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Whether you only run a few times a week or you enjoy pounding the pavement for hours at a crack, your clothing can either make or break the happy factor of your workouts, investing in the best running shorts for women crucial to your performance and comfort. I know this first hand after my time in the Marine Corps: Our physical fitness bottoms were either the abominably scanty green silkies, which felt like wearing underwear in public, or a heavy green basketball-type short, which felt like wearing a bunched-up diaper and chafed my inner thighs.
Fast forward 20 years, and high-quality, affordable clothing and shoes are still essential to my running enjoyment. To that end, comfortable, lined shorts that wick away moisture, won’t chafe, and have pockets for all of your on-the-go supplies are essential. To make it easy for you, we’ve researched and tested a lot of women’s running shorts so you don’t have to, because whether you run two times a year for the physical fitness test or you are crazy enough to run ultramarathons, we all deserve well-fitting athletic gear that won’t chafe, get soggy, or redline your budget.
I wear my workout clothes more often than any others in my closet, but I object to paying exorbitant prices for running shorts. Blooming Jelly’s Quick Dry Running Short is proof that you can be fashionable and frugal without sacrificing comfort on your runs. In fact, available in 34 color and pattern options, this short is an all around great pick for any workout you choose thanks to its full coverage and fast-drying fabric. The best part? At less than $25, the Blooming Jelly Quick Dry Running Short won’t break your bank.rnrnWith over 8,000 four- and five-star reviews on Amazon, this short gets high marks for comfort, looks, and stretch. Despite having an inseam of 1.75 inches, the Blooming Jelly Quick Dry Running Short is longer in the back with a full interior liner, providing extra coverage for when you have to bend over, and is constructed of lightweight, moisture-wicking polyester fabric with just enough stretch to move with your body. The wide flat waistband, high waist, and side splits, accommodate all body shapes, while the expansive sizing options means these are an excellent choice for all women who want to work out in comfort.
- Wicking power: Breathable and lightweight polyester fabric
- Waistband: Wide and flat gathered elastic construction with interior drawstring
- Liner brief: Full brief made from Nylon and Spandex and designed to stay in place
- Pockets: One zippered pocket large enough to accommodate a key and credit card
- Fit: Short inseam but high waist and generous length in the back
Less than $25 per pair
Lightweight, breathable, and fast-drying fabric construction
34 color and pattern options
Slightly bulky appearance in front due to forward location of seams
Not as stretchy as some other options
Pocket not large enough for most phones
Why is the Nike Tempo the best value running short when it isn’t the cheapest option? Because the high-quality construction and Dri-FIT fabric mean they last forever. Having had a pair of the same Tempos for 15 years, I can personally vouch for that. But that isn’t to say nothing has changed with this iconic running short over the past few decades. By adding a curved waistband for a better fit around the hips and reducing excess fabric in the back, Nike has produced a full-coverage, comfortable short that retains much of the original classic design of the Tempo. But unlike 20 years ago when it only came in black and white, today the Nike Tempo is available in a traditional 3.5-inch inseam and a longer 5-inch option, with 24 color and pattern options to choose from for less than $40 a pair. rnrnNike’s Dri-FIT fabrics are perfectly designed for your long runs because the ultra-fine microfibers actually work with your body to quickly move sweat away from the skin to the outside of the short material for quick drying power. Dri-FIT technology also makes for lighter, thinner fabric construction. Mesh side vents around the generous scalloped leg openings add to the cooling ability of these shorts while also creating a streamlined look. Plus, the Nike Tempo is now available in plus and tall sizes, making them one of the most inclusive running short options on the market.rn
- Wicking power: Dri-FIT material leads the field for sweat-wicking power
- Waistband: One inch flat gathered elastic
- Liner brief: Full interior liner brief made from quick-drying polyester
- Pockets: Small interior “drop in” pocket
- Fit: Two inseam length options and scalloped sides with vents provide generous coverage and comfort
Affordable at less than $40 a pair depending on color, pattern, and inseam
Extremely durable and made to last with a relaxed fit
Size-inclusive with two inseam lengths, and plus and tall options
Dri-FIT sweat lifting and wicking material is built to last
Tiny “drop in” interior pocket barely big enough to hold a credit card
Elastic waistband can feel pinchy
Interior drawstring (vs loop design) is just asking to get eaten by the dryer
Who knew that SmartWool, an iconic brand best known for their ultra comfortable wool socks, had branched out to making athletic attire? The beauty of SmartWool’s Merino Sport Lined Short is that it marries a full-coverage, soft merino wool interior brief with a lightweight, recycled fabric outer short for impeccable sweat wicking, odor protection, and comfort. While the short doesn’t come in as many color, size, and pattern options as some of the other brands tested, the Merino Sport Lined Short is my editor’s pick because it is an excellent marriage of breathability, comfort, and functionality.rnrnAccording to experts, Merino sheep, bred to withstand extremely cold climates, produce wool that not only wicks but, “…can absorb and retain up to 30 percent of its own weight in moisture and still feel dry to the touch, whereas most synthetics feel wet after they absorb less than seven percent.” The thin wool fibers of the short’s interior lining not only move sweat away from the skin and help to regulate body temperature, but also provide natural stink resistance because they actually absorb the odors produced by bacteria and release the odor molecules when you wash the fabric. This means you can do more in Merino Sport Lined Shorts without having to launder them as often as non-Merino wool clothing.
