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2023 SELF Activewear Awards: The Best Sweatshirts and Layers

All products featured on SELF are independently selected by our editors. However, when you buy something through our retail links, we may earn an affiliate commission.

There is nothing better than a great sweatshirt. Your closet isn’t complete without at least a few, each of which you might reach for in different circumstances. Personally, I’ve got my sleeping sweatshirt, my yoga sweatshirt, my warmest sweatshirt, and my even good-with-jeans sweatshirt—and I wouldn’t be surprised if you said the same. 

While the sweatshirt is very much a basic wardrobe item, small design details can go a long way in transforming it from a heap of material in the back of your closet to something that serves a very real purpose, particularly when it comes to how you like to stay active. (Or, alternatively, how you like to rest.)

As part of SELF’s 2023 Activewear Awards, we’ve selected the best new sweatshirts, layers, zip-ups, and hoodies to help you stay cozy all year long, no matter the weather—or how you like to move. Keep reading to see and shop them all. 

What to Look for When Shopping for Sweatshirts and Outer Layers 

As when shopping for all types of activewear, first consider your use case. Do you need a new sweatshirt to throw on for your walk to the gym? Are you looking for something more performance-centric for mild-weather runs? Or are you really hoping to score a does-it-all pick: one that’s just as comfy when you’re reading in bed as it is when you take the dog for a brisk morning walk? 

If you’re planning on doing any activity where you tend to sweat, get hot, or increase your heart rate, then technical, breathable fabrics—like nylon, polyester, or even bamboo—should be at the top of your list. If you think you’ll wear your sweatshirt for lower-intensity activities, something softer and thicker like cotton could be a fine option. 

When shopping, pay attention to pockets, zippers, and any other added features that can help you stow loose items while you’re on the move. Remember to always try on your sweatshirt or top layer with something underneath it to make sure that, when worn together, both garments won’t restrict your movement or make you uncomfortable. And finally, make sure you’re okay to tote the sweatshirt in some other way should you want to take it off: Does it tie nicely around your hips? Can you sling it over your shoulders or stuff it into a backpack? No one likes the feeling of being stuck with deadweight when you’re on the go. (Even if that deadweight is very, very cozy.) 

How We Picked the Winners for our 2023 Activewear Awards

The tees, tanks, and shirts considered for the 2023 SELF Activewear Awards had to meet our submission guidelines, which you can read more about here. After brands submitted almost 500 items, a group of 45 testers (consisting of SELF staffers, fitness professionals, and exercise enthusiasts) got to work testing. Testers had two months to wear an item several times and in a number of ways, judging its performance against the standards set in SELF’s Activewear Buying Guide (a summary of which you can read above!). The tees, tanks, and shirts that came out on top are listed below. 

During our selection process, we were met once again with the disheartening reality that plus-size activewear options are not nearly as numerous as they should be, nor are they offered in the same quality as many straight sized lines. For that reason, we decided to include items that went up to a size 2X on the winners list, while instituting a new extended sizing badge system so you can easily tell at a glance which products are made for you (or not, as the case may be). For items that do only go up to 2X, we’ve mentioned comparable options from brands we trust that weren’t part of the testing process but are available in additional sizes. We hope that these awards, the badge system, and SELF as a whole will continue to push the industry forward when it comes to size inclusivity and fat acceptance. 

You can read more about our behind-the-scenes process hereAnd don’t forget to check out the rest of the 2023 SELF Activewear Award winners here! 

Josefina Santos. Wardrobe styling by Marion Kelly. Prop Styling by Danielle Selig at 11th House. Hair by Chika Nishiyama. Makeup by Ingeborg.


The Best Active Hoodie: Old Navy Dynamic Fleece Pullover Hoodie for Women

Old Navy Dynamic Fleece Pullover Hoodie for Women

With subtle zipper pockets, a drawstring hood, and elongated thumbhole cuffs, this Old Navy hoodie stole the hearts of our testers, who wore it for training clients at the gym, taking long outdoor walks, and warming up before a workout. The lightweight fleece is warm but breathable, which is why this sweatshirt works just as well on a mild day as it does layered beneath your winter jacket. Ultimately, the semi-boxy cut, pastel colorways, and soft fabric elevate a wardrobe staple. “It’s a clean top that works for working in the gym—not just working out in the gym,” said one tester, who is a certified personal trainer. 

Available in sizes XS to 4X.

