The Best Running Shorts for Every Type of Runner

Lined or unlined, short or long, these shorts will get you through all your warm-weather runs

Updated May 16, 2023 5:13 am
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After your running shoes, running shorts might be the most important piece of gear you put on before heading out for a run. A good pair of men’s running shorts are a wise investment, as they can have a big effect on your performance. Well-made running shorts will wick moisture and keep you cool. They also prevent chafing and irritation, which can make your run miserable.

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Lightweight: Arc’teryx Norvan Short 5”
Comfy Waistband: REI Co-op Swiftland 7″
Best Split Short: New Balance Impact Run 3-inch Split Short
Goldilocks Inseam Length: Lululemon Surge Lined Short 6″
Premium Fabric: Tracksmith Session Short
Best Linerless Short: Path Projects Sykes PX 5” Short
Most Versatile: Patagonia Baggies
Affordable: Baleaf Laureate 7” 2-in-1 Shorts
Best Merino Shorts: Icebreaker ZoneKnit Merino Shorts
Lots of Storage: Patagonia Strider Pro Shorts

What to look for

Before spending money on new running shorts, it’s a good idea to run with what you have and see how it works for you. Pay attention to the fit and feel of your shorts. Do they stay in place while running? Does the waistband or liner dig into your skin or cause irritation? Does the material breathe and wick sweat? Do they have enough pockets to store your essentials? If you’re dissatisfied with the pairs you own, it’s time to upgrade. Here’s what to look for in men’s running shorts.

Material: Like most performance apparel, running shorts are often made with a blend of synthetic fabrics, usually polyester and elastane. Polyester has great breathability and wicks moisture, and it’s an obvious choice for garments used in high-intensity activities like running. Elastane (also known as spandex or Lycra) is stretchy, which helps the shorts conform to your body for a snug fit while also offering good freedom of movement. Nylon is another common synthetic material. It’s lightweight, highly durable and has a bit of stretch.

If you prefer natural fibers look for shorts that utilize merino wool: It vents moisture, regulates your temperature in both hot and cold weather and resists odors — all without any chemical treatments. It’s often used as a liner material and mixed with synthetic fabrics like nylon for improved durability. Some men’s running shorts are made with modal or lyocell fabrics, which are semi-synthetic fibers produced from wood pulp. They have a soft texture and they’re very breathable.

Inseam Length: Men’s running shorts have inseam lengths that range from three inches up to about seven inches. The right length for you depends on your preference and the kind of running you’re doing. For the lowest possible weight and maximum freedom of movement, opt for split shorts, which typically have a three-inch inseam. These are a great pick for speed workouts and races. Shorts with five- to seven-inch inseams offer more coverage, so you get more sun protection. You also don’t have to bare your upper thighs to everyone around you. For average-height runners, it’s best to avoid shorts with inseams longer than seven inches — the extra material will just flop around and get in your way while running.

Liner: Liners in men’s running shorts range from loose mesh layers to close-fitting compression shorts-within-shorts. Liners have a few benefits. First, they replace underwear, so you’ll have one less apparel item to worry about. Because they’re made with performance fabrics, they’re also much better at wicking sweat and promoting airflow. Some men’s running shorts also have built-in pouches for cradling your more sensitive body parts. These features provide extra support and chafe prevention and keep things in place while running. 

Already have running underwear you like? Look for shorts without liners. Wearing underwear and lined shorts together is a recipe for overheating and irritation.

Pockets: Most runners will need to carry house keys, a phone and other items like energy gels while running. Make sure you consider how you’ll store your essentials when shopping for shorts. Zippered pockets and key loops are helpful for keeping items secure. In addition, pay attention to where pockets are placed: A zippered pocket at the back of the waistband is a good spot to stash heavy items like a phone, as they’ll move around less. Some shorts have an elastic sleeve in the liner; that’s another good place to keep a phone secure.

Lightweight

Arc’teryx Norvan Short 5”
Arc’teryx Norvan Short 5”

Weighing in at just 2.5 ounces, the Norvan from Arc’teryx is a compelling option for speed-focused runners or anyone who wants an ultralight pair of shorts. They’re made from a breathable, 100-percent recycled polyester fabric, and it’s treated with a DWR finish to keep them from soaking up moisture. The drawcord waist ensures a secure fit. There is also a zippered pocket at the back that can store fuel and other small items.

Comfy Waistband

REI Co-op Swiftland 7″
REI Co-op Swiftland 7″

REI’s Swiftland running shorts are a well-loved option with a comfortable fit. They feature a durable, breathable nylon-spandex fabric and a wide lay-flat waistband with a drawcord for a customized fit that won’t slouch, even during longer efforts. They’re also made with a mesh liner for optimal breathability and moisture wicking. The three pockets (including a zippered pocket at the back) can also hold all your essentials.

