I have always been a pretty heavy sweater when exercising (or when slathering foods with hot sauce). Nothing clinical here: No matter the temperature, I just break a sweat pretty easily once my heart rate is up, and then tend to take a long time to cool down, too. Still, warmer temperatures will of course make my already sweaty workouts even … more moist … for obvious reasons.
Over the past few years, I’ve written about many different technical garments: cooling shirts that reflect sunlight, moisture-wicking socks, lightweight running shorts. Many of those things promise to be sweat-minimizing and breathable, but when you try as much gear as I do, you learn some brands are truer to their word than others. Below, I’ve zeroed in on the seven pieces that I not only find reliable and comfortable, but also to be the best at wicking moisture, drying quickly, and stabilizing my body temperature so that I can keep exercising — or sampling hot sauce — (relatively) comfortably, even in the sweatiest of circumstances. To help all potential shoppers, I’ve also included the women’s version of any product on this list that offers one.
The short-sleeved shirt
This is the shirt I wore as I slogged through a 40 kilometer trail run across the border from Switzerland into France, and it’s also the one I wore to the regular HIIT Orange Theory Fitness classes (perhaps the sweatiest classes I’ve ever done) before I had to give them up due to social distancing. Yes, I have written about it before, and no doubt I’ll write about it again after this. It’s my proverbial “desert island” workout shirt, and not just because that proverbial desert island would, almost certainly, get a lot of sun.
The Titan Ultra II is so lightweight you almost forget you’re wearing it at first. But once the sweating begins, you’ll definitely remember that it’s there. The interior of the shirt features Columbia’s proprietary “omni-freeze zero” cooling system, which is basically a matrix of dark dots that, once dampened by your sweat, help enhance your body’s natural evaporative-cooling process, releasing excess heat and helping you stay cooler even as the shirt helps you stay drier. Mesh venting releases that excess heat, while the shirt’s polyester fabric wicks away sweat better than any other shirt I’ve ever used — while others will be soaked through by the time I finish a workout, this one will only have that inevitable wet-neck patch, which I see as sort of a badge of honor that reminds me my workout is working.
The long-sleeved shirt
While heavy sweating is more commonly associated with warm-weather exercise, minimizing sweat is in fact much more important in the cold than in the heat. When I’m running in cold weather, for instance, I rely on base layers to keep me warm and dry, because any sweat left touching my skin is going to create a serious chill as soon as I stop moving. This snug-fitting shirt wicks well and dries quickly; although the way it sort of adheres to my arms and torso makes it kind of like a second skin, the shirt’s highly elastic four-way stretch fabric doesn’t limit my motion at all and never chafes the way a slightly looser garment might. The close fit, crucially, also ensures that all droplets of sweat are quickly pulled away from my body.
To be clear, this is a cold-weather running (or hiking, cycling, or other medium-to-high intensity) workout shirt. It’s for warmth and dryness, not wicking sweat in warm weather (for that, I point you to the shirt that leads this list).
I have, by quick estimation, eight pairs of lightweight running shorts. But any time the temperature is above 70 degrees or so, I wear one of my two pairs of these shorts from Janji. Technically five-inch, the 3” in their name nods to their design: Once your stride opens up, a split on the sides of the shorts separates to ensure a range of motion, so they perform more like a three-inch short. Quite simply, these are the best lightweight running shorts I have yet to find, and that’s saying something, because the other pairs still in my closet are already survivors after many more have worn out or been replaced.
These also wick sweat as well as any running shorts I’ve ever worn. They are made from a blend of recycled polyester and elastane, and are so light that air seems to pass through and all around you. While I genuinely sweat less from waist to upper thigh, this circulation helps ensure that’s the case, and on days that I’m dripping from my brow and neck, they always seem to be bone dry. The secure-but-soft liner means no need for underwear, which helps keep things cooler as well, and the liner, also a poly blend, wicks like a champ. Thoughtful details like a little zipper pocket just add to their appeal.
Any guy who exercises or does physical work regularly has experienced the discomfort of heat and moisture built up between legs and … reproductive organs. I (and other fans) have already noted how the proprietary design of Saxx’s boxer briefs includes thin strips of fabric between these body parts, with those strips meant to reduce friction, warmth, and sweat accumulation.
While adding more fabric might seem counterintuitive to the acts of cooling and drying, from experience, I can say that, when I do wear underwear to work out, I put on my one of my four Saxx pairs for those exact reasons. The twin fabric strips create more surface area for wicking sweat, while also drawing heat away from my body rather than letting it build up down there. I’ve worn these boxer briefs on plenty of warmer days, but they are at their best when used in cooler weather under a few layers, helping make sure you are relatively dry, cool, and fresh, let’s say, even when your body temperature is up.
Feetures socks are another staple in my workout wardrobe. While I’ve previously praised the fact that each pair comes with socks specifically made for a left foot and a right foot (more on that to come), here, I first want to say I love them just as much for their sweat-wicking ability. The Elite Max socks are made with polyester fibers that draw away heat and moisture, and have mesh panels on the top of each foot that allow for more heat release and breathability. This results in a drier, cooler foot that’s also less pungent post-workout.
And if you have never worn a pair of socks that specifically designates one for your left foot and another for your right, you owe yourself a pair to try. The added support and compression from tailoring each sock for each foot is subtle but noticeable, especially during an intense gym workout, trail run, or other strenuous activity.
Before I started wearing this headband on warm-weather runs, I would need to bring at least two bandanas to ensure I had enough dry fabric to mop off my brow after every few strides. But with this headband on, my head sweat bothers me a lot less — it’s as simple as that. The polyester fabric releases heat and moisture, dries fast, and will still catch drips and drops even as it becomes soaked through, to a point. (Everything has its limits, which is why, in certain conditions, I will carry a fresh headband to swap in.) What’s more, I’ve found these have kept their elasticity even after dozens of washes, making their modest price a bit more understandable. I’m not the only fan of Headsweats gear, either — other experts have recommended the brand as one for beginner triathletes to wear.
You’ll never catch me wearing a hat in the gym or on a shorter run. But for long runs in sunny weather, I often put one on because I don’t really like running in sunglasses, nor do I like sunburns on my forehead. This one from Trailheads is so lightweight and well-ventilated and thin that I can actually feel a breeze blowing through it. In fact, because of the natural effects of evaporative cooling, I would say it probably keeps my noggin a bit cooler than it would be with nothing covering it. And, even if saturated, the hat dries quickly, so I can wear it in the rain or sun and still count on those moisture-wicking and cooling abilities. It comes in several high-visibility colors, too.