While plenty of people use a classic gym short to go on quick jogs, once you start running habitually, you’ll begin to see the drawbacks. Heavy synthetic materials don’t ventilate very well and retain a lot of water compared with their running-specific counterparts. The absence of a liner can lead to chafing when running longer distances. With sleek, form-fitting designs and colors for every style, a pair of running shorts also just looks better.
- What to Look at Before Buying a Running Short
- Top 10 Best Running Shorts for Men 2021
- 1. Best Overall Pick: Baleaf Men’s 5-Inch Running Shorts
- 2. Best Classic-Style: New Balance Men’s Accelerate Running Short
- 3. Best Premium Pick: Nike Pro Compression Shorts
- 4. Best Budget Pick: Baleaf Men’s 3-Inch Quick Dry
- 5. Best for Trail Running: Nike Men’s 7-Inch Running Shorts
- 6. Most Comfortable: Under Armour Men’s Launch Stretch Shorts
- 7. Best Two-in-One: Pinkbomb Men’s 2-in-1 Running Shorts
- 8. Best 5-Inch: Asics Men’s 5 Running Short
- 9. Best Longer-Length: Peak Velocity Men’s Elite-Stretch
- 10. Best Reflective: Souke Sports Men’s Workout Running Shorts
- Guide to Buying the Best Running Shorts for 2021
- Wearing Running Shorts
- Frequently Asked Questions
- Wrapping Up
What to Look at Before Buying a Running Short
So you’ve made up your mind to invest in your first pair of running shorts: what exactly do you need to look for? While the typical runner hasn’t put too much thought into the technology they wear on their bottom half, there are quite a few decisions to be made when selecting a running short. Consider the features below.
We recommend that all running shorts end above the knee so as not to interfere with your running stride. Even above the knee, different runners prefer different lengths based on experience, style, and personal taste.
Shorts with a three-inch inseam, most commonly known as ‘shorties,’ are the standard of serious runners like marathoners, professional runners, and collegiate athletes. While they’re breathable, comfortable, and incorporate an inner liner, some runners find them a bit too short.
3- to 7-Inch
For most runners, this is the happy medium of an airy-feeling, comfortable short that isn’t too small for comfort. For a typical amateur runner, we’d recommend a short of this length.
7-Inch and Up
Seven to ten-inch shorts are longer and thus less breathable but are often preferred by more beginner runners or athletes who want a short that will work for cross-training or other sports. Watch out for shorts over 10 inches, which begin to restrict movement around the knee.
Polyester is a diverse and effective material that comes in many different variations based on the manufacturer. It can be woven into soft, wicking liners or more heavy-duty, abrasive-resistant outer layers.
Elastane is often used in combination with polyester to create a stretchy material. It’s not particularly breathable, but it’s quite comfortable due to its springy properties.
Manufacturers incorporate mesh made from different materials into their shorts. While expensive meshes can be more breathable than their flat-fabric counterparts, beware of cheap meshes that suck up moisture and get saturated with water.
Different shorts incorporate a variety of unique features to differentiate themselves from the competition. Some of the most common garment and convenience features are listed below:
Garment features are little details incorporated by clothing designers that are typically related to fit, comfort, and design.
- Liner: Running shorts, especially those of a shorter length, typically incorporate an inner, brief-style liner to improve comfort and reduce chafing.
- Compression: Some running shorts contain tight compression garments that can aid in muscle recovery or just help you stay comfortable while running. Be aware that compression garments can be quite a bit more expensive than standard shorts.
- Waistband: Budget manufacturers often cut costs with inexpensive waistbands while premium apparel producers and designers put extra effort into making their waistbands as comfortable as possible.
- Side slits: Shorts with tighter, more form-fitting designs can sometimes restrict movement. Clothing designers sometimes place a small slit on the outer edge of the short that permits the leg to move without restriction.
Meant to aid in common, frequent issues that runners have related to training and safety, apparel manufacturers cater to runners by adding clever touches that make workouts easier and safer.
- Reflective Material: Runners are tricky to see at night, and it’s even worse when they’re not wearing reflective material. Some shorts include reflective material that lights up when hit by a car headlight, keeping the runner visible and safe.
