Running shorts are not created equal – especially when it comes to trail running, mountain running, and ultrarunning. One of our testers learned this the hard way at the Way Too Cool 50k a few years ago. Her short, fitted shorts had served her well throughout her track-and-field career. But the rough inseams chafed in the California race’s torrential downpour. She crossed the finish line with blood streaming down her legs.
Trail running and ultrarunning shorts must be able withstand the rigors of everything – including chafe protection – from mid-run alpine lake dips to wind-scoured mountain summits. Synthetic and wool fabrics, flat seams, and storage capacity for fuel or your phone set the best trail running and ultrarunning shorts apart from their run-of-the-mill road running and fitness short counterparts.
From racing a 50k through the thick, hot, muggy air of New Hampshire to gasping up to Colorado’s high point of 14,440 feet, we put trail running and ultrarunning shorts on the market in 2021 to the test. As a result, we’ve discovered the best shorts for female-identifying runners who love trails, mountains, and ultra distances. Baggy or tight, short or long, thin or thick waistband – different shorts suit different body types, running gaits, and styles. The best running shorts for you as an individual will be what’s most comfortable and instills you with confidence. While running shorts tend to run pretty pricey, we’ve rounded up the best pairs, including ones that won’t break the bank.
Click on any of the shorts below to skip to its specific review. To learn about what into good women’s running shorts, or how to decide which shorts are right for you, jump down to our buyer’s guide as well as our answers to your most frequently asked questions. Last but not least, click to our testing and methodology section if you’re curious about the rigors we put these shorts through. Let’s dive in!
- Best Overall: Oiselle Featherweight Roga Shorts
- Best Runner-Up: Black Diamond Sprint Shorts
- Best Budget: Decathlon Kalenji Run Dry Running Shorts
- Best Short Inseam: rabbit Mountain Climbers 2.0
- Best Long Inseam: Patagonia Nine Trails Shorts
- Best Fitted Shorts: Tracksmith Allston Long Shorts
- Best Storage: Ultimate Direction Velum Short
- Best of the Rest: Smartwool Merino Sport Lined Short, Craft Pro Hypervent Running Split Shorts
Best Overall: Oiselle Featherweight Roga Shorts ($56)
The Oiselle Featherweight Roga Shorts let you move freely while offering excellent chafe protection – they’re light, moisture wicking, and quick drying. Plus, these shorts come with a functional waistband pocket and a form-fitting style.
Oiselle’s lightest shorts provide just the right level of breathability for even the hottest summer runs. They truly live up to their name, and yet, remain plenty durable to withstand butt sliding down scree fields. Thoughtful paneling and four-way stretch fabric means these shorts move with you, even while taking big steps up and bombing down mountains.
A wide, compressive waistband fits comfortably at the middle of your waist. An infinity drawstring prevents the dreaded muffin top while still letting you adjust the waist to your needs. A mesh pocket running along the back of the waistband offers ample room to stuff those empty wrappers. The pocket is not ideal for something as heavy as a smartphone, though. A phone will bounce unless you really cinch the cord.
You won’t even notice the highly breathable, perfectly sized, mesh built-in liner. A v-shaped four-inch inseam remains longer at the inner thigh and tapers along the side, maximizing chafe protection and yet enhancing freedom of movement and style. Our primary tester turned to the Oiselle Featherweight Roga Shorts for every major outing this summer, including a 50-mile fastest known time effort in muggy New Hampshire, multiple races, and backpacking trips.
- Inseam: Four inches
- Liner type: Brief
- Extremely quick drying and light
- Wide and comfortable waistband and useful waistband pocket
- Value friendly
- Heavier items such a smartphone will bounce in the pocket
Best Runner-Up: Black Diamond Sprint Shorts ($90)
The Black Diamond Sprint Shorts dry in record time. They offer abundant storage and durable fabric plus smart pleating that protects you on windy summits.
You can tell these shorts were designed by Black Diamond mountain athletes Hillary Gerardi, Joe Grant, and Kyle Richardson. The shorts marry the best qualities of a hiking short and running short to provide an ultralight piece of apparel that can withstand the rigors of big mountain adventures.
