Best Running Shorts for Men of 2021
The Patagonia Strider Pro rules the field in two different categories of our extensive testing — pocket performance and waistband comfort — easily earning them top accolades. Available in both 5" and 7" versions (we tested the 5"), this pair includes the most carrying capacity of any shorts we tested with five total pockets — two stretchy elastic pockets on each side that are great for snacks, and a zippered rear pocket with a key loop that perfectly fits a regular-sized iPhone. The elastic waistband is also very comfortable, with a low profile and smooth surface against the skin. We especially appreciated that the drawstrings are tied on the outside of the shorts so that they don't rub and chafe on long runs like every other model with inside tying points.
Add in a silk-like recycled polyester liner with included odor suppressing agents, and we find little to complain about with these excellent running shorts. Despite the DWR coating on the exterior polyester fabric, these shorts aren't the fastest to dry out. They are also more expensive than any other choice. But if you simply want the best and most comfortable, we recommend you finish your search right here.
Running shorts are a relatively simple piece of clothing, and many folks are simply seeking a comfortable pair that performs well. If this sounds like you, give the Brooks Sherpa 5" a gander. They feature a silky smooth liner, a stretchy and soft waistband, and they're available in loads of different colors. They're also one of the only models in our test fleet that have a dedicated key pocket sewn into the liner.
However, we were disappointed to discover that none of the pockets on these shorts are large enough to fit our average-sized iPhone. If you typically use a phone armband or have a smartwatch that you wear while exercising, this probably won't be a dealbreaker. The side pockets, one on each side, seem explicitly designed with gels in mind, and other snacks may not fit. We highly recommend opting for the Brooks Sherpa if this pocket design doesn't bother you.
The Baleaf 5" Pocketed shorts are our go-to for budget running shorts. You could buy two to three pairs of these for the same price as one of the premium models. The Baleaf includes three large pockets (two deep hand pockets on the sides and one large rear zippered pocket), convenient for carrying whatever you need. The mesh liner is comfortable and offers plenty of support.
On the downside, despite their polyester material, these shorts are slow to dry. The deep pockets can hold large items, but also bounce a lot when running. We find the thick waistband to be a bit hotter and more present than some other options. Despite these minor complaints, Baleaf makes an effective workout or running short — and it's hard to argue with the price.
Running is a very repetitive motion, which means you want the most comfortable pair of shorts you can find if you're going to avoid chafing. Our favorite liner is found in the Rabbit FKT 5" shorts. These super smooth briefs do their job of offering support against bouncing while running without hugging too tightly, and they're very comfortably sewn around the edges. They also have a flat waistband unlike any other that is a godsend for reducing rubbing or itching. Combine this with two large hip pockets and a rear zippered pocket large enough for a phone, and you have a winning combination.
Of course, you shouldn't be surprised to see a high price tag coupled with high quality and comfort, which is the principal drawback to these rad shorts. However, we think they are worth it. We do wish the drawstring was a bit more low profile or situated on the outside of the waistband. Still, for optimal comfort and support, these are a tough pair to beat.
The vast majority of running shorts come with a built-in liner, but for dudes who would rather their shorts be liner-less, we recommend the Adidas Design 2 Move shorts. They have absolutely no interior liner, so you'll need to pair these with your underwear or go commando. They also include a fair bit of Climacool mesh, which aids in breathability and fast drying, and they're relatively inexpensive. The two large hand pockets make it easy to wear these shorts to and from the gym, as they easily hold any items you need to carry.
Of course, a lack of liner means a lack of support, which may not be a big deal when working out, but typically becomes an issue when running regularly. Liners are generally lower profile and less material than if you wear separate boxers or briefs. And while they can carry a lot, the deep hand pockets aren't really suitable for carrying items when running. As such, these shorts may not be the best everyday running option, but are likely a great workout or gym short, and can be used for sports like basketball.
If you like to rock a little flair when out on your runs or find yourself bored with the same old black or solid colors of most running shorts, check out the Janji AFO Middle shorts. These shorts have by far the coolest and most interesting color patterns of any we have seen. Janji bases all of their designs off the inspiration derived from different countries — this particular look is from the Philippines. While we tested the Midnight Plaid, we can't help but shout out to the awesome Flora Orchid color. We also love the comfort of the mesh-lined, flat waistband, a stark contrast to the thicker, itchier ones we tested.
