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Best Running Shorts for Men of 2021

Testing running shorts on a long run in the Uncompahgre Wilderness of ...
By Andy Wellman ⋅ Senior Review Editor
Wednesday April 28, 2021
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Want to know what is the best pair of men's running shorts? We researched over 100 different pairs before purchasing 9 of the most popular for this review. Our experts tested and compared each model side-by-side on a variety of diverse terrain and adventures, including long mountain traverses, daily trail running loops, and interval sessions on local dirt roads. We made a note of how each performed for a number of key considerations such as pocket performance, waistband comfort, liner comfort, and drying speed, in order to help us, and you, understand which is the best pair, and why. Whether you want the very best, or simply a solid pair that can be had for less than the rest, read on for our recommendations.


Best Overall Running Shorts

Patagonia Strider Pro

Pockets: 4 elastic hip pockets, 1 zippered rear gel pocket | Interior Liner Type: Briefs
Best combination of pockets
Most comfortable waistband
Comfortable, odor-controlling liner

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.

Not only do these shorts have the most comfortable waistband of all...
Not only do these shorts have the most comfortable waistband of all we tested, due in large part to the drawstring that lives on the outside where it can't rub or chafe while we run, it also has the best pocket configuration, allowing one to conveniently carry the most stuff. They are our favorite running shorts.


Best Performance and Comfort

Brooks Sherpa 5"

Pockets: 2 elastic hip gel pockets, 1 zippered rear pocket, 1 interior key pocket | Interior Liner Type: Mesh briefs
Comfortable waistband and liner
High performing
Multiple color options
No pocket big enough for a smartphone
Since our test cycle, Brooks updated the Sherpa 5" with some recycled fabric, a new liner featuring spandex, and a center back zip pocket that is sized for an iPhone. Please note that we're linking to the new Sherpa 5" above, but the paragraphs below are in reference to the previous Sherpa.

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.

These shorts are simple, have a nice liner, and have pockets on each...
These shorts are simple, have a nice liner, and have pockets on each side for gels or other small snacks, as well as a rear zippered pocket and internal key pocket sewn into the liner.


Best Bang for the Buck

Baleaf 5" Pocketed

Pockets: 2 hand pockets, 1 zippered rear pocket | Interior Liner Type: Mesh briefs
Very affordable
Comfortable mesh pockets
Dries out slowly
Thick waistband is a bit hot

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.

One of the most notable features of these affordable running shorts...
One of the most notable features of these affordable running shorts is their very large hand pockets found on each side. While these don't do you much good while running, as items stored in them will surely bounce around way too much, they are very convenient for carrying around essentials when not running.


Most Comfortable Liner

Rabbit FKT 5"

Pockets: 2 elastic hip pockets, 1 zippered rear pocket | Interior Liner Type: Briefs
Super comfortable liner
Comfortable elastic waistband sits flat against skin
Great pocket capacity
Round drawstrings are bulky when tied

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.

With a super flat and still stretchy waistband that is mega...
With a super flat and still stretchy waistband that is mega comfortable, the most comfortable liner, and a large, high on the hip snack pocket on each side, the FKT are easily among our testers favorites.


Best Liner-Free Option

Adidas Design 2 Move

Pockets: 2 hand pockets | Interior Liner Type: None
Lack of liner makes it easy to pair with your own underwear
Thick waistband is a bit sweaty
Hand pockets not ideal for holding objects when running

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.

The Design 2 Move shorts don't have a liner, which is either a good...
The Design 2 Move shorts don't have a liner, which is either a good thing or a bad thing, depending on your taste. Without a liner, they are lighter and dry quicker, but will need you to pair your own underwear for optimal comfort, as running commando isn't as comfortable as it seems like it would be.


Creative Color Schemes

Janji AFO Middle

Pockets: 1 zippered rear gel pocket, 1 interior key pocket | Interior Liner Type: Briefs
Very comfortable flat waistband
Interesting and fun color schemes
Air Flat Out fabric holds a lot of water compared to other shorts
Single rear pocket can't fit phone or large items

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.

