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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.

blue, brown, and green collage of running shorts
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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. Here’s 15 of the best running shorts you can add to your mile-logging wardrobe.

The Five Fs of Running Shorts

These may not be the official industry terms, but they cover everything you need to think about when buying a pair of shorts.

Fit and Function

In today’s running landscape there are a number of fits available, with the shortest being split shorts, the uniform de rigeur of cross country runners, with a split up the outer thigh for mobility. These typically have a 2–3-inch inseam. They’re lightweight, barely there, give no fucks shorts.

If you’re not all about showing off those thighs, there are now lots of great options with 5-inch inseams that feel nearly as performance-oriented as split shorts thanks to really thoughtful design and great materials. Instead of a split up the thigh they usually have a v-shaped notch. Whereas split shorts will fly up like a skirt on a windy day or, say, the rowing machine at the gym, some 5-inch shorts have enough structure that they’ll stay in place.

Once you get up to shorts with a 7-inch inseam and longer, they are typically either unlined (meaning: you need briefs) or have built-in undershorts or compression shorts, which means you’re dealing with a good amount of fabric and will trade performance for a combination of modesty, luxury and comfort. There are exceptions, of course, that can still feel pretty light, fast and mobile.

Features

Features are important, because whether you can carry a phone or a handful of snacks informs where and how far you’ll run. “Since our core consumer goes on long trail runs, we have built a pocketing system with enough capacity to hold adequate amounts of Gu, water, snacks, emergency pieces and gear,” says Eric Andrews, The North Face Product Manager for Run + Train. “We took extra care to make it stealth enough to not distract or bounce during their run.”

A rear center zip pocket is the most common form of storage — the bare minimum. Some brands get creative, like Tracksmith’s three interior pockets hidden in the liner of their teensy Twilight shorts, or Patagonia’s barely-noticeable four mesh pockets on the waist of the Strider Pro shorts.

Fabric and Fashion

Fashion is sort of a no-brainer — find a style that suits your personality — but fabrics are a little tougher to decipher from just a picture alone. As you’ll see with each product, most are made of some combination of nylon, polyester and Spandex (also known as Elastane or Lycra). This doesn’t tell you very much, though, since depending on how the materials are woven, treated and blended — which is often proprietary and gets its own branding, like Olivers’ All Over Stretch Weave or Lululemon’s Out of Mind liner construction — the end product needs to be touched and worn to be understood. (Gone are the days when we just ran around in Umbros and that was that.)

As a general rule, however, shorts are getting lighter and faster while still offering great quality and functionality. You don’t have to settle for ordinary running shorts, because there are truly delightful garments out there.

Running Shorts Terms to Know

Before diving into our picks, here are some helpful definitions to keep your purchasing pace in-stride.

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.

Inseam: The measurement taken on the inside of the leg, from the crotch to the hem.

Merino: Wool from the merino sheep.

Nylon: A synthetic thermoplastic linear polyamide known for being strong, durable, elastic, easy to clean and water-resistant.

Outseam: The measurement taken on the outside of the leg, from the top of the waistband to the hem.

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 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.

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How We Tested
green, khaki, and blue running shorts
Gear Patrol

Like running shoes or a pair of jeans, fit is absolutely personal when it comes to running shorts. As Mike Burnstein, co-founder of Janji, explains, “Shorts are one of the most challenging pieces for our team to design because 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.”

That said, there are qualities of running shorts that can be objectively considered: Do they look good? How does the material perform in different conditions? Are the features, like pockets, useful or does everything jiggle around? And so on. 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.

BEST OVERALL RUNNING SHORTS
Strider Pro 5-inch Running Shorts
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Patagonia

  • Light, minimal elastic waistband adds comfort and moisture management

  • Pockets may be too shallow to hold a smartphone or other essentials
  • Inseam: 5-inch
  • Materials: Body: 100% polyester stretch ripstop with a DWR finish

These shorts jam a ton of performance and style into an ultralight package. The design is thoughtful, with polyester stretch ripstop fabric used for most of the shorts and some mesh over the thighs, all of which drapes comfortably and with style — even with four mesh pockets on the hips. Polygiene treatment keeps the briefs from getting too funky and DWR keeps the rest from getting wet.