- Pockets: Runners have the perpetual issue of storage space. Some shorts contain a pocket that can just contain a single key, others have a back pocket that can also fit some cash or a smaller cell phone. One thing to watch out for? Traditional pockets—popping a phone or a wallet in a pocket in a standard pocket on the side of the leg gets uncomfortable as you knock out the miles.
Top 10 Best Running Shorts for Men 2021
At a Glance
- Length: 5 inches
- Material: 95% Polyester/ 5% Spandex
- Extra Features: Zipper Pocket, Mesh Liner, Zip Pocket, Side Pockets
In 29 colors, six sizes from Small to XXXL, and available for a reasonable price, Baleaf has a pair of running shorts for every taste, size, and budget. A comfortable elastic waistband keeps the shorts up during even the hardest of workouts—and we appreciate the incorporated drawstring that can adjust tightness depending on how you like to wear your shorts.
Although a 5-inch length and an inner mesh liner prove that this short is primarily for runners, it has some features that make it a bit more versatile than a completely running-specific short like the Asics Men’s 5 Running Short. Two side pockets help carry heavier cargo and a slightly longer cut keep things gym-appropriate.
While these side pockets are convenient for carrying a phone or a wallet to and from the workout, we wouldn’t recommend carrying anything in those pockets during an actual running workout—for that purpose, Baleaf incorporates a zipper pocket which can hold your keys, cash, cards, or other small objects.
At a Glance
- Length: 3 inches, 5 inches, 7 inches
- Material: Polyester
- Extra Features: Inner Liner, Side Pockets
Coming in 3-inch and 7-inch variations as well as a flagship 5-inch short, New Balance makes a classic-style running garment that follows tradition for a reason. Their Accelerate is a quintessential running short from its comfortable waistband to its standard lengths. The short is made of a dry-woven fabric proprietary to New Balance that wicks away moisture and quickly dries when wet.
A looser-than-typical liner prevents the oft-feared ride-up, although it comes at a slight sacrifice in terms of support. For this reason, more than any of the lined shorts on this list, we’d recommend pairing this short with a compression garment like Nike’s Pro Compression Shorts.
Other than that, the three lengths, four color options, and sizes from small to 2XL mean runners of all ability levels and sizes can find an option that they like. And when you’re selling a classic-style running short, that’s exactly what we expect from New Balance—something that works for everyone.
At a Glance
- Length: 7 inches
- Material: 90% Polyester/10% Spandex
- Extra Features: Compression Technology, Flat Seams
Nike, although better known in other areas of the sporting world, has been a patron of distance running since the early days of running popularity in the sixties and seventies. Their latest feat is Eliud Kipchoge’s sub-2-hour marathon, where the endurance athlete smashed a long-standing and practically unbreakable world record using Nike products.
The shorts he wore during the record-breaking feat? These very same Nike Pro Compression Shorts, a sleek and form-fitting short perfect for racing and hard workouts. Some performance features that aided him to the world record are its DriFit fabric which wicks sweat from the skin and dries quickly; the short also contains a darted front pouch to keep you comfortable. Flat seams prevent chafing over long distances. They can also be worn under a pair of more traditional running shorts, either with or without a liner. Since the skin-tight style isn’t ideal for some, more modest runners might take the layering approach
Another detail we appreciate on these shorts is the fact that they can be tumble dried, a detail overlooked on some other common shorts (other premium models often require air drying). While the stretchy spandex material helps in terms of comfort and range of movement, it also helps compress the leg muscles themselves, which is scientifically proven to have performance benefits.
At a Glance
- Length: 3 inches
- Material: 95% Polyester/5% Spandex
- Extra Features: Key Pocket, Reflective Logo
With luxury athletic apparel manufacturers like Lululemon selling Benjamin Franklin-priced shorts, it’s reassuring to see that there are still some fantastic Andrew Jackson priced options on the market. Of all the budget shorts out there, these are some of our favorites, deploying a stretch-fit, quick-drying, wicking fabric over an inner liner to keep you cool, dry, and chafe-free even on the hottest of days.
The shorts are constructed of 95% polyester mixed with 5% spandex that’s stretchy enough to be comfortable while still holding things in place. Those with larger thighs might want to look elsewhere, though, as although the shorts have a slit down the side to aid ease of movement, things can still get a little tight if you’re big on the squats.
The shorts come with a small mesh liner pocket that can hide a few keys but not much else.
