Chafing, wedgies, riding up—we’ve all experienced at least one of these annoyances running in a pair of lousy shorts. And while these aggravations might seem minor, they’re not what you want to be focused on when you’re setting out for a training run or toeing the start line. The good news: We rounded up a slew of shorts, put a ton of miles in them, and picked out the most worthy of the bunch. Keep reading for our tips on finding a pair that you’ll especially love, then scroll down for our top runner-approved picks.
Features to Consider
You’ll find shorts on our list in all lengths, fits, and flavors—but the best style is truly the one that feels best on you.
Inseams: Longer inseams will provide more coverage, which can be beneficial if you’re hitting the trails, want sun protection, or just prefer a modest cut. Shorter inseams and spandex are great for speed workouts, race day, and runs when you want to feel fast and flash a little thigh.
Interior Liners: Keep in mind that many running shorts will also have undergarments provided. Built-in briefs or compression liners can help simplify your workout wardrobe, while making your runs much more comfortable (and chafe-free).
Pockets: Zipper pockets and hidden pouches make it much easier to carry the essentials—especially if you’re heading out for a long run. Most pockets are large enough to stash your house key and some cash, but pay attention to size if you want more space for a phone, wallet, and fuel (or if you’re the type who pockets those random found-on-the-run treasures).
We won’t stop you from running in your favorite all-cotton bottoms, but be wary that the fabric gets heavy when wet, dries slow, and can chafe. Plus, 100 percent cotton shorts will most likely do some serious shrinking in your dryer. Some better options are technical fabrics that blend various materials—like polyester, elastane, spandex, and nylon. If you want shorts that really wick sweat fast, choose a mix with a higher percentage of nylon. Or if extra stretchiness is a must-have, seek out more spandex. Synthetic fabrics with open weaves or larger fibers will also breathe better on humid runs, and some even have anti-microbial properties for combatting bacteria and odor.
Still, if you’re a die-hard for the comfort of cotton, try a 50-50 blend that pairs it with a second, more sweat-friendly material—like polyester. You’ll still get some of that cottony softness, but with added durability and even UV ray protection.
How We Tested
We called in piles of shorts, combing through them all to determine which ones function best for runners (i.e., allow range of motion, wick away sweat, don’t give us wedgies), and taking field notes on comfort, fit, and features. Our team of local testers—a diverse group of all running levels, shapes, and sizes—took to the road, trails, and treadmills, and circled back with their findings after careful evaluation. Here are the shorts that made the cut.
Men & Women
Janji AFO-Vent Multi
Available with a six-inch inseam for men and a three-inch for women, the AFO-Vent Multi Short has five waistband pockets, making it the ideal bottom for runners who hate racebelts. The short is made of the brand’s Air Flat Out fabric, which is lightweight and has a four-way stretch.
Photos / Lakota Gambill
The Session has kept its place on this list through several rounds of testing. The original is beloved for its buttery soft, lightweight stretch knit fabric that was as cozy as cotton. This version has a more minimal, race-ready vibe. The shorts have an exposed elastic waistband; Tracksmith nixed a drawstring since the waist is snug enough to prevent any slippage. The women’s version has a zip pocket on the right leg sleeve and the men’s has an internal back pocket.
Hoka One One Performance Knit 3”
These formfitting knit shorts have built-in UV protection, three pockets, and a 100-mile guarantee. Hoka-sponsored runner Magdalena Boulet wore the Performance Knit as she crossed the finish line at the 2019 Leadville Trail 100, taking the topmost spot on the podium. We tested the shorts on 80-degree runs (admittedly under a tenth of the mileage Boulet ran), relishing the smoothness of the lightweight brushed fabric. Our testers’ comments were mixed when it came to finding the right fit, though. Some wished to go a size down, finding the waist too loose (the band has no drawstring) and the fit slightly bunchy at the hips. Others desired to size up due to the leg openings being just a little too snug around the thighs.
Under Armour Fly-By 2.0
The Fly-By 2.0 shorts have everything a runner needs at a price that won’t break the bank: an internal drawstring in the waistband, mesh panels on the side splits for ventilation, and a hidden pocket for key storage. They have a three-inch inseam and come in several colors, including green, red, royal blue, and pink. Thicker-thighed ladies may want to size up as the legs run a little narrow. “The shorts were breezy for summer runs, though I would advise those who are a bit more curvy to notch up a size so you’re getting the full breezy effect!” said a tester.
have multiple pockets around the waistband so you can run racebelt-free
Also available in a seven-inch inseam, the Mad Dash has an external pocket on the right side and an interior pocket on the left side for more personal effects, like money or an ID. You can tighten the mid-rise waistband with the internal infinity drawstring.
Free People Hot Shot
“Free People’s Hot Shot Bike Shorts have saved my inner thighs more than once this summer,” said tester and health and fitness editor Danielle Zickl in her review. “I wore these on some of the steamiest days and experienced zero friction.” The leg openings don’t ride up and the drawstring-less waistband doesn’t slip down. The only hangup: no pockets.
Outdoor Voices Zoom 10”
“I will be filling my drawer with more of these shorts!” said a tester. “I’m a little stingy when it comes to clothes that I sweat in, but these feel like a quality investment that will hold up well.” The Zoom is perfect for tall women who need a longer inseam, or for runners who prefer more leg coverage. The wide waistband doesn’t dig into your skin, and you can store essential items in the secure side pockets.
Ten Thousand Session
The Session shorts are available in a five- or seven-inch inseam, and have a perforated waistband for breathability and side pockets big enough to store a phone. But the real draw of these Ten Thousand bottoms is the boxer-brief liner. “It fits snug but doesn’t cling to your thighs or restrict any movement,” said a tester. “And it somehow manages to not overheat, which is usually the case with tight- or compression-like liners in shorts.” The generous leg openings provide a free-moving fit without encumbering your stride.
Under Armour Launch SW 7”
The Launch SW has an internal drawcord, deep side pockets, and an assortment of colors to mix up your running wardrobe. Mesh panels on the sides provide ventilation, and the moisture-wicking fabric has four-way stretch and fights funk. The one drawback is the brief liner, which tends to ride up and doesn’t particularly lend much support.
Fourlaps Bolt 7″
These shorts are made of a soft and stretchy poly-spandex blend, which dries quickly and keeps you cool, thanks to laser-cut ventilation holes in the legs. Hand pockets on the side and a zippered pocket on the back right hold phone, wallet, and keys. One of our testers utilized all the pockets on his run without an issue. “I had gels and blocks in one, cough drops in another, and a cell phone in back,” he said.
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Tracksmith Session 7”
Three- or five-inch shorts just too short for you? Tracksmith added two inches to the original Session bottoms after runners asked for more options—and coverage. The Session 7” is made of sweat-drying, odor-resisting fabric, allowing you to wear them a couple of times before throwing them into the wash. An internal drawstring provides adjustability, and a back zipper pocket offers a place for storage. The fit and fabric is comfortable and soft and “clings in all the right places,” according to a tester.
Saxx Pilot 2N1
When a product functions as advertised, especially when it comes to, ahem, support, that’s something to highlight. The Pilot’s 3D hammock-shaped BallPark Pouch is appropriately named for keeping everything in place. Its flat-seam, reverse stitching prevents friction and chafing, as well.
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Get the Deal!