By Gear Editor, Ashley Hunter Arnold
The ideal pair of trail running shorts offers a delicate balance of function, comfort, durability, and fashion. They are so comfortable that we don’t notice them on ourselves and yet so fashionable we can’t help but notice them on someone else. They have secure pockets — and the right amount of them — to carry precisely what we need when we need to carry it. And they outlast a spring of glissading down snow on our rear and a summer of repetitively sitting on parking lot pavement at the trailhead.
Like any piece of clothing we wear, they also contain a story about who we are, where we’ve been and where we’re going. They’re fit for both running up mountains and running errands after. What’s more, they come short and long and loose and tight and underneath a skirt and muted and bright.
And so, based on feedback from a diligent Trail Sisters testing crew, we rounded up some of the best trail running shorts on the market this summer and put them through the paces — mud, snow, rain, rocks, dirt, even pavement. It was hard, but we narrowed it down to our top picks. Read on to find out which shorts/skorts made the Trail Sister’s cut!
Made with: Nylon and spandex with a microbial finish.
This truly made-for-it-all pair of four-inch stretch shorts offers next-to-skin comfort, look-good-on-everyone compression and, of course, the exceptional durability you’ve come to expect from Patagonia.
Why we picked them: High scores in versatility, comfort and flatter factors. Plus, they’re made by a responsible, do-good company.
Here’s what TS testers Blaire Speed and Anne Wheatly had to say:
These are the softest, lightest booty shorts to grace this ginger’s derrière. The fabric—though light and soft to the touch—offers excellent coverage and no ‘peek-a-butt’ see-through spots.
They contoured and sat well on my body without squeezing me in or feeling loose. Not only have I worn these on my trail runs and enjoyed them, but I’ve also worn them to yoga—bending and contorting in all sorts of ways—and still felt comfortable and confident!
I’ve run many miles in the Montana Backcountry wearing these “shorty shorts” without painful chafing and with minimal ride up (nothing irritates me quite like having to pull my shorts down). Important to note, though: I live in Montana where we have very little humidity. I recently took a trip down to Florida and my experience was very different: My thighs stuck together. So, while I love these shorts in dry weather, I would not recommend them in humidity if you experience chafing issues with shorter shorts.
Outside of humidity-infused thigh chafing, I only have one complaint: The two side pockets are pretty small—I couldn’t fit much more than a couple of gels.
I ran some faster road mileage on very hot and humid days as well as some intense trail miles on rainy days—all averaging about 8 miles each. I also wore them hiking, walking, lounging … they may have even made a few quick grocery store runs. However, I was hesitant to track longer mileage because I was afraid they might chafe (they were a little big on me, so I recommend buying a size smaller than you think you need).
Overall, I like them! The material is light and quick drying. The pockets were convenient and used often. And the thick waist band was flattering and laid nicely on my waist. My only complaint: No key pocket.
$49 – BUY NOW
Made with: various types of polyester (including some recycled polyester) and elastane.
The durable Better Than Naked Split Shorts with a three-inch inseam are well-designed for long days on the trails. They’re super light, breathable and quick-drying, no matter the climate. Plus, a large zipper pocket provides ample storage room for everything from several gels to a smartphone.
Why we chose them: Soft touch, quick drying fabric and continued comfort for long trail days.
Here’s what TS tester, Blair Speed had to say:
I didn’t know what “BTN” stood for when I first starting wearing these shorts … and I’m glad I didn’t so I could come to my own conclusions. When I first put them on it did felt covered with soft, fluffy cumulus clouds. These shorts truly are “Better Than Naked!” And, bonus: I won’t get arrested for nudity when I’m running errands after my runs.
I was hesitant to run in them at first, as thigh chaffing is a life-long battle for me. And, I’m 5’10’’ so these shorts are much shorter than I’ve gone in the past. They are short and sleek and must weigh .00001 pounds! … Did I mention the cloud-like feeling? Plus, a zippered back pocket provides enough key storage and more and a larger (not zipper secured) pocket offers even more stashing capacity.
