Choosing summer workout apparel seems simple, right? Just look for the lightest, most breathable pieces available. However, it’s actually wildly complicated because there’s so much high-quality workout gear on the market and the smallest detail can make the biggest impact.
The Winners at a Glance
Outdoor Research Swift Air Cap
Nathan Dash Short Sleeve Shirt 2.0
Prana Peak to Creek Short II
Alwrld Alsprt 8” Core Short
Le Bent Mickey Pro Model Sock
Goldwin Zip-Up Floating Wind Shell
How We Test:
Number of Testers: 9
Number of Products Tested: 80+
Number of miles:200
Number of different types of workouts: 12
You could spend all summer working out in your favorite cotton t-shirt and a pair of $10 nylon shorts from the local big-box store—and be just fine. But sometimes it’s worth the extra money to find those few pieces of workout gear that make your daily routine better. The small details—be it the fabric, the cut, the breathability—can make your morning run, an after-work gym session, or a long walk more efficient and enjoyable, and make you want to get outside more often.
To help you find the best workout gear for this summer, we roped in a wide variety of testers. On one end of the spectrum we had a young sinewy runner training for an ultra-marathon. On the other hand we had a slow 55-year-old from the Bay Area (he’s fine with us saying that) committed to getting back in shape. We tested the gear in the gnarly Southwest sun and Midwest humidity, but also put it through its paces in milder climates across California and Alaska. While testing the gear we ran, biked, hiked, chopped wood, went to the gym, lifted weights, played basketball, ate brunch, worked from home, and did any number of other tasks.
For a piece of workout gear to ultimately make the final cut it had to rise above dozens of other pieces in terms of all-around performance. The six pieces you see below have now been cemented into our daily workout rotation because they work so well that we couldn’t imagine using anything else while we sweat and pound through our routines.
Meet Our Lead Testers
Jakob Schiller, a former Outside gear editor and current gear columnist, led the Workout Apparel test. He took on the job because as the father of four kids, his days of week-long backpacking trips or multi-day bikepacking adventures have been temporarily put on hold and he now relies on quicker, closer-to-home workouts to stay in shape and maintain his sanity. He’s a runner, cyclist, hiker, and occasional gym rat who calculates that he’s probably tested somewhere in the region of 300-plus workout products during his career. His tester group is primarily made up of his friends, but that’s a good thing because he likes to hang out with other guys who are similarly pinned with kids and jobs but finds creative ways to get in a workout almost every day.
Reviews: The Best Men’s Workout Apparel of 2023
Outdoor Research Swift Air Cap ($32)
Sizes: One size fits all
Pros: Smart performance design that also looks great
Cons: Bill felt floppy for some testers
When lead tester Jakob Schiller had a chunk of his face cut out because it was about to become cancer, he promised himself he would always wear sunscreen and a hat when exercising outdoors. Since then, he’s become a connoisseur of workout-friendly caps. “The Swift Air is easily my favorite high-output hat because it comes with a substantial bill that provides plenty of sun protection for my large nose, but also breathes well thanks to the mesh sides,” he said. A sturdy sweatband keeps all the sweat out of his eyes, even while hiking on a 98-degree day, and a piece of UPF 40+ nylon on the top of the head adds extra sun protection.
Bottom Line: Keeps the sun off your face without holding in heat
Nathan Dash 2.0 Short Sleeve Shirt ($50)
Pros: Affordable, ultra comfy, and well cut
Cons: High snag potential
We wore this top, made of a nylon/polyester/elastane blend, during the height of the New Mexico summer, and it quickly became a favorite for stretching, hiking, and running because, as tester Andy Dean said, “it barely felt like I was even wearing a shirt.” When he started to sweat, Andy reported that “the shirt moved with my body and didn’t feel like it got heavier or restrictive.” The cut was also perfect: It didn’t look “painted on,” he said, but it wasn’t so loose that it felt like he was floating around inside it. “I would wear it for every run if I could,” Andy raves.
