Running, Sans-Chafing

The 16 Best Running Shorts of 2018 for Every Type of Runner


June 25, 2018 Buying Guides By Photo by Janji

This guide to the best running shorts of summer 2018 provides picks for the best running shorts for each type of runner and also offers tips and advice to know before you buy.

Table of Contents
Introduction
How We Tested Them
Terms to Know
What to Look for in Shorts

The Best Running Shorts of 2018

The Best Split Running Shorts

  • Editor’s Pick: Janji 3” Split Short
  • Tracksmith Twilight Split Shorts
  • La Sportiva Auster Short
  • Satisfy Short Distance 3” Shorts
  • Lululemon Surge Short 4”

The Best 5″ Running Shorts

  • Editor’s Pick: Olivers Breakaway Short
  • The North Face Flight RKT Shorts
  • Sugoi Titan 5”
  • Patagonia Strider Pro Running Shorts
  • Craft Essential 2-in-1 Short

The Best 7″+ Running Shorts

  • Editor’s Pick: Iffley Road Brighton 8” Shorts
  • Saxx Pilot
  • Rhone 8” Phase Short
  • Mammut Runbold Light
  • Cotopaxi Crux Active Shorts
  • Outdoor Voices 7” Runner’s High Short

Introduction

Let’s role play for a second here. You’re laying down on tufted leather couch, the real mid-century type with nicely-aged leather, in my office. There’s a small library on the wall opposite the couch and a few framed photos of me giving a post-race thumbs up, an Ironman finisher medal hanging from a nail, next to my degree in cognitive psychology from some fancy university. Now take me back to a time when you went out for a long trail run. Picture that creamy blue sky, the color of a robin’s egg; the aspens are in full bloom, setting the sky on fire. You felt fantastic leaving the trailhead, hit your stride around mile five, only to start chafing terribly halfway through the run at mile seven. The fire has moved from the trees to between your legs. You walked the last five miles home bow-legged and with a new appreciation for the depth of experience you can have when a wayward seam rubs against your sensitive inner thigh. Feel that burn for a second. Crawl inside it. Good.

Now let’s talk about how to avoid it: with a great pair of running shorts. From split shorts made for laying down a PR on the track to 8” shorts that put comfort first, here are the 17 best running shorts you can buy now.

How We Tested Them

Like running shoes or a pair of jeans, fit is absolutely personal when it comes to running shorts. As Mike Burnstein, co-founder of Janji, explains, “shorts are one of the most challenging pieces for our team to design because a) they have the biggest impact on your run out of any piece, b) they are on a part of the body that has such variation across different bodies and c) there is such vastly different personal preference for how short people want to go.” That said, there are qualities of running shorts that can be objectively considered: Do they look good? How does the material perform in different conditions? Are the features, like pockets, useful or does everything jiggle around? And so on. We assessed these on the roads and trails in and around Fort Collins, CO, from the technical trails of Reservoir Ridge Natural Area, to the smooth singletrack in Lory State Park, to some hiking trails just over the Wyoming border in Medicine Bow-Routt National Forest.

Terms to Know

Inseam: On the inside of the leg, the measurement from the crotch to the hem.
Outseam: On the outside of the leg, the measurement from the top of the waistband to the hem.
Bluesign: A Swiss organization that provides a system and a certification program for the sustainable and clean manufacturing of textiles.
Nylon: A synthetic thermoplastic linear polyamide known for being strong, durable, elastic, easy to clean and water-resistant.
Spandex: A fiber made of a long-chain of synthetic polymer comprised of at least 85% of a segmented polyurethane. It’s stretchy while retaining its length and shape. It’s durable, smooth, comfortable and resistant to abrasion. Also known as Lycra and elastane.
Polyester: A category of polymers used commonly in clothing and home furnishings. They can be naturally-occurring or synthetic. Generally speaking, polyester is stain-resistant, strong and resistant to water and wind.
Merino: Wool from the merino sheep.
DWR: Stands for “durable water repellent,” a coating added to fabrics to make them water-resistant.
Polygiene: An antimicrobial silver chloride treatment applied at the finishing stages of textile production to control odor in a garment.

