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The Best Running Shorts for Every Type of Runner
From comfortable cruisers to thigh-showing showstoppers, discover your next pair of running shorts with this helpful guide.
Running shorts are a classic example of where form follows function. Designed for lightweight comfort that keeps you moving forward, these bottoms can be the key to in-stride success or the root of agonizing defeat. Running in ill-fitting, uncomfortable shorts can lead to chafing, sweating, restricted movement and an all-around, no-good, very bad day.
So, to save your thighs — and running spirit — it’s best to invest in a pair of running shorts that are ready to light up your routes. From the thigh-hugging split shorts designed for gazelle-like strides, to the longer inseams for comfort and style, there’s a short for every step.
BEST OVERALL RUNNING SHORTPatagonia Strider Pro 5-Inch Running Shorts Read More
BEST UPGRADE RUNNING SHORTSatisfy TechSilk 5-Inch Shorts Read More
BEST BUDGET RUNNING SHORTBaleaf Laureate 5-Inch Athletic Short Read More
BEST LONG-DISTANCE RUNNING SHORTJanji 3-Inch AFO Split Short 2.0 Read More
BEST SPLIT SHORT FOR RUNNINGTracksmith Twilight Split Short Read More
What to Look for When Choosing Running Shorts
"Shorts are one of the most challenging pieces for our team to design," says Mike Burnstein, co-founder of Janji. "A) they have the biggest impact on your run out of any piece, b) they are on a part of the body that has such variation across different bodies and c) there is such vastly different personal preference for how short people want to go."
Because running shorts are such an individualistic piece of running garb, it may be beneficial to try on a pair or two for your initial purchases, especially if you're brand-new to this bottom style. Naturally, however, our digital world doesn't lend itself to complete brick-and-mortar shopping anymore, so here are a few key features to consider when thinking about which running shorts to add to your profile.
Running shorts take the “short” moniker to varying levels, with the shortest of the bunch being split shorts. These bottoms feature a split up the outer thigh for improved mobility, making them a great lightweight option for race day. Most split shorts feature inseams between 2–3 inches, though, so unless you’re comfortable showing off this much thigh, it may be best to look elsewhere.
Thankfully, though, there are plenty of running shorts featuring a 5-inch inseam and above. We recommend opting for a 5-inch inseam when choosing running shorts, as this is a great performance-ready length that provides enough structure and coverage for other tasks and training disciplines. If you’re an athlete that mixes their running attire with their gym attire, 7-inch inseams can also be fruitful, as they can provide enough coverage to protect your skin when racking a barbell while still offering lightweight, breathable notes to every stride.
Pockets and Storage
Another factor to consider when choosing running shorts is the available pocket space within each silhouette. While this might not make a huge difference when you’re halfway through your daily miles, if you ever opt to carry your phone or other essentials along for a run — or like to wear your running shorts outside of training sessions — it helps to have convenient storage spots for all your gear. While each bottom can vary by brand, running shorts featuring zippered pockets are our preferred choice. These pockets can be secured more easily, keeping your items on your person and with less chance of flying out of storage. Additionally, we tend to favor shorts with a lone zippered pocket at the rear, as this helps keep our essentials from jostling against our thighs mid-stride. You can also look for lined shorts that include a convenient thigh sleeve for your smartphone. Speaking of lined shorts…
To help reduce chafing and discomfort, you’ll want to run with a liner underneath your running shorts. Some brands build a liner directly into the short silhouette for added convenience, while others just offer an exterior short shell. This perk is all a matter of preference — we’ve run in plenty of lined and unlined models and it’s really up to how you feel on that particular day. The one thing to look for, though, is if you decide to opt for lined shorts, see if the liner features an aforementioned smartphone sleeve. While not necessary, this can be a nice, discrete feature, especially if you want your phone to be housed closer to your thigh to prevent jostling mid-jog. Plus, when not in use, this sleeve typically sits flush with your thigh so you barely notice its presence.
Lastly, your running shorts should be constructed from a durable, breathable material, with many silhouettes using nylon, polyester and Spandex to achieve these demands. Additionally, some running shorts will showcase waterproof or antimicrobial treatments to help defend against any moisture or stench. Ultimately, you should choose a fabric combination — and any additional treatment — that suits your needs. For example, road runners may not require abrasion-resistant or waterproof specs, but athletes that take their miles onto rugged trails and wild scapes may want to invest in bottoms fit for the task.
We understand, though, that reading through the tech specs of running shorts can get confusing rather quickly. Below are a few fabric definitions to help you get a better understanding of what’s built into some of the shorts in this roundup:
Bluesign: A Swiss organization that provides a system and a certification program for the sustainable and clean manufacturing of textiles.
DWR: Stands for “durable water repellent,” a coating added to fabrics to make them water-resistant.
Merino: Wool from the merino sheep.
Nylon: A synthetic thermoplastic linear polyamide known for being strong, durable, elastic, easy to clean and water-resistant.
Polyester: A category of polymers commonly used in clothing and home furnishings. They can be naturally occurring or synthetic. Generally speaking, polyester is a strong material that’s stain-resistant, water-resistant and wind-resistant.
Polygiene: An antimicrobial silver chloride treatment applied at the finishing stages of textile production to control odor in a garment.
Spandex: A fiber made of a long chain of a synthetic polymer composed of at least 85 percent of a segmented polyurethane. It’s stretchy while retaining its length and shape. It’s durable, smooth, comfortable and resistant to abrasion. Also known as Lycra and Elastane.
How We Tested
We routinely test and examine running short silhouettes throughout the year, noting objective qualities like performance, convenience and overall aesthetics. While a running short’s fit is ultimately up to personal preference, similar to your running shoes and favorite pair of jeans, we try to offer the best testimony possible to make purchasing your next best running kit as seamless a process as possible. We assessed these picks on roads and trails throughout the nation, from the hilly streets of Pittsburgh, to the sun-soaked beaches of San Diego; the technical trails of Reservoir Ridge Natural Area in Fort Collins, Colorado, to the smooth singletrack in Lory State Park. We’ve run everywhere.
Now, let’s gear up for extended mileage and get right into the best running shorts available today.
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