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Searching for the best men's running shorts? We researched over 100 models before purchasing 13 of the most popular for this side-by-side review. Our experts tested and compared each model across a variety of diverse terrain and adventures, including long mountain traverses, daily trail running loops, and interval sessions on local dirt roads. We noted how each performed for several key considerations, such as waistband comfort, liner comfort, pocket functionality, moisture-wicking, and versatility. We've analyzed all of the small details so you can focus on which style, inseam length, and price fits your needs. 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.
The On Lightweight shorts are so comfortable that we wore them throughout the day, even after we finished our run. The waistband is exceptional and is the best we tested, and the liner felt supportive for running but also allowed for all-day breathability. This comfort is combined with a unique zipperless phone pocket design, making this one of the only shorts we tested to not feature a zipper. The folding pocket has the least bounce we tested and also allows easy access for checking your route or snapping some quick photos.
The only downsides of the On Lightweight Short are the higher price tag and the lack of a 5-inch inseam model. We prefer 5-inch inseams for running due to the reduced fabric movement and potential chafing, while 7 to 8-inch inseams typically allow for more comfortable all-day wear. Unfortunately, there are no hand pockets on this model, which we feel could easily be added without detracting from the comfort. We hope On makes a 5-inch version of these shorts in the future.
Inseam Length Tested: 7 in | Pockets: 2 hand pockets
REASONS TO BUY
Two hand pockets
Versatile use outside running
REASONS TO AVOID
Lacks rear phone pocket
Waistband less comfortable than others
The Under Armour Launch SW 7" shorts offer a good blend of performance and versatility at an affordable price. These shorts have a comfortable liner and two hand pockets, a nice addition that allows for uses outside of running, such as bopping around town or going to the gym. While these shorts don't have the extras that the higher-end models have, these, without a doubt, won't let you down on runs around town.
We'd love to see a rear phone pocket added; unfortunately, hand pockets simply don't cut it for storing items while running. The waistband comfort also didn't receive the highest of marks when compared to the more expensive models. A model in this price range has trouble competing with the latest designs and ultimate comfort of the premium materials that cost much more.
Inseam Length Tested: 5 in | Pockets: 4 elastic hip pockets, 1 zippered rear pocket
REASONS TO BUY
Comfortable waistband and liner
Great external pockets for nutrition
External drawstring closure
REASONS TO AVOID
The Patagonia Strider Pro is our top choice for trail runs and long-distance activities. We were impressed with the liner and waistband of this model and appreciated the exterior drawstring closure, which reduces chafing for extended runs. The waistband felt comfortable and secure without the bunching or looseness we experienced on other shorts. The Strider Pro also features the best pockets for bringing gear along for all-day efforts, easily fitting multiple energy gels and securing a standard iPhone 11 Pro in the zippered pocket. This model is available in both 5-inch and 7-inch inseams (we tested the 5-inch inseam).
The only real downside of these shorts is the high price. In the future, we think there could be improvements in its drying times, but we also understand the need to provide moisture-wicking in a short. While you probably won't want to wear the Strider Pro all day while not running, it's without a doubt our go-to trail and long-distance short.
Inseam Length Tested: 5 in | Pockets: 1 zipper rear, internal front key pocket
REASONS TO BUY
Sleek, lightweight design
REASONS TO AVOID
Minimal pocket storage
High moisture absorption
The Janji AFO Middle shorts are our go-to for uptempo and fast efforts. These shorts feel fast due to their sleek, fitted design and minimal features. We appreciate the secure phone pocket on the rear, which includes a zipper pull for easy access. This secured our iPhone 11 Pro nicely and maintained it bounce-free. The waistband and liner on this model are also extremely comfortable and did not contribute to any chafing or discomfort. These shorts come in some unique colorways and styles which differ from other models we tested, so if you are looking to stand out from the crowd, take a look at this model.
We were slightly confused by the placement of the internal key pocket, which is located at the front of your stomach. While we appreciate the inclusion of this feature, we think the hip would be a better location. We were also surprised by the amount of water this fabric absorbs. While moisture wicking is an essential feature of athletic wear, we think this could get frustrating in warmer humid climates. And because of the slimmed-down minimal design, these are less versatile than other shorts that offer multiple pockets for nutrition and other items.
