Running shorts are pieces of gear that you probably don’t notice until something goes wrong: chafing, sweat-inducing clamminess, a wedgy-producing liner, an uncomfortable waistband, or anything that can make your run go from an enjoyable jog to a race to get back to your house and into something more comfortable.
There are also a zillion running shorts out there, so knowing where to even begin looking can feel like a total shot in the dark. So we’ve rounded up seven of our favorites, and whether you’re into long-distance runs on technical trails or quick jogs on the road, there’s a short here for everyone.
And feel free to add in the comments section below any shorts that you are particularly psyched on. We’d love to hear your input, and we’ll see about adding them into the mix.
The North Face Flight Better Than Naked Long Haul Shorts
Liner Type: 7” compression-style
Pockets: 10 (1 zippered, 2 drop-in on liner)
Blister’s Measured Weight: 167 g
Best For: Those who like compression-style liners and / or carrying a lot of stuff.
If you like to carry a lot of stuff in your running shorts and don’t prioritize best-in-class breathability, the Flight Better Than Naked Long Haul Short is a great option — despite the fact that this is probably one of the most incomprehensible product name we’ve ever seen. (To decipher things a bit, the “Flight” part of the name signifies that this short falls into The North Face’s “Flight” running series, and then it’s also a part of their “Better Than Naked” collection of pieces designed for maximum comfort while running.)
But astounding naming schemes aside, the FBTNLHS’s long, compression-style liner is very comfortable, and provides a snug, supportive fit. But the increased coverage of the liner and the fact that the liner is made of a dense elastic fabric (rather than mesh) means that these shorts do run a bit hotter than most of the other options here. This was only noticeable on runs in really hot temperatures, but if maximum breathability is your priority, there are better options in this roundup.
The Flight Better Than Naked Long Haul Short also has a ton of pockets — seven elastic hip pockets, one zippered back pocket, and two drop-in pockets on the liner. This short has a lot of carrying capacity, so if you like to bring a bunch of stuff with you (e.g., gels, keys, phone, etc.) and don’t like wearing a vest or belt, the Flight Better Than Naked Long Haul Short is definitely worth a look.
Salomon Agile 5” Short
Inseam: 5” or 7”
Liner Type: brief-style
Pockets: 1 zippered
Blister’s Measured Weight: 95 g
Best For: Runs in really hot temperatures.
The Salomon Agile Short is the lightest, most breathable, and least expensive short in this roundup. It’s also the most minimal, with only a single back zippered pocket. So if you don’t need to carry a bunch of stuff in your shorts, and you’re looking for a very light, very breathable, and cost-effective option, the Agile Short is my top recommendation.
Altra Performance Short 2.0
Liner Type: brief-style
Pockets: 6 (1 zippered, 1 back drop-in)
Blister’s Measured Weight: 139 g
Best For: Good combo of price, pockets, and comfortable waistband.
The Altra Performance Short 2.0 offers a lot of the features of more expensive options, while coming in a bit cheaper ($59.99). It has a bunch of pockets, a wide, sleek waistband, and a very light and airy outer fabric. The Performance Short 2.0’s brief-style liner is made of a denser elastic fabric, so it doesn’t feel quite as breathable as shorts with more open mesh liners (e.g., the Salomon Agile Short).
I’ve also noticed that the Performance Short 2.0’s liner has a slight tendency to “roll” over so that I sometimes feel the edges of its elastic pockets rubbing on my waist. But if I make sure to get everything all lined up before heading out on a run, I haven’t found this to be a major issue.
Overall, the Performance Short 2.0 is a solid all-around option, and sits right below the Salomon Pulse Short in the category of “shorts I’d grab when I don’t know what the weather will throw at me,” while coming in $20 cheaper than the Pulse Short.
The North Face Flight Better Than Naked Shorts
Inseam: 5” or 7”
Liner Type: brief-style
Pockets: 5 (1 zippered)
Blister’s Measured Weight: 103 g
Best For: Carrying stuff while running in hot temperatures.
Along with the Salomon Agile Short, the North Face Flight Better Than Naked Short (see above for decryption notes on the naming scheme) is one of the best options here for runs in really hot temps where you just want a light, simple, and very breathable short. The Flight Better Than Naked Short is the second-lightest short in this roundup, and I tend to forget I’m wearing it while running (turns out, The North Face was onto something with their “Better Than Naked” naming scheme).