What to Look for in Shorts

Let’s just make it simple and call it the F-words, shall we? Fit, function, features, fabrics and fashion. These may not be the official industry terms, but they cover everything you need to think about when buying a pair of shorts. In terms of fit and function, the soul of running shorts is split shorts, the shortest shorts out there, the uniform de rigeur of cross country runners, with a split up the outer thigh for mobility. These typically have a 2” or 3” inseam. They’re lightweight, barely there, give no fucks shorts.

At 5” inch inseam, there are now lots of great options that feel nearly as performance-oriented as split shorts thanks to really thoughtful design and great materials, without showing quite as much of the upper thigh — instead of a split up the thigh they usually have a v-shaped notch. Whereas split shorts will fly up like a skirt on a windy day or, say, the rowing machine at the gym, some 5” shorts have enough structure that they’ll stay in place. “Our most popular is our Middle Short, which is 4.5″ inseam and kind of the sweet spot for our core customer who wants something light and fast, but something you won’t be embarrassed to walk into a coffee shop with,” Janji’s Burnstein says.

Once you get up to shorts with a 7” inseam and longer, they are typically either unlined (meaning: you need briefs) or have built-in undershorts or compression shorts, which means you’re dealing with a good amount of fabric and will trade performance for a combination of modesty, luxury and comfort. There are exceptions, of course, like Iffley Road’s Brighton Shorts, which at 8” still feel pretty light, fast and mobile.

Features are important, because whether you can carry a phone or a handful of snacks informs where and how far you’ll run. “Since our core consumer goes on long trail runs, we have built a pocketing system with enough capacity to hold adequate amounts of Gu, water, snacks, emergency pieces and gear,” says Eric Andrews, The North Face Product Manager for Run + Train. “We took extra care to make it stealth enough to not distract or bounce during their run.” A rear center zip pocket is the most common form of storage — the bare minimum. Some brands get creative, like Tracksmith’s three interior pockets hidden in the liner of their teensy Twilight shorts, or Patagonia’s barely-noticeable four mesh pockets on the waist of the Strider Pro shorts.

Other touches like the grippy interior of La Sportiva’s waistband on the Auster shorts or the super minimalist waistband on the The North Face Flight RKT shorts can end up making you fall in love with a particular pair of shorts — and the only way to know is to try them on.

Finally, there are the fabrics (there’s fashion, but you can look at the pictures). As you can see with each product, most are made of some combination of nylon, polyester, and spandex (also known as elastane or Lycra). This doesn’t tell you very much, though, since depending on how the materials are woven, treated and blended — which is often proprietary and gets its own branding, like Olivers’ All Over Stretch Weave or Lululemon’s Out of Mind liner construction — the end product needs to be touched and worn to be understood. (Gone are the days when we just ran around in Umbros and that was that.) As a general rule, however, shorts are getting lighter and faster while still offering great quality and functionality, says ultrarunner Rob Krar, who designed the Flight RKT shorts with The North Face. “The nylon/polyester mix was chosen for its perfect blend of being incredibly light while maintaining the durability expected in trail running apparel,” Krar says. “Along with the polyester knit liner with FlashDry, the shorts dry exceedingly fast, another advancement in material and technology that has improved over the past few years.”

The point is: You don’t have to settle for ordinary running shorts, because there are truly delightful garments out there.

Buying Guide

The Best Running Shorts of 2018

The Best Split Running Shorts

  • Editor’s Pick: Janji 3” Split Short
  • Tracksmith Twilight Split Shorts
  • La Sportiva Auster Short
  • Satisfy Short Distance 3” Shorts
  • Lululemon Surge Short 4”

The Best 5″ Running Shorts

  • Editor’s Pick: Olivers Breakaway Short
  • The North Face Flight RKT Shorts
  • Sugoi Titan 5”
  • Patagonia Strider Pro Running Shorts
  • Craft Essential 2-in-1 Short

The Best 7″+ Running Shorts

  • Editor’s Pick: Iffley Road Brighton 8” Shorts
  • Saxx Pilot
  • Rhone 8” Phase Short
  • Mammut Runbold Light
  • Cotopaxi Crux Active Shorts
  • Outdoor Voices 7” Runner’s High Short


The Best Split Running Shorts of 2018

Janji 3” Split Short

Editor’s Pick: Made from Janji’s AdventureVent Ripstop mesh and a brief liner, these shorts are super lightweight and breathable thanks to tiny perforations throughout, not to mention a deep split up the side. A zippered pocket in the back can hold keys or a phone if you work it in. These are split shorts with serious attitude, meant to be worn when you win at everything.

