Tank tops with built-in support bras (also known as a built-in shelf bras) are great for those days when you want to achieve maximum support with minimal effort, or when layering up feels too constraining. Supported tank tops are built with varying levels of support and different fabric material for all types of exercise – from yoga, to climbing, to trail running, to hiking, to Sunday afternoon chores.
Depending on your breast size and preferred level of support, you may find a specific brand and fabric material works better for you over another. Generally, tank tops with built-in bra support are best for medium impact sports (hiking and backpacking). Although, smaller chested women may find they are perfectly comfortable doing high impact activity in just a built-in support bra.
If you have a larger chest, built-in shelf bras are usually only functional up to medium-impact activity. Those women who are doing more intensive activity or high impact sports will prefer to wear an additional sports bra underneath the supported tank top for maximum support while exercising.
If you can find a built-in support tank top that works best for you, you won’t go back! There is nothing like having an all-in-one experience. And when you are sweaty from a good workout, no peeling back multiple uncomfortable, clingy layers!
Why Go With A Built-in Shelf Bra?
Some tank tops have hidden support sewn into them. The most common type is called shelf bra. Shelf bras are not meant to be worn as the everyday bra. But they sure are comfortable when worn during the right activities!
This two-in-one design is made with an additional layer of fabric sewn into the singlet just below the breasts. The shelf has an elastic that pulls the material tight against the body and helps to comfortably compress the breast tissue in the material. Tank tops with built-in support allow the top to hold better structure and move with your body, rather than getting bunched up under other layers and under your hiking pack.
Most built-in shelf bra tank tops are form fitting or slim fitting. Some have adjustable straps for extra stability and customized support. They can be seamless or will have seams that lay flat against the skin to minimize pressure points against the skin.
Seamless tank tops also allow the material more stretch ability. Most tank tops are made with fabrics and material that make the tank tops naturally lightweight and clingy, but not restrictive. They come in a variety of designs and colors and are fashionable for hiking on the trails and for coffee dates.
Our Top 7 Picks
You are going to hate this, but a friendly reminder to shop for your best fit for your workout of choice. Do not get caught up making excuses for why the colorful tank top with the unique strap pattern across your back is best for your long hike or backpacking trip. Yes, totally grab one of those for yoga or the Saturday brunch date!
But do not expect it to be supportive for a long day hike or comfortable under the straps and back padding of your backpack. It may certainly cause chafing, hot spots, or indents.
1. Patagonia Women’s Cross Beta Tank Top
The Cross Beta is a low- to mid-impact supported tank top. Both tank top and the built-in shelf bra is made from recycled polyester and spandex jersey. It is moisture-wicking, quick dry, and has odor control features.
It is great for hiking, backpacking, trail running (depending on your preferred support level), climbing, and yoga. It is soft, stretchy, and rests smoothly against your skin. The straps cross in the back and lie flat to prevent chafing.
Material: 86% polyester (43% recycled) / 14% spandex jersey
2. PrAna Kaewe Support Tank
The Kaewe tank top has it all. It is moisture wicking, faux-wrap blouson style tank with crossing backstraps. The shelf bra has mesh lining and plush elastic. It’s unique relaxed fit is flattering and supportive – great for those days when you prefer not to have a slim fitting tank.
Material: 13% polyester / 76% nylon / 11% spandex
3. Black Diamond Campus Tank
The Campus Tank is a racerback cut and is made with a light, soft material. The integrated sports bra adds support but can be removed from the tank top making it more versatile as a two-in-one standalone piece. The modesty cups are removable.
Material: 89% polyester / 11% elastane
4. PrAna Momento Top
The Momento Top is fitted, moisture-wicking, and lightweight. This tank top is also made with ultraviolet protection factor 50, meaning it has sun protection right in the material. The racerback design is strappy and stylish.
The interior shelf bra has a mesh lining and removable modesty cups. It comes in neutral natural colors. PrAna offers an interactive sizing chart that recommends the tank top size that will fit you best.
Material: 76% recycled nylon / 24% lycra elastane
5. Marmot Women’s Vogue Tank
The Vogue Tank is functional and attractive. The material is soft and breathable. The Vogue has the ultraviolet protection factor 50 technology.
Material: 92% nylon supplex / 8% elastane
6. Lululemon Ebb to Street Tank II
This Lululemon tank is a slim cut racerback design specifically for light support. It is marketed for women with B/C breast sizes, but will work for smaller cup sizes as well.
It is made of ribbed sweat wicking material that hugs the body without being constraining. The shelf include pockets for removable cups.
7. Athleta Hyper Focused Support Top
The Hyper Focused Support Top is designed for women with breast sizes A-C. It is great for medium-impact workouts and provides a flattering amount of coverage.
It is lightweight, soft, stretchy, and comfortable. This top is moisture wicking, has ultraviolet protection factor technology, and is odor resistant. Great for the long days on the trail.
Material: nylon and lycra blend.
