While I have a running wardrobe equipped for any and all weather conditions, I run most of my miles in shorts. It’s liberating to take off with nothing between your legs and the fresh air, and since legs warm up more quickly than the upper body, you can pair them with long-sleeve tops to keep shorts season going well into the fall. Between training for and running five marathons, dozens of shorter races, and working at a specialty running store for two years, I’ve tried out a lot of shorts and have narrowed down my arsenal to the best of the best — all on the list below.
All of these pairs meet my basic requirements for running shorts. They’re each made of technical, moisture-wicking material; feature flat seams for minimizing chafing and so-called “chub rub”; include a pocket for stashing a key or card; and have a built-in brief liner (no underwear equals less chafing). It’s the subtle differences that earn each a spot in my lineup.
Best all-around running shorts
When I say I run most of my miles in shorts, I really mean I run most of my miles in Nike Tempo shorts. I’ve written about them before, but they’re worth mentioning again since they’re durable, affordable (and frequently on sale), middle-of-the-road shorts that are a good starting point if you aren’t sure what specific features you like. With a three-inch inseam they’re in that Goldilocks sweet spot of being neither too short nor too long. That way you know if you want to go shorter or longer, or pick a style with a wider waistband. Or, if you love them, buy a week’s worth and never worry about shorts again. I’ve worn them on everything from 5-Ks through marathons and they’ve never let me down. They also come in pretty much every color under the sun, and in plus sizes.
Best 2.5-inch inseam running shorts
The defining feature of this pair — a luxe upgrade on the basic short — is the silky-soft material. It’s a unique, knit fabric that’s smoother than typical nylon shorts, but still has technical features like four-way stretch and moisture-wicking capability. I love the heathered colors and how these feel like they disappear on my legs while I’m running. They’re a hair shorter than most of my other pairs, so I prefer wearing them on the treadmill or low-mileage runs when there’s less risk of chafing.
Best 3-inch inseam running shorts
Since Brooks only makes gear for running — including some of my favorite shoes — it’s not surprising that they make solid, everyday shorts with runners’ needs in mind. Soft and breathable, these are ideal for all distances and weather conditions. The zippered side pocket is useful for storing keys, a MetroCard, or a gel. Compared to the fold-over interior pockets in most of the other shorts on this list, the zip pocket is easier to access while running. For me, the three-inch inseam is the sweet spot where I’m not constantly pulling them down to avoid a cheek peek or feeling constrained by too much fabric, but if you like a longer short, Brooks also makes a version with a five-inch inseam.
Another dependable pair, these Athleta shorts have defined side slits on the legs that allow for a wide range of motion. I reach for these for short races and interval workouts, as they aren’t at all restrictive when I’m running with a longer, quicker stride. Moisture-wicking and water-repellent, these ensure you’ll stay dry and not soggy whether you’re sweating buckets on a hot day or running through a rainstorm.
Best 4-inch inseam running shorts
With wide, roomy leg openings, these shorts never restrict your movement and feel extra light and breezy on hot days. The slightly longer length provides generous coverage which can be nice on longer runs. They also feature a side zipper pocket and, since they’re Lululemon, I’m constantly tempted to buy a new pair when seasonal colors and patterns are released.
Best wide-waistband running shorts
There’s something to be said about wide-waistband shorts. On days when I’m feeling bloated or just a little, for lack of a better word, jiggly in my midsection, I’ll run in these for the added core support. The flat, wide waistband keeps everything sucked in while still letting my legs move freely. The colorblock style echoes Outdoor Voices’ popular leggings style so they’re a hint trendier than the standard short.
Best compression running shorts
Compression shorts do wonders in supporting achy muscles — whether you’re not fully recovered from yesterday’s run or suffering from any glute, hamstring, or hip pain. I’ve found that CW-X consistently makes the best compression running gear (including socks and leggings), which justifies the higher price tag. These shorts have a snug, firm hold and while the material is definitely thick, it still feels breathable. They’re great for recovery jogs the day after a long run or speed workout.
Not nearly as compressive as the CW-X shorts, these stretchy, tight-fitting Lycra shorts are perfect for days when you want your legs to feel gently hugged instead of tightly gripped. I also like wearing these on early spring and late fall days when it’s probably a few degrees below proper shorts weather. Instead of the loose-fitting pairs that maximize air flow and breeziness, these work more like a base layer to keep your legs protected from cold gusts.
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