Back in September 2008, I came across an article written by a police officer who struggled with how Under Armour Compression undershirts performed under his kevlar body armor. We were fortunate to get some assistance from Brian, a Florida police officer, who himself was dissatisfied with the undershirts that he’d be testing under his body armor and decided to make it his mission to try out a bunch of different performance / moisture wicking undershirts under his body armor and report back.
I thought to drop Brian an email not too long ago to see if he had found that perfect undershirt and he replied back with this very thorough response. (Thanks Brian!!):
Sorry it’s been a while since you heard from me, but things have been a bit hectic down here in Sunny (but lately cold) South Florida.
I tried several more shirts and I finally found the one I’m going to stick with for a while (at least till I find something better).
The 5.11 Tactical – Tight Crew Short Sleeve Shirt – Item #40005 [Price: $24.99]
I kept buying one each of different brands of shirt after the last time I emailed you, looking for that perfect one, and after a while I noticed that when they were all clean and I had my choice of which one to wear, I would consistently go through the pile to grab the 5.11 Tactical shirt. Here are my thoughts on my favorite ones…
The 5.11 Tactical shirt is great at sweat-wicking, doesn’t feel as “plastic” as the Underarmour, doesn’t seem to be wearing out an abnormal pace, isn’t overpriced (as compared to other sweat-wicking shirts) and to me is the best overall combination of all my personal requirements of an under-the-vest shirt. It’s not the best in all categories, but it’s the best overall combination of all the categories (comfort, sweat-wicking, durability, ease of care, price); at least to me it is.
The Jockey 3D Physique shirt worked well and felt good. It’s my 2rd favorite to wear when I’m working, but it’s a little bit thin, especially with the thick Kevlar panels and carrier moving around, and after about 2 or 3 months it seemed to get a little thinner, maybe wearing out a little, at least it felt like it to me. But I still like it a lot. The sweat-wicking isn’t quite as good as the Underarmour, but it was more comfortable to me and the sweat-wicking was good enough.
The Underarmour Heat Gear shirt worked very well also. For the sweat-wicking alone, it’s awesome, probably the best of all of them; it runs a very close 3rd favorite after the Jockey (maybe even tied for 2nd). It would have been my #1 favorite above all, but I feel like I’m wearing plastic when I have it on. It literally peels off at the end of the night, and that plastic feeling gets a little annoying to me; I actually feel like it’s stuck to me. It’s definitely a great shirt, and for guys that don’t mind that plastic feeling, it may be their best bet.
The Equmen shirt started to grow on me after a while; for one thing, after a month long break-in period, the Equimen didn’t feel as super-tight as it did when I first got it (which was a good thing because they are extremely tight). And it does what their ads claim about making you look a little thinner; it’s funny, my pants actually feel slightly loose when I wear that shirt because it snugs your body tightly in certain areas. The downsides to the Equimen are price, at $100 each you can get 4 of the others, and it’s sweat-wicking isn’t quite as good as the Underarmour or the 5.11 Tactical. On a side note, it would probably be an awesome shirt to wear under a suit when you’re trying to look good.
I tried 2 different types of Russell Sports heat/sweat-wicking shirts. I liked them for working out because they feel like normal cotton T-shirts yet they have some sweat-wicking ability; but, for under the vest they’re only a step above a normal cotton T-shirt.
I still love my old (no longer manufactured) “tubes” shirt I’ve mentioned before, but I think I actually like my top 4 shirts above more. If I can just convince 5.11 tactical to add a couple of those air-gap tubes to their Tight Crew Short Sleeve Shirt, we’d have the perfect custom-designed under-the-vest shirt.
Lastly, for anyone still wearing a normal cotton T-shirt… After using the ones above (and others not mentioned), and especially after wearing them all the time for months, I had a busy week and all my test shirts were dirty, I wore one of my old cotton T-shirts that I used to wear under the vest, and it wasn’t even a really hot day (70’s, and I’m used to 90’s down here). By halfway through the shift I felt like I was wearing a hot sopping-wet mop under my vest. At the end of the night when I took it off, it weighed triple it’s normal weight because it was drenched in sweat; I don’t know how I ever wore them in the past. ANY sweat-wicking shirt is better than a normal cotton T-shirt. Even in winter, the heat shirts are better, because the sweat stuck in a cotton shirt will get freezing cold from the cold air.
I hope my little t-shirt research project helps out other guys that are sweating their butts off in our southern climates. But, the reality is that anything (comfortable or not) is better than leaving the vest in the car till a shots-fired call comes out. I know guys that got so annoyed at sweating like a faucet and that was their solution. Things can go wrong in the most benign and unexpected situations and the only way to be safe is to train, prepare and wear the damn vest, uncomfortable or not.
Talk to you later Tug. Let me know if anyone else has found a “perfect” shirt that I can try to see where it places on my list.
And I appreciate the help and suggestions you’ve given me over the last several months as well. Two of my top four came from your suggestions.