- Wicking power: Natural and recycled materials offer excellent breathability, temperature control, and wicking power
- Waistband: Wide and flat, with an interior drawstring
- Liner brief: The secret weapon of these shorts, providing breathability, temperature control, and odor resistance
- Pockets: Both an interior “drop in” pocket and a larger zip pocket
- Fit: Low rise and short inseam with a lightweight, stretchy feel
Excellent moisture wicking, breathability, and comfort
Offer more on-the-go pocket storage than most other big brands
Stretchy fabric and scalloped leg vents maximize movement and style
At a list price of $60, a lot more expensive than other running shorts
Back seam detail can feel irritating on long runs
3-inch inseam length and low rise aren’t for everyone
Less size-inclusive and fewer color and pattern options than some other brands
The Under Armour Women’s Fly-By 2.0 would have been a very strong contender for Best Overall women’s running shorts had the company not eliminated the two deep side pockets in the original design (WHY, UNDER ARMOUR, WHY???). The pockets were, in fact, a distinguishing characteristic of the former model and without them, the more streamlined but storage-lacking Fly-By 2.0 tends to blend in with its competitor, the Nike Tempo in terms of design. With that said, the latest iteration of Fly-By still has a few standout details that make the shorts worthy of a shout out.rnrnFirst and foremost, I do like the flat waistband of the Fly-By 2.0, which conceals a drawstring and a hidden interior “drop in” pocket that is large enough to hold a credit card or key. I also appreciate the full-coverage liner and accommodating leg holes with venting for maximum air circulation and temperature regulation. Under Armour also deserves praise for offering over 90 color and trim options while also being fairly inclusive when it comes to sizing. The price of these running shorts is right, too, at less than $30 depending on your color selection.rn
- Wicking power: Quick-dry and lightweight proprietary UA Moisture Transport System fabric and side vents for breathability and cooling
- Waistband: Flat elastic waistband with interior drawstring
- Liner brief: Full-sized interior brief for maximum coverage and movement
- Pockets: Small “drop in” key/card pocket concealed in the waistband
- Fit: Streamlined design belies the generous leg holes
At less than $30, an affordable and high-quality pick
Excellent moisture-wicking and breathability thanks to UA proprietary fabric
Unmatched variety of color options
Did I mention the lack of side pockets?
Latest design closely resembles the Nike Tempo
Interior drawstring vs loop design is just asking to get eaten by the dryer
If you read my review on the best running shoes for women, you already know I am a huge fan of Brooks running shoes because of their comfort, cushioning, and price. But now I am also a fan of Brooks running attire thanks to the breezy feel and wicking ability of the Brooks Chaser short and the fact that it comes in 3-, 5-, and 7-inch inseam lengths. Although Chaser shorts offer a closer-to-the-body cut than many other women’s running shorts, the three inseam options, higher waistband, and longer hem length in the back do make it easy to feel comfortable and covered on a run while wearing them, which I appreciate. rnrnChock full of wicking recycled polyester materials and with a built-in, breathable liner, and proprietary Smooth Cloud seaming, the anti-chafe Chaser short is designed for comfort, regardless of your preferred inseam length. Brooks doesn’t skimp on storage with the Chaser either, offering a bungee cord to secure your key, a secure back pocket for larger objects like snacks or a small phone, and two waterproof smaller flat waistband pockets perfect for gumballs and snacks.rn
- Wicking power: Proprietary DriLayer technology and a streamlined shape maximize movement and airflow
- Waistband: Flat, smooth elastic design conceals internal storage and adds to streamlined look
- Liner brief: Soft jersey, full-coverage brief with smooth seaming to eliminate chafing
- Pockets: Storage galore with two concealed pockets and a key-keeper cord in the front, and a large zipper pocket in the back
- Fit: Close-to-the-body three different inseam options and a longer hem in back offer max coverage even for the shortest version
Did I mention the Chaser comes in three inseam lengths?
