The running short appears to be a fairly simple garment, but there is much more to these diminutive trousers than meets the eye.
Designed to provide you with the maximum freedom to move, running shorts come with a variety of styles to suit distinct types of runners and running.
So, whether you gobble up the track, ravage local roads, or thump through the toughest trails, there’s a short suited perfectly to your needs.
There are many elements differentiating the various styles of shorts. These include length, whether they have lining or a compression layer underneath, what materials are used, and the type of fit.
Your running and training type will dictate the style of short best suited to your needs, giving you the best chance to perform at your best.
What length of running shorts should I go for?
While there are no hard and fast rules, different short lengths lend themselves to different purposes. Have a look at some of the scenarios befitting the scale of short lengths.
Short length (three-inch)
Shorts that finish high up the thigh provide the best ventilation and range of movement when you run, which is why they are favoured by competitive runners in general. They’re ideal for both sprinting and long-distance road running (such as a marathon) as their technical construction, lightweight and non-restrictive cut makes them the ideal choice for all-out performance.
Medium length (five-inch)
Providing a balance between the aggressive competitiveness of the short-short and the robustness of the long, medium-length shorts give you the best of both worlds. The most popular style among runners, the medium short is a versatile garment for the modern runner and ideal for those who vary their training from track to trail.
Long length (seven-inch)
For shorter running distances a longer short is often preferred. These shorts are also perfect for changeable conditions, as well as running off-road, offering you protection against debris or shrubs. It’s important, however, to ensure the material used will not retain heat or moisture and disrupt your comfort. Look for sweat-wicking fabrics and ventilation to ensure they don’t hamper your performance. This style of short is also more likely to have pockets for quick and easy storage.
Running shorts explainer
While the various lengths provide a basic idea of the type of shorts you need for your running discipline, there are a number of other features to look out for. There can be, however, some confusion about the purpose of these features, so here’s a look at some of the frequent questions asked…
Where are running shorts measured from?
The measurement used for running shorts is the inner seam - that is, the distance between the bottom of the short’s leg and the seam at the base of the crotch. For those of around average height, a three-inch short will finish on your upper thigh, a 5" short should approach the mid-thigh area, and a 7" short will finish just above the knee.
What are split running shorts?
Split running shorts take the advantages of short-length shorts a step further, and are the garment of choice for serious runners taking part in a competitive race or seeking to break a PB. They provide super-lightweight comfort and complete freedom of movement.
Why do running shorts have a lining in the inside?
If you’re new to running, it may surprise you to learn you’re not supposed to wear underwear under your running shorts. An inner lining is instead provided to keep you secure and comfortable, and wearing another layer of underwear underneath can cause chafing and discomfort. The shorts and the lining are designed to keep you ventilated and fresh over long distances, where the build-up of sweat and constant motion could cause a nasty rub. An increasingly common alternative to using a lining inside the shorts is to incorporate compression materials under the shorts.
Why do runners wear compression shorts?
As mentioned above, compression shorts can be incorporated into traditional shorts to act as a replacement for the inner lining. These are known as 2-in-1 shorts. Compression can contribute to better blood flow, muscle activation, and general comfort.
Do compression shorts help prevent chafing?
With less moving parts, as it were, compression wear can greatly reduce chaffing. With rubbing fabrics eliminated, you can run further and in more comfort than ever before. Be sure not to wear underwear under compression fabrics or these benefits can be quickly undone.
Shorts type for trail, track, or road
Here are some examples of various shorts at differing lengths and for different disciplines to help you find the right style for you. Of course, the shorts below are categorised only to illustrate their likely use, so choose whatever type of short makes you most comfortable no matter your preferred terrain or running style.
Shorts for the trail runner
Trail and urban runners tend to wear tougher gear and can afford to wear slightly heavier kit. 2-in-1 shorts provide extra protection from the elements and comfortable support even on the longest of routes.
Combining a moderately compressive liner with a looser outer-layer, these 2-in-1 shorts from Salomon perform just as well on the road as the trail. The inner is made with a 4-way stretch fabric to provide increased mobility, while a zipped pocket and stretch waist offer added convenience.
The OMM Pace Short is highly functional and features two mesh pockets big enough for trail essentials like gels, windshorts, compasses. Flexible, durable, and soft, these shorts will provide comfortable performance cool comfort on the most challenging mountain runs.
Comfortable, stylish, breathable, and fast-drying, the Montane Women's Snap Shorts will help you push your running distance even farther with their super-wicking Apex-Dry Mesh inner brief, side elasticated gel pockets and reflective details.
Shorts for the track runner
The track runner is generally looking for super-light shorts that provide freedom of movement for aggressive sprints or the long strides of distance running.
The Under Armour Women's Qualifier Speedpocket 2-in-1 Short is cut to give a non-restrictive fit and allow for maximum freedom of movement. Ideal for tempo runs and races and the built-in brief means they're also great for workouts incorporating bigger strides, lunges or squats.
Stay dry, focused and strong with these men's race-ready shorts designed in soft, lightweight, quick-drying fabric for lasting comfort. The placement of the seams ensures freedom of movement with no chafing. A small zip pocket gives you just enough room for some cash and your keys.
The dhb 3" Run Shorts are a great all-rounder for a variety of activity. Highly functional materials draw sweat away from your skin and help keep you dry and comfortable and there's a hidden front pocket for keys.
Shorts for the road runner
The road runner needs a versatile garment that is as happy in the sun as it is in the rain, and these shorts deliver on both counts.
Lightweight, durable and functional, the Reebok Running 18 cm Woven Shorts are equally at home in the gym or out on the road. There's a secure pocket for valuables and 360 reflective elements add visibility for those early-morning or evening runs.
Take on the great outdoors with the dhb Aeron Women's 4" Run Liner Short. The 4-way stretch fabric combined with microfresh moisture management technology keeps you cool, dry and comfortable even as your workout heats up.
Support the fight against ocean plastic with the Adizero Short Tights. They feature ECONYL® regenerated yarn and are part of the Parley for the Oceans collaboration. These semi-fitted shorts follow the shape of the body for a comfortable, unrestricted run.