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Originally from Outside Online
Runners have many ways to reduce their environmental impact, including racing locally, keeping shoes out of landfills, and wearing gear until it’s no longer functional. When it’s time to buy new apparel, common advice is to seek sustainable materials like merino wool and bamboo. But there’s another, increasingly available option—running clothes made primarily of recycled materials.
Recycled-material running apparel is mostly made from recycled polyester. According to the Higgs Materials Sustainability Index, which compares the environmental impact of different materials, recycled polyester produces 76% less emissions and uses 82% less water per kilogram than virgin polyester, on average. The constituents of recycled polyester can vary. For example, the Goldwin shirt I tested is made of ECOPET, a material created from used polyester fiber waste and recycled polyethylene terephthalate (PET) plastic bottles. The recycled polyester in the Brooks singlet is made solely from recycled PET bottles (six of them). The Patagonia shorts are made almost entirely of plastic bottles collected in coastal areas before they wash into the ocean.
How We Tested
To see how these offerings work for warm-weather running, I did more than 600 miles in them over the past few months. My selection filter was that each tested piece needed to be made of at least a majority of recycled materials. My testing filter was both more subjective and more exacting: Is this gear worth running in regardless of its save-the-world credentials? After all, there are a growing number of running shoes with recycled or plant-based materials. But they’re inferior to “normal” running shoes, and few runners are willing to sacrifice performance and comfort just to accommodate greener materials. So I was curious whether mostly recycled shirts, singlets, and shorts perform, fit, feel and measure up to non-recycled summer running gear.
Of the 35 items I tested, I kept returning to 11. Others didn’t make the cut because of turn-offs such as feeling too rubbery, not wicking well, or clinging too much even when dry. (Don’t worry, I’ve donated, not discarded, these pieces.) Here are my brief thoughts on the 11 pieces that are at least as good as the rest of my warm-weather running attire.
Goldwin Quick Dry Tee ($105)
Material: 100% recycled polyester
This is an accurately named shirt—on running clothes laundry day, it’s always the first piece to dry. Because I sweat heavily, I was dubious that the shirt’s double-faced construction would work for me on warm runs. But it wicks well, and the inner polyester layer doesn’t cling. The antibacterial properties of the interior material also seem legit. After three consecutive sweaty runs, I could still pull it on without shuddering at the odor.
Helly Hansen Lifa Active Solen Tee ($60)
Material: 60% recycled polyester/40% polypropylene
There’s a lot going on in this seemingly plain-looking shirt. The two-ply construction includes an interior of Lifa, one of the first patented wicking materials. Used coffee grounds are infused into the fabric to provide chemical-free UPF 50+ protection. The shirt’s softness and wicking had me reaching for this shirt when I should have been testing others. Its fit, weight, sun protection, and appearance make it a good crossover shirt for other outdoor summer activities.
Rabbit Jog Tee ($50)
Material: 94% recycled polyester/6% spandex
Don’t let the name deter you if you are averse to the “J” word. The Jog Tee can handle long, hard runs as well as most other high-quality shirts. The fit is tailored, but the shirt still flows and breathes once you start sweating. The fabric is thin and airy enough to see through if you hold it up to the light. I also appreciated its looks–the thin horizontal stripes and subdued colors of the style I tested don’t scream “running nerd.”
SaySky Clean Combat Tee ($62)
Material: 100% recycled polyester
Danish brand SaySky continues to impress me with its apparel made by runners for runners. This is a workhorse shirt, soft and comfortable on easy runs in cooler weather and great at moisture management on longer and harder outings. Wicking is enhanced by an interior mini-waffle pattern. It stretches enough to not cling but not so much that it flops or hangs too low. SaySky offers a singlet of the same constitution and heft.
Brooks Atmosphere Singlet 2.0 ($40)
Material: 76% recycled polyester/15% polyester/9% elastane
A trait of a good piece of running apparel is that you don’t think about it while getting in your miles. That was my experience with the Atmosphere 2.0. It’s a classic non-mesh singlet that just happens to be made primarily of recycled materials. The fit hits a nice middle ground between snug and loose. The fabric feels soft and does a decent job of wicking. Bonus: It has a UPF 50+ coating.