Friday, May 14, 2010

Comparison of “Performance” Undershirts

I have been a fan of Under Armor undershirts for years. Last fall I was at a discount clothing store waiting for my wife and teen-aged daughter to finish their shopping (we’ve all been there. If not, just give it time), and I discovered a Nike undershirt on sale. It was considerably cheaper than the Under Armor shirts I purchase, so it got me thinking: just what is the difference?

During the off-season I purchased eight different t-shirts at various locations. I was able to get most of the shirts at a sale price for hot weather clothing during the winter months, so you may be able to beat the on-line prices during the off-season.

I have been personally wearing these shirts during the spring college and HS season. I really didn't know what to expect when testing these shirts, but after three months of umpiring I have formed some opinions.

I ended up with nine shirts from eight manufacturers for this comparison. Seven of these shirts are loose fit and two are compression shirts:

Reebok Play Dry Tech
Under Armour Heat Gear (loose fit)
Under Armour Heat Gear (compression)
Champion C9 Duo Dry
Fila Sport Sprinter
Diamond Hotsport
Nike FitDry Legend
Starter Dri-Star (compression)
Russell Dri-Power

Testing Methodology
Since all of these shirts are advertised as performance, moisture wicking shirts, one problem I faced was how to measure the wicking effect. So here’s what I did: first, I weighed each shirt while dry. Then I ran all the shirts through a wash cycle and measured each shirt again. My reasoning is simple: an effective moisture wicking shirt transfers the moisture, it should not absorb the moisture. That’s why a cotton t-shirt weighs a ton after a July doubleheader while a moisture wicking t-shirt stays light. The cotton shirt absorbs while the polyester shirt transfers. My test simply measures how much water the shirt absorbs and should tell us something about its transference properties.

#9: Starter Dri-Star Compression
Remember when the Starter brand was AWESOME? I do. Back in the day my favorite clothing item was a Starter MLB jacket, the same one my favorite player wore. I purchased this Starter Dri-Star t-shirt right off the rack at my local Wal-Mart for around $8.00. They are available through the Wal-Mart website for $7.50.

This shirt is a compression style and the quality control seems very, er, “relaxed.” The seams on this shirt are unraveling and the label is only partially attached. The label states that the fabric is 81% Cationic Polyester and 19% Elastane. Its weight dry is a mere 4 ounces, the lightest in this comparison. The Starter weighs 5 ounces wet.

I wore this shirt once and was miserable. It was too short and too tight. It seemed to moisture wick just fine, but the fit was aweful for my frame. These tight fitting shirts are just not suitable for the over-forty-carrying-extra-pounds umpire. At least that’s my opinion. I’m sure it would work great for a thin umpire. As a side note, regardless of the compression "style" of this shirt, the Starter is last on my list because of the poor quality of construction.

#8: Under Armour Heat Gear Compression
I purchased this Under Armour Heat Gear Compression t-shirt at a big box sporting goods store for $20.00. Also available on line at Amazon for $19.99.

The Under Armour Compression shirt appears better constructed than the Starter. Made of 80% Polyester and 20% Elastane, the feel of this shirt is identical to the Starter. It is a little heavier than the Starter. Its weight is 5 ounces dry and 5.5 ounces wet (indicating a better moisture transfer than the Starter).

As with the Starter shirt, I am not a fan of the compression shirt. The advantage to a compression undershirt is that it takes full effect of the material's moisture transfer qualities. The compression shirt acts as a second skin to wick perspiration away from your skin. Although I have been a fan of the Under Armour Heat Gear loose t-shirts, I can’t tell a significant difference in feel between the Starter and the Under Armour.

#7: Fila Sport Sprinter Performance Tee
I purchased two Fila Sport t-shirts from Kohl’s during a sale (which is like saying “during business hours” ‘cause there’s always a sale at Kohl’s). The Fila shirt is available on-line at Kohl's for $14.99.

The Fila is the heaviest undershirt in the comparison at 7 ounces dry and 9.5 ounces wet. Made of 100% polyester. This is a well constructed shirt, but it is more of an outer wear shirt than a performance undershirt. That said, I have worn this shirt regularly while on the bases during the spring and it has kept me warm, dry and comfortable.

#6: Russell Dri-Powder
The fact that I can't remember where or why I bought the Russell Dri-Powder shirt should tell you something. It is a very un-remarkable shirt. Available on-line from Sports Authority for $17.99.