Materials: AdventureVentRipstop Mesh, 97% polyester / 3% spandex

Tracksmith Twilight Split Shorts

It doesn’t get much shorter than the Twilights, which carry forward Tracksmith’s collegiate aesthetic with some fancy fabric work: Bravio is a micro-polyester and elastane blend that’s stretchy, lightweight, anti-microbial and super soft. The liner has three clever pockets in the back for storing gels and means of payment, not that you’re showing this much thigh around town for any extended period of time.

Materials: Bravio fabric, a micro-polyester and elastane blend

La Sportiva Auster Short

A featherweight pair of split shorts with a 3” inseam. Running in the Auster short feels like you’re barely wearing anything, and the Bluesign-approved fabric is a bonus if you care about the trails you’re running on. The unique waistband is minimalist in the front and lined with a sticky rubber-like material in the back to keep the shorts in place. There’s also a zip pocket in the back and two side pockets for nutrition on longer runs.

Materials: Outer: 86% Polyester, 14% Elastane; Brief – 96% Polyester, 4% Elastane

Satisfy Short Distance 3” Shorts

The undisputed style arbiter of the out and back, Satisfy makes beautiful shorts that are also extremely functional, with a stretchy and chafe-preventing interior, a hook for keys, four pockets, and optional tie-dye printed fabric. When you run in these shorts, Champagne is your recovery drink.

Materials: Outer: Printed ripstop, lightweight and breathable fabric from Italy; Interior: Satisfy Justice (moisture control, fast dry, odor control, 4-way-stretch) fabric from France

Lululemon Surge Short 4”

Not technically a split short since they’re bonded above a v-shaped notch in the hem, the Surge shorts are nevertheless short and performance-oriented. There’s a clever no-zip pocket in the back for a phone and a few slots in the waistband for gels on longer runs. The main innovation here is a super breathable liner that fits like trunks rather than briefs.

Materials: Four-way stretch, sweat-wicking Swift fabric; OOM (Out of Mind) liner construction

The Best 5″ Running Shorts of 2018

Olivers Breakaway Short

Editor’s Pick: As an everyday running short, it doesn’t get any better than these. The cut is flattering and a bit structured — some split and otherwise lightweight shorts can be a bit blousy — while still being lightweight and unrestrictive. There isn’t a liner to speak of, so comfort might be an issue on a very long run, but they’re otherwise flawless.

Materials: All Over Stretch Weave: Water repellent, moisture wicking, soft and light. 88% nylon, 12% spandex

The North Face Flight RKT Shorts

Designed in partnership with ultrarunner Rob Krar, these are, texture-wise, quite different than anything else in the performance category. The nylon-poly ripstop fabric reminds you of a windbreaker, and they sort of float off your legs while you run — very light, very comfortable. The waistband is also very minimal, a detail that most shorts overlook. There’s one zip pocket in the back and that’s it.

Materials: Fabric: 17D 39 g/m² 72% nylon, 28% polyester ripstop woven with durable water-repellent (DWR) finish; 80 g/m² 100% polyester-knit jacquard with FlashDry

Icebreakers Cool-Lite Strike Lite Shorts

Though Icebreaker carries the merino torch, these shorts are actually a combination of fabrics, with a comfortable polyester lining and a super lightweight outer material that’s 50 percent wool blended with other fabrics. Laser cut holes keep them well-vented and two pockets — one zipped, one mesh — provide storage for small belongings like nutrition and a credit card.

Materials: Body: 100% Polyester Lining: 50% Merino Wool, 33% Tencel, 12% Nylon, 5% Lycra

Sugoi Titan 5”

Lightweight, stretchy, breathable and with an articulated “smart pouch” — that’s for your nuts — these are no-nonsense running shorts that are casual enough for other gym activities, too.

