Our team of lady runners researched over 40 pairs of the best women's running shorts before buying and rigorously testing 12 to find you the optimal pair for your experience and budget. Our experts ran these shorts on dirt roads, paved roads, long mountain loops, and while cross-training to put them to the test. While running over a hundred miles combined, we got to know which pairs perform a step or more ahead of the competition. Whether you're starting your running hobby or consistently run dozens of miles a week, we are confident we've made it easy for you to find the right option for your needs.Related: Best Running Shirts for Women of 2021
Best Running Shorts for Women of 2021
The Rabbit Dirt Pounders 2.0 impressed us with high performance across the board. This company was started by long-time runners and you can tell. The material of these shorts is an extremely lightweight and quick-drying knit that remains remarkably soft, even when soaked in sweat. The length is ideal to protect against chafing, and the material does not cling or bunch while it wicks away sweat. They have a wide elastic waistband for all-day comfort, lined with the same knit material as the liner, providing a secure fit with excellent moisture-wicking qualities. We barely noticed the waistband, liner, and drawstring on long, hot, and humid runs. The standard key or card internal waistband pockets are functional and keep important items from bouncing around. We also love the unique long pockets on the legs for storing trash or lightweight snacks.
It is hard to find a criticism of these shorts, but we do have a couple of notes. The back phone zip pocket is a little small for slightly larger phones, making it hard to access your phone while on the go. Like several other options, we also wish that the drawstring was on the outside of the waistband. We did not experience any chafing from the drawstring on the inside, but having it on the outside would eliminate this possibility. These shorts do also run on the higher end of the price spectrum. Overall, we love these shorts for short days to long, arduous trail runs and found ourselves reaching for them over and over again, finding that their soft, lightweight construction just can't be beat.
When it comes to long runs, it's no secret that you are going to sweat, and having a material that can wick away this moisture is key to keeping you comfortable and dry. The Lululemon Speed Up has just that. It has a lightweight crepe-like fabric for the body of the short and a 2.5" wide spandex waistband that sits right at the hip, both of which dried just as fast as any other material in the competition. Additionally, the liner of these shorts was by far the most comfortable, with an elastic edge that lays flat and grips at the same time. The curved seaming and overlapping fabric is a clean and flattering cut.
We do have a few reservations about the length of these shorts, as it should be noted they don't provide any protection from chafing. If you are prone to this, perhaps look on for a longer inseam option. Also, these are quite expensive relative to other options. These critiques aside, the Lululemon Speed Up is an amazing lightweight and fast-drying option for your long run days.
We love the high-quality waistband on the New Balance Impact 5". It has many of the features commonly found on pricier options: wide spandex, a large zippered pocket for a phone, and two elastic pockets for snacks, keys, or cards. All these come at a reasonable price. Our testers love the wider waistband for how it distributes the pressure and weight of all the things you can fit in these pockets and that it can be adjusted with the continuous loop drawstring. The 5" inseam also protects from chafing with a lightweight material that dries relatively quickly, doesn't bunch or cling, and has smooth seams.
The New Balance Impact 5" is on the heavier side compared to a few of our other options. The high-performing waistband does dry a little slower than the rest of the short, so it will collect a little sweat on your run, and the material of the shorts does take a bit longer to dry than some other contenders. Overall, if you're looking for a well-performing option that won't break the bank and comes in a wonderful bright blue, the New Balance Impact 5" is a great option.
The lightweight feel of the Salomon XA stands out right away, but it's the all-star waistband, our favorite among all of the shorts we tested, that really makes this product noteworthy. The mesh exterior pockets built into the waistband allow for breathability and a smooth feel, not to mention plenty of room for snacks. The infinity band drawstring lies smoothly against the stomach and the high rise cut is comfortable, not stifling, due to the mesh construction. It also kept our personal belongings close to center, meaning we hardly noticed any movement over many miles. We also love the mesh liner, which provides security while being barely noticeable, an impressive combination. The length of these shorts also strikes a balance between style and chafing protection, which kept us looking cool and comfortable on the longest and stickiest runs.
