Men’s Ultramarathon Shorts Review

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.

Patagonia Strider Pro Shorts Front View

Front view of the Patagonia Strider Pro Shorts. All photos: iRunFar/Tom Caughlan

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.

Patagonia Strider Pro Shorts Back View

Back view of the Patagonia Strider Pro Shorts.

Best Hot-Weather Short: The North Face Better Than Naked Split Shorts

[No longer available.] 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 North Face Better Than Naked Split Shorts Front View

The North Face Better Than Naked Split Shorts front view.

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.

The North Face Better Than Naked Split Shorts Back View

The North Face Better Than Naked Split Shorts back view.

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.

The North Face Flight Series Warp Knit Dual Shorts Front View

A front view of The North Face Flight Series Warp Knit Dual Shorts.

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.

The North Face Flight Series Warp Knit Dual Shorts Back View

A back view of The North Face Flight Series Warp Knit Dual Shorts.

Best Wet-Weather Shorts: Altra Trail Shorts

[No longer available.] 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.

Altra Trail Shorts Front View

Altra Trail Shorts front view.

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.

Altra Trail Shorts Back View

Altra Trail Shorts back view.

Overall Impressions

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!]

Tom Caughlan

is iRunFar's Minimalist Gear Editor. Tom’s passion for trail running and specialty running retail experience shine through in all of his highly technical reviews, which do range outside minimalist shoes.

There are 35 comments

  1. Ben

    I agree that this years Strider Pros are the best overall shorts available. I have three pairs and just rotate through them for the most part.

  2. Bartman

    Great article Tom, thanks! The Pat’ Pro Strider is my favorite and the best shorts I have ever worn for the very reasons you bring up. I will have to give the Altra shorts a try when the weather cools a bit. Thanks again for the comprehensive write up.

  3. Scott M

    I discovered the Patagonia Strider Pros last year and fell in love. By far my favorite utility running short I’ve worn to date. I have a few pair now. I love that you can have the drawstring on the outside or inside. The pockets are the best — for gels or, in my case often, doggy poop bags.

  4. Alex

    I used to think it was crazy to spend $60 on a pair of shorts until I wore the Better Than Nakeds. They’re incredible. I’ve had chafing problems with many shorts in the past but not the BTNs. They are so light and comfortable. I highly recommend.

  5. Jared

    Love the changes to the Patagonia Strider Pro and they are by-far my favorite short. A couple thoughts on the Striders:
    1 – the new version runs a touch bigger than previous. I had to go down a size in this year’s model, but the better cut makes a smaller size fit perfectly.
    2 – the back zipper cord on both pairs fell off in the washing machine pretty quickly. I replaced it with a thicker string, but the fixed zipper last year was better.

      1. Rudy Rutemiller

        Yes! If they made a 3″ strider pro they would hands down be the best shorts. Because the 5″ are a little too restrictive for me, the Better Than Naked’s take the cake.

  6. Albert

    I used to give my wife and daughter crap for wearing Lululemon clothing. After getting a pair of running shorts for my birthday, I will never wear anything else as long as they exist. I have bought several more running shorts, 7 length (so to your knees). They are super durable, hold my iPhone in my right pocket with no bounce, have a small pocket on the side to put keys/gels, etc, they dry off quickly and are incredibly comfortable. They are worth the 58 dollars, and if you’re lucky you can find a pair 1/2 off.

    1. Jesse Luna

      Strava premium members got a nice discount on Lululemon gear last year. I was too cheap to spring for the difference between the Stava bucks and the shorts though so ended up with briefs.

  7. Jeff

    Great article! Very helpful. In the future could you please use a model that has actual thigh muscles so we can see how the shorts fit over more robust legs? Thanks!

    1. Ogden

      Tom Caughlin (the model and author) already has actual thigh muscles. If you can’t see them, the only explanation I can fathom is that you’re blind, in which case changing the model isn’t going to help your plight. Apart from the visual evidence of very normal sized thigh muscles for a mountain runner in the photos above, you can also head over to ultrasignup to see that Tom has completed dozens of serious mountain ultras up to 100 miles in length, each of which required… actual thigh muscles.

