There are many things that can ruin the enjoyment of a good run – couples holding hands and taking up the whole pavement, a sock that keeps riding down your foot – but few match the turmoil of a pair of running shorts that don't fit right, or worse, leave you in constant chafing agony.
That's why investing in a pair of shorts that keeps your delicate nether regions comfortable should be at the top of your list. Because chafing is no laughing matter – especially at mile 18 of a marathon.
Jump to the running shorts you want:
- Best all-round running shorts
- Best budget running shorts
- Best two-in-one running shorts
- Best running shorts for hot weather
- Best racing shorts
- Best compression running shorts
Sure, you can apply swathes of vaseline to all your sensitive areas before a long run, but if you have the right running shorts, the risk is greatly reduced. Rest assured that all the shorts you’ll find on this list are the right kind of running shorts, made from sweat-wicking, quick-drying materials with no irritating seams that can cause a chafing flare up.
How to pick the right running shorts
A key factor to consider when buying running shorts is their length, which tends to range from three-inch split shorts to seven-inch shorts, with five-inch shorts a common in-between option. You also want to check on the inner layer of the shorts, to see whether it’s a breathable mesh or a full compression layer. The latter can be great for avoiding chafing and providing support, but might be too hot in warmer weather.
Then there’s the non-essential but useful features you should look out for, like reflective details that maximise night-time visibility, and the various storage options that the shorts have.
Many running shorts will only have one tiny pocket, if they have any at all, so you might want to hunt down a pair with bigger pockets or loops to hold gels during races. Finally, it’s worth checking whether the fabric used has any odour control properties – a very useful feature if you’re using the shorts more than once between washes.
You’ll find options covering all of the bases listed below, so here’s a quick run down of our top pairs.
CimAlp Aoste H 2-in-1 Trail Running Shorts
There are so many things we like about the Aoste H, from the comfortable stretchy fabric to the impressively breathable liner. However, by far the most important feature of these Tardis-like shorts is the frankly ridiculous number of pockets.
Although they're designed for mountain trails, the benefits are just as applicable to road runners who need ample storage space. There are six pockets dotted around the shorts, with four slip options that line the belt and two large zipped options on either side – each of which is hugs the legs and waist so there's no movement when running.
That secure feel comes from the Cimaflex fabric, a stretchy, breathable material that allows the shorts to move freely whilst still maintaining a firm shape. That same material delivers an impressive breathable experience for running in the heat alongside the thin mesh inner.
Saysky Pace Shorts 5"
For those runners looking out for a conventional pair of shorts that has a focus on style, Saysky is likely to have what you're after. The Copenhagen brand has become one of the world's leaders for people that want a balance of fashion and performance, and the Pace Shorts are one of the best options to go for.
The sleek design comes in a range of colorways – including a beautifully garish parrot print version – and packs some tidy features that might go unnoticed at first glance. Our favourite is the two small inner gel pockets that are perfect if you're out for a long run and you need some backup but don't want to stick a belt on. You'll also find a larger zipped pocket on the back for valuables that features a sweat-repellent membrane to stop your essentials from getting wet.
They're made from a light performance fabric to wick sweat away from you and are designed with a narrow cut to reduce wind resistance when training hard. There is, however, no inner liner, so if you're the sort of runner that likes a bit of extra support, you'll need to slip a pair underneath when you head out.
Kalenji Run Dry
If the idea of spending double digits on a pair of running shorts infuriates you then may we suggest you first look up chafing online, and then check out this exceptionally cheap pair from Decathlon own-brand Kalenji.
All the main features you need from shorts are present and correct – moisture-wicking, quick-drying fabric and a small pocket for your keys, and there are flat seams and an inner brief to help reduce the risk of chafing. There’s a decent choice of colours too.
We would definitely suggest that if you’re planning on logging long distances then it’s worth looking at a more comfortable pair, but for the occasional runner covering 5km to 10km, the Run Dry shorts will do the job well and you’ll save a chunk of cash that you can put towards a nice pair of running shoes.
Brooks Sherpa 7" 2-in-1 Shorts
The Brooks Sherpa 7" 2-in-1 Shorts combine a heap of nice features into one of the best all-rounder options available at the moment. As well as feeling stable and supportive, they also manage to feel incredibly light and breathable.
