Searching for the best men’s running shorts? We’ve logged hundreds of miles to find the best running shorts to fit every distance and budget. And our favorite might surprise you.
At GearJunkie, the staff runs a lot. I’ve run a handful of ultramarathons, including the Leadville 100. Other staffers have crushed marathons, ultramarathons, and innumerable lunch runs around lakes in Minneapolis and Matthews/Winters Park in Colorado.
And we’ve run in a lot of pairs of shorts.
So I don’t make this statement lightly: The Path Sykes PX 5-inch Short are the best running shorts on the market right now.
In this article, I’ll break down all our favorite shorts and do my utmost to rank the best running shorts you can buy. But when it comes to running shorts, “best” is really subjective. Running short preferences are incredibly personal and vary from person to person.
So if you have a favorite, please let us and your fellow runners know in the comments. We’ll update this article over the years to stay on top of the best running shorts on the market.
Best Men’s Running Shorts for Most Runners: Path Sykes PX 5-Inch Review
Having run in about a dozen pairs of shorts in the last year, these are the best for most runners for most days. These aren’t my top choice for every scenario (for example, I may choose a lined short for ultradistances). But for most days, most runs, and most distances, these are the ones I’d grab first.
Why? Well, look at this photo of the pockets. This is reason No. 1.
The pockets are not only large enough to hold a cellphone but are also located in such a way as to not bounce while running. It’s kind of awesome to drop my iPhone 7, in a case, into the back pocket and not even feel it move while running. Plus, there’s additional space to carry gels and keys, and you won’t even know they’re there.
So, the pockets rock. But it doesn’t end there. The Toray Prime Flex fabric is wonderfully soft against the skin. It’s a stretchy polyester that feels light and gives a great range of motion. And the fabric has a DWR coating to encourage quick drying.
The waistband, while not treated with silicone, is broad and non-bunching, which I also appreciate.
These are unlined shorts, which means you wear them with underwear. For most runs, I appreciate this. First, it’s nice to be able to change in a car without risking getting completely naked. Second, this allows you to wear exactly your favorite underwear against your skin. Path Projects makes underwear — it calls them Base Liners, and they are nice — but I have a few other skivvies that I like and use just as much.
Of course, you can also see unlined shorts as negative in some circumstances. Personally, I prefer a few lined shorts for runs over about 20 miles because I seem to have fewer issues with chafing. But how many 20-plus-mile runs do you do each year? For most folks, those kinds of miles are fairly uncommon.
So if I were to pick one short for day-in, day-out running, it would be this one.
Best Running Shorts for Men Review: The Rest
There are a lot of great running shorts on the market. But these are the shorts GearJunkie staffers have run for big miles.
Best Running Shorts for Ultramarathons: Salomon Trail Runner Twinskin Short ($59-76)
When the going gets longer, like a seriously long-distance, this is the short I reach for. For some reason, the Twinskin design from Salomon just works for me. It interestingly attaches an outer short to an inner liner that morphs into a single short at the inner leg.
And for super-long days when chafing is a concern, I’ve found no better solution. I ran about 75 miles of the Leadville 100 in a slightly older version of these last year for part of this review. I used Body Glide a couple of times and never had serious chafing. I switched them out to tights and underwear when it got cold at about 75 miles.
Running Shorts With Great Pockets: Patagonia Men’s Strider Pro Running Shorts – 5″ ($69)
“My biggest thing with shorts that are lined is that the liner bunches. These don’t,” said GearJunkie staffer Kirk Warner. He runs a lot, and these are his favorites. Beyond the great liner, he loves the pocket placement and size. He can carry microspikes, an iPhone, and nutrition in these.
The pockets even hug items close to the body for no jostling. They aren’t zippered pockets, but stuff doesn’t fall out because of the unique pocket design. And the tail pocket has a zipper for super-important stuff like an ID or keys. The only downside? Durability. These tend to die after one or two seasons.