Three pockets offer lots of places to stash keys, food, a credit card, and even a phone
Sleek, fitted design with flat elastic waistband
Full-coverage inner brief feels secure
At a list price of more than $50, these shorts could be cost-prohibitive for budget-conscious runners
Limited size options
Very limited color selection
Contrasting waistband for some color options looks cheap
Why you should trust us
As a retired Marine, I’ve done my fair share of mandatory fun runs, but I didn’t discover the mental and physical pleasures of distance running until midway through my career. Since then, I’ve logged in eight marathons and multiple 50K and 50-mile ultra races. I tend to average between 30 and 45 miles of running per week depending on how much time I have, so you can imagine I have gone through my fair share of running shorts. I wear them more than any other clothes in my closet and I get a heck of a lot of miles out of them. But I don’t want my running shorts to cost a lot of money, and I definitely don’t want them to stink after just a few runs, so comfort, durability, and price are important criteria for me to consider when I need a new pair to power me through my next ultra race.
Types of women’s running shorts
Shopping for running shorts can be overwhelming thanks to the variety of brands, styles, and colors to choose from. But color aside, it’s important to consider which type of women’s running shorts will best accommodate your running needs. Luckily, there are really only three types to mull over when making your shopping decisions: compression, V-notch, and split shorts. Being familiar with the three types will ensure you make the right running short purchase every time.
Compression shorts are made of stretchy fabric that fits closely to the body and provides gentle pressure on the major muscles of the upper legs. They kind of resemble bike shorts. Although some runners (like me) tend not to be comfortable exposing it all to the world, some people prefer compression shorts because they don’t chafe the skin and can improve circulation. According to medical experts, thanks to the pressure they apply to leg muscles, compression shorts may also assist in helping the body recover from injuries like pulled muscles. One medical study recently demonstrated that, “compression clothing may slightly enhance running performance and help reduce inflammation, muscle pain, and damage.”
But don’t confuse compression shorts with bike shorts. According to Nike, “Despite looking like regular athletic shorts, compression shorts have been engineered to apply mechanical pressure on the body to stabilize, support and compress.”
I carry my weight in my thighs, which can be great when it comes to creating an explosive (for me) take-off, but can make it difficult to find running shorts that fit well. Without an upside-down V cut out of the last half-inch or so of the side seams, my running shorts would feel tight and constraining. According to experts, this essential side seam detail provides “greater range of movement” and increased stride length, and most running shorts are of this variety. Some of the shorts we reviewed have a modified, curved V-notch design for greater visual appeal. V-notch running shorts also offer the greatest number of styling and inseam length options.
Have you ever run a race and been passed by a crazy person with their shorts flapping all over the place? Chances are their shorts weren’t torn, but were of the split seam variety. Split side seams provide the greatest range and ease of movement of the three running short varieties because the sides literally are not entirely sewn together and they have the shortest inseam. The benefit is that on race day, these short shorts with open vents on the sides will enable you to fully extend your stride. The bad news is that the loose fabric and scanty design of split shorts may cause other runners to wonder as you blow by them if you left your pants at home.
Key features of women’s running shorts
While some people don’t mind the feeling of their privates flapping in the wind, others like me prefer to feel a bit more secure when we exercise. Call me old-fashioned, but I’ve never been comfortable wearing pants without underwear, so when I run, I prefer shorts that have built-in, breathable underwear or a brief liner. The main point of the liner is to help wick moisture away from your crotch, which, let’s be honest, doesn’t come equipped with a fan and can get pretty sticky during physically demanding activity.
When shopping for running shorts, look for a thin, full-coverage inner brief made from a wicking fabric and with smooth seams. A combination of smooth seams and breathable fabric will help to prevent chafing and prevent your running shorts from giving you a wedgie. Bonus!
Breathable and stretchy fabric
Many name brands tout their proprietary fabrics as better at wicking or regulating body temperature, but the truth is that most runners can get by with off-brand running shorts as long as they are made from non-proprietary nylon, spandex, or polyester. These materials provide stretch and elasticity while also having moisture-wicking characteristics. Interestingly, polyester is derived from plants and is naturally UV-resistant. Spandex, or lycra, is known for its stretch and “snap back” ability. While some natural materials like Merino wool can do the wicking job of synthetics, stay away from cotton when shopping for running clothes, as it actually retains moisture and can increase rubbing and chafing.