We do have a handful of improvements we believe could be made on these shorts. One drawback of the lightweight material we found was that it has a tendency to cling and feel slightly restrictive when soaked through with sweat, making us wish for just a little more stretch on long runs. While there are ample pockets in the waistband and the mesh material is highly functional, the large, open pockets lack security for a set of keys or a credit card. Small critiques aside, if you seek a minimal feel with a high level of function, we think the Salomon XA is an excellent choice.
The Patagonia Strider Pro performed well across many of our metrics, a top performer in its pocket performance and waistband functionality while also just being enjoyable to wear while running. The 1-inch thick kitted elastic waistband is soft and lies nicely on the skin, while the stretchy continuous loop drawstring allows you to adjust them to the tightness you need. These shorts have a large zipper pocket on the back for a smartphone or keys and cards, along with two elastic hip pockets for snacks or other long-run necessities. The 100% recycled polyester short is treated with DWR, wicking water away and keeping you dry from the outside mile after mile. We were initially skeptical of the short length of these, as the curved cut away from the inseam makes them look shorter than three inches, but we quickly grew to love the way the short, lightweight fabric doesn't cling or bunch.
If you are someone who prefers a slightly longer length or is very prone to chafing, you may want to look elsewhere for your shorts. A small critique, but we also wished the drawstring were on the outside of the waistband so that it could lie fully flush. Overall, the Patagonia Strider Pro is such a high performer in so many areas, we think it is worth the higher price point for a comfortable and functional pair to run with you for many miles in variable terrain.
The 80s biker short trend is coming back, and we saw it alive and healthy in the Oalka High Waisted Yoga Short. We loved the silky and stretchy spandex material in this bright cassis color, and there are many more color options to choose from. The pockets are also impressive, with two large thigh pockets and a phone sleeve on the inside of the back waistband. We also loved how these shorts can seamlessly pass from the gym or your run to a stylish athletic look.
Unfortunately, these shorts struggled in their drying speed. They were among the slowest to dry completely, and it makes us skeptical of their moisture-wicking ability on a long, hot run. Also, this material's silkiness leads to the legs riding up a little bit on longer runs. If you are tired of your basic old running shorts and want to switch them up, all at an excellent value, the new style of the Oalka High Waisted Yoga Short will do it for you.
We really like the lightweight material of the slightly longer Brooks Chaser 7". It's non-restrictive and does not cling or bunch. The longer length combined with this smooth material makes for an excellent barrier to chafing on longer runs. The longer cut is well done. It does not flap out and has a streamlined look.
We find the Brooks Chaser 7" to be slightly lacking in its pocket performance. There is one small pocket in the waist with a water-resistant lining, but we found it would not hold our phone and was better suited for keys or a card. The Brooks Chaser 7" also has two open hand pockets that could hold a lot but were not very useful for running as they bounced too much. Also, the waistband is made of comfortable spandex but lacks a drawcord, so it fits a little large on us. Still, this model provides a longer, modest look with nice materials that protect well against chafing.
We find the soft ribbed knit waistband of the REI Co-op Active Pursuits 4.5" to be very comfortable. We also like how the looser fit and the angled sidecut combine with a drawstring to make for a versatile and flattering fit. The soft shorts' material and the longer length make them a good choice for someone prone to chafing.
While we like many features of the REI Co-op Active Pursuits 4.5" and often reached for it for a quick run to the store or a casual dog walk, we feel it's not the best technical option. The waistband, while soft, is slow to dry due to its knit nature. There is also only one small open pocket attached to these shorts' liner, which we did find holds a key or card. But, if you want to bring your phone on your run, we couldn't get ours to fit in the pocket. We think this makes it a great option if you are planning to stick to using it for cross-training days or shorter runs, as it was one of the more comfortable options we tested and has excellent cut and color choices.
We tested the Baleaf 8" High Rise Side Pocket as another option in the emerging return to bike short trend. We found its two thigh pockets and a smaller key pocket in the waistband securely held our belongings without letting them bounce around. We also like the high-rise cut of these shorts, with a top elastic that sits right at the navel and makes you feel secure but not restricted while running.