These shorts have quickly moved their way up into my regular rotation. In fact, I’d recommend them so much I’ve already ordered another pair.
$55 – BUY NOW
Made with: A polyester and spandex combination.
The Comet Skirt is ideal for trail-to-town use. It’s comfortable, durable, quick drying and, overall, hassle free. It’s the running skirt you simply don’t notice you’re wearing … and that’s a good thing!
Why we picked it: Versatility, comfort and flatter factors.
Here’s what TS tester Meesh Metcalf had to say:
I wore this running skirt to the gym while lifting, on my long run the next day, and on a date after that! I LOVE IT! The built-in shorts are long enough to prevent chafing on long runs and the over skirt is form-fitting, cute and flattering.
It has a drawstring to cinch the waist when you’re miles in and a large pocket on the back of the waist that’s big enough to fit my iPhone! Plus, it didn’t smell awful after sweating in it for 20 hot miles (impressive). And, to top off its greatness, I also liked the color—bright enough to be seen by oncoming traffic (should you be running on a road or in town) without being obnoxious (it comes in two color options: berry and mint).
Conclusion: Highly recommend!
$59 – BUY NOW
Made with: compression mesh and stretch-woven poly/spandex blend.
What started as an April Fools Day joke in 2015, quickly became a reality thanks to a successful Kickstarter campaign later that same year: a skirt you can pee (and poop) in without even taking off! And, according to our testers, it really works!
Why we picked it: Versatility and a high score for practical innovation geared specifically for women.
Here’s what TS tester Tressa Breindel had to say:
Hmmm, brilliant. Interesting. More comfortable than I anticipated! The shorts underneath fit a bit more snug (like a true biker short) and were longer (again, like bike shorts). I suspect the snugness of the legs was because the shorts were essentially crotchless. They hugged my butt in a lovely way!!. The flap un-velcroed from the front.
Honestly, I think this is great. I was taught some years ago how to pee standing, and it is still one of my most prized skills … but you have to have the right shorts. The Gotta Go Skirt now allows all women to enjoy the modesty of peeing outdoors without exposing our derriere!
I was skeptical at first, however, upon seeing them. They looked bulky, the velcro “escape hatch” too cumbersome. I’m now surprised about how comfortable they are.
One drawback for me: The long undershorts felt too hot for summer running. But, overall, the Gotta Go Skirt, is a well thought out concept and a piece I’d recommend.
$79 – BUY NOW (Gotta Go Skirt)
$87 – BUY NOW (Gotta Go Capri Skirt)
Made with: spandex and polyester blend.
Fun, inspiring and playful colors make up the entire Janji clothing line, a running collection created to connect people around the world and give back 10% of every sale to people in need of clean water (which is 1 in 10 humans world wide). The Camila Race Short comes in a festive pattern inspired by the streets of Cusco, Peru. They have a 4-inch inseam, comfortable and flattering compression material plus a large back zippered pocket for easy storage. The waist band is thick, though, and the sizing is smaller than you might expect.
Why we picked them: They come from a creative and responsible company that uses fashion forward designs with a cultural influence. Plus, they are uber flattering and well made.
Here’s what TS tester Becca Prichard had to say:
I have a confession: I have a bit of a phobia of wearing boy shorts in public. I quit competitive running about five years ago, and since then, my body has changed. I traded my spandex for baggy shorts and skorts that mask my growing thighs and butt. So when I found out that I was wear-testing some booty shorts, I was filled with all kinds of anxiety.
These shorts look great right out of the box! The colors are bold, and the pattern is fun. The waistband is thick and holds things in place. I also like that there is a key pocket on the back. The key pocket zipper is slanted, and I think it is intentional, but I don’t think it adds anything to the design. Maybe people will ponder the zipper configuration instead of judging my butt? We’ll see.
