Let’s role play for a second here. You’re reclining on a tufted leather couch, a real mid-century type with nicely aged leather, in my office. There’s a small library on the wall opposite the couch and a few framed photos of me giving a post-race thumbs up, an Ironman finisher medal hanging from a nail, next to my degree in cognitive psychology from some fancy university.
Now take me back to a time when you went out for a long trail run. Picture that creamy blue sky, the color of a robin’s egg; the trees are beginning to turn, setting the landscape on fire. You felt fantastic leaving the trailhead, hit your stride around mile five, only to start chafing terribly halfway through the run at mile seven. The fire has moved from the trees to between your legs. You walked the last five miles home bow-legged and with a new appreciation for the depth of experience you can have when a wayward seam rubs against your sensitive inner thigh. Feel that burn for a second. Crawl inside it. Good.
Now let’s talk about how to avoid it: with a great pair of running shorts. From split shorts made for laying down a PR on the track to 7 inchers (and longer) that put comfort first, here are the 14 best running shorts you can buy now.
Going Long on Shorts
How We Tested
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 on the roads and trails in and around Fort Collins, Colorado, from the technical trails of Reservoir Ridge Natural Area, to the smooth singletrack in Lory State Park, to some hiking trails just over the Wyoming border in Medicine Bow-Routt National Forest.
Terms to Know
Inseam: On the inside of the leg, the measurement from the crotch to the hem.
Outseam: On the outside of the leg, the measurement from the top of the waistband to the hem.
Bluesign: A Swiss organization that provides a system and a certification program for the sustainable and clean manufacturing of textiles.
Nylon: A synthetic thermoplastic linear polyamide known for being strong, durable, elastic, easy to clean and water-resistant.
Spandex: A fiber made of a long-chain of synthetic polymer comprised of at least 85% 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.
Polyester: A category of polymers used commonly in clothing and home furnishings. They can be naturally-occurring or synthetic. Generally speaking, polyester is stain-resistant, strong and resistant to water and wind.
Merino: Wool from the merino sheep.
DWR: Stands for “durable water repellent,” a coating added to fabrics to make them water-resistant.
Polygiene: An antimicrobial silver chloride treatment applied at the finishing stages of textile production to control odor in a garment.
What to Look for in Shorts
Let’s just make it simple and call it the F-words, shall we? Fit, function, features, fabrics and fashion. These may not be the official industry terms, but they cover everything you need to think about when buying a pair of shorts. In terms of fit and function, the soul of running shorts is split shorts, the shortest shorts out there, the uniform de rigeur of cross country runners, with a split up the outer thigh for mobility. These typically have a 2” or 3” inseam. They’re lightweight, barely there, give no fucks shorts.
At 5” inch inseam, there are now lots of great options that feel nearly as performance-oriented as split shorts thanks to really thoughtful design and great materials, without showing quite as much of the upper thigh — 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” shorts have enough structure that they’ll stay in place. “Our most popular is our Middle Short, which is 4.5″ inseam and kind of the sweet spot for our core customer who wants something light and fast, but something you won’t be embarrassed to walk into a coffee shop with,” Janji’s Burnstein says.
Once you get up to shorts with a 7” 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, like Iffley Road’s Brighton Shorts, which at 8” still feel pretty light, fast and mobile.
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.
Finally, there are the fabrics (there’s fashion, but you can look at the pictures). As you can 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. The point is: You don’t have to settle for ordinary running shorts, because there are truly delightful garments out there.
- Lots of pockets
- Not high on style
These shorts jam a ton of performance and style into an ultralight package. The design is thoughtful, with polyester micro dobby 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.
Materials: Body: 100% polyester micro dobby with a DWR finish
- Fabric is unparalleled for comfort
- Stylish and functional
- Not a lot of short for the price
The undisputed style arbiter of the out and back, Satisfy makes beautiful shorts that are also extremely functional, with a stretchy and chafe-preventing interior, a hook for keys, four pockets, and optional tie-dye printed fabric. When you run in these shorts, Champagne is your recovery drink.
Materials: Outer: Printed ripstop, lightweight and breathable fabric from Italy; Interior: Satisfy Justice (moisture control, fast dry, odor control, 4-way-stretch) fabric from France
- Anti-microbial and soft fabric performs on long runs
- A little too short for everyday wear
It doesn’t get much shorter than the Twilights, which carry forward Tracksmith’s collegiate aesthetic with some fancy fabric work: Bravio is a micro-polyester and elastane blend that’s stretchy, lightweight, anti-microbial 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.