The Best Crew Neck: Alo Accolade Crew Neck Pullover

Alo Accolade Crew Neck Pullover

This simple crew neck can do no wrong. It’s a unisex pullover (so sizes run a bit big) made from soft, light French terry. While certainly on the pricier side for a sweatshirt, our testers loved its pre-worn feel and supersoft stitching. “It’s the perfect weight to throw over a sports bra when you’re commuting to and from your workout,” one tester wrote. “The inside is soft, and it’s roomy, but not so much that it looks frumpy.”

Available in sizes XXS to 2XL (22). 

The Best Zip-Up Sweatshirt: Beyond Yoga Spacedye Everyday Hoodie

Beyond Yoga Spacedye Everyday Hoodie

Beyond Yoga’s signature soft and stretchy Spacedye fabric is making its debut in zip-up form in 2023 with this light sweatshirt, which is well-suited for movement and activity. “It’s lovely in every way,” one tester said. “It’s stretchy, soft, and kept me warm on crisp days.” While it’s certainly not cheap, a tester asserted that “the quality and functionality is worth the price point.” This style runs true to size—if you’d like a skintight fit, we recommend sizing down. 

Available in sizes XS to 4X. 

The Best Quarter-Zip: Under Armour Women’s Armour Fleece ¼ Zip

Under Armour Women’s Armour Fleece ¼ Zip

Our testers wore this quarter-zip on outdoor runs, dog walks, commutes to the climbing gym, and while doing “strenuous household chores,” perhaps the most universal form of exercise. “This is exactly the type of midlayer I dream of wearing,” one tester said. “It has a slightly boxy—but not bulky—fit through the body, the sleeves reached my wrists, and the quarter-zip neckline didn’t choke me when fully zipped up. The fleece lining feels very high-quality—fuzzy and cozy but low-profile.” Take note: This fleece does get warm, so it’s best for chillier days.

Available in sizes XS to XXL. Additional sizes up to 3X available in a similar style here. 

The Best Cold-Weather Hoodie: Under Armour Men’s UA Essential Fleece Full-Zip Hoodie

Under Armour Men’s UA Essential Fleece Full-Zip Hoodie

Under Armour’s no-frills zip-up hoodie is like the vanilla ice cream of activewear: It’s excellent to have in your stash and is sure to please just about everyone. (Which is why we also think it’s an excellent gift, if you’re not shopping for yourself.) Both of our testers noted how soft the fleece lining was—so while the item was breathable enough to withstand several runs and strength-training workouts, it was also pleasant and cozy, a balance that’s not always easy to nail. 

Available in sizes XS to 3XL. 

The Best Thermal Base Layer: Smartwool Women’s Classic Thermal Merino Base Layer Crew 

Smartwool Women’s Classic Thermal Merino Base Layer Crew Plus

You might know Smartwool for their excellent Merino wool socks, a dependable favorite of hikers and outdoor adventurers. Well, the brand makes excellent technical apparel too—so you can stay comfortable from head to toe. This base layer crew neck shirt is made of 100% Merino wool, which regulates body temperature, helping you feel cooler when you’re hot and warmer when you’re cold, as SELF previously reported. One of our testers wore this shirt on a four-mile hike through snowy mountains in 32-degree weather. “I like that the body of the shirt was fitted but the sleeves were slightly loose,” she said. “That offered the mobility I need when hiking and scrambling. The material was very soft, not itchy at all, and comfortable.” In fact, she said it was so comfortable, she’d sleep in it during a backpacking trip too. 

Available in sizes XS to 3X. 

The Best Nursing Sweatshirt: Kindred Bravely Bamboo Nursing & Maternity Crew Pullover

Kindred Bravely Bamboo Nursing & Maternity Crew Pullover

Kindred Bravely won SELF Activewear Awards for its excellent maternity gear last year—and it’s back again in 2023 with a sweatshirt our pregnant and nursing testers couldn’t get enough of. The smart design features two subtle zippers—one for each breast—and super-stretchy material so you can whip the whole thing off in a moment’s notice. “The zippers make it so that you don’t have to leave both boobs hanging out while nursing, which is so much more comfortable, especially in public,” one tester said. A tester also praised the versatile style: “It is very easily interchangeable between loungewear and activewear because of the material. Light and not bulky, but warm!” If changing from your pajamas into activewear is one less thing nursing parents have to worry about, we’ll take it. 

Available in sizes XS to XXL. Additional sizes up to 3X available in a similar style here. 

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