An unsupported boob may bounce as much as eight inches when a woman runs. Ouch!
No wonder a good sports bra can make or break a workout. Unfortunately, sports bras are commonly regarded as one of the most difficult pieces of clothing to assemble, let alone fit. Designers have to think about straps, support, chafing, hot spots, potential slippage, secure coverage and, of course, style. Also variety—breasts come in different compositions and on differently shaped bodies.
Gym Climber is here to help. We enlisted four women climbers to try 22 bras. After several months of testing, involving many dozens of pitches, trail runs, hikes and creek swims, we chose the bras that for us stood above the chaos—and, as one climber-tester put it, made room for lats.
This one is in the not-so-supportive (medium) but oh-so-comfortable camp. It is wide enough that you can breathe. It is aesthetic, with split front straps and a criss-cross in the back, and gives nice coverage and enough room at the sides. But for me at least, the cross straps are loose and offer no stability. Some women would run in this bra, and it is touted for that as well as the more usual climbing, yoga and hiking, but many women with a mid- or large-sized bust would call it good for climbing and hiking only, not impact sports. Removable cups add some support.
This item is 92 percent micropoly, eight percent Lycra. Wicks well and is very soft. Available in black, navy or one style of print. Fits true to size.
Pros: Comfortable, relatively affordable.
Soft yet provides support.
Con: Not as stablizing as some in the medium-support range.
Again this is not the most supportive of my faves. In fact, it is the least. It is just incredibly comfortable. Not what you might run or ski in, it appears to be made with yoga in mind, but is also great for climbing and just life. It is exceedingly soft, with wide shoulder straps and a merciful bottom band, wide enough as it encircles your ribs and with a nearly 1-inch-tall band of elastin, spacing out any pressure.
If you were camping and needed to sleep in it, you would be fine.
The shoulder straps are far enough apart that you can also wear the Bralette when you would rather the straps not show, whether to skip thinking about aligning colors or because it’s just a more sporty look than you want for work or elsewhere that day.
The bra has a racerback design, interior shelf bra, mesh lining and modesty cups (which, if left in, provide support). It is made of 42 percent recycled polyester, 42 percent polyester and 16 percent spandex, and it wicks. Available in four colors. Fit is right on: comfortable, accommodating.
Pros: So comfortable. Soft fabric, wide and wide-apart shoulder straps.
Con: Not supportive for impact sports.
Put this bra on, and you know it means business. While it has those slim double straps, in a graceful split construction, this is a stiff and supportive sports bra. It is high-impact, fine for all: climbing, running, hiking.
It is comfortable, too, though. Many sports bras to me are too tight in the ribcage, meaning across the lower band, and, in a problem common to climbers, many are too tight in the lats, a look that does no one any favors. This bra gets it just right, and it pulls on easily instead of with a struggle.
Comes with modesty cups and venting mesh—actually referred to on the website as “power mesh,” though without further explanation—between the cups and across the back.
My sole criticism is that the comfortable bottom band wicks poorly, retaining some moisture after exercise when the rest of the bra has dried.
The stretchy polyester blend is 61 percent nylon, 33 percent polyester, six percent elastane. It comes in black or two different shades of blue. Fit is a little snug, but you feel you can do any sport in it.
Pros: Supportive, versatile, comfortable.
Con: Bottom band wicks slowly.
“Excuse me, I have to interrupt you,” my friend said as I expounded upon something. “What kind of sports bra is that?”
She was looking at the wide, sturdy straps peering above my T shirt. Those straps are the best: They are downright chunky—even padded—and fully adjustable.
I love this bra because it works for anything, offering the top degree of support (it is a favorite among large-breasted women); and I don’t love having to remember which bras work for which sports. I bought the item several years ago at our local running store, Independence Run and Hike, not knowing it was its running-wear maker’s top-selling sports bra; I was just looking for a good all-arounder.
Not made of the stretchiest material, the bra is a bit awkward to pull on, and the big drawback is that it is hard for the wearer to reach around and blindly latch the hooks and eyes. At times I quit after getting one hook in, and more than once—when out skiing—I was sorry, because it came undone. Try fixing that on a ski lift. The racerback design is nice for mobility but prevents you from being able to latch the bra in front and spin the closure around to the back.
Poly/spandex, wicks great. Available in print and colors. Fits true to size.
At presstime we learned that the model has been discontinued. It is still available while supplies last. So if you want it, better hurry.
Pros: Super-duper supportive, fits well.
Con: Hard to fasten.
This bra is hot! It’s very low-cut and has a super-cute V-neck structure. The back is fun and strappy, and on hot days you’re happy to wear the bra alone.
But be warned—this bra did not pass the mountain-climber calisthenics test! If you’re doing certain aerobic exercises (especially the kind that involve leaning over and jumping), you may encounter revealing slippage. That being said, since my chest is on the smaller side, I found it plenty supportive for climbing and hiking. The removable modesty cups also offered an extra layer of support and padding.
The fabric is great—it’s soft, breathable and wicking. Even on the days I wasn’t working out, I reached for this bra for its comfort and simplicity. It’s thin and stretchy, making it easy to put on and take off. Plus, the fabric is UPF 50+ for extra sun safety, something ideal for a light-haired ginger such as myself.
The bra is made of 93 percent Supplex nylon and seven percent Lycra elastane and comes in five colors. I’m normally a size small, but I’ve found PrAna runs a little bigger. I went with XS and it was perfect.
Pros: Cute, comfortable, great for cragging or gym climbing.
Cons: Low cut; not your calisthenics bra.