These shorts offer the most pockets of any model we tested. One pocket sits toward the front and can hold a light windbreaker or headlamp. A zippered rear pocket is big enough to hold your phone, although that may bounce a bit. Two elastic side pockets can hold gels and snacks, and yet remain almost imperceptible when empty. Unlike many shorts with abundant storage options, these will hardly bounce when loaded down. Plus, a drawcord waistband keeps them secure without bunching or pinching.
The Black Diamond Sprint Shorts come in a stretchy fabric with a water-resistant finish, helping to withstand the elements of harsh mountain days. Other than the waistband, these shorts dry in a snap. Reflective logos on the front and rear help keep you visible in the dark. The liner brief is breathable, comfortable, and fits just right.
These shorts are available in both 2.5- and four-inch inseams. Our primary tester wore the four-inch inseam all summer. The inseams can ride up every once in a while, but it’s a minor concern. For their first pair of running shorts, Black Diamond hit it out of the park with a pair of shorts uniquely suited to long mountain days ranging from cold and rainy to hot and muggy.
- Inseam: 2.5 and four inches
- Liner type: Brief
- Quick drying
- Lots of storage
- No longer inseam option
- May ride up a little
- Waistband and drawstring are slightly bulky
Best Budget: Decathlon Kalenji Run Dry Running Shorts ($13)
It’s a miracle you can find a pair of acceptable running shorts for $13, but here they are in the Decathlon Kalenji Run Dry Running Shorts. These liner-less shorts are soft, moisture wicking, and stretchy.
Decathlon claims they cut costs on the retail and marketing end – not the materials end. They also claim their state-of-the-art production process helps keep manufacturing costs way down. Whether that’s entirely true or not, these no-frills, liner-less shorts hold their own in the specialty run retail category. A spandex and polyester blend make for stretchy shorts that move with you and are soft on your skin. A small side split adds a little more freedom of movement.
A thin drawstring cord lets you tighten the waistband to your specifications. A large zip pocket in the back of the wide waistband is big enough to hold a phone, although that will bounce. The one major pro or con of these shorts, depending on personal preference, is the lack of a built-in liner. Given you can find high performance briefs in the $25 range and you may already have them, these shorts remain an economical option. The Kalenji Run Dry Running Shorts also get Decathlon’s eco-friendly stamp of approval, whatever that means. If you prefer running in your own underwear, these no-frills shorts may be for you.
- Inseam: Four inches
- Liner type: None
- Soft, stretchy fabric that moves with you
- Very budget friendly
- No liner
Best Short Inseam: rabbit Mountain Climbers 2.0 ($68)
The rabbit Mountain Climbers 2.0 provide the lightweight freedom of a split short with smart pocket placement and an ultra-comfortable waistband, making these 2.5-inch inseam shorts perfect for long days on the trails.
If you prefer a shorter inseam, or even if you’re inseam curious, you may want to check out the rabbit Mountain Climbers 2.0. Our primary tester does not gravitate toward a short inseam, yet she loves these soft, light, and breathable shorts. rabbit recently added a little bit of spandex into the polyester weave, making these shorts lighter and softer than the previous version. They also dry in a snap. Likewise, the knitted brief liner feels soft and breathable.
Smart side paneling helps keep the shorts in place. We didn’t experience any dreaded bunching or irritating flapping when we opened up our stride. A wide waistband with an internal drawstring makes these shorts both flattering and super comfortable. They hug your hips without squeezing or falling down.
With five pockets, the rabbit Mountain Climbers 2.0 provide a moderate amount of storage capacity. A rear zip pocket in the waistband is big enough to hold a smartphone, but it will bounce. Two side pockets are perfect for stuffing empty wrappers. And two internal waistband pockets in the front can hold a gel or two. Think of these storage options as a supplement to your hydration pack or handheld.
For those who gravitate toward a longer inseam, you may want to try the rabbit Dirt Pounders 2.0, almost identical to the rabbit Mountain Climbers 2.0, but with a four-inch inseam.
