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14 best running shorts for women: Comfortable styles for track sessions and gym workouts

Whether training for a marathon or grabbing a coffee, these summer sets are built for movement

Alice Barraclough
Tuesday 29 June 2021 15:39
<p>Choose from supportive, compression-style biker shorts or airy, barely-there fits </p>

Choose from supportive, compression-style biker shorts or airy, barely-there fits

Nothing quite destroys a “runner’s high” like chafing on your inner thighs. If you’ve ever pulled on a pair of baggy old cotton shorts in the middle of summer, gone for a run and consequently rubbed the skin on the inside of your legs red raw, you’ll know the importance of wearing the correct kit.

Shorts are an essential item in every runner’s wardrobe – whether you’re hitting the track for some speed work, training for a marathon or simply heading out to the supermarket to run some errands.

Of course, to the untrained eye, shorts can all look the same. How much difference can there really be? Well, trust us here: a lot. From compression-style long shorts that offer support and coverage to classic lightweight and breathable shorts with a drawstring band, running shorts should be made from a technical, moisture-wicking material that minimises chafing.

After all, you want to choose something that doesn’t rub, doesn’t itch and doesn’t make you want to rip it off when you’re only five minutes down the road.

We tested the following pairs over a series of runs of between 5km and 15km during the first (and only) heatwave of the British summer, looking at which ones stopped us from getting overly hot, sweaty and uncomfortable (and which included that all-important pocket for stashing our house keys). Our line-up includes both airy and unrestricted short shorts and held-in and supportive compression-style biker pairs, so whether you like the next-to-naked feel of your barely-there options, or you prefer the supported feeling of a legging (but don’t want to overheat in summer), there’s sure to be a pair that works for you.

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You can trust our independent reviews. We may earn commission from some of the retailers, but we never allow this to influence selections, which are formed from real-world and expert advice. This revenue helps us to fund journalism across The Independent.

The best women’s running shorts for 2021 are:

  • Best for long weekend runs – Lululemon fast and free short 6in: £58, Lululemon.co.uk
  • Best for high-waisted support – Sweaty Betty power 6in cycling shorts: £55, Sweatybetty.com
  • Best for heavy sweaters – New Balance Q speed fuel short: £40, Newbalance.co.uk
  • Best for summer racing – Tracksmith strata short: £84, Tracksmith.com
  • Best value for money – Adidas Tokyo run shorts: £22, Adidas.co.uk
  • Best for an afternoon tempo run – On Running running shorts: £70, On-running.com
  • Best anti-chafe – Runderwear women’s ultra light running shorts: £50, Runderwear.co.uk
  • Best for in or out of the gym – Kitchange fit short black: £40, Kitchange.co.uk
  • Best for half marathons – Tracksmith lane 5 tights: £65, Tracksmith.com
  • Best for runs and quick errands – PE Nation in goal short in charcoal: £66.07, Pe-nation.com
  • Best for progression runs and ab workouts – Pocket Sport morisot track shorts, acid yellow: £45, Pocket-sport.com
  • Best for 5km fun runs – Lululemon hotty hot high-rise short 4in lined: £48, Lululemon.co.uk
  • Best for everyday training – Sweaty Betty on your marks 4in running shorts: £55, Sweatybetty.com
  • Best for track sessions – Tracksmith session shorts: £65, Tracksmith.com

Lululemon fast and free short 6in

Best: For long weekend runs

If you’re already a fan of Lululemon’s cult fast and free leggings (£108, Lululemon.co.uk) that are specifically designed for running, then you’ll love these shorts. Featuring all the same benefits, these come in three different lengths – 6in, 8in and 10in – depending on your personal preference and/or height. They feel silky smooth, lightweight and cool to the touch, which is partly down to their special quick-drying fabric, which keeps that sweaty feeling from weighing you down.

What we really, really love about these shorts are the pockets. With two drop-in slots on each side (big enough to fit an iPhone 12), plus five waistband pockets, these are the ideal pair for those long weekend runs when you need to pack gels, snacks, headphones, keys and even a mask (for when it all gets too tough, and you want to jump on the bus home).