Inseam Length Tested: 5 in | Pockets: 2 elastic hip pockets, 1 zippered rear pocket
REASONS TO BUY
Superior liner comfort
Comfortable elastic waistband sits flat against the skin
Great pocket capacity
REASONS TO AVOID
Pockets have minimal closure tension, which lessens security
Round drawstrings are bulky when tied
The most noticeable factor when putting on a pair of running shorts is the liner. The Rabbit FKT 5" has a liner so comfortable you don't even know it's there. We were stunned by how even hot conditions led to premium comfort mile after mile. If you are looking for absolute liner comfort or haven't been able to find a chafe-free option, we suggest you take a look at these shorts. While we can't guarantee they will work for you, our team loves them.
Of course, with premium materials and quality stitching comes a high cost. The Rabbit FKT 5" is one of the more expensive shorts we tested, but we think they are worth the price tag. These liners are simply that good. They're a great all-around short that could easily fit your needs for everyday use or long trail adventures.
Inseam Length Tested: 5 in | Pockets: 2 interior drop, 1 back zippered
REASONS TO BUY
Thin but comfortable liner liner
Elastic waistband sits flat against the skin
Thin breathable material
REASONS TO AVOID
Zipper catches when putting on shorts
Standard-sized phones difficult to remove from pocket
In hot temperatures, we want our shorts to feel light and airy. The REI Co-op Swiftland Running Shorts are the most breathable we tested. This is due to the fabric's gridlike pattern, which has air channels to supply maximum airflow. These shorts are also one of the lightest we tested, lending to a breezy and unrestrictive feel. We also like that when they get wet, they sag less than the competition.
The pocket could use some refinement; our standard-size iPhone barely fit and was a pain to remove. We think the zipper could be lowered, too; it tended to flip inside, scraping your skin when putting these on. At first we thought it was a fluke, but it continued to happen throughout our testing. Luckily this is a minor complaint and does not detract from us picking this model on the hottest of days.
Why You Should Trust Us
We put these shorts to the test on both trails and roads around Durango, CO, and the Texas Hill Country. Initial impressions were gained on a standardized 7-mile test loop around town. Long runs and tempo efforts were performed to analyze the shorts under various athletic outputs. Once we understood the comfort of each pair of shorts, we analyzed the small details like pocket performance and fabric breathability/drying times and tested their versatility throughout the day.
We rated and scored each pair of shorts based on five rating metrics:
Waistband Comfort and Fit (25% of overall score weighting)
Liner Design and Comfort (25% weighting)
Pocket Functionality (20 % weighting)
Moisture Wicking and Drying (20% weighting)
Style and Versatility (10% weighting)
Heading up this review is Matthew Richardson, a passionate runner and mountain athlete based in Durango, Colorado. One of GearLab's running experts, Matthew also takes the lead in our Men's Road Running Shoes review. For Matthew, both competitive and personal objectives require a commitment to finding the best gear possible to increase the odds of success and completion.
Analysis and Test Results
Besides general field testing, the five metrics that we assessed for each pair of shorts are waistband comfort, liner comfort, pocket performance, moisture-wicking and drying, and style and versatility. How each pair of shorts is stacked up in each performance metric is outlined below.
When considering running shorts, you must weigh your desire for premium comfort and performance with the value that they provide you. All of the shorts we tested can provide a good running experience, but the higher-end models provide the highest quality materials and construction. However, you may be looking to buy more than one pair of shorts, and spending top dollar may not be what you're after. The Under Armour Launch SW shorts provide the best value with solid all-around performance and a relatively low price. Many other high-end models outperform the Launch but at nearly double the price.
Waistband Comfort and Fit
There are two main comfort factors when discussing running shorts: the waistband and the liner. Everything else generally is extra, and while other features can provide benefits, the waistband and liner have the capability to make or break running shorts. Just like anything, people have their personal preferences regarding waistbands; some prefer thicker waistbands, and some prefer thinner ones. Regardless of aesthetic and feel, the priority must be lack of movement and chafing. Anytime you have movement, you have friction, and this compounded over time equals discomfort and chafing. The same factors influence a liner.
