The Best Running Shorts of 2021: Staff Picks

Find your stride with our 7 favorite running shorts.

1 reviews with an average rating of 5.0 out of 5 stars
A trail runner winds their way around singletrack in the Patagonia Nine Trails Shorts.

Spend five minutes at the track or trail and you’ll see runners flying past in all kinds of shorts—bicycle-style shorts, long, soccer-style shorts and everything in between. The best shorts stow essentials (like keys and a credit card) and move with you, but there’s a lot of variety therein.

How to choose the best running shorts for you? Start here, with our staffers’ favorite running shorts currently available at REI. Whether you’re logging treadmill miles or training for a marathon, we’ve got a pair for you.

Staff Picks:

For quick recommendations, check out our roundup below, or scroll down for more in-depth reviews.

 

Janji AFO 3” Middle Shorts

Best Running Shorts for Everyday Use (Women's)

A product-on-white image of the Janji AFO 3" Middle Shorts

  • Version: Women’s
  • Inseam: 3 inches
  • Inner liner: Yes
  • Exterior fabric: 88% recycled polyester / 12% spandex
  • Liner fabric: 94% polyester / 6% spandex
  • Price: $60–$66

“The AFO remind me of something I would’ve raced in when I was younger but with a little more coverage, which I like!” says one staffer who’s taken to wearing Janji’s AFO Middle shorts on recovery days, too. Credit the airy, recycled polyester-and-spandex outer shell for this perfect combo of comfort and performance. “The fabric on these is truly stellar,” says one customer reviewer. “It’s so light, it’s almost like not wearing shorts at all.”

An internal drawstring cinches the snug waistband, but you probably won’t need it; Janji intentionally designed a secure short to minimize bouncing. (Pro tip: If you’re in between sizes, size up.) The slightly dropped back hem adds the bonus rear coverage, and a single back zippered pocket is large enough to fit a phone. Buy here.

Note: The AFO Middle Shorts are also available in a men’s style with a 5” inseam.

 

Brooks Sherpa Shorts

Best Running Shorts for Everyday Use (Men's)

A product-on-white image of the Brooks Sherpa Running Shorts

  • Version: Men’s
  • Inseam: 5 inches
  • Inner liner: Yes
  • Exterior fabric: 89% polyester / 11% spandex
  • Liner fabric: 88% polyester / 10% spandex / 2% polyester mesh
  • Price: $58

Our happiest running moments happen in a flow state—when we focus on the strike of our shoes against the pavement and forget about the number of miles left in the workout. These Brooks Sherpa Shorts don’t make workouts easier, but they do make them a tad more comfortable. “Nothing bounces, so I don’t even think about these shorts,” says one co-op employee. “The less I think about my shorts, the happier I am!” The moisture-wicking poly-spandex fabric blend feels lighter than a feather, and staff appreciate the soft liner and stretchy waistband that ups the comfort factor even more.

The storage on the Sherpa Shorts also shines: Two oversize hip pockets stash essentials and one center-back zip pocket holds down a phone—literally. “It’s surprisingly hard to find running shorts with a decent pocket for modern smartphones, but the rear zip pocket fits [mine] perfectly and holds it with minimal bounce,” says one customer reviewer. “There are also open mesh pockets on either side to hold gels or other small items, making these great for long runs without the need for an additional storage belt.” Buy here.

 

REI Co-op Active Pursuits 4.5” Shorts

Best Running Shorts in Inclusive Sizes

A product-on-white image of the REI Co-op Active Pursuits Shorts

  • Versions: Women’s, women’s plus sizes
  • Inseam: 4.5 inches
  • Liner: Yes
  • Exterior fabric: 86% polyester / 14% spandex (bluesign® approved)
  • Liner fabric: 100% recycled polyester (bluesign® approved)
  • Price: $39.95

If we had it our way, all shorts would come in a wide range of sizes and inseams. The REI Co-op Active Pursuits Shorts, which come in women's plus sizes, check that box. Co-op members and staff rave about the Active Pursuits’ supremely comfortable fit (“Not even a hotspot!”) thanks to four-way stretch fabric and flat seams that help minimize chafing.