These shorts jam a ton of performance and style into an ultralight package. The design is thoughtful, with polyester stretch ripstop fabric used for most of the shorts and some mesh over the thighs, all of which drapes comfortably and with style — even with four mesh pockets on the hips. Polygiene treatment keeps the briefs from getting too funky and DWR keeps the rest from getting wet.
BEST UPGRADE RUNNING SHORT
Tech-Silk 8-inch Short
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Satisfy

  • Lightweight technical silk is breathable but ultra resilient

  • Premium pricing
  • Inseam: 8-inch
  • Materials: Exterior: 88% Polyamide, 12% Elastane / Lining: 59% Polyamide, 41% Elastane

Embrace your “running cult” status with these lined bottoms from Satisfy. These super lightweight running shorts allow plenty of breeze through to keep you cool on your route, while the proprietary Justice Multi-Stretch Tech-Silk lining moves effortlessly with every stride. Plus, we love the storage features, including the expandable sweatproof phone pocket and mini S-biner in the waistband. These are some seriously sweet shorts, even if they come with a premium price tag.

BEST BUDGET RUNNING SHORT
Run Within 7-inch Linerless Short
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Brooks

  • 4-way stretch for great mobility

  • Fit feels shorter than the listed 7-inch inseam
  • Inseam: 7-inch
  • Materials: 86% polyester, 14% Spandex

Okay, technically these aren’t “running shorts,” coming from Brooks’s first cross-functional apparel collection, but the Run Within Linerless Short is a great option nonetheless. The lightweight fabric sits comfortably on the thigh, albeit a little higher than the listed 7-inch inseam, and the distraction-free design keeps things simple and focused on the run. We’ve logged plenty of miles in these soft, simple shorts, and continue to reach for them across a number of our workouts and activities.

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running socks
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BEST LONG-DISTANCE RUNNING SHORT
3-inch AFO Split Short
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Janji

  • Perforated waistband with external drawcord for a breathable, comfortable ride

  • Too short for the shy
  • Inseam: 3-inch
  • Materials: AFO: 88% recycled polyester, 12% Elastane / Liner: 94% polyester, 6% Spandex

Made from Janji’s ultra-light AFO stretch woven fabric and featuring a moisture-wicking brief liner, these shorts are super breathable thanks to a deep split up the side for venting and boosted mobility. A zippered pocket in the back can hold keys or a phone — but you really have to cram it in. These are split shorts with a serious attitude, meant to be worn when you win at everything.

BEST SPLIT RUNNING SHORT
Twilight Split Shorts
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Tracksmith

  • Antimicrobial and soft fabric performs on long runs

  • Not ideal for everyday wear
  • Inseam: 3-inch
  • Materials: Body: 85% polyester, 15% Elastane / Lining: 91% polyester, 9% Spandex with Polygiene

It doesn’t get much shorter than the Twilight Shorts, which carry forward Tracksmith’s collegiate aesthetic with some fancy fabric work. Bravio is a micro-polyester and Elastane blend that’s stretchy, lightweight, antimicrobial and super soft. The liner has three clever pockets in the back for storing gels and means of payment, not that you’re showing this much thigh around town for any extended period of time.

BEST MID-GRADE RUNNING SHORT
Surge 6-inch Lined Short
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Lululemon

  • Out of Mind liner features a 3D-shaped pouch for premium support

  • Only one small back pocket
  • Inseam: 6-inch
  • Materials: Body: 86% recycled polyester, 14% Elastane / Liner: 82% polyester, 18% Elastane

Not looking to go full-in on split shorts but still want some well-performing runners? The Surge Lined 6-inch Short offers up a lightweight profile thanks to the Swift fabric design, along with four-way stretch for seamless mobility. And when you’re in the thick of a personal best, the sweat-wicking, quick-drying Out of Mind liner with 3D-shaped pouch keeps things secure and supported.

BEST WARM WEATHER RUNNING SHORT
Cool-Lite Merino Impulse Running Shorts
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Ice Breaker

  • Merino wool naturally regulates body temperature

  • Inner lining might be to tight for some
  • Inseam: 5-inch
  • Materials: Body: 90% nylon, 10% Elastane / Lining: 51% Merino Wool, 35% Tencel, 14% Nylon

Best for warm weather, these technical shorts utilize merino wool — which Icebreaker brought to the forefront of outdoor and fitness gear — to naturally regulate temperature. Combined with Tencel and nylon, the lining is comfortable and chafe-resistant. A PFC-free DWR finish protects against light rains, and a zippered back pocket, along with power mesh back hip pockets, allow you to carry all your essentials in comfort.

BEST SHORT FOR EVERYDAY WEAR
High Stride 7-inch Short
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Outdoor Voices

  • Affordable pick for everyday wear

  • Only one back pocket
  • Inseam: 7-inch
  • Materials: 100% recycled polyester

The High Stride Short is made from 100 percent recycled polyester for a functional profile that’s as versatile as it is stylish. A compression shorts liner adds support, while a lone back pocket can house your smartphone or wallet. Some reviewers say sizing can run small, so consider going up a size if you want a roomier fit.