The Baleaf 8" High Rise Side Pocket left a little to be desired in its execution of the spandex blend material. We find the stretch to, well, stretch too easily, meaning that the soft material initially sits tightly in place but begins to slip down over the course of a run. This also makes us skeptical of the durability of the elastic in the fabric. Additionally, this short was one of the slowest driers in our test. Overall, if you would like the try the biker short trend at a low entry price, the Baleaf 8" High Rise Side Pocket comes in many colors and is useful for exercising and lounging around.
The Nike Dry Tempo design has changed very little, if at all over the last decade. We like the lightweight material, and it had the second-best performance in drying speed in this test. The underwear liner is also lightweight and fast to dry. The no-frills design and rounded cut to the legs are classic and flattering, not to mention it comes in many color and design options.
We did find that the thicker seams around the piping and wet clingy material in the Nike Dry Tempo lead to chafing on longer, sweatier endeavors. There is also only one small pocket attached to the liner of this short, which is large enough to hold a key or a couple of cards securely. If you prefer a no-fuss type design, especially if you usually don't have problems with chafing, the Nike Dry Tempo is a great, simple, inexpensive option.
We liked the bright colors and the thin spandex waistband of the Under Armour Fly By 2.0. The neon blue is a rich color, and the combination of spandex with a narrower waistband is comfortable, and these all come at a good value.
We do think the Under Armour Fly By 2.0 missed the mark in its general design. This is the only option we found to be restrictive to movement. The piping around the edge of the short did not have much stretch, which led to awkward bunching above the leg opening—not flattering. We also find the mesh liner to be a little restrictive, cutting under the glutes of our tester with a more muscular build. All of this, combined with a slightly too large waistband, made these feel awkward and not our favorite. This being said, it is certainly not out of the question that this model might be fine for you if you have a different body type.
We like the casual, stylish look of the Vuori Clementine 4" short. The earth-toned patterns are understated but unique. The waistband with an exterior drawcord is soft and comfortable. The liner is also lightweight and feels like it's barely there.
The Vuori Clementine did underperform in several areas when it came time to hit the trails and running paths. The material is not stretchy, and although lightweight, it does not breathe or wick moisture adequately. The seams are also thick and led to chafing on a sweaty, humid run. Once wet, these shorts stick to our legs readily. We also wished for more pockets on these shorts, the one small zippered hip pocket was secure, but only provides room for one card, key, or similar-sized item. Overall, we enjoy these shorts for lounging around but feel they miss the mark for a high-performance running short.
Why You Should Trust Us
Our lead tester, Jackie Kearney, spent over a decade running track competitively, including a competitive college career with several NCAA All-American performances. After so many years and miles, she knows what to look for in running short function and form. After college, she moved to the San Juan mountains of Colorado, where she has since transitioned into longer trail runs to supplement her winter passion of ski touring and ski patrolling. Jackie puts down thousands of running miles annually and has worn dozens and dozens of women's running shorts over the years.
These shorts were tested in a range of conditions. Each option was tested side-by-side on the same 3-mile trail and then worn on runs that ranged from short dirt road rest days to long, high-alpine missions. We also included tests to assess drying times and weighed each model on our scale. We stuffed our phones, keys, and ID cards into the pockets and ran with them to see if they can hold these items in place or let them bounce around uncomfortably. We used these test results, combined with our years of running experience, to inform each pair of shorts' scores and subsequent rankings in this review.
Analysis and Test Results
More specifically than using each of these pairs for our daily runs ranging from short tempo runs to long trail runs, we evaluated them along the lines of detailed metrics. We used waistband comfort and fit, liner and design comfort, pocket functionality, drying speed, and style and versatility as our metrics for scoring and assessing each model.
Waistband Comfort and Fit
To determine waistband comfort and fit, we consider the material and width of the waistband and how flat it lies against the skin. We wanted to see how the drawstring, if applicable, felt against the skin and where the shorts sit on the waist. We were sure to use each pair frequently on all kinds of runs and cross-training but also ran each model three miles on the same trail to have a level comparison.
We found that our favorite options either had a thick spandex waistband that felt secure sitting at or above the hips, like the Lululemon Speed Up, the Salomon XA, and the Rabbit Dirt Pounders 2.0, or a thinner, and unrestrictive 1" waistband like that of the Patagonia Strider Pro. The Salomon XA shorts stand out for how it blends a wide functional waistband with the breathability of a more minimal one. On the other hand, waistbands that were bunched like the Nike Dry Tempo or fell loosely with no drawstring like the Under Armour Fly By 2.0 did not impress.
