The Best Running Shorts for Men
In our extensive testing, the Patagonia Strider Pro ruled the field in two different categories — pocket performance and waistband comfort — enabling it to easily win our Editors' Choice Award as the best overall running shorts. They come in either 5" or 7" versions (we tested the 5"), and include the most carrying capacity of any that 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 that includes odor suppressing agents, and we found little to complain about with these excellent running shorts. Despite the DWR coating on the exterior polyester fabric, these shorts weren'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 with that in mind, some folks likely just want something that works — really well — but isn't the most expensive pair on the market. If that sounds like you, then check out the Brooks Sherpa 5" They come in about a million different colors, and have a silky smooth liner combined with a stretchy, soft-lined waistband. These are also one of the only pairs we tested with a dedicated key pocket, sewn into the liner.
Unfortunately, we found that the pocket combo doesn't come with one large enough to fit our average-sized iPhone. To us, this was a little issue, as we don't like our phone bouncing around in a pocket as we run, but it does make it harder to carry essential items around when not running. The two side pockets, one on each side, seem designed specifically with gels in mind, and other snacks may not fit. If this one small flaw doesn't bother you, then we highly recommend opting for the Brooks Sherpa.
For those in need of a pair of running or workout shorts but who are on a budget, the Baleaf 5" Pocketed shorts are our favorite choice, worthy of our Best Bang for the Buck award. These shorts are about a third of the price of the high-end shorts we tested, while still including three large pockets (two deep hand pockets on the sides and one large rear zippered pocket), convenient for carrying whatever you need to. The mesh liner is comfortable and offers plenty of support.
On the downside, these shorts don't dry out very quickly if you get them wet, despite being made mostly of polyester, just like the competition. The deep pockets hold large items, but also bounce a lot when running. We also found the thick waistband to be a bit hotter and more present than some other options. Despite these minor complaints, these are an effective workout or running short, and can even be worn around for the day, and best of all, come at a fantastically low price.
Running is a very repetitive motion, which means you want the most comfortable pair of shorts you can find if you want to avoid chafing or uncomfortable running. Our favorite liner is on the inside of the Rabbit FKT 5" shorts, which is why we think they are worthy of a Top Pick Award. These super smooth briefs do their job of offering support against bouncing while running, but at the same time don't hug too tightly, and are 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, with the highest quality and most comfort, you shouldn't be surprised to see the high price tag, and this is the principal drawback to these rad shorts. We think they are worth it. We also wish the drawstring was a bit more low profile, or lived on the outside. 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 are the best option for pairing with your own underwear, or going commando. They also include a fair bit of Climacool mesh, which aids in breathability and quick-drying, and are relatively inexpensive. The two large hand pockets make it easy to wear these shorts to and from the gym, or for the day, as they easily hold any items you need to carry.
Of course, no 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. The deep hand pockets, while they can carry a lot, aren't suitable for carrying items when running. As such, these shorts are likely a great workout or gym short, and can be used for sports like basketball, but may not be the best everyday running short option.
Are you someone who likes to rock a little flair when out on your runs, and find yourself sick of the same old black or solid colors of most running shorts? Check out the Janji AFO Middle shorts, which 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 — for 2020 the look is from the Philippines. While we tested the Midnight Plaid, we can't help but give a shout out to the awesome Flora Orchid color. We also love the comfort of the mesh-lined, flat waistband, a stark contrast to thicker, itchier ones we tested.
Unfortunately, these shorts don't have much in the way of pocket space. They do have an internal key pocket, and a single zippered rear pocket, but we found that one to be too small for our phone, and not even a great shape for many snacks — gels fit. We also thought they stayed a bit wetter than other pairs once wet. That said, these shorts are mega comfortable, and are certainly colorful, so check them out if plain and boring is simply not you.
Upon first inspection, the Naviskin 5" Woven shorts appear to be exactly the same as the Baleaf 5" Pocketed shorts described above, and for a little bit less money. The difference is in the details, however, 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 leads to noticeable presence. If you want the lowest-priced shorts that aren't too bad, these will work, but if you are on a budget and want the better option, we would recommend the Baleaf instead.
We've all seen those guys flying down the road wearing shorts so short they seem scandalous. It seems as if the faster one gets, the shorter the shorts one ends up wearing. But what if the reverse is true, and you could gain some speed simply by ditching a lot of the material in your bulky long shorts? 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, but we weren't able to fit our iPhone into it. We also tested a few pairs of shorts that had 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. Some people greatly prefer this design, and for them, we recommend checking out the Souke Sports Quick Dry shorts. 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 really slowly, and that the boxer briefs design didn't offer much support while running. If this is your preferred design, then these are an affordable fit, but 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, and in that time 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 Himalaya 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 a number of 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 it is when focusing on the liner (described below), so we've chosen to split these into two different assessments.
In reality, calling something comfortable really means that you don't find it to be uncomfortable. Said another way, comfort is the lack of discomfort. In general, we found 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 most comfortable waistband by far is found on the Patagonia Strider Pro, which pairs 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. The flat, narrow, and mesh patterned waistbelt on the Janji AFO Middle shorts is also among the most comfortable, and we also appreciated 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, where 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 purpose of the liner is much the same as a sports bra for women — it hugs and supports and prevents your junk from bouncing too much. 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, and 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 some others really hug under the glutes and insides of the legs in a way that is super noticeable.
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 what we need to not bounce. 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 the junk from bouncing. Ultimately it is a personal preference.
The Rabbit FKT has our favorite liner, worthy of a Top Pick award for that purpose. It fits just perfectly, and also 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. Our least favorite liners were itchy, fit a little too tight, and had rough, cheap sewing jobs on the edges such that they would rub over time. These were the Souke Sports and Naviskin pairs. For those who really 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 do have some pockets because people want to be able to carry a car key, ID/credit card, smartphone, and gels or other small snacks.
The best pockets sit high on the hip, where they bounce less. They are large enough to hold common snacks like gels or a small bar, but also tight enough that these items are held secure and don't bounce. 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 smart phone 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 lowest performers, such as the Under Armour Launch SW Split and the Janji AFO Middle, had only a rear zippered pocket, but it wasn't large enough to fit a phone.
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 because one can never perfectly replicate atmospheric conditions from run to run. So, we tested drying speed instead — thoroughly soaking them and then ringing them out until they don't drip, then hanging them next to each other and 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 Under Armour Launch SW Split was the clear winner, drying out the fastest, so is a great choice if you want to stay as dry as possible. The liner-less Adidas Design 2 Move was also quick to dry.
The need for a solid pair of running shorts is pretty much the same whether you typically run on roads or trails. 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 really not a very big step down. We hope this article has been informative in your search. Happy Running!
— Andy Wellman