Janji shorts have the most creative and unique color schemes, a...
Janji shorts have the most creative and unique color schemes, a large reason we recommend them. They are also mega comfortable, with a flat mesh waistband that feels great against the skin.


Similar Design and Slightly Cheaper

Naviskin 5" Woven

Pockets: 2 hand pockets, 1 zippered rear pocket | Interior Liner Type: Mesh briefs
Very affordable
Plenty of pocket space
Slower to dry
Tighter elastic in waistband and around edges of liner

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.

The Naviskin shorts are very similar to the Baleaf model, although...
The Naviskin shorts are very similar to the Baleaf model, although they are even slightly cheaper. They also aren't made quite as well, although for practical purposes, we still found them pretty comfortable to run in.


Very Breathable 2" Short

Under Armour Launch SW Split

Pockets: 1 zippered rear pocket | Interior Liner Type: Briefs
Fabric dries out very quickly
Very short 2" inseam for the most freedom of movement
Single rear pocket not big enough for a phone
Liner and waistband not the most comfortable

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.

With a minimal 2" inseam, these are an awesome pair of shorts if you...
With a minimal 2" inseam, these are an awesome pair of shorts if you like to run fast, and don't like extra material to get in the way of your stride or slow you down. They are also the fastest drying of any that we tested.


An Affordable 2-in-1 Choice

Souke Sports Quick Dry

Pockets: 2 zippered hand pockets | Interior Liner Type: Mesh boxer briefs
Has double zippered front hand pockets for added security
Built-in boxer briefs for those who like that design
Hot and itchy
Not great support for running

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.

A 2-in-1 option, these shorts have a boxer/briefs style liner that...
A 2-in-1 option, these shorts have a boxer/briefs style liner that is tight against the skin and goes down the thigh. Whether this is a good fit for you is a matter of personal preference.

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.

Click to enlarge
Click to enlarge
Click to enlarge

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.

A comfortable pair of running shorts is an essential piece of...
A comfortable pair of running shorts is an essential piece of equipment. Your pair should be comfortable, have pockets if you feel they are necessary, and breath well and dry quickly. Here testing shorts on the Perimeter Trail near Ouray, CO.

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.

A pair of running shoes and comfortable pair of running shorts is...
A pair of running shoes and comfortable pair of running shorts is pretty much all you need to participate in man's most primal and simple sport. Here testing shorts side-by-side on the trails to better understand their relative merits.

Waistband Comfort

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.

A comfortable waist band is thin so it doesn't trap too much heat...
A comfortable waist band is thin so it doesn't trap too much heat, sits flat against the skin so it doesn't run and itch, and has a low profile draw string. This one, found on the AFO middle, has one of the most comfortable waist bands, due in large part to the fact it's made out of breathable mesh material that lays flat.

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.

Liner Comfort

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.

Put on your x-ray goggles if you want to see the liner of these...
Put on your x-ray goggles if you want to see the liner of these running shorts, the Rabbit, or just take our word for it that they have the most comfortable and awesome fit of any that we tested.

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.

Briefs or 2-in-1?
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.

Pocket Performance

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.

Elastic pockets that sit high on the hip are ideal. The Strider Pro...
Elastic pockets that sit high on the hip are ideal. The Strider Pro has two on each hip, which can hold large snacks or even a phone, and holds them tightly in place so they don't bounce.

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 zippered rear pocket is a very common feature, and is the place...
The zippered rear pocket is a very common feature, and is the place we prefer to put our smartphone if we choose to carry one. The location centered in the back right below the waistband minimizes bouncing, as long as the pocket isn't too big and the phone doesn't sag down over the butt. Unfortunately, not all shorts with this pocket are large enough to fit a smartphone. This pocket is usually the ideal spot for a car key or ID/credit card.

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.

Drying Speed

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.

With a total lack of liner, and featuring coolmesh panels of airy...
With a total lack of liner, and featuring coolmesh panels of airy, breathable mesh fabric, the Design 2 Move are among the fastest drying choices that we've tested.

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!

Regardless of whether you commonly run on trails or roads, the...
Regardless of whether you commonly run on trails or roads, the demands put on your running shorts will be the exact same. Now get out there and work up a sweat!

Andy Wellman