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The Best Running Shorts

Updated

Finding a pair of comfortable, breathable, chafe-free running shorts that works for your body can be a complicated process. To help make sense of it, we interviewed four running coaches and marathoners and tested eight top-rated pairs of shorts highly recommended by experienced runners. Our favorite running shorts for men are the Patagonia – Strider Pro shorts, with their high-quality construction and moisture-wicking fabric. For women, we like the Oiselle – Toolbelt Roga shorts, which pair a wide, storage-filled waistband with an airy, breathable shell. The ultra-comfortable Senita – Rio shorts are our pick for women’s compression shorts, and the cooling, sweat-wicking Under Armour – HeatGear shorts are our favorite compression shorts for men.

Our Top Choices

Best Running Shorts for Men


Patagonia

Strider Pro

See Price at Patagonia

Best Running Shorts for Women


Oiselle

Toolbelt Roga

See Price at Oiselle

Best Compression Shorts for Men


Under Armour

HeatGear

See Price at Amazon

Best Compression Shorts for Women


Senita

Rio

See Price at Senita

Finding a pair of comfortable, breathable, chafe-free running shorts that works for your body can be a complicated process. To help make sense of it, we interviewed four running coaches and marathoners and tested eight top-rated pairs of shorts highly recommended by experienced runners. Our favorite running shorts for men are the Patagonia – Strider Pro shorts, with their high-quality construction and moisture-wicking fabric. For women, we like the Oiselle – Toolbelt Roga shorts, which pair a wide, storage-filled waistband with an airy, breathable shell. The ultra-comfortable Senita – Rio shorts are our pick for women’s compression shorts, and the cooling, sweat-wicking Under Armour – HeatGear shorts are our favorite compression shorts for men.

Important features to consider

When it comes to running shorts, tastes and preferences will vary from runner to runner. We picked the brains of four running coaches, personal trainers and marathoners to find out which factors you should consider when choosing the right pair for your body.

Fit

Running shorts come in three basic styles:

  • Classic: Loose shorts that usually feature either a V-notch or split at the bottom outer edge of each leg, for increased range of motion. Many classic-fit shorts include an inner brief.
  • Compression: Stretchy, close-fitting shorts (think bicycle shorts) worn for muscle support, chafe prevention and extra warmth in colder seasons.
  • Combination: Classic shorts with an inner compression short built in, which sometimes extends past the bottom of the loose shorts leg. This 2-in-1 combo is great for those who need a compression short, but prefer the look of classic shorts.

To help our readers find their most comfortable fit, we consulted with four running experts: running coaches Meghan Kennihan and T.J. Garlatz, personal trainer Rafid Nassir and Whitney Heins, founder of TheMotherRunners.com.

All of our experts all had the same advice to give: Every runner’s preference will vary based on gait and body type, so it’s important to try out different kinds of shorts and see what works for you.

“There isn’t one magic option that will work for everyone,” says T.J.

Runners may want to invest in different types of shorts for warmer and colder seasons. An airy pair of classic shorts will keep you cool in the summer, while compression or combination shorts are a good choice for winter and colder climates. If you’re updating your running gear, you might also want to look at the best running socks for all-weather conditions.

Do compression shorts actually work?

Some runners swear by compression shorts to help with muscle fatigue; others say they’re glorified bike shorts and make no difference whatsoever.

“My husband and I have both run in compression shorts and didn’t notice a difference as far as muscle fatigue goes — the main purpose of compression shorts,” says Whitney, who is training to qualify for the Olympic Trials.

If you aren’t feeling any benefits from wearing compression shorts, they may not be true compression shorts. “Many running shorts marketed as compression shorts are just shorter tights that provide a bit of stability,” T.J. notes.

“I think compression shorts are great for going on longer training runs or running in colder weather,” says Meghan. “They provide extra muscle support for those long runs when your muscles will ultimately fatigue and affect your form. In cold weather, the compression helps retain body heat and keeps your muscles warm.”

Length

The “perfect” length of running shorts will vary from person to person. For some runners, the less fabric, the better.

“My personal preference is to have as little short as possible,” says Whitney. “Most of my shorts have an inseam of 2.5 inches, which gives them little opportunity to rub against my legs. Longer shorts seem to bunch on the inseam.”

Runners with thicker legs may find that a longer short will protect their legs from the dreaded “thigh rub.” If this is an issue for you, look for a pair long enough to cover the thickest part of your thigh. The key is to buy the right size for your body — too much loose fabric will lead to chafing and discomfort.