We made sure to test a wide variety of waistbands in this analysis. Some are flat and skinny, some are thick and tall, almost resembling yoga pants — which have grown in style and popularity for both men and women. Others have more classic bunch drawstring designs that remind us of high school gym shorts. Generally, these designs differ in the amount of contact between the hips and lower stomach. We often strive to find the tightest-fitting shorts without being too constricting. From our experience, if shorts are sized correctly, and the fabric has a good design of stretch and compression, the drawstring is rarely needed. This may not be the case for others, and if so, it's even more reason to analyze how and where the drawstring is located.
We find that external drawstrings are superior to internal drawstrings because they reduce the possibility of creating friction against your skin. A knot on the inside touching your skin during long-distance events isn't ideal. Our favorite waistbands either have a unique design that reduces internal bulk or has a drawstring on the exterior.
The On Lightweight Short has the most comfortable waistband by far, which is tall and super thin. While the drawstring is tied on the inside, we found that the band materials are supportive and compressive, which reduced the need to use the drawstring at all. Also among the most comfortable is the flat, narrow, and mesh patterned waistbelt on the Janji AFO Middle shorts and the similarly flat and thin material and comfort of the Patagonia Strider Pro. Both of these models feature external drawstrings. We experienced no chafing or discomfort from either of these models from the first to the last mile.
Liner Design and Comfort
Virtually all pairs of running shorts come with a built-in liner. The liner is there to allow for breathability and support, which often is not offered with standard underwear. When you are running, you generate loads of heat, and tight compression shorts often do not allow that heat to escape very well. If you have had trouble finding liners that work well for you, we suggest prioritizing liner comfort. Liners should ultimately provide you with the best of both worlds, bounce-free support and breathability for long days.
Since they need to be comfortable, 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 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 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 or 2-in-1. We prefer the design of briefs because there is less material, which means lighter weight and less heat, and the shape of the liner itself does a better job cradling and preventing excessive bouncing. 2-in-1 designs 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 the most comfortable liner that we tested. It fits perfectly and has nicely sewn edges that cause no disturbances, even after a full day of running. The Janji AFO Middle Shorts and the On Lightweight Shorts have flat sewn edges that reduce friction and noticeable bulk towards the stitching. The light, airy liner found on the REI Co-op Swiftland Running Shorts was our favorite for running in hot conditions. This liner is the thinnest out of all the models we tested.
All of these models receive high marks for their blend of support and tightness without limiting freedom of movement. We never felt constricted in these pairs and noticed no liner movement during any style of running.
Pockets are a personal preference, but on long training runs or exploratory outings, pockets are key. If the goal is a fast effort on a familiar route you do weekly, pockets may be less essential. The most essential pocket items are a gel, a phone, and a key. Holding anything more is asking too much out of your short pockets; we would suggest investing in a running belt or a hydration vest, which will offer more room and less bounce. We often find ourselves these days not leaving the house without one.
In this write-up, we will assume some pockets are wanted, which we expect the vast majority would agree with. The decision-making behind our scoring in this category is different from others because the pocket count differs between models. Ultimately, pocket performance is just that— assessing the performance of the pockets. Simply having more pockets does not equate to a higher score. This is also why we have introduced the versatility metric, which takes these factors into account. Shorts with hand pockets are generally more versatile than those without hand pockets.
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, and tight enough to keep contents secure so they don't jostle around. Most shorts have a rear pocket right under the waistband and are 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. Those pockets typically are zippered for added security. Often phone pockets are either too loose or too tight. Too loose, and it bounces and too tight, it performs well but is a pain to take in and out. We prefer a tighter phone pocket for its running performance. That brings up the next dilemma — what size phone can your shorts accommodate? We performed all of our tests with an iPhone 11 & iPhone 13 Pro.