      As for the content of the article, I can echo Tom’s recommendation of TNF’s Better Than Naked shorts wholeheartedly (I have both split and not-split in both long and short versions and they, collectively, are my favorite shorts ever).

      1. Tom Caughlan

        Thanks for the kind words Ogden! Sometimes my friends enjoy trolling my reviews. This was a fantastic response to said friends/ trolls.

  8. Jesse Luna

    The 7″ Strider Pro Shorts from Patagonia are great. I bought several pairs last year when they were on sale. Unfortunately the draw strings kept unraveling when I threw them in the dryer after a few times (Patagonia was great and took them back for a full refund). I tied knots at the end of the drawstrings on the remaining pair and they have been behaving. I’ve had zero chafing issues with these shorts because of the great liner.

    I have also been digging the 8″ Salomon Cairn 2-in-1 shorts that also have a great liner and have very light material.

    Both are great for long races.

    1. Nathan Westlake

      I don’t put my running shorts in the dryer. They’re made to dry quickly, so I figure why not hang dry them and save wear and tear.

      1. Jesse Luna

        I air dry sometimes but fraying drawstrings after a couple of sessions in the dryer is not normal. It’s not a few threads either, the whole things splays out like a bouquet of flowers.

        1. Ben

          You shorts will last a lot longer and perform better (as the dryer lint won’t clog up the fabric’s breathability) by air drying them. Same goes for any breathable fabric.

    1. Lightning

      Do you have a picture of that front pocket? It’s not visible in the photos in that link.

      I have a pair of lined UA shorts that are not in the current line that I like as much, maybe more than my Strider Pros. Besides the zip back pocket that is common in many shorts these days, it has hidden, loose side hand pockets that can hold a phone without bouncing (unexpectedly for me), and does it without dropping anything out of them when you sit down. The material is great, and I think it cost me $20 at the outlet store.

  9. Ryan Delany

    I’ve been running in the Altra shorts this summer and really love them even though I usually prefer a 9″ inseam. I even got caught in a rainstorm last night and got competent soaked and they were dry by the time I got him, so they really are great wet weather shorts!

    Thanks for the list, now I’ve got some other shorts to try out!

  10. Inquiring Mind

    Serious question…are you guys going commando under the shorts? I always wear some sort of compression underwear but I get the impression from the article that I might be doing it wrong…

    1. Nathan Westlake

      I don’t consider it commando because the liner takes the place of underwear. But yeah, if you’re wearing underwear insider the liner you’re doing it wrong!

  11. SMeehan

    The Patagonia Striders I find little more restrictive than TNF Better Than Naked shorts but both are awesome. I’ve carried 600+ calories in the back pockets of both shorts with no problems. I was a little disappointed in one aspect of the Flight Series 2n1’s I can’t believe they have no drawstring. I’m not a small but the medium will start to droop with any weight in the pockets or out on a particularly wet/humid run. It was a real bummer; a) the price and b) other than that the felt awesome.

  12. Tony

    My favourite’s are the Arc’teryx Soleus shorts. Plenty of storage and after 5 minutes of running I forget they’re there. Looking for a waterproof short I’m planning on trying Gore’s real waterproofs but also might give those Altra shorts a try (if I can get a hold om them overhere in Europe). Thanks for the reviews, cheers.

  13. Janet

    Best tip I ever got re: that post chafing shower experience was to slather the area with Vaseline before you hop in the shower – it protects the injury just long enough for all that super stinging salt to wash off in the shower, and THEN you can get in there with soap and clean the wound (very important). Saves you 50 percent of the ouch!

  14. Dave

    Interested in Altra shorts; however, I believe the Brooks Sherpa shorts to be my go to short, plenty of pocket storage and baggy for me. Handles being wet very well, and very durable.

  15. Scott

    Look at PATH projects if you havn’t found that short you really love. The shells are made from Toray fabrics with mechanical stretch from Japan. Lighter stronger fabrics that don’t absorb water. Lots of pocket options and they all have zippers! It is a component short system so you can pick your short and your base liners separately. You can run all day and never have to worry about chafing.

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