While you don’t need fancy running shorts, a pair that doesn’t work can ruin your run. (Chafing is hard to ignore.) The best shorts should make you feel like you’re running in the buff—without having to worry about picking up a public-indecency charge.
We’ve been testing running shorts since October, and have used the ones below to train for, and run, multiple marathons and a 50-mile ultra. Here are seven standouts.
The North Face Better Than Naked Long Haul Shorts ($65)
Best for: Ultras, when you need real support
The Better Than Naked Long Haul Shorts were by far the most supportive of the bunch during long runs. And they have thigh-length compression liners with a stretchy ring at the base to prevent that support from riding up. Testers marveled at how much these shorts stopped thigh chafing on runs longer than an hour.
A two-inch-wide swath of stretchy, lightweight, hyperbreathable polyester in the middle of each leg—plus extra stretch in the rear—means these shorts never inhibited our testers’ range of motion. I loved the three easy-access stretch pockets—the perfect size for a GU—on the liner of the left leg, as well as the larger stow pocket on the right.
Patagonia Strider 7-inch Shorts ($49)
Best for: Uninhibited running
These shorts have a lightweight, minimalist design that’s just plain sexy. A three-inch swath of hyperstretchy mesh down the hips makes the Strider shorts move really well on runs of any length. A subtle split also contributed to making these one of the best-moving shorts on this list. The lightweight polyester exterior disappeared (in a good way) on long runs, and we found that the mesh helped these shorts breathe beautifully. While the Striders aren’t the most feature-rich pair in the group, they were a tester favorite because of their classic, streamlined style.
Helly Hansen Pace Training 9-inch Shorts ($55)
Best for: Speed work and shorter, high-intensity runs
Helly Hansen Pace’s mesh-brief liner wicked moisture more efficiently than all these other shorts. That feature, plus the mesh on the thigh, did make these the most comfortable, breathable pair on this list during our hottest runs. The lightweight, stretchy exterior offered ample dynamic movement for speed work and drills, and our testers grew to love how these shorts moved—as long as they weren’t run in for too long. Testers also discovered that, if they weren’t wearing underwear, the mesh would chafe really painfully on runs longer than 30 minutes.
Pearl Izumi Infinity LD Shorts ($55)
Best for: Bringing along the kitchen sink
These shorts offer more than quadruple the pocket space of most of the other shorts here. And, we’re glad to report, their pockets are well-designed. Each of the two zippered rear ones can handle four GUs—enough calories for an eight-hour run—and the two Velcro front pockets are perfect for storing the wrappers once you’ve downed the gels. The side pockets were easy to access, thanks to their dime-size Velcro tabs.
While the Infinity was the least stretchy pair of shorts we tested, the moderately wide fit on the legs, coupled with the slight split, made them move well and added to their overall comfort on long runs. Pearl Izumi claims that the Minerale material used for the liner dries 50 percent faster than other performance liners. While we couldn’t confirm this, testers loved how supple the liner felt—and they experienced less chafing than they did with most of the other pairs during runs lasting more than an hour.
Icebreaker Sonic 5-inch Shorts ($85)
Best for: Cool spring runs
We loved the idea of a 100 percent merino wool short—and found that the Sonic worked well in a broad variety of temperatures. The lightweight exterior was comfortable for run conditions ranging between 40 and 70 degrees. The stretchy liner offered ample, chafe-free support. Alas, the merino exterior chafed more than any of the shorts tested during runs longer than an hour. And the Sonic didn’t fit very well: testers noted that they had a tendency to bunch immediately and had to be messed with for the duration of the run.
That said, thanks to the high-end merino wool, these shorts dealt with funk better than any product on this list.
Dynafit React Shorts ($90)
Best for: Rugged mountain trails
The liner-free React comes with many subtle design details that aren’t immediately apparent, but that make these shorts pretty great. The React’s exterior is superdurable—it feels almost like a lightweight soft shell. Instead of sewing in an inner layer of mesh ventilation, Dynafit put holes directly in the material, which helps maintain the garment’s integrity while still allowing for enough ventilation during hot days and high-intensity workouts.Testers noticed how stretchy these shorts are, despite their rugged build, while their thick, stretchy, reinforced waistband offers a solid, athletic fit: the React didn’t slip on long runs, or during speed work.
Smartwool Men’s PhD Run Short ($75)
Best for: Lunchtime runs
The PhD Run shorts have a nice light polyester exterior with an athletic fit that’s not too short or aggressive. It also moves well and is very soft to the touch. But what we really loved about these shorts was their stretchy, form-fitting merino liner that blends premium merino, nylon, and elastane for results that are itch-free as well as stretchy and supportive. The liner was thick enough to take a bit of the sting out of early spring runs, and it mitigated odor well enough to last through a week’s worth of hourlong lunchtime runs before demanding a turn in the washing machine.
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