Fabric

To prevent chafing and discomfort, choose shorts made of quick-drying, sweat-wicking fabric (material that moves moisture from your foot to the exterior of the sock for evaporation). In this case, synthetic fibers win over natural materials.

“Polyester or a polyester/spandex mix provides the best comfort because it is moisture-wicking, durable and lightweight,” says Meghan.

“Synthetic material fiber is long-lasting and durable, which also helps in the midst of sweat and heat,” agrees Rafid.

Though cotton is the usual choice for breathability, it tends to absorb moisture and hold onto it — the kiss of death for running shorts.

“I haven’t run in a pair of cotton shorts in probably over 20 years!” says T.J. “All of my shorts are a mix of polyester and spandex. The fabric is great — very breathable and comfortable.”

Outdoor and night runners should also look for running shorts with reflective features to ensure that they stay highly visible on the road.

Pockets

Some runners like to carry their phone, energy gels and keys in a gear belt, armband or other running accessory. Others prefer to store their accessories in their shorts pockets.

Since carrying your running necessities in your shorts can either weigh them down or cause your pockets to bounce around while you run, pocket placement is key. Look for shorts with pouches and pockets built into the waistband, where the fabric lays close to the body. Some brands also feature moisture-repellent pockets, which are perfect for storing your phone.

Chafe prevention 101

Since chafing is one of the most common problems runners face, we focused on finding the best running shorts to prevent chafing. According to our experts, the anti-chafe formula is threefold:

    1. Try compression shorts: “A good pair of compression shorts would likely work for most people,” says T.J. “Chafing usually occurs when there is rubbing — either fabric rubbing against the skin or skin rubbing against skin — and longer compression shorts can prevent that.”Rafid also recommends compression shorts for those battling the dreaded “thigh rub,” adding that synthetic compression shorts are even better. “If they’re made of synthetic material, that single-handedly prevents me from chafing,” he says.
    2. Choose a built-in brief: For those who suffer from chafing in the groin area, Meghan recommends getting shorts with a breathable built-in brief. “If you chafe around your underwear,” she says, “wear shorts with a lining so you don’t need to wear any.”

As shorts get older, their inner liners stretch out and become more prone to rubbing against the skin. To prolong the life of your shorts, keep a few different pairs in your rotation and recycle them once you start noticing increased friction.

  1. Use a balm: Anti-chafe balm can be the difference between a great run and a painful one. “Use Vaseline, Body Glide or Squirrel’s Nut Butter all over your body before a long run and especially a marathon,” says Whitney. “If something is going to rub, lube it up!”

Our two testers wore the top-selling designs on daily runs, and these are their picks for the best running shorts.

1

Best for men: Patagonia - Strider Pro

See Price at Patagonia

Our male testers gave the Patagonia – Strider Pro top marks across the board for comfort, design and overall quality. Made of polyester stretch ripstop (that also happens to be 100% recycled), these shorts are both water-repellant and breathable. “They remained dry throughout my run without building up sweat,” one tester noted.

Another tester tried out the shorts in 40-degree weather and was surprised at how comfortable they were. “They kept the chill off, but didn’t get too hot,” he said. The shorts have large side vents that open up air flow as you run, and their antimicrobial inner lining and brief help keep things in place. The Strider Pro shorts also offer plenty of thoughtfully designed storage: four large envelope pockets on the sides and back made of stretch material and one center back zippered pocket for a phone. They’re available in 5-inch and 7-inch versions to fit shorter and longer legs.


2

Best for women: Oiselle - Toolbelt Roga

See Price at Oiselle

Made of polyester and spandex, the unique design of the Oiselle – Toolbelt Roga shorts feels like a hybrid of classic, airy running shorts and comfy yoga shorts. Their wide, stretch waistband, one tester said, was “as comfortable as my favorite yoga pants.” Below the waistband, the Roga transforms into a lightweight, breathable short that feels like air on the legs.

The “toolbelt” in the name refers to the Roga’s waistband, which includes no fewer than five pockets: four mesh pouches (two large and two small) along the front and sides and one zippered center back pocket above the rear. We stowed our phone in the back pocket and our keys and an energy gel in the smaller mesh pockets, and all remained solid and secure as we ran. The Roga features a built-in brief and is available in 1.75-inch, 4-inch and 6-inch inseams. We tested the 4-inch version and didn’t experience any chafing.