Materials: Active Flex is a lightweight, four-way stretch woven fabric; Icefil brief liner with smart pouch construction

Patagonia Strider Pro Running Shorts

These shorts jam a ton of performance and style into an ultralight package. The design is thoughtful, with polyester micro dobby fabric used for most of the shorts and some mesh over the thighs, all of which drapes comfortably and with style — even with four mesh pockets on the hips. Polygiene treatment keeps the briefs from getting too funky and DWR keeps the rest from getting wet.

Materials: Body: 100% polyester micro dobby with a DWR; finish. Panels: 100% polyester highly breathable mesh. Rear pockets: 79% nylon/21% spandex. Liner: 00% polyester (42% recycled) crepe with Polygiene permanent odor control. Fabric is certified as Bluesign approved

Craft Essential 2-in-1 Short


If you want short shorts that retain a sense of modesty, Craft’s inner tights provide thigh coverage and some extra support. The outer material is ultralight, with a strip of mesh on both sides and in the back above the hips.

Materials: 95% Polyester 5% Elastane

The Best 7″+ Running Shorts of 2018

Iffley Road Brighton 8” Shorts

Editor’s Pick: Although these shorts are 8” and cut for a more relaxed fit, they still feel like they’re made for performance. The fabric is lightweight and breathable, there’s mesh along the inner thighs and the waistband doesn’t have any extra bulk. The rest of the features make them appealing as gym shorts, with traditional side pockets and a zip pocket on the hip.

Materials: Technical Italian fabric

Saxx Pilot

As the company name suggests, these shorts are built around accommodating your sack, which if we’re honest is super inconvenient for running. They do so with “a 3D hammock-shaped pouch designed to keep everything in place” — and everything else around them is lightweight and breathable, suitable for long runs or hitting the gym.

Materials: Shell: nylon (52%), polyester (48%). Liner: nylon (77%), spandex (14%), polyester (9%). Panels: nylon (88%), spandex (12%).

Rhone 8” Phase Short

Rhone is relatively new to the activewear scene, and they make a variety of run-friendly products, from the 5” Swift shorts to the ones we’re including here, which is a sort of contemporary take on tennis whites. The Phase has a full-length compression liner and more traditional side and back pockets, so there’s plenty of fabric — you’re probably not running a 50-miler in these, but for everything else, they’re a nice alternative to shorts that feel singularly focused on running.

Materials: 85% Polyester, 15% Spandex

Mammut Runbold Light

The Runbold light is really a hiking short, but because it’s so light, nicely tailored, and performance-oriented (UV protection, fast-drying, DWR coating), we like it as an alternative to traditional running shorts — especially for taller guys who want more coverage without the extra weight. These are unlined, so you’ll probably want to wear something underneath.

Materials: Main material 94% Polyamide, 6% Spandex; Insert 85% Polyamide, 15% Spandex

Cotopaxi Crux Active Shorts

Stretchy, breathable, roomy and available in bold colors like bight blue and green, these are versatile shorts for running or the gym.

Materials: 85% nylon, 15% spandex

Outdoor Voices 7” Runner’s High Short

The athleisure pioneer makes these comfortable shorts out of recycled water bottles, which they’ve turned into a functional pair of shorts with a very comfortable liner and tons of pockets — traditional side pockets, a zip pocket in the back and the side, and a small one inside for keys.

Materials: 86% Recycled Polyester 14% Spandex
The Best Running Shorts of 2018

The Best Split Running Shorts

  • Editor’s Pick: Janji 3” Split Short
  • Tracksmith Twilight Split Shorts
  • La Sportiva Auster Short
  • Satisfy Short Distance 3” Shorts
  • Lululemon Surge Short 4”

The Best 5″ Running Shorts

  • Editor’s Pick: Olivers Breakaway Short
  • The North Face Flight RKT Shorts
  • Sugoi Titan 5”
  • Patagonia Strider Pro Running Shorts
  • Craft Essential 2-in-1 Short

The Best 7″+ Running Shorts

  • Editor’s Pick: Iffley Road Brighton 8” Shorts
  • Saxx Pilot
  • Rhone 8” Phase Short
  • Mammut Runbold Light
  • Cotopaxi Crux Active Shorts
  • Outdoor Voices 7” Runner’s High Short

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