Run better in these stylish, comfortable, sweat-wicking shorts. From epic trail-running shorts to the best compression running shorts, we’ve got you covered.
As a pro adventure racer, I log a lot of miles (as does the rest of the GearJunkie team). From Colorado mountain trails to long Oregon road runs and everything in between, we love running. And as soon as the temps climb, we live in running shorts.
The primary things we look for in a running short are that it doesn’t budge while running and stays comfortable for hours on end. Basically, we want to forget we’re wearing shorts and just enjoy the run. Because there’s nothing more annoying than having to break stride because your shorts are awkwardly riding up.
We also give high marks to shorts that dry quickly, remain stink-free, and are a good value. And there are bonus points for anything that looks good enough to wear as we swing by the farmer’s market or grab a cold coffee on the way home.
That said, there isn’t a single pair of shorts that will fit every woman out there. Bodies and preferences vary, which is why we’ve broken the best running shorts into categories. And if you need more help finding the right shorts, check out our buyer’s guide below on how to choose the best running shorts.
Best Overall Running Shorts for Women
Patagonia Strider Pro Running Shorts ($59)
Patagonia’s most technical running shorts are made of 100 percent recycled ripstop polyester that is finished with a DWR coating, making them ultratough and water-resistant. There are a total of five pockets, with one of them being a zip-secure on the back.
I wore these on a recent run/scramble on a hot day in the mountains, and they were perfect for the unpredictable terrain. And even after sweating and going in and out of rivers, the lightweight brief didn’t cause any chafing. The waistband is one of the most minimal waistbands of all the shorts I have tested, and at first glance, I thought it would cause a major muffin top effect. But I was pleasantly surprised at the fit. They stay up without squeezing. All in all, these shorts are comfortable, quick-drying, and look cute, too.
Best Budget Running Shorts
Under Armour Fly-By Shorts ($25)
For $25, it’s hard to find a better value on running shorts. Designed for warm-weather runs, the mesh side panels easily dump heat, and the lightweight polyester fabric dries quickly. We found the wide waistband comfortable enough (though not as great as our favorite Patagonia pair) and like the drawstring for on-the-fly adjustments.
Things easily fall out of the slanted pockets, so don’t plan on carrying much with you. And be forewarned that the lighter colors (especially white) are rather see-through. But this is a solid running short for 25 bucks.
Best Compression Running Shorts
2XU Mid-Rise Compression Shorts ($60)
Every runner needs a good pair of compression shorts. And no one knows compression better than 2XU. Whether it’s for a long-haul run or a recovery run, I never head to a big race without these shorts. I’ve done multiple 24-hour adventure races and 20-plus-mile runs in these. They compress the thighs and butt in all the right places, making the muscles get less fatigued and able to recover faster.
The wide waistband hugs the waistline in a flattering way that doesn’t ever slide down. The seams are a nonissue and strategically placed so that there is never a problem with chafing, even as they get wet from sweat or river crossings.
Best Running Skirt
Salomon Agile Skort ($60)
Designed for epic trail runs and mountain hikes, this skort offers comfort, coverage, and performance all in one. The quick-drying polyester inner shorts wick moisture to keep you dry all day long and provide plenty of airflow during summer runs. The polyester outer skirt dries quickly and offers a little extra coverage and style.
The adjustable waistband allows for a custom fit. And we appreciated being able to stash a few dollars or our favorite lip balm in the zippered pocket. All in all, this lightweight skort is a favorite for hot summer days on the trail.
Best Wool Running Shorts
Icebreaker Impulse Running Shorts ($80)
On runs where I know I’ll be getting wet, or if I can bring only one pair of shorts on a camping trip, these are my first choice. They can do just about anything and everything. They feature a classic waistband look with an internal drawstring and have more coverage than most other running shorts.
I regularly wear them all day and have even used them over my swimsuit for surfing and paddling. The outer shell is made out of a blend of wool, nylon, and Tencel, which is not only fast-drying but also repels odors. And for maximum comfort, the inner brief is Icebreaker’s well-known, loved, cool, light brief. It’s an unstoppable combo.
Best Wide Waistband Short
Outdoor Voices Hudson Running Short ($55)
The Hudson Short is a great initiation into the world of running shorts. Especially if you’re on the curvy side or are not yet sold on the whole running short thing. The wide, comfy waistband feels like a lot like yoga pant waistbands but wicks more moisture because of the “tech sweat” material. The silky liner stays put while the quick-drying shell offers enough coverage to do errands, go get a post-run coffee, or squeeze in a yoga class. I’ve done all the above in them and can attest: They are very versatile and flattering. Once you put these on, you’ll never want to take them off.
Best of the Rest
Janji 3" Middle Shorts ($60)
These shorts are as close as it comes to feeling like you’re running in the nude. The ultralight and airy material coupled with the thin, non-chafing, breathable brief make me have to literally look down and make sure I’m wearing something. Luckily, I’m not only wearing shorts, but these provide full coverage in a very flattering and fun way. The mesh is highly breathable, and the stretchy waistband has a built-in drawstring cord for a custom fit.
Cotopaxi Crux Active Short ($65)
For those who love the retro look, the Cotopaxi Crux shorts will make you smile. They come in fun colors, are light, and have a waistband that sits on the hips. I’m happy to report that they remain comfortable while running and don’t slide up and down.
Though the brief is a bit loose for running, I have found these shorts to be great for everyday hikes and for pulling over swimsuit bottoms. The outer material is made up of a blend of polyester, Tencel, and spandex, which makes for a quick-drying, durable, stretchy outer. They hold up well against many washes, rough terrain, and multiday missions.
Smartwool Merino Sport 3" Lined Shorts ($60)
I love Smartwool’s quality and attention to detail in all of its new garments. And the Merino Sport Lined shorts did not disappoint. These shorts provide all-day comfort, easily switch with from activity to activity, and, in my case, accommodate a growing pregnant belly.
The wide waistband has a wool inner as well as a drawstring cord, making the shorts stay put without pinching. And because they’re wool, they’re great at wicking moisture and staying stink-free. The drop-in pockets and small zippered pockets hold enough for a good long run or a short day hike. And the coverage of the shorts makes them great for wearing around town.
How to Choose Running Shorts
You can run in just about anything, but having a comfortable pair of shorts sure does make pounding the pavement more enjoyable. Here are some things to consider when looking for the best running shorts.
Liner or No Liner?
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.
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.
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.
Choose synthetic shorts for their quick-drying properties. Cotton is nice and soft but will get bogged down with sweat.
Consider antimicrobial treatments, as many brands add a silver salt to their product to minimize odor-causing bacteria.
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. 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 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.
So find the right 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.
The biggest thing is just to get out there and go for it. Grab some shorts, lace up your shoes, and start running.
Have a favorite pair of running shorts? Let us know in the comments and we’ll check it out for future updates to this article.