Anyway, I reluctantly took my first run in boy shorts in over five years … and it was surprisingly pleasant! It was kind of like my first time skinny dipping—at first, I felt naked and exposed, but once I got over that, I felt comfortable and free. The Camila shorts don’t ride up as much as boy shorts I have donned in the past. I didn’t have to tug at them every five seconds. They allowed me to forget about potential wardrobe malfunctions and focus on the real reason I was out there—to run. I wore them on longer runs on sunny days and a recovery run in the rain, and I experienced no chafing or discomfort. I even had a random moose encounter while I was wearing these shorts. She stopped, I stopped, and we had a stare down for a couple of minutes until she finally walked away. Maybe she just wanted to admire my shorts?
Anyway, I’m excited to know about this brand. Their clothes are functional, comfortable and fashionable. They may have also shattered my “no boy shorts” policy—which is huge!
$49 – BUY NOW
made with: 87-percent recycled materials (polyester) and 13-percent elastane.
Lole’s Trace Shorts are light, stretchy, fast drying and made with mostly recycled materials so you can feel good about buying these Canadian-made short shorts (the inseam is 2.5 inches). Plus, the waistband is wide, comfortable and flattering and the fabric offers a 50-plus UPF.
Why we chose them: They received the highest marks for “minimal” or “short shorts” from all the pieces we tested. Plus, they come from a female-only brand with eco conscious practices.
Here’s what TS tester Kate Schwartz had to say:
The first time I ran in these, I kept touching my butt to feel if the bottom flap was flying up. They feel so light and free! These must be called “Trace” shorts because a trace is all you feel. Everything stays covered in the shorts, but they still feel super light and airy. I noticed that the crotch bunches up a little while running, but that part isn’t uncomfortable or noticeable when walking around in them. The bright pattern is fun. (Editor’s note: The shorts come in Fiery Coral, Black, Dark Charcoal Fleurs and Lagoon Blue Fleurs [the color Kate tested].)
The shorts are constructed with 87% recycled polyester from plastic bottles–so cool! The other 13% is elastane, so they have a pretty good stretch. The texture is not super silky but soft enough. The liner is a black nylon brief with a softer feel than the exterior fabric of the shorts. I could barely tell it was there. I must have pockets in my shorts, and these have one small one on the back waistband, just right for storing a key or a gel, but nothing more.
Altogether, I like the look and feel of these shorts, and they will definitely make it into my regular rotation.
$60 – BUY NOW
Made with: a poly/spandex combo
A pair of breezy-light, four-inch inseam shorts well made for long days on the trail. They wick moisture like magic, hold tons of supplies (seven pockets!), have a thick and flattering waist band, and they’re made in California—same place as company headquarters—so you can feel good about purchasing a product with a way low carbon footprint.
Why we chose them: While the plentiful pockets are reason enough, they also fit well on everyone that tested them, created no chafing issues and are made right here in the USA.
Here’s what TS tester Leah Knickerbocker had to say:
I was super pumped to test these pretty blue running shorts from Rabbit, my first experience with anything from this company.
They boast soft, comfy fabric and seven pockets. I excitedly took them out of the package and hunted around to find all seven of the unique pockets (side ‘trash’ pockets, back pockets, one zippered pocket and two front pockets hidden in the flat, mesh waistband).
The most substantial run I did with these shorts, was an early morning point-to-point adventure on the Bridger Mountains ridge line outside of Bozeman, MT. The run was 10.5 miles with 3,700 feet of elevation gain and 5,000 feet of elevation loss. I was loaded up for a long run (food, water, electrolytes, hydration pack, etc.), as the elevation gain and rocky terrain meant I’d be out for over 3 hours.
The side ‘trash’ pockets were excellent for my discarded gummy and bar wrappers. I also ended up tucking my iPod shuffle and cord into one of the front two waistband pockets. The front pocket made it easy to access and flip through my favorite tunes while I ran, and the flat, mesh, waistband kept everything secure and comfortable.
The shorts didn’t chafe at all (yay!), and even after 10-plus miles and lots of ups and downs, I didn’t have any issues with ride up. And, despite a lot of sweating (it was really hot), they dried fast.
All in all, the Dirt Pounders proved to be able to “pound the dirt” quite well. I give them five stars!
$62 – BUY NOW