Shorts on a Budget: New Balance Accelerate 5-Inch Short ($30)
If you want a no-frills running short that hits a great nexus of price and performance, this is it. At $30, it’s a very light synthetic fabric that dried quickly and felt soft against the skin during our review. These have a brief-style liner, elastic drawcord, and key pocket on the waist. They’re a great 10K or even marathon short that won’t drain your wallet.
Long Running Shorts: Under Armour Speedpocket 8-Inch Short ($24-64)
The Under Armour Speedpocket is another excellent short that carries items up to the size of a large phone in comfort. The 8-inch model is nice and gives more leg coverage, but it makes this version in various lengths.
Beyond the pocket, this is a light, moisture-wicking short that fits close without squeezing. It has mesh side panels for enhanced breathability. As with all these models, we’d happily run in these any day of the week. And we could all week long because the anti-odor technology keeps them from getting stinky very fast.
How to Choose Running Shorts
We gave you a few of our top choices above. These are shorts we’ve run in and enjoyed. But frankly, there are hundreds of pairs of running shorts on the market. There is no way we — or anyone else for that matter — have tested them all.
So what do you look for?
To be blunt, you can run in pretty much any shorts. I ran my first ultradistance event, the Trans Rockies Run, in a pair of old white basketball shorts that I got from Goodwill for $3. And while far from ideal, they worked. So my first recommendation would be not to let equipment slow you down. If you want to run, as Nike says, just do it.
Liner or No Liner?
But of course, a tool made for the job tends to work best. Running shorts are no exception.
First, decide if you want a liner or not. A perfectly fitting liner will tend to be less chafe-inducing over long miles than inappropriate underwear. Thus, a liner eliminates the need to change undies before a run. Just throw on your shorts and go!
But some runners find that choosing the perfect underwear with the perfect shorts works better. My recommendation? For many runners, a lined short is just simpler to deal with. But if you’re serious, consider multiple layers and pay attention to the underwear too. My favorite shorts, the Path Projects up above, are liner-free.
Some shorts have a skin-tight inner liner, and others have a looser “brief” style liner. Try on a few and see what you prefer. For longer distances, we’ve found that longer, skin-tight liners tend to be less chafe-inducing.
Synthetic Materials: Light Is Right
When you run, weight is an enemy. You want the lightest shorts you can find, and that starts with materials. But avoid super-whispy fabrics that can bunch or stick to skin, as they can be annoying on long runs.
Chose synthetic shorts for their quick-drying properties. Cotton is nice and soft but will get bogged down with sweat. Most likely, this means they will be polyester with a blend of materials like spandex or elastane for stretch.
Consider antimicrobial treatments, as many brands add a silver salt to their product to keep odor-causing bacteria at a minimum.
Finally, many running shorts have a small amount of reflectivity built in. It’s a nice touch and helps you stay a little safer at night.
Pockets: Yes, Please
Even if you carry a vest pack, pockets can really set a pair of shorts apart. Consider first any waist-belt-style pockets (see the Under Armour, Patagonia, and Path Projects shorts above). When executed well, a good waist pocket will allow you to leave a pack at home for many runs. And for shorter runs, it’s nice to just toss your keys and a phone in your shorts and go.
Consider if pockets have zippers or other fail-safe measures for security. Can you access them on the go? Zip pockets are great, but also consider the zipper quality, as this is a possible failure point.
Larger thigh pockets are great for daily wear, but they become useless while running. Who wants a bunch of stuff bouncing off their legs? So don’t worry much about big pockets on the thighs. They usually don’t hurt and do come in handy for post-run life like a stop in a coffee shop. But you won’t use them while running.
The waistband needs to fit your body perfectly. Too tight, and it’s going to hurt. Too loose, and your pants fall down. No bueno.
So nail the fit, but also look for a band that lays flat against the skin. Cheap shorts will often bunch at the waistband. You want a smooth, continuous layer of fabric against the skin. Quality shorts will not behave like a scrunchie on your waist.
Some shorts add a dab of silicone on the waist for a bit of stickiness. It’s a nice touch but not really needed if the fit is right.
That’s about it. What do you look for in running shorts? We’re always looking for the best on the market and love to hear your ideas, too. So let us know in the comments if you have an awesome pair of running shorts we’ve overlooked!