Unfortunately, in the way of pocket space, these shorts don't offer much. They do have an internal key pocket and a single zippered rear pocket, but we find it too small for our phone, and not a great shape for many snacks, though gels will fit. We also found that they stayed a bit wetter than other pairs once wet. That said, these shorts are mega comfortable, and are undoubtedly colorful, so check them out if plain and boring is simply not you.
Upon first inspection, the Naviskin 5" Woven shorts appear to be the same as the Baleaf 5" Pocketed shorts described above, and for a little bit less money. However, the difference is in the details, as the craftsmanship on these shorts is a bit lower than on the comparable Baleaf design, leading us to recommend that one first. These shorts are priced to sell and are reasonably comfortable. They also have deep hand pockets and a large rear pocket that accommodates all sizes of items or phones.
While we have the same complaints as we did with the Baleaf, we will also mention that the elastic that edges the liner is not sewn nearly as nicely in these shorts, and this translates into noticeable rubbing on a longer run. The waistband elastic is also tighter, in a way that we started to feel after a while. If you are on a budget and want the better option, we recommend the Baleaf. However, if you want the lowest-priced shorts that aren't too bad, these will work.
We've all seen those guys flying down the road wearing shorts so short they seem scandalous. It appears as if the faster one gets, the shorter the shorts one ends up wearing. But what if it were true, and you could gain some speed by merely ditching a lot of the material in your bulky long shorts? If you want to give it a try, then check out the Under Armour Launch SW Split shorts, boasting a minimal 2" inseam.
We wish that the rear pocket on these shorts was big enough to hold a phone — we couldn't fit our iPhone into it. We also tested a few shorts with a more comfortable waistband and liner; the elastic on these was certainly more noticeable. If these shorts match your look, we recommend you take them for a spin.
2-in-1 designs are made with an internal boxer brief liner, rather than the more standard briefs liner. We recommend checking out the Souke Sports Quick Dry shorts for those who vastly prefer this design. These shorts come in two different versions sold under the same name, and we tested the longer 2-in-1 version. Our favorite thing about them is the zippered hand pockets, which ensure that any important valuables like car keys or an ID don't fall out on your adventure. They are also fairly inexpensive.
That said, we found these shorts to be bulky, hot, and pretty itchy. We also noticed that they dried out slowly and that the boxer briefs design didn't offer much support while running. These are an affordable fit for those who prefer this design. However, we prefer standard briefs liners for our running missions.
Why You Should Trust Us
Heading up this review is Andy Wellman, a senior gear reviewer at OutdoorGearLab since 2013. A passionate trail and mountain runner, Andy has been our main guy for trail running shoes for the past eight years, testing over 70 different models. In that time, he has also tested and reviewed running hydration packs, running socks, running shirts, and windbreakers. A native of Colorado, he has been a passionate trail runner most of his life and has competed in trail and ultra races around the globe, including multi-day stage races in the Himalayas and ultras in Europe, not to mention many mountainous and long-distance races in both the American West and East. Over that time, he has worked with coaches such as professional ultra runner Jason Schlarb and has often logged thousands of miles per year in training.
Testing took place on both trails and roads around the San Juan Mountains of Colorado, where Andy lives. Initial impressions were gained on long runs, often tagging summits along the way, and on daily training runs, which are just as likely to include some road-based intervals as they are to cover more trail miles. Once we understood many of the merits of each pair of shorts, we compared them side-by-side for several different metrics, often running in one pair for a minute or two, and then changing shorts to see how they compared relative to each other. Both our field testing and side-by-side comparisons inform the rankings and recommendations found in this article.
Analysis and Test Results
Besides general field testing, the four metrics that we assessed for each pair of shorts are waistband comfort, liner comfort, pocket performance, and drying speed. Each of these is discussed in greater detail below.
Running shorts are a simple piece of equipment that will likely accomplish their job regardless of which pair you choose. However, when it comes to clothing, comfort plays a large role in differentiating the performance between separate pairs. We notice that comfort is different when focusing on the waistband than when focusing on the liner (described below), so we've chosen to split these into two different assessments.
In reality, calling something comfortable means that you don't find it to be uncomfortable. Said another way, comfort is the lack of discomfort. In general, we find flat fabric to be more comfortable than bunched-up elastic fabric where it meets the skin. We also like low profile drawstring material and wish that this tie point was on the outside for every pair. Lastly, thin waistbands are not as hot, sweaty, and itchy as the thick ones we encountered.
