Polartec Power Wool, odor resistant, durable, synthetic coating prevents the wool from shrinking after being washed, flat seam construction

MSRP
$105

URL
www.beyondclothing.com

Notes
Made of a blend of polyester and merino wool, the A1 Power Wool Crew is a moisture-wicking base layer that looks like a regular thermal undershirt but feels thicker and even more comfortable to wear. Wearing it for a workout, we discovered it excelled at keeping us dry, even when we worked up a substantial sweat.

Pros: The surprising breathability and quick drying properties of this shirt are outstanding.

Cons: At the time of writing, this top is only available in coyote color. Also, considering it’s just a base-layer T-shirt, it’s more expensive than some outerwear.

Champion Double Dry T-Shirt

Moisture wicking shirt review buyers guide sweat water humidity survival apparel 4v2

Color
Black

Material
Polyester

Features
Lightweight, 50+ UPF rating for UV protection, fitted cut

MSRP
$20

URL
www.amazon.com

Notes
Champion’s been in the athletic apparel business for longer than we can remember. Athletic wear is its bread and butter, so the folks there know a thing or two about moisture-wicking materials. Their Double Dry tee is made of polyester and efficient in removing moisture from itself. We noticed that the smooth feel of the material made chaffing virtually non-existent, and there wasn’t any feeling of wetness during our activities.

Pros: Three words sum up this shirt: dry, smooth, and comfortable. Plus, it’s affordable.

Cons: Style wise, this tee screams gym rat.

Kühl Stealth

Moisture wicking shirt review buyers guide sweat water humidity survival apparel 5v2

Color
Koyote

Material
Polyester

Features
UPF 30 sun protection, odor and wrinkle resistant, hidden zippered security pocket

MSRP
$70

URL
www.kuhl.com

Notes
Made with travelers in mind, Kühl’s Stealth shirt is lightweight, breathable, and a great button-up option for those times when you need to step up your style game. Its made of a quick drying microfiber polyester and features a hidden security pocket on the inside chest.

Pros: In our testing, this shirt absorbed the least moisture. We like its lightweight and efficient drying.

Cons: Let us know if you find a negative aspect to this shirt; we couldn’t.

Nike Elite Basketball T-Shirt

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Color
University Red

Material
Cotton/Polyester

Features
Nonrestrictive, athletic fit allows natural range of motion, comfortable ribbed collar

MSRP
$30

URL
www.amazon.com

Notes
Made with basketball enthusiasts in mind, we found that this tee was pretty good at wicking moisture, although others in this guide outperformed it. Wearing it for a workout, it felt like it held in more dampness than the other shirts we tried.

Pros: The athletic fit and soft feel of this tee make it comfortable to wear.

Cons: The wear test reveals that the tee feels as if it retains more moisture longer than the others.

Reebok Twist Vector Short Sleeve Shirt

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Color
Rustic Wine

Material
92-percent polyester / 8-percent spandex

Features
Regular fit, PlayDry technology accelerates evaporation, increases ventilation, and reduces abrasion

MSRP
$22

URL
www.amazon.com

Notes
Because this shirt was made with a blend of polyester and spandex, it’s by far the “stretchiest” of the shirts we tested. This translates to comfort. But the shirt also feels heavy, especially for a T-shirt. It has the ability to absorb a good amount of moisture, but it’s slow to transport that moisture through to the fabric’s surface where it can evaporate.

Pros: This is a comfortable tee that’s probably more suited to some light gym workouts than total drenching.

Cons: The shirt is heavy and absorbs too much moisture without letting it evaporate quickly enough. Clearly a case of “you get what you pay for.”

Smartwool NTS Micro 150 Short Sleeve Henley

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Color
Deep Navy

Material
Merino wool

Features
Flatlock seam construction designed to eliminate chafing, jersey knit, raglan sleeves

MSRP
$85

URL
www.smartwool.com

Notes
Created as a base layer for cold weather, the NTS Micro 150 can also be worn solo when the weather is suitable. Smartwool does wonders with sheep’s clothing, and this shirt is no exception. The fabric is soft and not at all itchy as you might expect of an all-wool top. Wool naturally wicks away wetness, so it makes sense that this shirt is good at it. Our body heat seemed to accelerate the wicking process, keeping us dry even during some strenuous activities.

Pros: This shirt is warm, comfortable, and dries quickly, especially while being worn.

Cons: If even superfine wool makes you itch, this isn’t the shirt for you. And it’s a little on the pricey side.

The North Face Reactor Short-Sleeve V-Neck

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Color
TNF Dark Grey / TNF Black

Material
Polyester

Features
Lightweight, quick-drying panels, feels like cotton, breathable

MSRP
$30

URL
www.thenorthface.com

Notes
You might not be able to tell from the image, but the back of this shirt differs from the front because it is made of a fine mesh. This mesh helps keep you cool and the shirt as moisture free as possible. Designed to feel like cotton, but wick much better, we enjoyed its enhanced breathability when both jogging and bicycle riding.

Pros: The Reactor is light and feels even lighter than it actually is. It kept us nice and cool no matter how hot we got.

Cons: Polyester can pill. Be especially wary of washing this tee with garments that have zippers.

Under Armor UA Tech V-Neck

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Color
Midnight Navy

Material
Polyester

Features
Loose cut, natural feel, anti-odor technology prevents the growth of odor-causing microbes

MSRP
$25

URL
www.underarmor.com

Notes
The UA Tech V-Neck’s material has a very comfortable feel to it. It’s hard to put into words, but we’d describe it as silk-like. If you hold this shirt up to the light, you can almost see through it. This mesh-like quality allows it to dry quickly. When we wore it for a taxing hike, we felt that it did a pretty good job keeping us dry, though it did still feel damp -an hour after the hike.

Pros: The tee’s full cut makes movement very free and effortless. We can wear this shirt all day long without any complaints.

Cons: Absorbing double its weight of water in our dunk test means that this shirt can feel like you’re wearing a soaked sponge if you’re ever drenched.

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