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Best running shorts 2023: The most comfortable, convenient and speediest shorts for running

Don’t overlook the importance of getting a quality set of shorts for your running

After spending big money on a set of running shoes, and maybe splashing out on some nice tees and a jacket, many new runners make the mistake of skimping on their shorts. Of course, it only takes one bout of horrendous chafing to ensure they never do that again, but avoiding that disastrous fate isn’t the only reason to take care when picking out your running shorts.

The best running shorts are comfortable and allow for complete freedom of movement on the run, as well as providing clever storage solutions for essentials like your keys and gels.

In this guide we’ll take you through what you need to know when buying shorts as well as providing our top pick for a range of needs and budgets.

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Best running shorts: At a glance

How to choose the best running shorts for you

What type of shorts do you want?

There are a couple of broad categories of running shorts. One is loose-fitting shorts, and the other is compression shorts (sometimes called half tights), which hug tight to the skin. You can also get 2-in-1 shorts that have a compression base layer underneath a looser top later.

While some runners feel that compression shorts help them perform better by increasing blood circulation in the muscles they cover, the type of shorts you go for should be determined by what you find most comfortable. For some runners a compression fit helps reduce the risk of chafing, while others prefer the less restrictive feel of loose shorts.

How long should my running shorts be?

In general, running shorts are shorter than gym shorts, and range from around 2.5in to 3 inches (6cm to 7.5cm) to 7in (18cm) long, with 5in (13cm) shorts being the in-between option. This is the in-seam measurement, so the shortest options will finish on your upper thigh, 5in shorts come to around mid-thigh level, and 7in shorts finish just above the knee.

Once again, your preference is the main factor to consider here, but many runners prefer very short shorts, also called split shorts, when it comes to fast running and race day. Splits shorts offer the best ventilation and a completely unrestricted feel. Rest assured, though, that if you’re not comfortable showing that much leg you can still run fast in longer shorts, which might have more storage options.

Why do running shorts have a liner?

Most running shorts have an inner liner, which means you don’t need to wear underwear with them. Unless you’re wearing underwear designed for sports, it will generally be more comfortable to just use the shorts, in which the breathable liners keep you secure while minimising the risk of chafing that can come from wearing another layer.

Compression and 2-in-1 shorts swap the classic running short liner for a tight layer that you might find more comfortable if the idea of just wearing loose running shorts doesn’t appeal.

What other features should I look out for?

Pockets are a key concern for many runners. While it’s tricky to fit too much into running shorts because extra weight can make the material flap around in a very annoying manner on the run, brands have come up with a range of ingenious solutions to help runners carry essentials with them in their shorts.

The standard pocket is small, in the middle of the back, where you can usually fit your keys and a card without them moving on the run. Many shorts feature small drop-in pockets you can slip a running gel into, and some have now gone beyond this to offer a kind of built-in running belt around the waistband, into which you can fit even larger items like water bottles or a phone without them moving around while running.

Another useful feature is a material with antibacterial properties, which can prevent smells developing, allowing you to use the shorts multiple times between washes. Materials like merino wool or bamboo fabric naturally resist odours, and some synthetic shorts are treated to help on this front.

How much do you have to spend?

You can spend as little as £5 and still get a good pair of running shorts (you’ll find such a pair below), but the sweet spot for great shorts is between £20 and £40. There are plenty of pairs that cost more than that, of course, and if you’re looking for really top-notch race or compression shorts in particular you might see prices rise as high as £70 to £90. You don’t need to spend that kind of money for running shorts, but some special shorts are tempting, even at such high prices.

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The best running shorts you can buy in 2023

1. Kalenji Run Dry: Best budget running shorts

Price: From £7 | Buy men’s | women’s from Decathlon

When shopping for a running gear on a tight budget Decathlon’s own brand, Kalenji, should always be your first stop, and these very wallet-friendly shorts are proof you don’t need to spend big to run in comfort.