Sweaty Betty power 6in cycling shorts

Best: For high-waisted support

These high-waisted power cycling shorts from female-founded activewear brand Sweaty Betty are very similar in style to the Lululemon fast and free shorts. The key differences? Apart from the jazzy retro print, these shorts only have one handy side pocket, but there is an additional zipped pocket on the back. Made from super-stretchy fabric, these are a little thicker and include flattering seams to sculpt the bum. The compressive waistband stays put, so you can focus on your pace without any distractions. We love both the red retro and green leopard print for making a statement – just make sure you’re ready for the influx of compliments coming your way when you wear these, because they seriously stand out.

New Balance q speed fuel short

Best: For heavy sweaters

When we first got our hands on a pair of these New Balance shorts, we couldn’t believe how lightweight and breathable they felt. Made from a fast-drying material, they’re great for when it seriously starts heating up out there. Featuring an interior brief for added comfort and a pocket just about big enough to store your keys, these athletic-style, airy running shorts will help you reach the finish line (or just the end of your workout) feeling dry, comfortable and free. For those looking for an injection of colour into their workout wardrobe, they also come in bright orange – perfect for summer.

Tracksmith strata short

Best: For summer racing

Independent running brand Tracksmith hails from New England in the US and offers some of the highest quality running apparel out there. So if you spot a runner wearing kit with a little hare logo – an animal that relies upon its speed to survive – you’ll know they’re a committed runner. These silky soft, minimalist shorts are some of our favourites, especially when it comes to racing in the heat. The feather-light nylon blend quickly moves moisture away from the skin and prevents any clinging, while the inner brief is made from swimwear fabric, which offers a barely-there feel. We particularly like the fact that these shorts have three secret pockets at the back of the brief liner – which are large enough to store up to two gels per slot. They won’t quite carry the weight of a phone, so these shorts are best reserved for race day, when you don’t need anything other than yourself.

Adidas Tokyo run shorts

Best: Value for money

These shorts from adidas are a simple, modern take on a running classic. Inspired by this summer’s Tokyo Olympics, they are black and white with detailing created by Tokyo-based artist and designer Hiroko Takahashi, and manage to strike the balance between race-ready and functional for every day. Made from a lightweight fabric, at £22 you can’t go far wrong with these shorts designed to handle plenty of repeat wear.

On Running running shorts

Best: For an afternoon tempo run

From Swiss company On Running – a brand that has already shaken up the running scene with its trainers – these two-in-one running shorts with a tight interior and a breathable outer will keep you covered without restricting your movement. The waistband on these is particularly wide, which means they fit without any digging, and there’s adjustable elastic to tighten them if necessary. They feel incredibly sleek and look pretty smart too. Enjoy four-way stretch, a breathable feel and a sweat-wicking experience. Note: they are a little on the large size, so we’d recommend sizing down for more of an athletic fit.

Runderwear women’s ultra light running shorts

Best: Anti-chafe

As fans of Runderwear’s pants and sports bras, we had high expectations when we heard the brand was releasing a new line of women’s running shorts. And we weren’t disappointed. These shorts feel unlike any other. They’re incredibly thin and breathable – not too long and not too short (unless, of course, you only like short shorts or you have particularly large and toned quad muscles). One of the stand-out qualities of these shorts (other than how ultralight they feel) is the special silicone grip panelling around the waist that gently holds them in place. There’s also a zipped pocket at the back, so that’s a tick from us.

Kitchange fit short black

Best: For in or out of the gym

Biker shorts are one of this season’s biggest trends, so we wore this classic black pair from Kitchange confidently on a run, to the gym, and then to coffee with friends. Made from recycled polyester, the brushed fabric feels incredibly soft and stretchy. These are the type of shorts that don’t dig in. Instead, they offer a close, sculpting compression fit that’s flattering, flexible and quick-drying, so they’ll see you through every kind of workout. They sit high on the waist, which is ideal for added support. In fact, we liked these so much we even wore them to a Pilates class and to cycle to the lido. The only downside? There are zero pockets.

