How to Choose Running Shorts

With so many options available, choosing the best running shorts can be a challenge. Learn how to find your style.

When starting to run, you may begin to invest in new gear for your training. This can include the necessities, like new running shoes. Or valuable add-ons, such as wearable technologies. But another key item on your list should be running shorts.

If you’re a running newcomer, you may choose to wear a pair of shorts already in your drawer. However, as you progress, you may start to see the importance of having a good pair of running shorts. They’re a must-have item to add to your running repertoire.

When shopping for running shorts, there might be a lot of lengths, styles and designs that you’ll see on the racks. Sifting through them all can be a daunting task if you’re unsure of what you need. This Pro Tips guide breaks down what to look for when buying running shorts.

ARE RUNNING SHORTS GENDER SPECIFIC?

Running shorts come in men’s, women’s and unisex designs. Each style has gender-specific features that can help you run more comfortably.

MEN’S RUNNING SHORTS

Men’s running shorts typically have a longer inseam. The built-in liner usually offers more support in the groin, so a jockstrap is not a necessity. These details create a design that is better suited for the male body. They can also help prevent discomfort or chafing.

WOMEN’S RUNNING SHORTS

Women’s running shorts focus on a better fit for a female’s waist, hips and thighs. This makes for a more comfortable design. They also have shorter inseams for shorter legs.

UNISEX RUNNING SHORTS

Unisex running shorts are a combination of men’s and women’s, minus the gender-specific features. Typically, they don’t offer as much support or comfort as gender-specific running shorts.

DO ALL RUNNING SHORTS COME WITH LINERS?

While men’s and women’s running shorts feature designs with liners, not all styles have them. Running shorts with liners have their benefits, though. They provide support and moisture management that allow you to forgo wearing underwear. There are also running shorts without liners, if you find them uncomfortable. Wearing compression shorts underneath unlined shorts can help prevent chaffing and provide support.

WHAT TYPES OF RUNNING SHORTS ARE THERE?

As mentioned, compression shorts are an alternative to regular, lined running shorts. There are also other styles, such as split running shorts and V-notch shorts.

COMPRESSION SHORTS

Running compression shorts fit tight to your body, like spandex. Their snug design can help provide muscle support. Compression running shorts offer the most flexibility. The lack of moving, loose fabric makes them a strong choice for chafing prevention. The length of compression shorts varies based on personal comfort.

V-NOTCH SHORTS

V-notch shorts can be quickly identified by the upside-down V-shape cutout on the side of the leg seam. They’re the most popular style among runners. This cutout allows a runner a greater range of motion compared to if there was no indent. These running shorts have a looser fit compared to compression shorts. As far as length, women’s styles tend to be shorter.

SPLIT RUNNING SHORTS

Split running shorts are very similar to V-notch shorts, except the “V” on their sides is not sewn together. Instead, they are split and made with overlapping fabric. This allows even more flexibility than the V-notch shorts. The split can range in length. It can be as high as the waistband to about a one-half inch split.

ARE THERE DIFFERENT FABRICS?

Exercise shorts come in a variety of fabrics, including both synthetic and natural fibers. Running shorts are most often found in polyester or polyester-spandex blends. This synthetic fiber material is durable, lightweight and helps with moisture management. All of which are crucial for running. Natural fiber fabrics, like cotton, tend to absorb moisture, which can lead to chafing and discomfort.

WHAT’S THE CORRECT RUNNING SHORTS LENGTH?

There’s no automatic answer for this question, as it ultimately depends on personal preference. Longer shorts can build up heat and moisture on warm days if they don’t have proper breathability. This can then lead to chafing. Shorter fits have less restriction to movement and better airflow.

WHAT ARE EXTRA FEATURES TO CONSIDER?

Running shorts may have other fun features to look for, such as pockets and reflective designs.

POCKETS

Pockets are typically hidden by the band of your shorts and can range in size. Some may be able to hold your phone, while others are only large enough to hold a key. You can even find pockets with zippers to better secure the contents.

VISIBILITY FEATURES

If you run in low-light environments, this is definitely a feature you should look into. Reflective detailing and bright colors may add safety and visibility to your run. Learn more about staying visible while running at night with our guide. 

For other running essentials, check out these Pro Tips guides on what to look for in running socks and how to choose running shoes.