I’d give the nod to the Salomon Agile Short for the best breathability in this roundup, but the Flight Better Than Naked Short’s greater number of pockets make it a better choice if you want the option of carrying a few gels, a chapstick, your keys, etc. while still getting excellent breathability.
While the Flight Better Than Naked Short doesn’t feature a wide, stretchy waistband like the Altra Trail Short 2.0, the Flight Better Than Naked Shorts are one of the cheapest options here at $55, and I haven’t had any major chafing issues with its more traditional elastic waistband. So if you prioritize breathability and affordability but still want some pockets for carrying stuff on longer runs, the Flight Better Than Naked Short is a great option.
Salomon Pulse 7” Short
Liner Type: brief-style
Pockets: 6 (1 zippered)
Blister’s Measured Weight: 122 g
Best For: All-around, versatile running performance.
If I had to pick one short for running in any condition or temperature, it’d be the Salomon Pulse Short. It has a very airy mesh brief liner, an extremely light and stretchy outer fabric, plenty of pockets, and its larger back zippered pocket can securely hold an iPhone 6. The Pulse Short’s elastic waistband fits snug without feeling bunchy or uncomfortable, and its fabric feels extremely light on my skin. It’s not quite as breathable as the Salomon Agile Short (mostly due to the Pulse’s longer coverage), but the Pulse Short still sits near the top of this roundup when it comes to breathability. All that said, the Pulse Short is the most expensive option here, so you pay for its performance.
Altra Trail Short 2.0
Liner Type: 6” compression-style
Pockets: 4 (1 zippered)
Blister’s Measured Weight: 143 g
Best For: Those who like compression-style liners, but want a bit more breathability.
I found the Altra Trail Short 2.0 to be one of the most comfortable shorts in our collection. It has a very wide, nearly seamless waistband that distributes pressure very evenly and is directly integrated into its long, compression-style liner. The Trail Short 2.0’s longer and less “meshy” liner means that it isn’t quite as breathable as the shorts in our roundup that have more minimal brief-style liners. But the Trail Short 2.0’s liner is a bit thinner and lighter than that on the North Face Flight Better Than Naked Long Haul Shorts, making the Trail Short 2.0 feel a bit more breathable. My only real complaint with the Trail Short 2.0 is its zippered pocket — it uses a vertical, invisible-style zipper that I’ve found to be a bit tricky to use. But if you tend to stash your stuff in your zippered pockets and forget about it until after your run’s over, this shouldn’t be much of an issue.
Patagonia Nine Trails Shorts – 8”
Liner Type: boxer-brief-style
Pockets: 3 (all zippered)
Blister’s Measured Weight: 185 g
Best For: Wearing for running and also not running.
In my experience, the Patagonia Nine Trails Short is the most versatile option in this roundup. It’s also a bit of an outlier in that it has two zippered hand pockets, a zippered back pocket, a fairly hefty boxer-brief-style liner, and a longer inseam than the other shorts here.
The liner of the Nine Trails Short is made from Patagonia’s Capilene Lightweight fabric, which is extremely soft and comfortable, but also fairly dense and heavy compared to most other running short liners (the Nine Trails Short is the heaviest option in this roundup). As a result, the Nine Trails Short isn’t my top pick for when the temperatures rise to the level of “maybe I don’t really want to go outside after all.” But when it’s not blistering hot, the Nine Trails Short’s breathability is totally adequate. I’ve also found the Nine Trails Short’s waistband to be very comfortable, even though it doesn’t feature the wide, elastic bands of shorts like the Altra Trail Short 2.0.
But the real thing that stands out with the Nine Trails Short is its feature set. It has three pockets, all of which are zippered. These work great for stashing a phone, keys, and / or wallet, whether that’s while on a run or when heading to town. The Nine Trails Short also doesn’t really look all that much like a running short, which has made it my go-to choice for days where I’m doing a bit of everything: morning run, quick stop by the grocery store for some mandatory post-run donuts, chilling at home, and then maybe swinging by the gym later in the day. If you want a running short that works well beyond the road or trail, the Nine Trails Short is an excellent option.