- Inseam: 2.5 inches
- Liner: Brief
- Comfortable waistband that stays put
- Soft, breathable, wicking fabric that doesn’t bunch
- Only come in a short inseam length
Best Long Inseam: Patagonia Nine Trails Shorts ($65 to $69)
The Patagonia Nine Trails Shorts feel soft on the skin while offering lightweight and breathable protection. These bread-and-butter shorts hold up during a wide range of trail running, ultrarunning, and backpacking adventures.
There’s a reason the Patagonia Nine Trails Shorts remain a fan favorite year after year. The ultralight, ultra-comfortable recycled polyester and spandex stretch-woven fabric keeps you cool in the heat of the summer, and dries quickly after sweating up a steep climb. A durable water repellant finish helps water bead up on the fabric. If you’re looking for a basic pair of shorts that transition seamlessly between running and backpacking, consider picking up a pair.
Notably, these come in two inseam lengths: four and six inches. We tested the six-inch, and loved how they protect your inner thighs from chafing while still providing a solid range of motion. We don’t love the low-rise waistband, but that’s entirely personal preference and it did not stop us from loving these shorts.
- Inseam: Four and six inches
- Liner: Brief
- Soft and lightweight feeling
- Quick drying
- External drawcord on the waistband allows for tailored fit
- Low-rise waist sits fairly low on the hips
Best Fitted Shorts: Tracksmith Allston Long Shorts ($82)
The Tracksmith Allston Long Shorts offer a compressive yet soft feel. The 7.25-inch inseam stays put even on long slogs and snappy hill sprints. Plus, the pocket easily holds a smartphone without bouncing.
Finally, a flattering fitted short with a longer inseam! While Tracksmith continues to engulf the track and road running markets, their high quality apparel works great on the trails, too. If you’ve been looking for a compressive short you can throw on and not worry about inner thigh chafing or waistband slippage, this short is for you.
Made from an Italian blend of 57% nylon and 43% elastane, the Tracksmith Allston Long Shorts offer a highly compressive fit. They’re soft and breathable with plenty of stretch, and they dry in a snap. The high waist keeps it all in: no muffin top, suffocating, or pinching. A thin, soft rib of elastic at the bottom of each cuff helps ensure these shorts don’t ride up.
Perhaps surprisingly for a track-and-field brand, Tracksmith nails it with the storage in these shorts. A clever double pocket in the back of a waistband is wide enough to fit a smartphone. The inner pocket can hold something small like a gel. Sizing is our primary complaint with these shorts — and with Tracksmith in general. The Tracksmith Allston Long Shorts run quite small, so size up. These shorts also don’t come in a true large or extra large sizes. Hopefully that changes in the future.
- Inseam: 7.25 inches
- Liner type: None
- Soft feeling
- Quick drying
- Ample storage
- Don’t ride up
- Run small, so size up! No true large or extra large size
Best Storage: Ultimate Direction Velum Short ($60)
The Ultimate Direction Velum Short can fit a full soft flask, a smartphone, and a few gels in the waistband without any bounce or risk of things falling out.
We’ve got to admit, the storage capacity of these tiny split shorts is quite impressive. Ultimate Direction has essentially taken a pair of classic split shorts and a waistbelt and combined them into one. No need for a tedious waistbelt that rides up your torso or threatens to fall down to your feet. Built-in storage all around the waistband means you can pack everything you need for several hours of running into your shorts and head down the trail.
If you love split shorts, the full side split on the Ultimate Direction Velum Short allows total range of running motion. Our primary complaint with the shorts themselves is the inseam length; 2.75 inches is pretty short for a long mountain outing, especially when it’s the only length option. We would love to see a longer inseam version in the future. The shorts are made from a lightweight and quick-drying fabric that leaves you cool and dry on even the hottest days. However, these shorts will flap up on windy mountain summits and may bunch up on long sweaty outings. The built-in mesh brief is highly breathable, although tighter than ideal.
The Ultimate Direction Velum Short is pretty low rise, and the waistband has to remain rather tight to keep everything in it. While it’s wide and extremely comfortable, this type of fit is not for everyone. Despite wishing the inseam ran a bit longer and the liner was a bit looser, our primary tester runs in these shorts almost as frequently as the Oiselle Featherweight Roga Shorts. While it might not sound necessary to ditch the waistbelt in lieu of a built-in option, once you do, it’s hard to go back.