Even though the On Lightweight Shorts only have one phone pocket, it is a joy to use and receives high marks in the category. The unique folding pocket is zipperless and creates a secure pouch for your phone, allowing easy stowing and retrieval. Thanks to the large waistband, the phone naturally sits within this band, creating a snug fit against your back. Due to this folding design, it can accommodate different-sized items, which we appreciate. While not as secure as a zippered pocket, we had no issues with security, and unless you are going upside down, we don't think you will have any, either.
The Patagonia Strider Pro has much more storage space, allowing for phone storage on the rear thanks to its zippered pocket and nutrition in its four small side compression pockets, which are perfect for gels on long runs. Other shorts that receive high marks for their bounce-free zippered phone pocket zipper are the Janji AFO Middle Shorts and the Brooks Sherpa 5".
Mositure Wicking and Drying
When running hard or in hot climates, you generally start to sweat, and your running shorts must remove some of this excess sweat from your skin and allow it to dry. Shorts with high absorption rates generally take longer to dry, but with minimal sweating, can be perfect for spring or fall conditions. In the heat of summer, you will want fast-drying and fast-wicking shorts to make your outing more comfortable. On some days, the dreaded post-run soaked shorts are inevitable, but you may want to take this into account if you often find yourself running in the heat. Finding a short with a higher score in this category should allow more comfort in extended sweat scenarios.
We tested this by fully submerging all of the running shorts and completely saturating them with water. Then, we squeezed as much water as possible from the shorts and hung them up to dry in a cool garage with a fan to provide airflow. After two hours of dry time, we weighed the start and finish weights and calculated the difference. The lower the score, the faster drying or smaller absorption. By analyzing the starting weight and comparing it to the dry weight, we could see the total absorption amount. Both of these metrics influenced our ranking.
It was no surprise that the lightest short in our review, the Adidas Saturday Split Short, was also the fastest drying and absorbed the least amount of water. The New Balance Impact Run 7" with the NB Dry material effectively shed moisture and maintained fairly water-resistant throughout our testing, having both low absorption and a fast dry time. The On Lightweight Shorts and REI Co-op Swiftland Running Shorts also performed well in this category thanks to their extremely thin outer material.
Style and Versatility
Out of all the metrics, style is the most subjective, so we will give you our opinion, but yours is just as valid. We've included versatility as well because shorts this expensive should hopefully be able to perform different tasks throughout the day, like heading out to breakfast post-run or going to the gym. We split shorts into two categories with 5-inch and 7-inch inseams. We feel that models with 7-inch inseams are much more versatile for performing tasks outside of running. With that versatility, we appreciate the hand pockets found on some of these models. They don't add much bulk and don't impact the running performance, and allow you to quickly stow your wallet or phone while walking into an establishment. The fit and feel must allow for all-day comfort. Some liners tend to be more restrictive than others, and breathability diminishes throughout the day.
The top scores for versatility and style are the On Lightweight Short and Patagonia Strider Pro. Both of these shorts look good, allow for all-day comfort, and have accessible pocket options that allow for quick storage and ease of use. The Nike Flex Stride 7" receive high marks for their unique colorways and two hand pockets which we appreciate on 7-inch inseam models. For those looking for more gym-style running shorts, we'd recommend the Vuori Kore Shorts. The brief liner and looser fit make these more comfortable for extended periods of time. We found this model not form-fitting enough for more running-specific workouts. We are huge fans of the style/fit look of the Salomon Cross Shorts, so it's unfortunate that they didn't score very well in any of the other categories.
We hope this has made your decision-making process easier or has given you some things to consider before purchasing. Whether you run trails or roads, long or short, we think there is a top-ranking short here for you. Think about your priorities, how many pockets you desire, and what style fits you, and make the decision. Any of these can suit your needs, and we are glad you came to us to learn more. We hope that your next season in shorts is a great one.
GearLab is founded on the principle of honest, objective, reviews. Our experts test thousands of products each year using thoughtful test plans that bring out key performance differences between competing products. And, to assure complete independence, we buy all the products we test ourselves. No cherry-picked units sent by manufacturers. No sponsored content. No ads. Just real, honest, side-by-side testing and comparison.