An extra-wide elastic waistband with a drawcord sits comfortably on the midsection, ensuring a secure fit without any slippage. “These shorts are exactly what I’ve been searching for my entire adult life,” says one customer reviewer. They “have an internal drawstring, so I can tighten them up, and they stay in place.” The waistband features a single stash pocket—nothing bigger or zippered—but we still think these shorts are a screaming deal. Buy here.

 

On Lightweight Shorts

Best Running Shorts for Short Runs

A product-on-white image of the On Lightweight Shorts

  • Version: Men’s
  • Inseam: 8.7 inches
  • Liner: Yes
  • Exterior fabric: 87% polyamide / 13% elastane
  • Liner fabric: 71% polyamide / 29% elastane
  • Price: $80

True to their name, the On Lightweight Shorts are incredibly light (read: less than four ounces) and dry in a flash, leading our staff to reach for them for daily mileage. The flat waistband stays put and helps prevent chafing, and the polyamide-elastane fabric blend moves freely—so freely one co-op member declared the Lightweight Shorts his “favorite of all time.”

Storage is minimal: only a single, zipperless back-center pocket stashes essentials. Considering both their limited storage and longer inseam, we think the Lightweight shorts are best for runs lasting less than an hour. As one customer reviewer noted: “Pocket holds a phone but is really meant only for a key and a gel or two. These are great for short runs or races, or hot runs in summer … I wouldn’t take them for a marathon where I might have gels, phone, subway ticket, etc.” We concur. Buy here.

 

Vuori Clementine Shorts

Best Running Shorts for Hybrid Runners

A product-on-white image of the Vuori Clementine Shorts

  • Version: Women’s
  • Inseam: 4 inches
  • Liner: Yes
  • Exterior fabric: 92% polyester / 8% elastane
  • Liner fabric: TK
  • Price: $58

Sometimes we walk, sometimes we run and sometimes we hike the hills. When a workout calls for all three, our staff reaches for the Clementine shorts. Vuori extended the rise length (the distance between the middle of the inseam to the top of the waistband) from previous Clementine models, adding a little more length to go along with the four-inch inseam. The end result? A versatile fit that pleases most runners.

“Usually when I get a pair of shorts, they will either do well with running or walking, but not both,” says one customer reviewer. “These did great with walking as well … I did not have to reach down at all to tug them down during any of my runs.” The stretch fabric and forward-slanting side seam are also great features. And mobility on the Clementine shorts receives high marks from both hikers and runners who want to hit the trail. Buy here.

Note: The Clementine also come in a 2.5-inch inseam.


Patagonia Nine Trails Shorts

Best Running Shorts for Trail Runners

A product-on-white image of the Patagonia Nine Trails Running Shorts

  • VersionMen's
  • Inseam: 8 inches
  • Liner: Yes 
  • Exterior Fabric: 91% recycled polyester/9% spandex
  • Liner Fabric: Recycled polyester
  • Price: $65

Trail runners need two things from their apparel: storage and weather resistance for unexpected mountain squalls. The Patagonia Nine Trails shorts hit that sweet spot. Three zippered pockets (two in front and one in the right rear) provide ample storage for energy gels and car keys. "These pockets are deep enough to actually be effective," raves one co-op member. And, if it does rain when you're a few hours from the car, the DWR (durable water repellent) treatment causes moisture to bead up and glide off the fabric. Sure, the Nine Trails will eventually wet out if you're stuck in the rain for more than 30 minutes, but here's another bonus: the liner probably dries faster than you can run. Buy here.

 

Patagonia Strider Shorts

Best Running Shorts for Ultralight Runners

A product-on-white image of the Patagonia Strider Running Shorts

  • Version: Women’s
  • Inseam: 3.5 inches
  • Inner liner: Yes
  • Exterior fabric: 59% recycled polyester / 41% polyester micro-dobby
  • Liner fabric: 58% polyester / 42% recycled polyester crepe
  • Price: $49

Runners looking to go far, go fast and stay light will love the minimalistic design of the Strider short. Patagonia saves weight by trimming the inseam and dialing back storage to a single zippered center-back pocket large enough to hold cash, credit cards, lip balm or car keys. “I call these my almost-naked shorts,” says one co-op member. “I don’t feel ‘em but they definitely do what I need them to do.”