With a whole host of style options, all coming in simple but striking block colors, they’re also one of our favorite options from a fashion perspective. Sizes run from small, which fits a 30-inch waist all the way up to XXXL, accommodating a 46-inch waist. The shorts fit true to size.
At a Glance
- Length: 7 inches
- Material: Recycled Polyester
- Extra Features: Durable Fabric, Key Pocket
Trail running is more demanding on shorts than running on the road or track. While most manufacturers don’t produce a trail-specific short, these Nike 7-Inch runners are perfect for athletes who frequently get out on the trails, although we wouldn’t recommend such a long length for racers.
So what exactly should you look for in a trail running short? A slightly longer length and a tighter construction, for one, which will help protect your upper leg from stray branches. Another feature to seek out is a durable, non-mesh fabric that is a bit more resistant to damage. This short has all of those properties, plus a natural color pallet that avoids the popular neon colors sometimes associated with running apparel.
The short also has a drawstring closure, an inner liner, and incorporates Nike’s quick-drying, quick-wicking DriFit technology (which Nike also uses on their Pro Compression Running Shorts). It’s not only one of our preferred liners, but also one of our preferred fabrics in general for running shorts. The best part? It’s made from recycled materials.
At a Glance
- Length: 7 inches
- Material: 100% Polyester
- Extra Features: Reflective Material, Pocket
Sponsoring the Austin Marathon, track runner Morgan McDonald, and other parts of the running community, Under Armour has a long history of participating in endurance sports. They make their experience known here with a fantastic wicking polyester short that’s a bit longer than typical that still functions incredibly well.
The shorts’ internal liner is made out of polyester mesh, but we prefer Nike’s proprietary Dri-Fit liner over Under Armour’s version. This short, as well as Nike’s version, contains a pocket that can fit keys, some cash, or a spare credit card, but a phone won’t fit very well.
But while the shorts have an internal mesh liner that shows they’re meant mostly for running, a relatively durable material and stylish fit means they’re not bad for a day at the gym either. Although at the gym, you probably won’t have to utilize the shorts’ reflective patches that will keep you visible when running at night or early in the morning.
At a Glance
- Length: 7 inches
- Material: Polyester
- Extra Features: Cell Phone Pocket, Headphone Jack, Zipper Pockets, Compression Liner
Athletic apparel maker Pinkbomb tackles the running short from a different perspective, using their years of experience in the gym to help make a running short that’s much more versatile than typical for the category. Designed to hop from the weight bench to the treadmill and back again, these shorts also contain an inner compression liner to keep everything situated whether you’re banging out reps or laps. That’s what 2-in-1 refers to in this case, a short that has an outer shorts layer as well as a compression short.
Containing a few more features that aren’t running specific, these shorts aren’t for athletes that only do long-distance running. For endurance runners who don’t hit the gym, we’d recommend a more classic running short like the Asics Men’s 5 Running Short. However, if you’re looking for something that can do it all, these are a good pick.
Helping in their versatility is an elastic cell phone pocket that does an incredible job of keeping your phone in place even during intense physical activity. The shorts also include a hole for threading your headphone cords and a zipper pocket to tuck away ultra-important items like keys and credit cards.
At a Glance
- Length: 5 inches
- Material: 100% Polyester
- Extra Features: Reflective Material, Internal Pocket, Side Slit
Named for their five-inch length, famed shoe manufacturer Asics brings a phenomenal and low-cost pair of shorts to the running market. Five inches is a sweet spot in the running world, not long enough to be restrictive or hot, but also not short enough to be unstylish or uncomfortable.
One of the biggest reasons runners prefer shorter, three-inch inseam shorts is the fact that they have a slit on the outer side that helps prevent the restriction of movement. These five-inch shorts incorporate that slit as well, and they’re only one of the longer shorts that do so. Because of this feature, they feel similar to three-inch shorts that use the same design, meaning they’re a Goldilocks option for those who want a longer short that isn’t at all constricting.
Two distinct weaves of polyester compose the short, with a softer inner liner and a slightly more durable outer weave that incorporates a reflective material. Unlike some more premium shorts, these shorts are machine washable, making them easy to maintain, although be careful putting these in the drier on high heat.