The inside liner runs the whole length of the shorts and offers a delicately subtle fit that's almost unnoticeable when you're running – unlike in some shorts where the liner can feel more like a compression layer.
The flat waistband is reminiscent of a boxer short style design, feeling secure without being too tight or uncomfortable. That theme runs across the fit of the legs as well, managing to looks almost thin in appearance without feeling restrictive.
When it comes to storage the Brooks Sherpa 7" 2-in-1 Shorts have got it covered, offering a zip pocket that fits most phones along with two hip pockets to stow items like credit cards or keys.
Columbia Titan Ultra II Shorts
The Titan Ultra II Shorts are a formidable piece of kit whether you're hitting the road or the trails and you want a host of features to make the experience as enjoyable as possible.
Although the shorts are dual-layer, they have an impressively lightweight and loose feel that makes them perfect for the warmer months when you want something breathable. The fabric incorporates wicking qualities that make them a great option when you need some help staying dry, as well as something Columbia call Omni-Freeze Zero; a feature that's meant to help cool you down when things get sweaty.
Those summer benefits don't stop there as Titan Ultra II Shorts also include UPF 40 protection from the sun. Although that doesn't mean you don't have to worry about wearing sunblock, you can never have too much protection, especially if you're heading out for a longer session.
Other features include a small zip closed pocket in the back of the shorts, multi-functional pockets at the sides and reflective detailing.
Soar Dual Run Shorts 3.0
If you're looking for an all-in-one pair of shorts that have it all then the Dual Run Shorts from Soar are an investment that you won't regret. We say investment because they do sit at the pricier end of the market, but once you've done a few miles in them you'll know why.
These two-layered shorts are some of the most comfortable we've used for training runs and racing all year round and feature an incredibly thin fabric liner that's barely noticeable when you put them on.
There's some slight compression from the liner, but really it's there to produce a comfortable and smooth movement when you run – which it does extremely well. Soar has even used bonded hems and laser-cut ventilation on the sides to ensure a high level of comfort and breathability.
Additional features include beautifully detailed reflective logos and trim for nighttime running and a large rear pocket designed to hold a phone or gels.
On Hybrid Shorts
All two-in-one shorts consist of a lightweight, loose outer layer and a tight inner layer, but what separates the On Hybrid shorts from the pack is not only the quality of the materials used in those layers, but also that you can wear them separately as well as together.
The outer shell is made from a durable, tear-proof fabric and has a long reflective strip running down the seam on one side. It also has one large side pocket, though when running we reckon you’re better off using the drop-in pouch on the inner layer. This holds your gear close against your thigh to avoid any bouncing and is big enough to squeeze a smartphone into.
In really hot conditions you can remove the inner layer entirely, though the material used for this is sweat-wicking and the support it offers is useful for countering the threat of chafing. Both layers also dry rapidly, though the outer is faster to do so, meaning it might be worth taking off the inner if you’re caught in a storm on your run. It’s also worth noting that the inner layer can be quite tight if you boast massive thighs, so cyclists who also run might find it a tad snug.
Gore R7 2in1 Shorts
Comfort is the key feature of these two-in-one shorts, especially when it comes to providing support over long runs. If you’re lining up a few months of marathon training they make a great pick, especially as they have more storage room than most running shorts for your gels and other essentials.
The stretchy inner layer is breathable and supportive, while the loose outer layer has reflective details on the front and back, and if you opt for the bright yellow and blue colour you’ll be equally easy to spot in the day time as well. There is a more subtle black option, however, if you feel the yellow is a little too showy.
Although the high waistband might not be to every runner’s taste, it doesn’t feel hot or restrictive when running, and the large zipped pocket on its back can be stuffed full with gear that will then be held tight against your body to avoid any annoying bouncing. The band also has smaller pouch pockets on the sides that are great for gels.
Zone3 RX3 Medical Grade Compression 2 in 1 Shorts
Although the phrase 'medical grade compression' may sound a bit on the extreme side, in reality, these shorts are some of the most comfortable we've tried; feeling more like relaxing day shorts than something designed for athletics.
Despite the fact you could happily lounge around the house in these, they do still offer an impressive level of technical design features that make them equally as good for running. Ventilation side panels help to make them breathable, there's reflective detailing for safety at night and the fabric is designed to wick away sweat.
