How to choose running shorts

6 min read

When you think about gearing up for running, you think primarily about finding the right shoes. But dialing in the right clothing is just as important and scoring a comfortable pair of running shorts is no exception. In this guide, you’ll find all our advice on how to find the men’s and women’s shorts that are so comfortable you won’t even think about them while you’re training or during a race.

Which material?

Whether you’re trail running or road running you need shorts that are comfortable, lightweight, and that dry quickly. So you should only look for shorts made from a synthetic fabric (like polyester) that features just the right amount of stretch.

For intense activities it’s usually best to avoid cotton clothing and here’s why. Although cotton clothing is comfortable, it absorbs and retains moisture from perspiration. Cotton clothing also takes a long time to dry which causes an unpleasant cold and damp feeling after your workout.

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What length?

Finding the best running short length is a very personal choice.

For example, among Salomon runners François D'Haene, uses fairly long shorts which provide good protection and muscular support, especially over long distances, thanks to the integrated compression short. On the other hand, Kilian Jornet prefers the minimalism of short shorts. So choosing the length of your shorts should be based on what you prefer in terms of things like support, length, and the kind of running you most enjoy.

  • For road running and short trail runs in hot weather, short shorts of 4-5" (12-13 cm) are suitable due to their light weight and the freedom of movement they provide. Women often feel better running in short shorts.
  • In trail running and particularly for long-distance runs (like ultra-trails), long shorts of 6-7" (15-18cm) provide better protection against the sun and additional warmth if the temperature happens to drop. They are also more suitable for the integration of a longer inner short for better muscle support in the thighs.

For those who run in cold, rain, or winter weather you can go with tights or a pair of overpants that can be worn over your shorts. Some runners also like to wear shorts over their tights.

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What type of liner?

There are two main types of running shorts:

  • Shorts with integrated underwear are the most common. Support is provided by briefs, boxers, or tights depending on the model. These shorts offer a high level of comfort with excellent friction management, especially between the thighs. Runners looking for thigh support will be especially interested in integrated compression shorts.
    Twinskin™ construction is a Salomon exclusive that features a fitted stretch inner short and a loose overshort without overlapping at the crotch. This results in reduced friction and greater comfort.

Depending on the level of thigh support you’re looking for, you can choose an integrated muscle support shorts or compression shorts, which are tighter and promote increased blood circulation.

Women can also choose a skort which is a skirt with integrated boyshorts. These are ideal as part of a light summer outfit, even for long distances!

  • Shorts without integrated underwear give you the freedom to wear whatever underwear or compression shorts you choose underneath. So you can combine this type of short with different types of underwear depending on what your needs for the day are in terms of weight, protection, and support.

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How to choose the right size short

The key to choosing the right model of running shorts is comfort. If you’re unsure of the length, type of construction or the size of your shorts simply choose the one that feels the best to run in.  

Some people prefer to have a lot of support and a close fit. To choose the right size compression shorts, refer to the manufacturer’s size guide.  

If you prefer to forget about your shorts as soon as you put them on, you’ll probably like shorter models with the most comfortable integrated underwear possible such as briefs or boxers, even if it means having little or no muscle support. Just make sure to choose a size that fits well enough to stay in place when you’re running, especially if you use the integrated pockets in the waistband.

Details to look for in a short’s waistband

Most running shorts have an elastic waistband that usually has an integrated drawstring as well.

High-end shorts will feature waistbands with wider, more ergonomic stretch fabrics (the cut for men and women will be different) and can include storage pockets. These waistbelts offer much better comfort and less friction during your runs. You’ll find these features on more expensive models in the ‘performance’ and trail running ranges.

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How many pockets should your shorts have?

We don’t recommend hand pockets on running shorts because they lack support and whatever you put in these pockets will bounce around uncomfortably when you run.

Instead look for pockets that are integrated into the short’s waistband that allow you to carry a small flask of water, a gel or energy bar, a lightweight layer, or simply your keys. A phone pocket is sometimes provided on the back but be aware of moisture from perspiration.

Some linings also feature small pockets, usually in the front and back.

If you want to increase your autonomy on long runs by carrying more equipment, or clothing then use a running belt, backpack or vest. You can find our advice for making the best choice in our article “How to choose a running backpack.

Check out our running belts and backpacks.

Now you know the main features to look for when choosing your running shorts. Once again, comfort should be your primary focus because these days we know that comfort = performance. In other words, comfort = the joy of running!

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