At a Glance
- Length: 10 inches
- Material: 86% Polyester, 14% Elastane
- Extra Features: Side Pockets, Linerless, UPF 40 Fabric
Athletic apparel manufacturer Peak-Velocity collaborates with Amazon as a ‘Prime Wardrobe’ provider, bringing ultra-high-quality products to the market at a price point well below competitors. Lacking a liner, the shorts are versatile but not running specific. To prevent chafing, it’s not a bad idea to wear a garment like Nike’s Pro Compression Running Shorts underneath.
The fabric is one of our favorites out of our lineup. The incorporation of elastane in the material means they’re not only stretchy, but odor-resistant, quick-dry, and UPF 40. While a 10-inch length can feel a bit long for running purposes, as a combination gym/jog short, they’re perfect.
Four of the six solid colors are striking, bright colors; the shorts also come in a classic standard black and heather grey. While they do incorporate side pockets, be careful with running with heavy items as repeated stress on the seams can break open the pocket seams.
At a Glance
- Length: 8 inches
- Material: 90% Polyester/8% Spandex
- Extra Features: Zipper Side Pockets, Inner Liner, Reflective Material
If you’re looking for a longer short with traditional running styling, the Souke Sports Men’s Workout Running Shorts could probably be for you. While the shorts have an 8-inch inseam, they’re similar to an enlarged version of the Baleaf 5-inch shorts.
While it’s a fine short by itself, comparable to other mid-range models but with a liner slightly below average in quality, our favorite feature is the zipper-equipped side pockets. While most of the other shorts on this list, with the exception of the Pinkbomb Shorts, won’t accommodate a cell phone, a mid-sized phone will remain secure and in place in these zipper pockets. If you’re dead set on bringing your phone with you, this short is a great option.
The outer fabric material offers some reflective touches but can be a bit harsh against the skin, and although some runners prefer longer shorts like this and the Peak Velocity Short, we find that 5-inches is the sweet spot for fashion, modesty, and comfort.
Guide to Buying the Best Running Shorts for 2021
If you’ve ever headed out on a jog with an experienced racer or marathoner, you’ll know how much runners love to talk about their shoes, equipment, and apparel. While at first glance, purchasing a pair of running shorts might seem simple, there’s some serious thought that goes into designing (and wearing) a pair of running shorts.
What Makes a Running Short Different?
Cotton sweats, denim shorts, Speedos, and nothing at all—the eccentric running crowd can turn anything into a running short. Fortunately, innovations in the last 20 years have brought fantastic running shorts to a price point around $20, so we don’t see much more improvisation on the scene anymore.
That still brings about a question, though: what makes a running short any different from a climbing short, a CrossFit short, or a soccer short?
Running shorts have to be comfortable in terms of fit and in fabric, combining durability, a soft inner liner, and stretchy fabric to accommodate movement. Typically running shorts are made of a polyester blend that incorporates some type of stretchy material like Elastane or Spandex.
Running shorts are tight, but not so tight to restrict movement. While gym shorts are meant to be a bit longer, running shorts are short to maintain heat transfer and airflow. They’re also tight to avoid snagging on branches on the trails and minimize flapping around in the breeze.
Running shorts are typically minimalist: they don’t usually have large pockets, cell phone holsters, or headphone cord holes. While there are some exceptions to the rule (Pinkbomb offers a running short with a cell phone holster), most running shorts just contain a small pocket for a key and a credit card.
Wearing Running Shorts
While you might think that wearing running shorts is just as simple as wearing any other pair of shorts, different runners take different approaches to how they wear running garments. Some good general advice? Wear whatever keeps you comfortable.
Oh, compression shorts: heaven for some and a bit tight for others. Compression shorts are designed to hold the, ahem, equipment in place when running. Some runners like the support and modesty a compression short provides while others prefer to go without. Compression shorts can also provide benefits that aid muscular recovery.
We advise you to do what’s most comfortable for you, although with a strong recommendation to buy compression-wear that is shorter than your running shorts. It can sometimes look a little unfashionable to have compression shorts sneaking past the bottom of your shorties, although some runners, especially sprinters, rock the look.
The Underwear Question
Oh, underwear, the garment we hate to talk about. While plenty of runners, especially more casual runners, are fine to run in a liner-less short with a pair of boxers, most serious runners will run in compression shorts or shorts with a liner. If you do happen to purchase a pair of shorts with a liner, make sure to use wicking compression shorts or go without underwear, as wearing underwear and shorts with a liner at the same time can cause chafing.