- Inseam: 2.75 inches
- Liner type: Brief
- A no-bounce, built-in waistband can hold everything you need for a multi-hour outing
- Shorts may flap up in the wind
- Long side split and short inseam
- Tight liner
Best of the Rest: Smartwool Merino Sport Lined Short ($60)
The Smartwool Merino Sport Lined Short offers the best built-in liner of all the shorts we tested. Made from Merino wool mesh, the liner sits comfortably on the skin while helping to regulate body temperature, resist odor, and dry quickly.
Thanks to wool’s antimicrobial properties, these shorts provide a smart option for long outings and multi-day adventures. You’ll worry less about the liner starting to chafe or smell after hours on the trail.
The wide waistband sits low and comfortably at the hip bone. An infinity drawstring allows you to dial in the waist fit a bit, although cinching the wide waistband may cause it to bunch. Two pockets, one with a zipper in the back and a drop-in pocket in the waistband offer a little storage for a couple gels or keys and a credit card, although not much beyond that.
In contrast to the high-performance liner, the rest of these shorts are a bit more casual. Stretch-woven fabric moves with you to some degree, and is relatively lightweight and quick drying. The short inseam comes with a small side split to offer a little freedom of movement. This modest design will delight those not wishing to show a lot of upper side leg. Bonus: multiple fun prints!
- Inseam: Three inches
- Liner: Brief
- Breathable and soft
- Anti-stink liner
- Short inseam, small side split, and low-rise waist mean these shorts are not for everyone
Best of the Rest: Craft Pro Hypervent Running Split Shorts ($55)
The Craft Pro Hypervent Running Split Shorts feel like the lightest, softest, fastest, and most ventilated shorts we tested. Put these on and you’ll feel fast and free to fly.
Our primary tester often turns to these featherlight, silky shorts for interval workouts. Both the shorts and built-in bikini liner are made from polyester stretch, providing great freedom of movement further enhanced by a small, angled side split. The shorts are so light in fact, they will blow up onto themselves in the wind — or if you’re really hauling down the trail.
A downside to these shorts is the shapeless, somewhat awkward waistband. Although an adjustable drawstring lets you dial in the fit, the mesh pocket at the back of the waistband seems pretty useless. However, we love the taped hems at the bottom of the legs to help avoid chafing. Reflective details add a bit of night visibility. For runners looking to move swiftly and who aren’t too concerned about inner thigh chafing or storage in their shorts, these shorts may be a great option.
- Inseam: Two inches
- Liner: Brief
- Ultralight and highly ventilated
- Awkward waistband
- Useless pocket
Buying Advice: How to Choose Women’s Running Shorts
Finding the right pair of running shorts can make or break your outing. Ill-fitting or poorly made shorts can lead to chafing, inner thigh rubbing, or force you to constantly pull your shorts up on the move. Unlike men’s running shorts, the best women’s running shorts seem to have very few commonalities. Some women prefer fitted booty shorts with a short inseam. Some gravitate toward longer, loose fitting shorts. Others swear by other combinations of those qualities.
Finding the best type of shorts for you depends on your body type and personal preference. Don’t be afraid to try a few styles to see what fits, stays put, and most importantly, doesn’t chafe.
Trail running and ultrarunning shorts style varies as much as the terrain runners cover. While Courtney Dauwalter won the Western States 100 wearing her signature long, baggy, basketball-style shorts, Clare Gallagher won the race the following year in her typical fitted booty shorts.
We did not test any classic 2.5-inch booty shorts or standard pocketless three-inch split shorts. We did test several pairs of two-in-one compression shorts with split shorts on the top, but none of them made the cut for this guide. Our primary complaints with that style of short are, one, they look dorky and feel bulky. And two, the compression short feels like an afterthought, usually rolling up the leg and negating its purpose to provide inner high protection.
As phones have grown larger, pockets have grown accordingly. While you can carry a phone in a pack or belt, sometimes it’s nice to drop your phone into a shorts pocket and forget about it until you need it on the trail.