The Patagonia Strider Pro boasts the most comfortable waistband by far, pairing a narrow, flat waistband with a drawstring that ties on the outside of the shorts, so there is no rubbing of the knot against the skin. Also among the most comfortable is the flat, narrow, and mesh patterned waistbelt on the Janji AFO Middle shorts and the flat, super soft material that makes up the waist on the Rabbit FKT shorts.
In contrast, the least comfortable waistbands tend to be very thick and have an elastic design that bunches up on the inside, where it rests against our skin. Thick means hot and not very breathable, and the bunched-up design found on many of the cheaper shorts rubs and itches much more than flat fabric. The Souke Sports Quick Dry Shorts embody these qualities.
Virtually all pairs of running shorts come with a built-in liner. The liner's purpose is much the same as a sports bra for women — it hugs and supports you while preventing excessive bouncing. While those not accustomed to liners may initially find them annoying, the reality is that too much bouncing while running will lead to chafing or even pain. So, a liner is a functional and necessary addition for male runners.
To be as comfortable as possible, liners are most often made with silky smooth synthetic materials and sometimes mesh. They are designed to breathe well and dry out quickly. When assessing for their comfort, we noticed two things that tended to bother us: the way that the edges of the liners are sewn, which depending on quality, can cause itching and chafing over time, and the tightness of the fit. Some liners manage to cup what needs to be cupped without also being too tight, while others hug under the glutes and insides of the legs in a super noticeable way.
Liners come in two varieties — Briefs and 2-in-1. We prefer the briefs design because there is less material, which means lighter and less hot, and the shape of the liner itself does a better job cradling and preventing excessive bouncing. 2-in-1's basically have a boxer brief shaped liner, but we find that these versions trap heat and moisture next to our skin more, and often aren't designed to cradle and prevent bouncing. Ultimately, it is a personal preference.
The Rabbit FKT has by far our favorite liner. It fits perfectly and has nicely sewn edges that cause no disturbances, even after a full day of running. The Brooks Sherpa 5" is another pair with a comfortable liner, as is the Patagonia Strider Pro. The Souke Sports and Naviskin pairs were our least favorite liners, as they were itchy, fit a little too tight, and had rough, cheap sewing jobs on the edges such that they would rub over time. For those who don't want a liner and prefer to pair with their own internal garment, check out the Adidas Design 2 Move.
Traditionally, running shorts are made without pockets, because whatever you do carry will likely bounce all over while running. These days, most pairs have some pockets because people want to carry a car key, ID/credit card, smartphone, and gels, or other small snacks.
The best pockets sit high on the hip, where their contents will bounce less. They are large enough to hold typical snacks, like gels or a small bar, but also tight enough to keep contents secure so they don't jostle around. Most shorts have a rear pocket right under the waistband and centered in the middle. This is another spot that usually doesn't bounce much, and is a good place for a smartphone if the pocket is big enough. These pockets typically are zippered for added security.
The Patagonia Strider Pro has the best combination of pockets, with two separate snack pockets on each side, and a perfectly sized rear zippered pocket that can hold a phone but doesn't bounce. The Under Armour Launch SW Split and the Janji AFO Middle have only a rear zippered pocket, not large enough to fit a phone, making them the lowest performers.
Running makes you sweaty, and that sweat will be absorbed into your shorts. While some pairs have mesh panels designed to aid in breathability and airflow, it is hard to objectively test breathability, as one can never perfectly replicate atmospheric conditions from run to run. So, we tested drying speed instead — thoroughly soaking them, wringing them out until they don't drip, then hanging them next to each other, observing changes as they dry.
While every pair is made out of a combination of polyester fibers and elastic or elastane, they all dried out at different speeds. The clear winner was the Under Armour Launch SW Split, drying out the fastest, making it an excellent choice for those who want to stay as dry as possible. The liner-less Adidas Design 2 Move was also quick to dry.
Whether you typically run on roads or trails, the need for a reliable pair of running shorts is pretty much the same. The most important consideration for you is likely to be comfort and budget, as the prices vary considerably. If you can afford the most expensive pairs, you will be rewarded with greater comfort and pocket performance, although the budget options are not a very big step down. We hope this article has been informative in your search. Happy running!
— Andy Wellman