Other Running Clothing
Although running shorts are arguably the most important part of a runner’s outfit, there’s a lot more that goes into play when fashioning a running getup. Alongside shorts, make sure to pick up some other garments to fill out your running wardrobe.
Typically made of a wicking material with a loose-but-not-too-loose fit that prevents chafing, a short-sleeve running shirt is classic running attire.
Similar to a tank top but with a bit more airflow and constructed with wicking material, on the hot days, most runners pull out a singlet. It’s about as close to shirtless as you can get.
Runners are famously obsessed with their socks: there are continuous, years-long debates as to how long a sock should be, its color, and materials. Our favorite socks are somewhere in the middle: an ankle-length option that protects the Achilles tendon from chafing, is made of wicking material, and has as much or as little personality as the user prefers.
Some runners swear by using compression socks in order to avoid injuries while running.
Some other options to expand your running wardrobe are headbands, running gloves, removable arm warmers, knee compression sleeves, leg warmers, and long-sleeve running shirts and jackets for the harshest winter cold. Our recommendation? Talk to your running buddies. It’s fun (and helpful) to talk about the equipment you use.
Frequently Asked Questions
After you head out on your first jog to test your new pair of shorts, you might have some questions about the finer aspects of your new fine technical apparel. There’s always plenty to learn.
Why Are Running Shorts So Short?
Runners sometimes get some flack for the short shorts they train and race in. But there’s a perfectly good reason why most distance runners wear a three-inch short when racing: it’s what works best.
Balancing heat dissipation and range of motion, running shorts aren’t made for fashion: swimmers wear speedos, cyclists wear lycra, and runners wear short shorts. Over time, though, shorts have crept up in length, and these days at the races, you’ll see more runners with five-inch shorts, spandex, and compression shorts. Whatever works!
In What Weather Should I Wear Shorts?
There’s really no upper limit for wearing running shorts—however, the hotter it gets, the more you’ll consider a pair of ‘shorty’ style running shorts like Baleaf’s 3-Inch Model. In more typical weather, consider a standard pair of running shorts down to about 45-50 degrees Fahrenheit.
Below 60 degrees, we might add some compression shorts to the equation to keep things a bit cozier. At around 50 degrees, or lower for some ultra-hardy runners, we’d recommend thinking about a pair of running tights. Due to how running tights fit, some runners prefer to wear a pair of shorts as a top layer for comfort and for fashion.
How Should Running Shorts Fit?
From cotton sweatpants to spandex, runners are a wide and diverse group of individuals. But how exactly do you know when you’ve got a good fit with your running shorts? First, the waistband should be tight but not uncomfortable. Be aware that if you’re planning on carrying a phone or keys, a tighter fit is warranted to help prevent your shorts from sliding down.
For the fit of the short itself, it should be tight enough to stay out of the way but not so tight as to be restrictive. A baggy pair of shorts can cause chafing, rub against itself, and restrict movement. A too-tight pair is just plain uncomfortable. Look for a happy medium, whatever that means to you.
How Long Should Running Shorts Be?
Running shorts have a reputation for being pretty short, but they don’t have to be. Running shorts get picked by the user, and plenty of runners find that a three-inch short like the Baleaf 3-Inch is the best thing for them.
In recent years, slightly longer shorts have come into style with the most popular length being about five inches. Others prefer even longer, from 7 inches to a maximum comfortable length of about 10 inches.
Why Do Running Shorts Have Liners?
While most running shorts are typically made of a polyester blend, the outside fabric can be a bit harsh directly against the skin due to the fact that it needs to be durable. For this reason, most short manufacturers incorporate a liner of a softer material that helps protect sensitive areas from chafing.
A liner is also tight enough to offer a bit of support and can offer a bit more modesty with shorter three-inch shorts like the Baleaf 3-inch Quick Dry. It’s up to you, though, if you’d like to wear a compression garment underneath a lined short.
While the most important thing for a runner is to get out on the road in the first place, the right pair of running shorts can make all the difference in terms of comfort and performance. Whether you’re looking for a pair of Nike trail-specific shorts, standard 5-inch runners, or high tech Compression Shorts, the most important things to shop for are a great fit, material, and features. We’ll see you out there!