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Our team of lady runners researched over 40 pairs of the best women's running shorts before buying and rigorously testing 11 to find 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. We got to know which pairs outran the competition over hundreds of miles of evaluation. 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.
Inseam: 5" | Pockets: One zippered phone, two internal waist
REASONS TO BUY
Amazingly soft, lightweight, stretchy material
Wide, secure, comfortable waistband
Smooth and soft even when wet
Super quick to dry
REASONS TO AVOID
Phone pocket slightly too small
We are enamored with many qualities of the REI Co-op Swiftland Running Shorts. Most striking is the unique, gridded, extraordinarily stretchy mesh that makes up the body of the short. The liner material is also extremely soft, stretchy, and breathable. Notably, this short performed wonderfully on hot, humid, and wet runs. Its materials remained soft and did not chafe even when soaking wet. Additionally, we love how the wide waistband of this short sits at the top of the hip, carrying the load of the pockets while resisting shifting and bouncing.
Our critiques of these shorts are few and minor. One place we feel they could be improved is in their pocket performance. While the three pockets of these shorts perform adequately, we found that the lumbar zip pocket was barely large enough to fit most modern smartphones. Those who like a shorter inseam should check out some other shorts in our test, but we didn't feel weighed down by the longer inseam in any way. Overall, we think this short will take you from the road to the trail to cross-training and beyond seamlessly. We found ourselves reaching for the REI Co-op Swiftland over and over again.
Inseam: 5" | Pockets: One zippered phone, two elastic snack
REASONS TO BUY
Wide, comfortable waistband
Long length protects from chafing
REASONS TO AVOID
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. But all these things come at a price we like. Our testers love the wider waistband because it distributes the pressure and weight of all the things you can fit in these pockets and 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 to boot.
The New Balance Impact 5" is on the heavier side compared to a few of our other options. The high-performing waistband dries a little slower than the rest of its materials, so expect it to collect some sweat on your run, and these shorts do take a bit longer to dry overall than some of its rivals. Still, 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.
Inseam: 2.5" | Pockets: One zippered phone, one small front waistband
REASONS TO BUY
Comfortable liner seams
REASONS TO AVOID
No chafing protection
When it comes to long runs, it's no secret that you are going to sweat, and having a material that can wick away your body's moisture is key to keeping you comfortable and dry. The Lululemon Speed Up has just that. A lightweight, crepe-like fabric makes up the body of the short, and a 2.5" wide spandex waistband sits right at the hip, both of which dried just as fast as any other material in the competition. With an elastic edge that grips and lays flat, the crepe liner of these shorts was the most comfortable in our fleet. The curved seaming and overlapping fabric is a clean and flattering cut.
We have a few reservations about these short shorts. If you are prone to chafing, perhaps look for a longer inseam option. The 2.5" inseam doesn't provide much protection against rubbing. 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.
Inseam: 3.5" | Pockets: One center back zip pocket
REASONS TO BUY
Soft, stretchy shorts liner that doesn't bunch or ride up
Wide, comfortable and adjustable waistband
REASONS TO AVOID
With a wide, smooth waistband boasting three great pockets, the On Running Shorts feel great right from the get-go. The pockets are very functional, with the rear pocket easily fitting a smartphone and having a key loop to keep your keys secure. From here, they only get better. The waistband expands into a pair of spandex shorts to add additional coverage and security. The liner of these shorts stays put and does not ride up, even on long runs. The quick-drying shell material is cut in clean, sharp lines that create a clean and flattering fit.
We are very impressed with these shorts, but we have a few critiques. Although the liner is extremely quick drying and moisture wicking, the additional material creates more surface area to dry than a brief-style liner. Additionally, these shorts are some of the pricier ones we tested. Small criticisms aside, the On Running Shorts is a well-designed piece for those who prefer extra coverage and protection.
Wide, moisture-wicking waistband with infinity drawstring
REASONS TO AVOID
Only one small pocket
If you are someone who tends to seek the no-frills option, the sleek and lightweight Patagonia Strider is an excellent choice for you. With a mid-length 3.5" inseam and a low-rise waistband, this option feels unrestrictive and light. Not to mention, the infinity waistband lays comfortably when not in use and allows adjustment for the perfect fit. We also loved the fast-drying crepe-like material of this short and liner. The tapered side cut of these shorts also increases their mobility, comfort, and flattering.
The minimal design of the Patagonia Strider also comes with some drawbacks. While there are no bulky pockets to weigh down the shorts, the single pocket only allows room for a couple of small items like keys or cards. If you prefer to be able to carry your phone in a shorts pocket, look further in this review. The doubled hem tends to chafe where thighs touch at the same height as the hem. This short certainly does not have extra bells and whistles, and if you love that type of simplicity, this is a great choice for you.