BEST RUNNING SHORT FOR RUNNING ERRANDS
All Over Short
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Olivers

  • Could be mistaken for an everyday short, in the best way

  • A bit too structured for some runners
  • Inseam: 7.5-inch
  • Materials: All Over Stretch Weave: 88% nylon, 12% Spandex

As an everyday running short, it doesn’t get any better than the All Overs. The cut is flattering and a bit structured — some split and otherwise lightweight shorts can be a bit blousey — while still being lightweight and unrestrictive. There isn’t a liner to speak of, so comfort might be an issue on longer runs, but they’re otherwise flawless with four-way stretch and water-repellant, moisture-wicking All Over Stretch Weave Fabric.

BEST COMPRESSION RUNNING SHORT
Flight Stridelight 2-In-1 Short
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The North Face

  • FlashDry quick-drying fabric keeps running conditions cool

  • Integrated pocketing system limits on-the-go access
  • Inseam: 5.5-inch
  • Materials: Body: 30D 65 G/M2 85% recycled polyester, 15 % Elastane Plain Weave with FlashDry

Combining compression with a lightweight feel, these shorts from The North Face are also super breathable thanks to micro-perforations for enhanced ventilation in key areas. The compression liner keeps things covered and supported, and FlashDry fabric assists in keeping you cool and dry. An integrated pocketing system and drawcord keep things stable and organized, too, but can be tricky to maneuver when you’re in-stride.

MOST DURABLE RUNNING SHORT
Luka 5-inch Short with Liner
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Legends

  • Strong exterior fabric that’s breathable and ready to work

  • Optional built-in liner is not compression
  • Inseam: 5-inch (other inseam lengths available)
  • Materials: 91% polyester, 9% Spandex

Seriously, good luck wearing out these workhorse shorts. Available in practically any color imaginable, the Luka Short features four-way stretch and antimicrobial tech to keep you mobile and stink-free. Laser-cut vents add a touch of breathability, and you can opt for lined or linerless profiles, depending on your desired support. Best of all, these durable running shorts can withstand even the hungriest of dryers, according to one reviewer, meaning you can log tons of miles before these runners give out.

BEST RUNNING SHORT FOR MODEST RUNNERS
ADV Essence 5-inch Shorts
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Craft

  • Elastic inner brief for a cozy touch of support

  • No recycled materials
  • Inseam: 5-inch
  • Materials: 95% recycled polyester, 5% Elastane

If you want short shorts that retain a sense of modesty, Craft’s inner elastic briefs provide thigh coverage and some extra support. The outer material is ultralight, with a strip of mesh on both sides, as well as in the back above the hips. The reflective prints give these runners enhanced visibility during low-light conditions as well. Simple, no frills. Just here to perform and take on the road ahead.

MOST CROSS-FUNCTIONAL RUNNING SHORT
Interval 5-inch Short
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Ten Thousand

  • Thick, no-pinch waistband for ultimate comfort

  • Zippered pocket not ideal for larger smartphones
  • Inseam: 5-inch (other inseam lengths available)
  • Materials: 86% polyester, 14% Spandex

If you want just one style of short to get you through your running sessions as well as your days in the weight room, the Interval Short from Ten Thousand delivers exceptional versatility. Multiple inseam lengths are available — along with lined and linerless options — but we prefer the shorter 5-inch model for running disciplines. With multiple pockets for easy storage and a cling-free, ultra-wicking shell, these running shorts are just waiting at the gate to help you find that top speed.

BEST TRAIL RUNNING SHORT
R5 2-in-1 Shorts
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Gore Wear

  • Support and comfort without compromise

  • Loose fit might not cater to some runners
  • Inseam: 5-inch
  • Materials: Main Fabric: 86% polyester, 14% Elastane / Panels: 100% polyester / Liner: 85% Polyamide, 15% Elastane

From the makers of Gore-Tex, the R5 2-in-1 Shorts are built for tackling tough terrain. Gore’s Selected Fabrics deliver outstanding performance, comfort and protection against the most demanding trail conditions, along with quick-drying features to maintain a comfortable profile. A back zip pocket can house your phone or other essentials, too, as you take your running off-road in search of new challenges.

BEST LOOKING SHORT
Kore Short
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Vuori Clothing

  • Anti-odor and quick-drying for funk-free running

  • Baggy pockets can hinder secure storage
  • Inseam: 7.5-inch
  • Materials: 46% recycled polyester, 44% polyester, 10% Elastane

If you're looking for a short that does everything, and with style, this pair checks all the boxes. The Kore Short features anti-odor, moisture-wicking, quick drying, four-way stretch fabric made from recycled content. A plethora of colorways guarantee you'll find a style that works for you. And the relaxed fit with a boxer brief liner maintains flexibility and comfort as you stack your miles.

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