If you do choose to purchase running shorts made from proprietary materials, expect to pay more. Regardless of the brand you choose, when shopping for women’s running shorts, look for fabrics that help to move moisture away from the skin, dry quickly, are breathable, and can help regulate body temperature.
Did you know that polyester, nylon, and spandex are all petroleum-based products. These materials also contain plastic microfibers. With our oceans rapidly becoming more plastic than water, purchasing clothing made from sustainable material is more important than ever. One source reports that 9.5 billion liters (the equivalent of over 2.5 billion gallons) of oil are used to manufacture new polyester material each year. Worse, as a plastic and petroleum-based product, “Polyester releases a ton of microfibers into the water every time it is washed, and there is no way this fabric breaks down or biodegrades easily, as it takes up to 200 years to decompose.”
What can you do as a conscious consumer when shopping for women’s running shorts? Opt for companies that incorporate naturally wicking materials into their active wear like SmartWool instead of petroleum-based fabrics, and at a minimum search for companies that use recycled materials in their clothing.
Generally speaking, women’s running shorts come in three different inseam lengths: 3, 5, and 7 inches. Inseam length refers to the measurement of how far the garment extends from the bottom of the inner leg seam to the crotch. I prefer to show less leg when I run, making a 3-inch inseam a bit uncomfortable for me to wear. A 5-inch inseam means the bottom edge of my shorts falls 4 to 6 inches above my knee, making me feel more secure and confident.
Shorts with a 5-inch inseam also tend to be the most versatile and can be used for all different athletic activities, whereas if you showed up to softball practice or the gym wearing split shorts with a 3-inch inseam, you might get arrested for indecent exposure. All kidding aside, the shorter the inseam, the greater your range of movement, which means on race day, many runners opt for the shortest short available. However, if you do a lot of off-road or trail running, having more leg protection via a longer, 7-inch inseam and length that falls just a few inches shy of the knee could be beneficial.
Benefits of women’s running shorts
Good for your physical health
Running short fabrics that wick moisture away from the skin actually draw sweat away from the skin through small holes, allowing the material to dry quickly and helping you to stay cool and better regulate your body temperature. As athletic wear expert Laura Tempesta explained, “It’s similar to roots of a tree that move nutrients from the ground to the branches.” It also happens that the greater the moisture-wicking potential, the lighter the fabric, so clothes that help evacuate sweat efficiently also weigh less.
Wearing sweaty clothes can increase your risk of yeast and fungal infections and clog your pores, causing acne flare-ups. Plus, the less your clothes wick, the more bacteria will be present in your sweaty shorts, making them smell and making you more prone to skin infections. Investing in quality women’s running shorts that wick moisture away from your skin and help regulate your body temperature really is good for your physical health.
Good for your mental health and the environment
They say variety is the spice of life, and I know that is especially true for me when it comes to my running clothes and feeling motivated to exercise. When I am in a running slump, I know that a sure-fire way to get out of it is to buy a new piece of athletic clothing, no matter how inexpensive or small. Wearing a cute, colorful pair of sweat-wicking running shorts with a corresponding sports bra and tank top not only keeps me cool, but also makes me feel more confident and excited to run. The more I run, the better I feel physically and mentally and the faster and stronger I am, which creates an upward mental health spiral.
Since confidence is a sign of good mental health, having some high-quality, visually appealing women’s running shorts in your collection is important. Additionally, the more good pairs of running shorts you have, the less laundry you will need to do, and the more water you will save. So having several pairs of high-quality, well-fitting, and eye-catching running shorts is not only good for you psychologically, but good for the environment, too.
Pricing considerations for women’s running shorts
According to the consumer advisory group Brandefy, big brands “spend big money to convince you to remember their name and buy their product and then charge you for that ‘privilege’ in the form of higher prices at the shelf. Sometimes it’s worth paying this premium, but a quality store brand duplicant can often deliver you the exact same value at a significantly lower price…”
The fact is that fabrics long valued for their breathability and moisture-wicking like polyester, nylon, spandex, and wool are not owned by a specific corporation. Therefore, clothing made from these materials won’t translate into higher costs for you as a consumer. Even better, many knock off brand styles mimic those of big brands to the “t” without costing more. Look no further than the less than $25 Blooming Jelly Quick Dry Running Short compared to Lulu Lemon’s $58 Tracker Low Rise for just one example. Same design and similar wicking and breathability capacity at half the price? Siign me up for the budget version!