The Russell is made of 100% Polyester and weighs 6 ounces dry, 8 ounces wet. It is made with a mesh weave. I personally don't like it as much as the Fila which performed worse in the moisture testing.

#5: Under Armour Heat Gear Loose

I have worn Under Armour Heat Gear undershirts exclusively for the past few years. I buy my Under Armour from my local sporting goods store, but it is generally available on-line and can be purchased through Under Armour for $19.99.

The Under Armour shirt weighs 6 ounces dry and 8 ounces wet. It was a surprise at how poorly the Under Armour shirt performed in the moisture wicking test. Under Armour shirt have kept me cool and dry during brutal summer baseball, and I considered it an essential piece of equipment.

The Under Armour Heat Gear can retain odor even after washing. I can attest to this trait, although I cannot state definitively that other shirts in this comparison do not retain odor. What I can say is that during the limited testing during this review, the Under Armour is the only shirt that held an odor after washing.

#4: Reebok Play Dry
I purchased the Reebok Play Dry at another discount store. The shirt is available through Amazon for $22.50.

The Reebok is made from 100% polyester. It weight dry is 6 ounces and 7.5 ounces wet. The Reebok Play Dry Tech is the second best performing loose fitting shirt in the moisture wicking test which is why it is ranked so high in this comparison.

The bottom line is that the Reebok Play Dry Tech is a solid shirt that is comfortable and durable. The material is thin and suited for an undershirt.

#3: Nike FitDry Legend
The Nike FitDry Legend was the impetus for this undershirt comparison. I found this shirt at a discount store (Marshall's) for $7.00. It is red and I have only used it a couple times with my navy blue shirt during non-Fed games (my state requires a navy undershirt for NFHS games). It is available through many on-line retailers including REI for $20.

The Nike FiDry Legend weighs a very average 6 ounces dry and 8.5 ounces wet. It is made of 100% polyester, like many of the other shirts in this comparison. So why is it rated so high?

The Nike FitDry Legend screams quality. It is actually a disappointment that it performed so poorly in the moisture wicking test because it is a good looking and feeling undershirt. It has a much more substantial feel and look than the Under Armour shirt.

#2: Champion C9 Duo Dry
I purchased the Champion C9 Duo Dry Tech Tee at Target for $9.99. Also available on-line from Target for $9.99. The Champion C9 Duo Dry is available in several colors and my local Target has these consistently in-stock.

The Champion C9 is odorless and weighs 5.5 ounces dry, 7.5 ounces wet. That is remarkable performance considering its low price and availability at a big box store.

If you haven't tried the Champion C9 Duo Dry, you are missing out on a terrific value. This shirt is a outstanding combination of quality and price. I purchased the Champion C9 in black, and I found myself grabbing my black Champion undershirt without thinking during the spring college season as my plate undershirt. It has held up very well and shows very little sign of wear from my chest protector straps. It is a Midwest Ump "Best Buy."

#1: Diamond Hotsport
Just before the season I purchased a navy blue Diamond Hotsport from Ump-Attire for $18.99. This purchase was really an after-thought and was the last undershirt I bought for the comparison. My wife asked, "Do you really need another t-shirt?" I had never seen a Diamond undershirt, but I have learned to trust the retail judgment of Jim Kirk at Ump-Attire and I think very highly of the Diamond protective equipment I have tested.

The Diamond Hotsport is made of 100% polyester and weighs 6.5 ounces dry. Here's the crazy part: it weighs 6.5 ounces wet! That is the best result of any shirt in the moisture wicking test. This comparison has really opened my eyes to the transfer properties of different polyester materials. Apparently all polyester is not the same!

The Diamond has been my favorite undershirt since I purchased it. I knew the Diamond was keeping me dry and cool and it is light-weight. It also feels similar to the Under Armour loose fit shirts I have been wearing for years. You want the best? The Diamond Hotsport is the best undershirt in this comparison.

1 comment:

Bob said...

pete, i totally agree with your #2 choice (champion C9 duo dry tech tee). for $10 at target, it is the best tshirt i own. i now own 6 of them (white, black and navy). sadly, target is currently out of stock. but when they get more in, i'm buying at least 6 more. i usually wear them under other shirts. -bob in lansing mi