The Run Dry shorts are made from a lightweight, breathable fabric, and have an inner brief that wicks sweat and dries quickly. The women’s version of the shorts has a wide, stretchy waistband for extra comfort, and the larger pocket on the back of the women’s shorts is big enough to accommodate a small phone, which might soften the blow when you spot that they cost £2 more than the men’s.

Buy men’s from Decathlon

Buy women’s from Decathlon

2. New Balance Impact Run: Best all-round running shorts

Price: From £16 | Buy men’s | women’s from New Balance

New Balance’s range of Impact shorts has options to suit every runner. There’s a range of lengths, so both split-shorts-seeking speedsters and those who prefer a longer cut are accommodated, and there are 2-in-1 shorts for anyone who wants a compression layer. All of the shorts are good value, too, and there are London Marathon editions if you want a set to commemorate the race.

The classic 5in loose shorts are a great all-round pick, with a close but unrestrictive fit and an inner brief that makes them comfortable for runs of any length. There are small drop-in pockets for gels and a zipped pocket on the back for your essentials. The women’s version has a wider waistband style, which allows room for a larger zipped pocket on the back.

Buy men’s from New Balance Buy women’s from New Balance

3. Under Armour Rush Run 2-in-1 Shorts: Best 2-in-1 shorts

Price: From £25 | Buy men’s from Amazon | women’s from Under Armour

Under Armour claims that its Rush material contains minerals that absorb the energy your body emits during activities and reflects it right back at you to help with your endurance. That’s one of the wilder claims we’ve heard from a brand about its materials, and hard to verify, but we can confirm that the Rush compression material used on the inner layer here makes for very supportive shorts that have become our long distance racing go-tos.

The men’s version of the 2-in-1 shorts has a drop-in pocket on the compression layer that will hold a phone tight against your leg while running, which stops any annoying bouncing, while the women’s shorts have a large zipped pocket on the back of the waistband. If you’d rather not get 2-in-1 shorts, you can also get Rush compression shorts.

Buy men’s from Amazon Buy women’s from Under Armour

4. Adidas Terrex Parley Agravic All-Around Shorts: Best trail-running shorts

Price: £55 | Buy men’s | women’s from Adidas

The key features here, which will appeal to trail runners in particular, are the loops on the waistband. You can use them to hold trekking poles, or tuck a lightweight jacket through them, to keep those items handy on long trail runs without having to use a backpack.

While the loops are especially handy on the trails, the shorts will appeal to all runners for their other qualities, which include a breathable, unrestrictive design and the fact they’re made in part with Adidas’s Parley material. This is a recycled fabric made from plastic intercepted on its way to the ocean.

Buy men’s from Adidas

Buy women’s from Adidas

5. Nike Aeroswift and Dri-Fit ADV Aeroswift: Best racing shorts

Price: From £55 | Buy men’s from Nike | women’s from Sports Shoes

Whether you opt for split shorts or half tights in the Aeroswift range, you’re going to be getting a top-notch set of shorts for your upcoming races. The half tights are a simple affair, with no pockets or clever features beyond the fact they fit superbly and are very lightweight, which is just what you want on race day. The shorts are also made with 75% recycled polyester fabric, which is a happy bonus for anyone looking for speed and sustainability.

Buy men’s from Nike Buy women’s from Sports Shoes

6. BAM Enduro Shorts: Best anti-odour running shorts

Price: From £32 | Buy men’s from Myathleisure | women’s from BAM

The Enduro shorts aren’t marketed as running shorts in particular, but that just means they’re the category’s best kept secret. They’re incredibly comfortable – bamboo fabric is very soft on the skin – and have anti-odour properties so you can use them for run after run without having to wash them. Our current record is five consecutive runs without any smells developing, and we could probably have gone for more if we hadn’t had so many other shorts to test.

One downside is that bamboo fabric is a little thicker than synthetic compression shorts, although that’s only a problem when using them on particularly hot days when you might want something lighter.

Buy men’s from Myathleisure Buy women’s from BAM

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