Materials: Bravio fabric, a micro-polyester and elastane blend
- Affordable pick for everyday wear
- A little long for ultra-runners
The athleisure pioneer makes these comfortable shorts out of 100 percent recycled polyester, which they’ve turned into a functional pair of shorts with a very comfortable liner and a functional, hidden phone pocket for carrying with ease.
Materials: 100% recycled polyester, Train Stretch Woven
- Perforated fabric means tons of breathability
- Too short for the shy
Made from Janji’s AdventureVent Ripstop mesh and a brief liner, these shorts are super lightweight and breathable thanks to tiny perforations throughout, not to mention a deep split up the side. A zippered pocket in the back can hold keys or a phone if you work it in. These are split shorts with serious attitude, meant to be worn when you win at everything.
Materials: AdventureVentRipstop Mesh, 97% polyester / 3% spandex
- Affordable at under $70
- Liner is comfy
- Not a ton of extra features
Not technically a split short since they’re bonded above a v-shaped notch in the hem, the Surge shorts are nevertheless short and performance-oriented. There’s a clever no-zip pocket in the back for a phone and a few slots in the waistband for gels on longer runs. The main innovation here is a super breathable liner that fits like trunks rather than briefs.
Materials: Four-way stretch, sweat-wicking Swift fabric; OOM (Out of Mind) liner construction
- Could be mistaken for an everyday short, in the best way
- Available in multiple colorways
- A bit too structured for some runners
As an everyday running short, it doesn’t get any better than these. 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 a very long run, but they’re otherwise flawless.
Materials: All Over Stretch Weave: Water repellent, moisture wicking, soft and light. 88% nylon, 12% spandex
- Compression liner adds support
- Quick-dry fabric keeps things comfortable
- Integrated pocketing system can be hard to access on the go
Combining compression with a lightweight feel, these shorts are also super breathable, thanks to micro-perforations for enhanced breathability. 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.
Materials: Fabric: 17D 39 g/m² 72% nylon, 28% polyester ripstop woven with durable water-repellent (DWR) finish; 80 g/m² 100% polyester-knit jacquard with FlashDry
- Merino wool naturally temperature regulates
- PFC-free water repellant means no nasty chemicals
- Not ideal for chilly weather
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 durable water repellant 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.
Materials: Body: 100% Polyester Lining: 50% Merino Wool, 33% Tencel, 12% Nylon, 5% Lycra
- Integrated pouch keeps things in place
- Function as gym shorts
- Not a lot of features for the price
Lightweight, stretchy, breathable and with an articulated “smart pouch” — that’s for your nuts — these are no-nonsense running shorts that are casual enough for other gym activities, too.
Materials: Active Flex is a lightweight, four-way stretch woven fabric; Icefil brief liner with smart pouch construction
- 7" inseam provides extra coverage
- Comes in multiple colorways
- No recycled materials
If you want short shorts that retain a sense of modesty, Craft’s inner tights provide thigh coverage and some extra support. The outer material is ultralight, with a strip of mesh on both sides and in the back above the hips.
Materials: 95% Polyester 5% Elastane
- Tons of features
- Great for a variety of workouts
- No liner in this version
Rhone claims these are the only active shorts you'll need, and when you go down the list of their attributes, including four-way stretch, a DWR coating, gusseted seams and a hidden stash pocket, we believe you'll tend to agree. The relaxed, comfortable fit lends itself to a variety of workouts, but we like these for running, thanks to their simple fit that gives you everything you need, and nothing you don't.
If you prefer a liner, Rhone also makes the Mako in a lined version.
Materials: 85% Polyester, 15% Spandex
- Great for taller guys or anyone who wants more coverage
- Packed with features
- Unlined, may need an extra layer for comfort
The Runbold light is really a stretchy hiking short, but because it’s so light, nicely tailored, and performance-oriented (UV protection, fast-drying, DWR coating), we like it as an alternative to traditional running shorts — especially for taller guys who want more coverage without the extra weight. The inseam is longer than 7", making it ideal for trail runs where you need a little more protection. The newest iteration for 2022 features a robust, stretchy nylon material and Midori fiber finishing, which makes fibers softer and improves their moisture-wicking effects. These are unlined, so you’ll probably want to wear something underneath.
Materials: Main material: 94% Polyamide, 6% Spandex; Insert: 85% Polyamide, 15% Spandex
- Plenty of colorways express your personal style
- Anti-odor and quick drying
- Some may want a more structured fit
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. Thirteen 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.
Materials: 46% Recycled Polyester, 44% Polyester, 10% Elastane