Liner and Design Comfort
There is nothing better than a liner that can double as underwear you don't even know is there, and nothing worse than a liner that you can't ignore. We evaluated liners in shorts that had them and the feel of the material of the running shorts on the skin in options that do not have a liner. We were sure to look for qualities in the cut that would lead to chafing and noting when chafing occurred. We also measured how the claimed inseam lined up with the actual inseams.
The Lululemon Speed Up blew away most of the competition with a lightweight crepe liner and smooth elastic edges that we barely noticed was there. The only equal to the Speed Up in terms of the liner is the RAbbit Dirt Pounders, which sports an ultra-soft mesh liner. We also loved the smooth spandex of the Oalka High Waisted Yoga Short. Liners that dug into our waists or seams that did not stretch adequately, such as with the Under Armour Fly By 2.0, scored fewer points here.
While it's obvious that you won't carry everything you need for a very long run in your shorts, having a couple of pockets for easy access to a gel, a key, a card, or your phone is a nice feature. We find our favorite pockets minimized bouncing and how much we notice the objects we were carrying. They do this by either holding the objects tight to the body or being located in an area with minimal motion like the lower back or hip. The best pockets do both.
Our favorite pocket assortments were on the Patagonia Strider Pro and the Salomon XA. These options feature a zipper pocket on the lower back ideal for a phone and at least two smaller elastic pockets on the hips for an additional couple of small items. The Salomon XA has four of these elastic pockets, plenty of room for gels or energy blocks, which all ride along the waistband to keep the weight of their contents centered and not bouncing all around. The budget-friendly New Balance Impact also impressed us with three pockets that turned out to be perfectly functional. The Oalka and Baleaf designs also scored well with large hip sleeve pockets that hold larger items tightly against the body. On the other hand, our least favorites in this department were the Brooks Chaser 7", which has loose hand pockets, and the Nike Tempo and Vuori Clementine with very minimal key pockets.
It feels good to sweat, but it does not feel good to live in that sweat for the duration of your run. We took note of each pair's moisture-wicking qualities during the testing period. We also performed a side-by-side timed drying comparison of all of these options, soaking each pair and wringing it until no longer dripping, then observing the drying speed comparatively.
The Rabbit Dirt Pounders and Lululemon Speed Up once again blew away the competition with their lightweight body and liner that dried faster than all other shorts tested. The Dirt Pounders wick moisture especially well through its perforated panels. They are followed by the Nike Dry Tempo, which we noticed wicked moisture well through its perforated panels. Some other models really struggled here. The spandex of the Baleaf and Oalka really held onto moisture during field testing and took significantly longer to dry than the liner/short combos they were competing against.
Style and Versatility
Style is a personal choice, so we weigh this metric a little less than the previous four. For this metric, we also wanted to think about how each option could transition from your run to everyday wear. We took into account whether they were on track with trends in the industry, how many color options they have, and whether they have any unique patterns.
We wouldn't shy away from wearing the Rabbit Dirt Pounders on pretty much any run we would dream up, making them a highly versatile short that became our daily driver on trails and paved paths. They also work well for gym workouts and exercise classes. They definitely have a runner-forward appearance, but perhaps that's what you get when you focus on running performance over all else. We're fine with that.
The Oalka and Baleaf do well here, both matching the emerging trend to return to 80s bike shorts, and can be worn casually or while exercising. We also gave the Patagonia Strider Pro high marks for its mint and forest green color combo. We felt like the Under Armour Fly By 2.0 missed the mark here, as its piped edges and color options were somewhat lacking contemporary style.
Whether you typically run a few miles a week or dozens, having a comfortable and reliable pair of running shorts will significantly improve your enjoyment on pavement or trails. Several factors go into making great running shorts, but everyone's needs vary to some extent. Be sure to focus on the metrics that matter to you most. After the miles in these shorts, we hope that we can help you find the shorts that enable you to log many happy miles as well.
— Jacqueline Kearney