Our favorite feature though is the pockets. As well as two large side pockets, something you rarely see in good technical shorts, there's a large zipped bag pocket and some tiny inside pockets for valuables. All of which go to make these shorts a great all-round option.
They may be slightly on the thick side in comparison to some of the other options on the list, so if you're looking for a super lightweight pair for the hotter months, they're likely to be a bit too toasty.
Odlo 2-in-1 Shorts Zeroweight Ceramicool
The Ceramicool tech in the material of these shorts offers excellent temperature regulation for running in hot weather, reducing the temperature of your skin by up to 1°C. That makes these two-in-one shorts ideal for hot days because they won’t overheat while still offering a tight inner that provides support and reduces the risk of chafing that can arise when you’re sweating freely on a run.
On top of that, the ultra-light mesh used in the outer later also helps to keep you cool, and it has a loose fit that allows for unrestricted movement on the run. There’s not a great deal available in the way of storage, however, though a small zipped pocket on the back of the outer layer will take a set of keys and a card.
It can be hard to get your head round the idea that adding a layer to your shorts will actually make you more comfortable on hot days, but after a couple of runs in the Ceramicool shorts, we reckon you’ll be convinced.
Soar Elite Race Shorts 4.0
Nothing says it’s race day like pulling on an exceptionally short pair of shorts, and even if you shy away from split shorts during your training runs it’s worth having a set in your wardrobe for your biggest events, when you’ll value the complete freedom of movement they offer.
Soar's are pricy, especially as you’re not paying for a lot of fabric, but split shorts can be a nightmare when it comes to chafing if you skimp on the materials. The soft inner brief on the Elite Race Shorts 3.0 offers support, and the displaced seams on the inner leg mitigate the risk of chafing in one of the most sensitive areas.
The outer layer is very lightweight and made from a stretchy, fast-drying material. It also has a small zipped pocket on the back that you can cram one or two gels into, though you’ll need to consider other storage solutions if you’re running a marathon.
Tracksmith Twilight Split Shorts
Tracksmith make some of the most stylish running gear in the world, but rest assured that style doesn’t come at the expense of substance. The featherweight fabric used in these split shorts is quick to dry and resists odours, and the cut of the shorts is perfect for providing support without restrictions when you’re running at race pace.
On the inside of the back of the shorts are three pouch pockets, each of which can take a gel (or two, at a squeeze), so you can load up the shorts with all the nutrition you need even for a full marathon. Though if you do fill every pocket to the brim make sure you pull the drawstring nice and tight – all that weight might pull the shorts down otherwise.
The Twilight Split Shorts also come in an impressive range of colours, so you can match them up to your favourite racing vest.
Tracksmith are based in the US, and shipping rates to the UK can be a little steep, but they do sometimes put on pop-ups in London, especially around the London Marathon.
On Race Shorts
These race shorts from On aren't just incredibly short, they're also ridiculously light at 77 grams. The thin outer mesh is perforated to keep the material to a minimum without making them see-through, and any unnecessary features have been stripped down to an absolute minimum.
There's still a moisture-wicking inner brief to keep you dry, so you don't need to worry about chafing, and there's also a minimal draw-cord at the front to tighten them.
For the summer racing months you'll struggle to find a pair of shorts that offers the breathability you'll get from these and the mesh design means that there's an impressive level of airflow when you need it. However, at $79.99 they're an extremely expensive piece of fabric.
Best multi-use shorts
Arc'Teryx Norvan Short 7"
Let's be honest, if you're going to spend a lot of money on a pair of shorts it's a nice bonus to know that you can use them for more than just running. Outdoor brand Arc'Teryx knows a thing or two about making kit that ticks a lot of boxes when it comes to the great outdoors, and the Norvan Shorts are a prime example of that.
Although they're a great option for trail running – thanks to the light breathable design, stretchy material and sweat-wicking properties – the two large pockets are perfect for maps, phones and other outdoor essentials if you're planning on doing some hiking.
The roomy feel also means they're well-designed for activities that need a good range of movement, like climbing or clambering over rocky outcrops. Not surprising when you realise that the company's main office is in Vancouver.