Inseam: 7" | Pockets: Two hand, one waterproof waistband
REASONS TO BUY
Lightweight, cling-free material
Longer length protects from chafing
REASONS TO AVOID
We really like the lightweight material of the slightly longer Brooks Chaser 7". It's non-restrictive and does not cling or bunch. We also found that the stretchy, meshy, woven material did an adequate job at wicking away sweat and releasing moisture. 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 draw cord, so it fits a little large on us. Still, this model provides a longer, modest look with nice materials that protect well against chafing.
Why You Should Trust Us
GearLab has a rigorous and objective process that includes extensive research prior to hands-on testing to decide on a test lineup. Then, tests are broken down into measurable and repeatable metrics to create a reliable testing process. 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 hold these items in place or if they 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.
To help you find the best running shorts for your experience and needs, we broke down our testing into five rating metrics:
Waistband Liner and Comfort (25% of overall score weighting)
Fit (25% of weighting)
Pocket Functionality (20% of weighting)
Drying Speed (20% of weighting)
Style and Versatility (10% of weighting)
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 for ski touring and ski patrolling. Jackie puts down hundreds of running miles annually and has worn dozens and dozens of women's running shorts over the years.
Analysis and Test Results
More specifically than using each of these pairs for our daily runs, which ranged 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. We used them alongside some of our other favorite running accessories to put them through the grinder.
The subtle differences in the design and construction of a running short can make a large difference in performance. A less subtle difference between running shorts is the price. They can range from a relatively inexpensive utility purchase to a price that reflects a top-of-the-line product. We include this metric to help match the reality of performance with the price point.
Notably, the New Balance Impact 5" performed highly across all categories, while coming in at the lower end of the price range in this review. Similarly, the REI Active Pursuits gets the job of a utilitarian running short done at the low end of the price range in this review.
Waistband and Liner Comfort
To determine the waistband and liner comfort, we consider the materials of both and how flat they lie 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 also know 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 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 REI Co-op Swiftland, and the On Running Short, or a lower, unrestrictive waistband like that of the Patagonia Strider.
The REI Co-Op Swiftland struck an impressive balance between a secure high-waisted feel and lightweight breathability with the continuation of its liner material onto the waistband. On the other hand, we were not impressed by waistbands that were thick and bunched, like the Blooming Jelly, or that fell loosely with no drawstring, like the Rabbit Hopper.
The Lululemon Speed Up blew away most of the competition with a lightweight crepe liner and smooth elastic edges that we barely noticed were there. The only equal to the Speed Up in terms of the liner is the award-winning REI Co-op Swiftland, which sports an ultra-soft mesh liner. The fuller coverage and smooth chafe protection of the sleek On Running Short also impressed us here. 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.
There is more to the comfort of a short than the parts that lie directly on the skin. For fit, we evaluated the ways in which all of the elements of the shorts did, or did not, work together. We also noted how the short performed in motion, noting how well it stayed put. 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.
We loved how the mid-length inseams of the REI Co-op Swiftland and the On Running Short stayed put and provided some protection against chafing without feeling restrictive. We also like the freedom that came with the angled cut of the Patagonia Strider. We found that shorts with non-stretchy hems like the Underarmour were not our favorites.
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 On Running Shorts and the REI Co-op Swiftland. 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 budget-friendly New Balance Impact also impressed us with three pockets that turned out to be perfectly functional. On the other hand, our least favorites in this department were the Brooks Chaser 7", which has loose hand pockets, and the REI Co-op Active Pursuits 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 REI Co-Op Swiftland 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 gridded knit material of the Swiftland barely holds any moisture and allows extra ventilation. They are followed by the Nike Eclipse, which we noticed wicked moisture well through its perforated panels, and the Patagonia Strider which had a mesh-like pattern to its woven material. Some other models really struggled here. Water clung to the hidden material in the ruched waistbands of the Blooming Jelly and the REI Active Pursuits.
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 found ourselves reaching for the REI Swiftland 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. We wore them as soon as they were clean. 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 streamlined On Running Short also made a splash here with its laser-clean edges and minimal look. We found ourselves reaching for this short even when we just needed to throw something on to go to the grocery store. The soft, updated color palette and look of the Nike Eclipse also did well here. 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 log a few dozen, having a comfortable and reliable pair of running shorts will significantly improve your enjoyment on the pavement or trails. Several factors go into making great running shorts, but everyone's needs will vary to some extent. Be sure to focus on the metrics that matter to you most when considering which might be the best pair for you. After all the miles we ran in these shorts, we hope that we can help you find those that enable you to log many happy miles as well.
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.