Users report that the Strider also holds up over time. “They hold up through washing,” says one customer reviewer. “They don’t bunch or become uncomfortable anywhere, even when wearing a running belt over them.” Another perk: Ultralight, 100% polyester micro-dobby (a type of weave) coated with a DWR finish means rain beads up and rolls off the Strider shorts when the skies open up. Buy here.

 

Shop All Running Shorts 

 

Buying Advice for Running Shorts

It might be tempting to grab any old pair of gym shorts or hiking shorts when heading out on a run, but it’s a good idea to invest in a pair of good running shorts. These shorts are made of lightweight synthetic materials (like polyester) that wick moisture and dry quickly so the fabric isn’t likely to chafe or absorb lots of sweat while on the go. Running shorts are also shorter than traditional shorts, slashing weight and minimizing further chafing potential. Bottom line: You’ll probably be a lot comfier!

When choosing a pair of running shorts, consider the following factors.

How long should my running shorts be?

The inseam (also known as length) can make a difference in terms of how comfortable you feel in your running shorts. Short running shorts (think: shorts with a three-inch inseam, like the Janji AFO 3” Middle Shorts) ride high on your legs and offer breathability and mobility. For this reason, they’re popular with competitive runners who prioritize speed. Shorts with a longer inseam (think: shorts with a seven-plus-inch inseam, as with the Patagonia Nine Trails Shorts) offer less mobility but more coverage, making them a smart option for variable terrain, as with trail running. If you can’t decide which fit suits you, snag a pair right in the middle with a medium inseam of roughly five inches, like the Brooks Sherpa Shorts or the REI Co-op Active Pursuits 4.5” Shorts. You’ll still have plenty of mobility, and you may find the relaxed fit more comfortable for everyday use.

Which fabric is best for running shorts?

Choose a fabric that breathes well and doesn’t hold onto moisture. Most of the shorts in this guide feature some polyester, a synthetic material known for being lightweight, quick-drying and breathable. In addition, shorts that have some spandex or elastane will stretch and move more easily with your body.

What running shorts features are most important?

There are a handful of features to consider when looking for running shorts, including:

  • Sun Protection: Shorts featuring a UPF-rated fabric are likely to do a better job of protecting your skin from the sun’s harmful UV rays. The REI Co-op Active Pursuits 4.5” Shorts offer this benefit. This isn’t a substitute for sunscreen, though. Make sure to gear up with ample sun protection when you’re running outside in the warmer months. 
  • Inner Liner: Most (but not all) running shorts include an inner liner that acts as built-in underwear for the running shorts. Unlike a lot of underwear, liners are typically quick-drying and moisture-wicking to reduce the incidence of chafing. For men, liners also add a hint of compression for support. All of the shorts in this guide feature an inner liner.
  • Chafe-Free Seams: Look for flat seams, fewer seams and seams placed to avoid areas of high friction while running. All the shorts in this guide feature a thoughtful design intended to reduce friction.
  • Reflectivity: Reflective strips or patterns can help you stay visible to cars if you plan on running in the early morning or evening.
  • Pockets: Many runners like to stash a few items in their shorts pockets. If that’s you, be sure to select a pair that accommodates essentials like a phone, keys, a credit card or energy gels.

Our Process

We asked REI Co-op staff, members and customers to share their favorite running shorts. They reported back with their top choices for everything from short runs around the neighborhood to trail runs to runs that involve a combination of jogging, hiking and walking. These are the best running shorts currently available at REI.


Article by Heather Balogh Rochfort. Heather is a freelance writer and author specializing in the outdoors and adventure travel, particularly as they apply to women and families. She is the co-founder of WildKind, an organization educating and empowering families to find their wild. As a lifelong Colorado resident, Heather loves Type-II fun above treeline where the sun is hot and the oxygen depleted. Thing she does not like: rock climbing. REI member since 2008.

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