3

Best compression shorts for men: Under Armour - HeatGear

See Price at Amazon

Made of quick-drying “HeatGear” fabric — a polyester and elastane blend meant to wick sweat from the body — the Under Armour – HeatGear compression shorts are designed to stay cool and comfortable. Because they don’t have any seams in high-abrasion areas, they minimize rubbing as well. They’re also anti-microbial and have a wide, 2-inch waistband to prevent them from sliding down as you run.

In short, the HeatGear shorts delivered. The wider waistband did help keep them up; they didn’t slide down or require any adjustment. Our testers reported that the shorts wicked moisture away well, didn’t chafe, kept them cool and “held things in place.”Read more…

The Mid length we tested comes in both regular (6-inch) and tall (8-inch) inseams, and the shorts are also available in Long (9-inch) and Extra Long (11-inch) lengths. Under Armour offers an inclusive size range: XS to 5XL.


4

Best compression shorts for women: Senita - Rio

See Price at Senita

The Senita – Rio shorts are the kind of effortlessly comfortable pair of shorts you want to wear all day long. They fit close to the body and feel like a second skin, but their nylon and spandex fabric stretches just enough to move and flex easily. During our tester’s run, the Rio shorts didn’t ride up — no awkward adjustments required — and their 7-inch length effectively protected our tester’s thighs from chafing.

The Rio shorts have one small pocket in the waistband that would fit a key, credit card or energy gel and two deep pockets built into the legs of the shorts. We were skeptical about storing our phone against our legs while running, but the Rio’s pockets were so snug that our phone didn’t budge as we ran. The Rio is available in 3.75-inch and 7-inch inseams, and you can also choose between high-waisted or regular shorts. There’s also a 5-inch maternity version; for a 5-inch non-maternity short with a fit similar to the Rio, check out the Senita – Baseline


5

Brooks - Sherpa

See Price at Brooks

The Brooks – Sherpa men’s running shorts are thoughtfully designed and comparable in quality to the Patagonia shorts, but lost major points because our testers couldn’t fit a smartphone into any of its three pockets. Despite this flaw, our testers appreciated that its back zippered pocket is moisture-resistant to protect its contents from sweat.

Besides this flaw, the Sherpa shorts are thoughtfully designed and comparable in quality to the Patagonia shorts, even though the Patagonias cost about $20 more. Our testers called the shorts “well-fitted” and noted that they “didn’t billow or flow in the wind.” Their DriLayer (moisture-wicking polyester) shell was soft, lightweight, and did indeed dry very quickly, and the interior mesh liner was comfortable and kept us chafe-free. “They’re much cooler and breezier than other shorts I’ve worn,” said one tester. The Sherpa shorts come in 5-inch and 7-inch inseams.


6

Under Armour - Fly-By

See Price at Amazon

For women looking for a well-designed pair of classic running shorts, the Under Armour – Fly-By shorts fit the bill. Made of 100% polyester, which our tester called “super-soft and breezy,” the shorts also include a lightweight interior brief and mesh side panels for increased airflow. “Some shorts start to feel soggy when sweat in them, but these stayed dry,” our tester commented. The shorts’ 3-inch inseam was just long enough to prevent her thighs from chafing.

The Fly-By shorts have two deep side pockets and a hidden internal front pocket that’s just big enough for a key or an energy gel. The one thing missing from the Fly-By shorts is a zippered pocket for more secure phone storage.


7

Sub Sports - Dual Compression

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The Sub Sports – Dual Compression shorts were a close runner-up behind the men’s Under Armour shorts, due to their tendency to slide down and require adjustment during a run.

The Sub Sports shorts are made of a nylon and elastane blend with “Moisture Transport Technology” — a combination that our testers found breathable, but a little on the warm side. “They weren’t too hot, but I would probably only wear them during colder weather,” said one tester. The Sub Sports shorts have a 9-inch inseam, which is great for preventing chafing but may be too long for some runners.


8

Road Runner - R-Gear Recharge

See Price at Amazon

The Road Runner – R-Gear Recharge women’s compression shorts were right on the heels of the Senita compression shorts we tested, but we found that they weren’t as efficient at wicking away moisture. “They were breathable, but I could feel my sweat while I was wearing them,” said one tester.

Besides breathability, the polyester-spandex Recharge shorts prevent chafing and stayed up well as our tester ran. We also like their anti-bacterial liner and back zippered pocket, which is big enough to hold an average-sized phone. The Recharge shorts come in a good range of inseams for various leg lengths: 3.5-inch, 6-inch and 8-inch.


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