The PrAna Momento Crop Top is a stylish, versatile bra that felt great both as a stand-alone top with some funky high-waisted pants, or as a supportive bra for climbing and yoga. The lovely, feminine design is very well made and has a nicely tailored, body-hugging fit. The top feels luxurious and moves beautifully with the body during low-impact activities.
While great for climbing and yoga, the Momento Crop Top wouldn’t be my first choice for running or other high-impact, sweat-intensive activities. The bra doesn’t have a ton of support for B/C cup sizes unless you size down for a tighter overall fit. The fabric, though soft and breathable, also doesn’t wick sweat away or dry as quickly as other bras designed more for running.
The Momento Crop Top comes in three reversible colorways. While the choices are limited, all three are rich, bright tones that provide a nice pop of color for any active wardrobe. Made with 76 percent recycled nylon and 24 percent Lycra elastane.
The PrAna Momento Crop Top is a great choice for women who want a stylish crop-style bra they can choose to wear with layers or by itself. This bra is great for the crag, the local fitness center or even out around town on a summer evening. Fits true to size.
Pros: Stylish, soft, comfy.
Cons: Not great for running.
Of the bras I tested, this was one of my favorites. Falling on the more supportive side of the yoga/climbing category, this is a do-it-all bra. The fabric is comfortable and stretchy but still supportive enough for running or hiking for my A/B cup size (in fact, Oiselle recommends this bra for all levels of impact in sizes up to a C cup). The soft and breathable mesh interior wicks moisture very well and doesn’t feel sticky, even on a hot day. I wore it for an impromptu dip in the creek mid trail run, and while it took a while to dry (like any sports bra), I was surprised by how comfortable and not-clammy it felt even when wet.
I also loved the styling details and would wear this bra as a casual layering piece. Features such as an inch-wide mesh along the neckline, twin shoulder straps, and the cute design where the straps attach between the shoulders add a classy flair without impeding function. Plus, it won’t flatten your boobs out of sight, and removable soft cups add some customizability.
My only complaint was that this bra felt a tad tight under the arms. It wouldn’t be my choice for a very long climb or a trip where I might find myself sleeping in my bra, but this mostly wasn’t an issue for day-to-day wear.
Made with nylon and spandex and available in blue or red.
Pros: Stylish, versatile.
Cons: A little tight around the lats.
While I can appreciate a sports bra that offers lots of coverage in the front and secure compression and support, this isn’t one of those. It is, however, quite comfortable, still supportive enough for activities like climbing or hiking, and refreshingly airy. The bra has a simple racerback design with a deep V-neck in the front (if you don’t like low-cut sports bras, this one is not for you). Patagonia recommends it for women with A/B cups, and states that it is less supportive for larger breasts. For someone with smaller boobs like myself, this bra was plenty supportive for climbing or hiking. It performs well in hot weather, partly because the V-neck breathes so well. Unlike that of many other bras I tested, the interior fabric is not made of mesh, it is just a lighter solid fabric. For that reason perhaps the bra didn’t wick moisture as well as some, but with so little coverage to begin with, it wasn’t actually that noticeable.
My only complaint about this bra was that the thin shoulder straps dug into my neck a bit after a long day of wear. However, it wasn’t bad enough to keep me from wearing the bra.
Also, what’s up with that tag? The interior product-care tag (located on the side of the ribcage) was itchy, and although a dotted line indicates that you are supposed to cut it off, there is no good way to do so without leaving little pokey bits of the tag in the seam.
The bra is made with recycled polyester and spandex jersey and comes in six colors.
Pros: Lightweight, versatile, airy.
Cons: Thin straps may dig into shoulders; itchy tag.
If I had to pick one bra to wear the rest of my life, this would be it. Plain and simple, this is the most versatile and comfortable sports bra I have found. Plus, it looks great, and layers conveniently under just about anything.
Lululemon claims that the Free to Be is a light-support bra, however I (with my smaller A/B boobs) have been able to wear it for higher-impact activities like jogging or hiking as well. It wicks moisture pretty well, but the cups can get just a little sweaty during high-output activities.
I sometimes find it difficult to find a bra that fits muscular lats and shoulders, but this one is the solution. The comfortable, stretchy fabric is form-fitting, supportive and forgiving for typical climber muscles. I’ve even worn this bra overnight while camping on climbing trips and have been super impressed by how comfortable it still is on day two or even three.
Made of nylon, elastane and Lycra and comes in three colors. Fit true to size.
Pros: Fits muscular shoulders, stylish, versatile.
Cons: Cups can feel a tad sweaty.
The Switchback wins my “best of testing” award. This bra provided the most comfortable fit, the greatest impact support, the most well-sourced materials for balancing all-day wear with high activity, and the nicest overall fit.
The Switchback performed well for trail running, climbing and yoga. It was also comfortable enough to wear all day at work before a run, or all day while climbing outside. The fabric feels soft on the skin and didn’t bunch up or create any irritation during testing. The fabric also wicks sweat well and dries quickly after running. It was never damp when I took it off following an activity.
Of the bras I tested, the Switchback provided the best impact support for running in the most minimal and “cute” package. I enjoyed this bra because it feels locked in and supportive, but also feminine and stylish. It didn’t feel bulky or over-designed, and was easy to take on and off. Both the design and the fabric work really well for multiple sports. The fabric is soft enough to move with the body when you are climbing or doing yoga, and the equally soft, wide band across the ribcage does not cut in or pinch.
Made with recycled polyester, spandex jersey and nylon.
Highly recommended for any woman who wants a versatile bra that provides great multisport comfort and support. Fits true to size.
Pros: Comfortable, supportive.
Cons: None, best of testing for me.
Feature image of Allison Vest of Vancouver, B.C., Canada, in the Black Diamond Separate Reality Bra. By Andi Mcleish