Tank tops with built-in support can be found in different styles. Tank tops are made with a higher neck line or low cut, racerback or cross backed, thin straps, thick straps, or adjustable straps. Take into consideration whether you want the neckline higher or lower depending on your comfort.
Spaghetti straps can be flattering, but they are less supportive if you are larger chested and may lay right under a backpack strap causing you some discomfort. Racerback tank tops will be more supportive. There is the perfect supported tank top for you.
Designers make shelf bra tank tops is a variety of colors and designs allowing you to pick what works best for your personality color. It is common for women who have found that perfect supported tank top, to buy several of the same tank top in different colors.
Purchasing sports specific tank tops will ensure that the material you are getting has the basic features: breathable, form fitting but stretchy, and lightweight. Most materials include a blend of two or more of polyester, spandex, nylon or elastane. Additional options include moisture-wicking, ultraviolet protection factor (UPF), and odor reduction.
Moisture-wicking is an important feature. It allows sweat and water to be pulled through the material and away from the body and allowing it to be evaporated resulting in a quick dry function. This helps to better regulate the body’s temperature. Just remember though, cotton is not your friend on the trail. It does not dry quickly and when it gets wet, it gets cold, heavy, and can cause uncomfortable chaffing.
Polyester fabrics have a high resistance to water, wind, and other environmental factors. Although, they are less fire-resistant and can melt easily if ignited.
Nylon is known for being elastic, durable, and dyeable. Pure nylon is not as strong or comfortable as blended nylon proves to be, hence why you find nylon in clothing at lower percentages.
Spandex, also known as lycra or elastane, is a synthetic fiber known for its elasticity. Spandex (an anagram for expands) is known for its elasticity and strength, as it can stretch up to five times its length and then return to its original shape and size.
Most of these materials are made from plastic or coal products and, therefore, are naturally unsustainable. However, there are a handful of responsible companies who make the effort to recycle old materials when making new products. Responsible consumers should also make the earth-friendly conscious effort to support those companies by wearing their recycled or repurposed clothes.
When it comes to sizing, it is best if you know your bra size. If you do not, or have never been properly fitted, it may be worth the time and effort to go get a fitting with a bra specialist. They can help make sure that you have the best support to eliminate long term tissue damage, chafing, and general discomfort. Discomfort from the wrong sized bra can spread to your shoulders, back, hips, and knees.
Yes, even your knees can be affected by the way you carry yourself top down. The technology is here, and it is great! Go take advantage and treat yourself right!
Most brands will provide a sizing chart that can help to better accurately fit their brands sizing to your body. Unfortunately, though, most brands measure their supportive tank tops by generic sizes – XS, S, M, L, XL. Which is not helpful for women’s tank tops where the breast size may not coordinate with your structural size.
It is best to try on tank tops before committing to them. If not, at least read the reviews on the tank tops because reviewers will state their size and body type, explain how the tank top fit on them, and whether they thought the sizing was true to fit or not.
Large or small breasted, most brands have designed functional and trendy supported bra tank tops. It is not longer an article of clothing only appropriate for the trail but is nice enough to wear during day-to-day activities.
Performance in sports and activity can be affected by the type of bra you wear. Exercising or not, a good shelf bra will provide you the proper support to protect and keep your breasts comfortable for long periods of activity. Even low impact activities can cause discomfort if your breasts are not properly held in place. A good quality shelf bra is designed to handle small and large movements.
A regular bra can cause tension on the shoulders, are not breathable, and can create sweat patches that intensify chafing and create rashes.
Breasts are independent external organs that are connected to the body by skin and delicate ligaments. Muscle ligaments in breasts move with body movement – up, down, and sideways. Women have experienced pangs of pain after exercising from unsupported breast movement. Lack of breast support can also lead to back pain.
Even small breast sizes can experience permanent tissue damage. Movement combined with inadequate support will lead to long-term or pre-mature sagging and can cause stretch marks. Once the supportive breast tissues are stretched, they cannot return to the original shape.
Washing your sports bras more often than not is best for them. Washing can mean letting them soak in the shower while you bathe or machine washing them at low temperatures. Air drying is a good option too, as it does not force the cups of shelf bras into positions that can wear down the material faster and leading to a shorter life span.
Be sure to read the label to follow the most appropriate instructions for the particular material of your tank top. It is not suggested to use bleach, softeners, to tumble dry, or to dry on high heat.
Best Time To Buy
Now is the best time to be shopping for built-in supported tank tops. The sales are big as the season is transitioning from summer to fall. Brands are beginning to clear out their racks to make room for fall inventory – so take advantage and stalk up for the rest of this summer into next.
You can find deals through the brands directly, or check out other online forums and shops for discounts. Additionally, because of the difficultly it is to fit into some of the more generic sizes, consignment shops frequently have built-in support tank tops that owners are looking to find new homes for.
What to read next:
Nadine enjoys writing about her love for wild places. As an environmental attorney and adventure writer, she is passionate about combining her legal and political expertise with her personal experiences to protect our constantly changing environment. Find her in the backcountry with her life partner and their dog running, mountain biking, skiing, and climbing.