Finding the right pair of shorts for a long ultramarathon can become obsessive when you take into account the combined damage that a misplaced seam or a quitter liner can do over the time it takes to run one of these races. I’ve trained in a pair of shorts for weeks prior to an ultra without negative incidents only to find myself in chafe city by mile 30 with no lube in sight. Changing weather conditions, humidity, aridity, and salty skin can cause running shorts to perform great in some conditions and poorly in others. Nothing… I repeat nothing, is worse than that post-ultra shower when you’ve chosen poorly.
Besides shoes, my running shorts are really the only piece of gear that I overscrutinize. After a rather unfortunate event at the 2014 Run Rabbit Run 100 Mile where I succeeded in flaying the skin off of the outside of my ass cheeks, wearing a now out-of-production pair of Pearl Izumi shorts that I’d previously run thousands of miles in, short selection became somewhat more of a priority. My hope is that the following gear beta will allow readers to avoid this sort of mishap and spend their money wisely as running shorts are not always the cheap commodity they once were.
After exhaustive testing and obsessing, these are what I consider to be the best ultrarunning shorts on the market. I look at a number of things when reviewing shorts, including a chafe-free fit, durability when I fall, the ability to dry quickly, and the functionality of the pockets. While I have not tested every pair of shorts on the market, there are many that didn’t make the cut.
Best Overall: Patagonia Strider Pro Shorts
While I tend to like the shorties, most runners like a little bit more length. The Patagonia Strider Pro Shorts ($59) comes in both five- and seven-inch lengths. I initially tested these in 2015 and something just felt off about the cut. This spring, I purchased several pair as I’d heard they changed the design. I love that these shorts, made of 100% polyester micro dobby (50% recycled), do well in cold, wet weather thanks to an effective durable water repellant (DWR) as well as in hot weather. A couple of inches of split on the sides allows for freedom of movement and keeps the shorts from bunching up, and Patagonia ingeniously put the drawstring on the outside of shorts so there isn’t any discomfort.
However, the best feature of the Strider Pro shorts are the four spandex pockets and a large zipper pocket. I can carry up to four gels without any bounce and many more if I don’t mind a little movement. Additionally, the zipper pocket is great to secure items like my keys or a credit card. The durability of these shorts is fantastic and my pair from two years ago look brand new and the liners have kept their elasticity.
Best Hot-Weather Short: The North Face Better Than Naked Split Shorts
You may find yourself asking why a simple split short would cost $55? The answer is because these splits, The North Face Better Than Naked Split Shorts, are simply the best on the market and they are available in three- or five-inch lengths for the more modest. While I don’t own the latest design, I’ve been wearing the Better Than Naked shorts for two seasons straight and they truly live up to their name. If I’m encountering heat or high humidity, this is what I’m putting on.
The newest version sports three large pockets on the back of the shorts and one very large zip pocket that sits higher up than most designs, which offers less bounce. The North Face’s polyester FlashDry fabric dries incredibly quickly and so far I haven’t been able to put a hole in them despite dozens of falls and snagging them on a barbed-wire fence. The liners are barely there but keep their integrity for years.
Best Two-in-One Short: The North Face Flight Series Warp Knit Dual Shorts
Two-in-one shorts are great when the weather is cool or you’re a runner with chronic chafe-age. I’ve tried a ton of two-in-one shorts and I’ve always found that they lack the support of a brief liner and become quitters over time. With The North Face Flight Series Warp Knit Dual Shorts ($150), you get incredible technology along with that sticker shock! The warp-knit inner layer is absolutely seamless and plenty supportive without providing compression, and I mean absolutely seamless. The inner shorts are 10 inches long–but don’t protrude from the bottom of the outer short unless you’re sitting down–and the polyester outer short woven with FlashDry is 5.5 inches long.
A brushed waistband is made of soft and elastic fabric for all-day comfort and an internal waistband is non-intrusive. I really enjoyed the comfort of these shorts during the overnight portion of my recent ultra as they provided some support without feeling tight and a little bit of warmth when the temps got down in the forties. With three large elastic pockets on the back, you have plenty of storage that has almost no bounce due to the security of the liner.
Best Wet-Weather Shorts: Altra Trail Shorts
I know, weird category, but the unique fabric of the Altra Trail Shorts ($60) performs great in wet conditions. The outer short is made of 90% polyester with 10% polyurethane and it really seems to shed water well. With a long seven-inch profile, wide waistband, and a gusseted crotch, I found the Trail Short surprisingly comfortable.
These shorts also have some of the most impressive pockets on the market, including a back pocket that easily accommodates my iPhone 6. I can fit a ton of gels in these shorts with pretty limited bounce. The liner is one of the most comfortable I’ve worn and seems to be maintaining its elasticity. While the polyurethane blend is great for wet or cold weather, these would not be shorts I’d choose for hot conditions. However, for daily running in dry and cool conditions, they perform well with a lot longer profile than I am typically comfortable wearing. This short is great for a long day in the mountains when you may encounter a lot of weather while wanting some extra coverage and storage.
Why would anyone pay $150 for a pair of shorts, you may be asking? With the allure of minimalism calling for the cheapest split shorts on the market, all of this scrutiny might just seem like a huge waste of time and money. However, we spend hundreds (maybe thousands) of hours each year training for goal races and big adventures, as well as thousands of dollars in signup fees and travel. Why not have your gear absolutely dialed? Most ultrarunners would never skimp on shoes, yet don’t consider other aspects of their running kit. Additionally, if I can get four to five seasons of running out of a $60 pair of shorts that are made in an environmentally friendly way by an eco-responsible company, then that certainly beats out the $25 throw-away shorts that will be quitters within a season.
Call for Comments (from Meghan)
- Have you men given any of these shorts a shot? If so, can you share your thoughts on them?
- What is your current go-to short for long ultramarathons?
[Editor’s Note: If you’re affiliated (i.e., an employee, ambassador, etc.) with a brand that produces gear in one of the above categories, please share that relation in each of your comments on this article. Thanks!]