Best Split Short

New Balance Impact Run 3-inch Split Short
New Balance Impact Run 3-inch Split Short

This dependable pair from New Balance packs a surprising amount of utility and value into a small silhouette. Constructed with 100 percent recycled polyester, these split shorts feature a lightweight woven shell fabric and a stretchy built-in liner. They’re cut to a three-inch inseam, so they’ll stay out of your way during track workouts or races. Despite their small size, the shorts include a zippered back pocket for toting your keys or gels. It also has something called a “storage tunnel” where you can stuff a rain jacket (or your shirt).

Goldilocks Inseam Length

Lululemon Surge Lined Short 6″
Lululemon Surge Lined Short 6″

Can’t decide between a five-inch and a seven-inch inseam? You don’t have to: Just grab Lululemon’s six-inch Surge shorts. Designed specifically for running, this short is crafted from a polyester-elastane blend and features a relaxed fit through the thigh, so you get good freedom of movement. The liner is a key highlight: It has a pouch for added support and chafe prevention, and it includes a sleeve for securely storing your phone (there’s even a headphone access hole built into it).

Premium Fabric

Tracksmith Session Short
Tracksmith Session Short

Tracksmith is a go-to brand for top-tier running apparel. The company has a strong lineup of men’s running shorts and other gear on offer. For day-to-day training, the Session Short makes a great pick. Available in a five- or seven-inch inseam, these shorts are made with Tracksmith’s “Veloce Blend” nylon-elastane knit fabric. On the outside — it’s lightweight, stretches easily and has a distinctive subtly heathered finish. On the inside — a polyester-spandex liner wicks sweat and has a Polygiene treatment to prevent stink.

Best Linerless Short

Path Projects Sykes PX 5” Short
Path Projects Sykes PX 5” Short

Path Projects shorts are made without liners and designed to be paired with the brand’s own base liners. Of course, you can also wear these shorts with your own running underwear or liner. The Sykes is made with a unique, 100 percent polyester spiral yarn. The spiral construction gives it stretchiness without the use of heavy elastane, which makes these shorts flexible, lightweight and breathable. The fabric also gets a DWR treatment to repel moisture. There’s also plenty of storage: Three zippered pockets at the rear can hold a phone, gels, a credit card or any other small item you need.

Most Versatile

Patagonia Baggies
Patagonia Baggies

Patagonia Baggies are a classic design, which is why they’re my go-to shorts for all kinds of activities, from running to biking to lounging by the beach. The 100-percent recycled nylon outer fabric has a DWR finish and dries super fast. The stretchy mesh liner breathes well and is comfortable enough for all-day wear. Although not specifically made for running, they’ve worked great for me during casual training runs. They’re basically the shorts I live in all summer long. If you need a pair of men’s shorts that can do it all, these are the ones to grab.

Best Affordable

Baleaf Laureate 7” 2-in-1 Shorts
Baleaf Laureate 7” 2-in-1 Shorts

Baleaf’s Laureate shorts are the kind of running gear you can stock up on. Although some reviewers have reported these shorts have a baggy fit, they’re a good choice if you’re looking for a bargain. They’re also available in a wide range of sizes. They feature a poly-spandex compression liner for a snug, chafe-free fit, and the liner has a dedicated phone sleeve sewn in. The polyester outer shell features a zippered back pocket for extra storage. It also has a drawstring waistband that keeps the shorts from sagging mid-run.

Best Merino Shorts

Icebreaker ZoneKnit Merino Shorts
Icebreaker ZoneKnit Merino Shorts

Founded in 1995, Icebreaker has been a leader in sustainable athletic wear for decades. These lined merino shorts combine the natural performance properties of merino wool — like excellent temperature regulation and breathability — with Tencel fiber derived from tree pulp. Zones of mesh fabric offer increased breathability in high-heat areas, an elastic waist with a drawcord creates a secure fit, and a zippered pocket at the back provides adequate storage.

Lots of Storage

Patagonia Strider Pro Shorts
Patagonia Strider Pro Shorts

Patagonia’s Strider Pro Shorts are built to haul. They have five pockets for storing keys, your phone and anything else you need for a long day of running. It’s available in both seven-inch and five-inch inseams. The shorts are lined and made from recycled polyester and spandex for breathability and freedom of movement. They’re also constructed with bonded seams for an ultra-smooth interior that prevents chafing.

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