Good running shorts pack a lot of properties into one fabric: quick drying and moisture wicking, yet also durable and sometimes even water repellent. The best fabrics can withstand a hard fall, sliding down a scree field, or bushwhacking through a willow grove. Creating a durable yet breathable material raises the price of trail running shorts compared to their road running sisters. Textiles made from a combination of polyester and elastane, four-way stretch, durable water repellent, and other high-tech materials are not necessary, but are preferable for wicking away moisture, preventing odor, and withstanding wear and tear.
The most durable women’s running shorts we tested were the Black Diamond Sprint Shorts, while the shorts with the most high-tech fabric for breathability and wicking that we tested were the Oiselle Featherweight Roga Shorts.
Shorter inseams tend to provide the best range of motion. Longer inseams offer more protection from chafing and the elements. Ultimately, when it comes to choosing between a short and long inseam, try each to see what works with you.
Loose Versus Fitted
The choice between form-fitting booty shorts and loose split shorts is mostly a style preference, although some women find that one type provides more protection against chafing than the other. Loose shorts tend to have slits up the sides to provide greater range of motion. Splits come in quarter, half, and three-quarter lengths so you can choose the amount of freedom you want. The higher the split rises, the wider the panels of the shorts open up, allowing your legs to move freely. Scalloped and contoured hems, as well as v-shaped shorts, also allow for increased mobility too.
If you’re looking for a split short — with a ton of storage capacity as a bonus — try the Ultimate Direction Velum Short.
Fitted shorts offer a stretchy, sometimes compression construction for a snug fit. This style is very popular within elite road and track running circles, and is making its way into the trail and ultra world as well. Fitted shorts allow for storage down the sides of the legs. Don’t underestimate the power of confidence. Do these shorts make you feel strong and capable? If not, consider trying something else. As one of our tester’s college teammates used to say before every race, “look good, feel good.”
The best fitted shorts we tested were the Tracksmith Allston Long Shorts.
Waistband width plays a significant role in determining the comfort, fit, and security of your shorts. Wider waistbands tend to give a more flattering silhouette that conforms to your profile and doesn’t dig into your waist. Thinner waistbands offer a more minimal option and less coverage. Most shorts come with a drawcord or infinity band that allows you to adjust the fit; this proves especially important if you’ve loaded up the pockets.
The variety of storage options in women’s running shorts ranges from none at all to basically everything you need for a run lasting a couple hours. To decide what storage option works best with you, think about what other storage you prefer to bring with you on a run. If you wear a hydration pack, storage may be less important. However, we love having a little bit of storage in the waistband to place empty wrappers or even a phone.
If you wear a utility belt, waistband storage is less important. However, you may be able to replace the need for a belt with the right pair of shorts. If you’re a handheld kind of gal, you may want to optimize shorts storage to carry your calories and layers. If you opt for higher storage options, make sure you test the shorts for yourself to ensure they don’t fall down, add weight in cumbersome areas, or limit range of motion.
The Ultimate Direction Velum Short had the most storage of all the shorts we tested.
Liner Versus No Liner
Most loose-fitting women’s running shorts include a liner. There are two types from which to choose: a liner brief (like underwear) or two-in-one shorts with an inner liner that is more like a pair of compression shorts. Our primary tester has yet to find a pair of the latter that she likes, whose liner does not roll up her legs and negate the purpose. Perhaps you will have better luck! Two-in-one shorts are also heavier; you’re effectively wearing twice as many pairs of shorts as needed. And they tend to trap moisture.
Liner briefs are lightweight and breathable. However, not all liner briefs are created equally; rough seams or liners that are too tight can cause irritation and chafing. A mesh or moisture-wicking fabric also maximizes breathability and keeps you dry and comfortable.
We just loved the Merino wool mesh liner in the Smartwool Merino Sport Lined Short.
While reflectivity has grown nearly ubiquitous among road running shorts, the need to be seen in the dark by oncoming cars is obviously less imperative in trail running. Some shorts we tested contained small reflective elements which are a nice bonus, but not necessary, unless you plan on doing a lot of training on the roads or in the dark on mountain bike trails, where cyclists may come flying around corners.
The beauty of running is you can lace up a pair of sneakers and head out the door in pretty much anything. Many trail runners and ultrarunners are perfectly happy running in your classic spandex booty shorts or 2.5-inch split shorts. By pricing up slightly for a pair of shorts made by a specialty manufacturer, you get the added bonus of thoughtful design for the rigors of long runs, such as storage options, soft seams or seamless stitching, durable fabric, and humane manufacturing.
