How to Choose Running Shorts

How to Choose Running Shorts

Shorts are shorts, right? Wrong. If you’re going to be logging a lot of miles in running shorts, you want to pay attention to more than fit and style. Details like length, fabric, features, and alternative designs all make a difference.  


“Traditional” running shorts are a combination of a loose-fitting outer short over an interior brief. (The two are sewn together.) Inseam length varies from about 3 inches to 7 inches. Shorter shorts and longer shorts with stretch tend to provide the most mobility. 

The outer short, sometimes referred to as the “shell,” is generally made of a polyester/nylon blend. Some outer shorts are slightly stretchy or incorporate stretchy paneling.

Interior briefs are typically made of a stretchy, sweat-wicking polyester blend, merino wool or a wool blend, and are often treated with an antimicrobial finish or made with antimicrobial fibers. Fit varies, so you’ll want to determine if you want a more relaxed or more supportive feel.  

Outer Short Only

Outer shorts without a brief or interior liner are favored by runners who prefer wearing their own underwear beneath an exterior shell.  


“2-N-1” shorts feature an interior, compression or compression-like long short underneath a traditional outer shell. Some offer compression benefits—muscle support and increased circulation. Others simply provide more coverage and a greater surface area of sweat-wicking material compared to an interior brief.


True compression shorts fit tightly and offer compressive benefits, aiming to provide muscle and joint support and increased circulation. Shorts offering true, medical-grade compressive benefits will state claims clearly, so read product descriptions.


Short, tight-fitting shorts that lack an interior brief, mainly constructed for women, are called “boy shorts” or “booty shorts” (the latter because they hug the booty). These provide great mobility.


Skorts made for running feature an exterior short skirt over an interior boy short or bootie short, or an interior running brief (less common). Skorts can be cooler than shorts, but that depends on the breathability of the interior liner.



Most shorts come with at least one pocket that can hold a key. That pocket is often found on the interior liner, but is sometimes an exterior zippered pocket in the back. Additional pocketing for items like gels and lip balm varies between shorts. Some pockets will have zippered closures (great for a key), while others will be open or with an envelope-style opening (great for gels or other items needed mid-run).

Consider what you’d like to carry in your shorts on a run (as opposed to carrying in a hydration system or elsewhere on your body). Run shirtless or in just a sports bra? You might want more shorts pockets.  


If you plan on wearing running shorts while doing other training like mobility/stretching, where you lie with the small of your back on the floor, search for shorts without a zippered back pocket. A zippered back pocket is great for security but you don’t want that key under you if you’re laying on the ground. 

All articles are for general informational purposes.  Each individual’s needs, preferences, goals and abilities may vary.  Be sure to obtain all appropriate training, expert supervision and/or medical advice before engaging in strenuous or potentially hazardous activity.