Tracksmith lane 5 tights

Best: For half marathons

Made from Tracksmith’s luxurious, Italian-made “inverno blend”, these short – and very tight – 5in shorts feel both fast and flattering. And with five pockets – two on each hip and a zip pocket at the back – they’re made with long runs and half marathons in mind. The pockets on the hips are particularly well-placed for gels and race day fuel, while the silicone grips on the leg’s hem mean that they stay firmly in place (and don’t bunch up). They are a little snug, but they are designed with higher-intensity efforts and long runs in mind. We particularly like the paprika colour for summer.

PE Nation in goal short in charcoal

Best: For runs and quick errands

You can tell these shorts are from PE Nation due to the multi-coloured stripes on the side panel, which give them a retro sporty aesthetic – the brand’s signature look. These sit mid-waist (below the belly button, above the hips) and include a comfy internal brief and handy zipped pocket on the back. PE Nation has really nailed the functional yet effortlessly stylish vibe – so you can feel as confident wearing these on a 5km run as you would popping into the shops on the way home. Made using recycled polyester from plastic bottles, these shorts do feel a bit “tougher” than others on this list, but if you’re looking to add to your eco-friendly wardrobe, you can’t go far wrong with this brand.

Pocket Sport morisot track shorts

Best: For progression runs and ab workouts

These bright, stylish shorts from up-and-coming sportswear brand Pocket Sport are ultralight, flexible and come in an on-trend (and highly visible) hue of acid yellow. Perfect for hot and sweaty sessions, these stand-out-from-the-crowd shorts are particularly airy, while the elasticated waistband feels supportive and snug. Be warned though – they don’t come with inner briefs attached, so make sure you have appropriate pants (with enough coverage to protect your decency) if you’re sprinting or stretching.

Lululemon hotty hot high-rise short 4in lined

Best: For 5km fun runs

These Lululemon short shorts are an essential addition to your summer running wardrobe. They come in a 4in length as standard, but we’ve also tested out the 2.5in version (£48, Lululemon.co.uk) for when we really want to go all out and smash that 5km personal best. But as much as we love a “short short”, they’re not always ideal for when you’re planning on grabbing a pint of milk on the way home, so it’s good that the 4in features the same light-as-air fabric, but just in a slightly longer silhouette.

Like many of the running shorts here, they also have a built-in liner for a little extra coverage – and they have a secret stash pocket, but it is on the small side. With colours ranging from “icing blue” to “sonic pink” and “highlight yellow”, when the sun shines, these are the shorts we reach for.

Sweaty Betty on your marks 4in running shorts

Best: For everyday training

Quick-drying, light and flexible, these wacky Sweaty Betty floral shorts might not be to everyone’s taste (they do also come in black, navy and “utopia” green), but with an exposed waistband, two side zip pockets for all your essentials and a comfortable mid-rise elasticated waistband, they’ve clearly been engineered for long and short runs alike. Some runners will say that a pair of running shorts are only as good as their liner, and this pair, with its two-in-one style, offers the supportiveness of a legging (in Sweaty Betty’s infamous power fabric, no less), combined with a lightweight shell made from recycled polyester.

Tracksmith session shorts

Best: For track sessions

For those who prefer running around in circles, you can’t go wrong with a pair of session shorts from Tracksmith. These sit slightly lower on your hips and feature an internal stretch drawcord. They also have a sneaky hidden back pocket in the brief liner for a key or credit card. And, as they’re made from a UV-protective, breathable and highly moisture-wicking material that’s comfy too, we guarantee you won’t want to take these off. Of course, you don’t just have to save them for the track – we found these shorts were incredibly versatile and worked for the majority of our daily training sessions, whether that meant a gentle shakeout or a tempo run.

The verdict: Women’s running shorts

If you’re looking for longer short options for training and racing, then opt for a pair of the Lululemon fast and free shorts – we found they stayed put no matter how fast we went. If, however, you prefer more of a classic running silhouette, we recommend Tracksmith’s lightweight and breathable strata shorts or New Balance’s Q-speed fuel shorts – in the summer, they’ll never see the back of your drawer.

And if you still find yourself victim to runner’s chafing, then check out products such as Premax’s anti friction balm (£19, Velovixen.com) or Body Glide’s body balm (£10.99, Wiggle.co.uk), to help create a barrier against rubbing, irritation and raw skin.

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After a supportive pair of kicks for your run? Check out our edit of the best running shoes for women

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