These factors bump most trail and ultra shorts up into the $55 to $85 price range. While that’s $20 to $30 more than a basic pair of shorts you can find at Target, they will probably last longer.
Why You Should Trust Us
We began this guide by researching women’s running shorts from the most trusted brands in running, premier outdoor brands, and major companies in the women’s run category. We also extensively polled the large iRunFar team and friends to find out which women’s running shorts they preferred and did not prefer. That narrowed our choices to about two dozen shorts, which we took to the field for a season of testing.
Two iRunFar testers spent four months subjecting these running shorts in rigorous trips through the Colorado mountains, as well as in hot and humid New Hampshire summers. We ran in them for 50-mile outings, 50k races, and multi-day fastpacking trips. We wore them several times in a row without washing them — sorry to our running partners on those days!
The primary tester’s body is five feet, 7.5 inches tall, and roughly 125 pounds. All shorts she tested were sizes small and medium. The secondary tester’s body is five feet, six inches tall, and roughly 125 pounds. She also tested shorts in size small and medium.
Frequently Asked Questions about Women’s Running Shorts
What shorts are best for trail running?
Women’s trail running and ultrarunning shorts tend to differ from road running shorts in two key ways: storage and durability. On the roads where light and fast tend to be valued above all else, you can get away with flimsy shorts that flap in the wind and provide little coverage or storage. However, you may find that barely there shorts don’t provide the chafing protection, storage options, or weather protection needed you want on super long runs and mountain days.
While women’s trail running and ultrarunning shorts come in both loose and fitted varieties, both tend to come with at least one or two pockets for holding calories or a phone. You’re also more likely to see higher tech fabrics like a water-repellent coating, ripstop, or other material built to withstand the elements, brushing into branches, and sliding down rocks. We find that a durable waistband or drawstring proves more important on the trails to keep loaded-down shorts from slipping or bouncing. Fast-drying fabric helps prevent chafing, smell, and keeps you warm and comfortable after afternoon monsoons or on those humid days.
Thanks to the virtue of trail running and ultrarunning taking place in nature and away from cars, reflective elements are less common on trail running shorts than road running varieties. However, a few of the shorts we tested do have reflective hits in key spots.
What shorts are best for ultrarunning?
Ultrarunning inherently means long days moving outside. While it remains a matter of personal preference, many ultrarunners prefer heavier duty shorts with more storage capacity to complement the rest of their kit, such as a pack or handheld bottle. Shorts made from a quick-drying fabric will help keep you comfortable and prevent chafing. Try a few styles to see if shorter or longer inseams work best for you.
What do runners wear under their shorts?
This totally depends on the style of running shorts. Shorts with a built-in liner negate the need for additional underwear. In fact, wearing another pair of underwear just enhances your chances of chafing. While some women wear underwear under fitted shorts, most do not. Fitted shorts should give you a secure fit that acts like a boxer brief. If you elect to wear shorts without a liner, opt for performance underwear made out of a synthetic or wool material that will wick moisture and provide ventilation.
Are running shorts gender-specific?
Yes. Women’s running shorts provide a better fit for a female’s waist, hips, and thighs. They tend to have a shorter inseam to accommodate shorter legs. The liner design in women’s shorts also tends to be tailored to female physiology. You may find that men’s shorts are too tight in the waist and too baggy in the crotch.
How do I prevent chafing from my running shorts?
Finding the correct size as well as style of shorts is the best way to prevent chafing. All modern running shorts liners use synthetic or wool fabrics, which are exceptional at moisture transfer and drying. There are a variety of factors that cause chafing: shorts that are too big or too small, those with rough seams, fitted shorts that roll up your thighs, or waistbands that bunch may all cause unwanted rubbing. To be safe, apply some type of anti-chafe product in between your thighs, along the back of the waistband, and on any other hotspots.
Call for Comments
- Do you have any experience with the shorts in this guide?
- What is the most important element to you in a great pair of running shorts?
- Tell us about your favorite pair we might have missed so we can test them for future editions of this guide.