With a value of $30B, Nike is the most profitable clothing brand in the world. But being the world’s most well-known athletic wear brand doesn’t come cheap. Most big brand companies pay big bucks for advertising, placement of their logos on athletic stadiums, and developing proprietary materials and technology, and all of those costs are passed down to some extent to the consumer. That means mid-tier name-brand running shorts from brands like Nike and Under Armour will most likely run you between $25 and $40.
I have noticed that when I buy cheaper running shorts, interior liner elasticity tends to be the first thing to go, resulting in that saggy diaper feeling after a few months. I have also noticed that odor control technology can be a great advantage of mid-tier shorts, since they tend to contain more proprietary odor-resistant fabrics. Mid-tier running shorts produced by big brands also tend to be trendier and fit better. So there is something to be said about the reliability of big brands and the benefits that come from their technological advances. The bottom line is that if you are willing to spend between $25 and $40, you may get a better fit and more life out of your running shorts and smell better in the process.
It costs money to manufacture innovative athletic clothing, and proprietary technology, manufacturing materials, and processes will translate into higher consumer costs. If you are willing to pay more than $40 for a pair of running shorts, you will most likely benefit from the latest proprietary materials and styles that make for higher-quality, au currant fashion athletic wear. Paying more will get you better-fitting shorts that won’t retain odor even after being washed made from fabrics that won’t fray because the fibers lose their elasticity after going through the drier a few times.
However, the cost-benefit analysis tends to top out fairly quickly past $50. And face it– an $80 pair of shorts won’t shave minutes, or even seconds, off of your run time, making paying anything more than $50 a questionable investment in your athletic comfort and performance. You may look up to date in terms of the latest fashion and have a big brand logo plastered on your shorts if you spend more, but that’s about it.
How we chose our top picks
While I like to have a variety of women’s running shorts in my PT clothing drawer since I wear them so much, call me cheap, but I don’t want to spend an arm and a leg on them. I also don’t like my running shorts to smell or lose their stretch or ability to wick sweat away from my skin after a few washes. So the main criteria for selection were price point, wicking ability, the comfort and construction of the interior brief, overall fit, and the comfort and construction of the waistband.
Finally, I like to have the ability to bring stuff with me when I am out for runs, whether to store easy-to-reach gumballs or a chapstick, or to hold my debit card so I can stop for a Diet Coke on the way home. As a result, pockets were another important selection criteria for my top women’s running short picks.
FAQs on women’s running shorts
You’ve got questions, Task & Purpose has answers.
Q: Why do women’s running shorts have liners?
A: It isn’t just women’s running shorts that come with liners. Many men’s running shorts have them, too. In addition to providing support for your nether regions, a running short liner helps wick moisture away from your crotch, which, let’s be honest, doesn’t come equipped with a fan and can get pretty sticky during physically demanding activity. A good liner can also help maintain your body temperature.
Q: Why is there netting in women’s running shorts?
A: Netting or mesh inserts commonly found in the legs of women’s running shorts serve as vents to allow heat and moisture to escape. They also promote circulation and airflow, keeping you cool and dry on your runs.
Q: What do female athletes wear under their running shorts?
A: There is no one right answer to this question (and shame on you for asking!), but most female athletes don’t wear anything under their shorts, particularly if their running shorts come with a breathable liner that wicks moisture away from the skin. If they wear shorts without a brief-style liner, they might wear spandex or compression-style underwear. The crazy thing is that when I asked Google this question, 37,000,000 results showed up, indicating that the world is a very, very sick place.
Q: Will the proprietary fabric in my women’s running shorts help me run faster?
A: Unless you are the beautiful and accomplished Elaine Thompson-Herah, sadly, chances are, no. While proprietary fabrics may help you stay cooler and drier for longer, you won’t likely run much faster as a result of wearing them. The costs passed down to the consumer for brand name logo notoriety, proprietary fabrics, or manufacturing processes all add up, making it worth investing in some running shorts that perhaps lack proprietary technology or materials but are able to wick sweat away from your skin.
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Kate Germano served in the Marine Corps from 1996 to 2016. She’s a closet gear freak who enjoys schlepping packs with her better half on long Appalachian Trail section hikes. She’s also into true crime, Qwirkle tournaments, and animals, but definitely not Dungeons and Dragons.