Bottom Line: An affordable shirt that performs like a pro
Alwrld Alsprt 8” Core Short ($78)
Pros: Perfectly tailored
Cons: The waistband isn’t strong enough to hold the shorts up when your pockets are full
Tester Zachary Kline is one of those people who cannot sit still. He’s a search and rescue instructor for his day job and during his free time he’s always out doing something adventurous. He wore these shorts while hiking and running nearly 50 miles in the Sandia mountains and during hot yoga and HITT sessions when temperatures were up to 108 degrees. They became his favorite thanks in large part to the tailoring. He’s a tall strong guy and said the shorts fit perfectly and never got in the way, no matter where he was adventuring. He also found the recycled polyester and elastane materials to be light, soft, and easy to wear, whether exercising or hanging out at home.
Bottom Line: Adventure-ready shorts that stay out of the way
Prana Peak to Creek Short II ($75)
Pros: A true do-everything workout short
Cons: The pockets are too deep, letting items move around when exercising
The steeper price tag is well worth the versatility you get with these shorts. Outside running gear editor Jonathan Beverly said the shorts felt “cool and mobile” on a summer run down Nebraska backroads, while the durable weave of the thicker, recycled polyester/elastane material made him unfraid to wear them while chopping wood and hanging out around him firepit. With their stylish cut and eight-inch inseam, Jonathan said he didn’t feel out of place wearing these shorts to town for post-workout burritos and beer. He summed up the Peak to Creeks as the “perfect weekend warrior shorts” for working out or just enjoying his time off.
Bottom Line: The only workout shorts you’ll need this summer
Le Bent Mickey Pro Model Sock ($26)
Pros: High-performance socks that look good anywhere, any time
Cons: Only available in three-quarter crew height
Michele “Mickey” Graglia excels during ultra-distance runs in extreme conditions, and that experience shows in his eponymous do-it-all socks for summer workouts. Made from a mix of rayon (from bamboo), merino wool, nylon, and elastane, these socks kept even the sweatiest tester’s feet happy, dry, and blister free on trail runs and mountain hikes. Some people might shy away from the three-quarter crew height during summer workouts, but we loved how they kept out gravel, lightly compressed our calves, and looked great with their mountain graphics, whether during a workout or heading out to dinner.
Bottom Line: Socks that add performance and flair to your workout kit
Goldwin Zip-up Floating Wind Shell Jacket ($270)
Pros: A minimalist jacket with protection that punches above its weight class
At one point this past summer, lead tester Jakob Schiller survived the stifling heat in Albuquerque, New Mexico and spent a couple days training at 9,000 feet. Morning temps were sometimes in the 40s so this was his go-to warmth layer for runs and dog walks. It’s made from Pertex Quantum, a highly air-permeable ripstop nylon that testers say cut the feel of the cold by at least 10 degrees, but breathes way better than a more traditional nylon shell. Ultrathin and packable to the size of a tangerine, the shell didn’t tear even after getting raked against trees and rocks. “This shell gave me the confidence to get out on cooler mornings,” Jakob said. “And once I warmed up I just stuffed it in my pocket and kept going.”
Bottom Line: Small but very mighty
How to Buy
Luckily, workout apparel is totally different from a pair of ski boots or running shoes when it comes to fit and function. If you order anything on this page in your size you’ll probably be happy. Just like a good pair of ski boots, however, a good piece of workout apparel can make all the difference during your chosen activity. A versatile pair of shorts will allow you to get your workout in and then go about your day without changing, which can be a psychological advantage. Likewise, investing in a wind shell that keeps you warm but breathes well is going to give you the confidence to get out when it’s cool, and those early morning runs will go a long way to helping you meet your exercise goals.
You’ll ultimately have to choose what characteristics of your workout apparel matter most: breathability, fit, feel, versatility, packability, durability. If you run hot, breathability will likely be your main concern. If you hate doing laundry, wool pieces will be your friend. Consider if you’ll trade some weight and breathability for a more versatile, durable piece. Every item on this page rose to the top because it was nailed one or several of those components and was a true joy to wear and use. If you decide, however, that nothing on this page seems quite right for you, find the shirt, shorts, socks, and cool-weather layer that make you feel comfortable when you’re working hard doing what you love and stand up to steady wear—and you’ll be all set.
When it’s time to upgrade your gear, don’t let the old stuff go to waste–donate it for a good cause and divert it from the landfill. our partner, Gear Fix, will repair and resell your stuff for free! Just box up your retired items, print a free shipping label, and send them off. We’ll donate 100 percent of the proceeds to The Outdoorist Oath.