When it comes to running shorts, it’s really about what works for you and makes you feel comfortable rather than one style being better than another.
You will often see women race in traditional brief, loose-fitting running shorts as they’re lightweight and provide great ventilation and freedom of movement.
But they don’t work for everyone and some people feel self-conscious wearing them. Many brands have made a compromise by offering traditional designs with lighter cycling style shorts underneath so that more thigh is covered and skin isn’t rubbing on skin between the thighs. Or you may prefer to just go for a cycling-style short with nothing over the top.
The below are all made from breathable technical fabrics that wick away sweat and are quick drying.
Many provide pockets big enough for phones but we don’t necessarily see it as a negative if they don’t, as bulky phones can pull down on shorts or bounce around, particularly in those with a looser fit – we prefer a running belt or armband to solve that problem.
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Under Armour fly fast ½ tights
A great pair of cycling-style running shorts with an 18cm inseam. The compression fit leaves you feeling well-held but without restricting freedom of movement and they stay put without riding up. They felt cool and wicked away sweat effectively on a long, hot run. A pocket on the back of the waistband fits an iPhone 7-size phone and the interior drawstring ensures a secure fit round the waist. If you want something with a less firm fit, we'd recommend the Under Armour Meridian Bike Shorts (£42), which are also great for running despite the name.
Lululemon speed up short long 4”
If you’re a fan of a traditional running short, but not so much the very brief ones, this is your solution. This version has a longer inseam for more coverage over the thighs and the fit is extremely flattering. Two pockets on the comfortably wide waistband can hold your keys and a rear zipped one fits a phone. The inner liner doesn’t cut in and felt breathable on a hot day, as did the outer. The longer inseam might bother you if you’re used to a shorter short, but we like the extra thigh coverage it provides.
Columbia women’s titan ultra II shorts
A solid pair of shorts from a great outdoor brand. The built-in briefs are more like shorts than knickers, which gives them extra security and coverage, and they are soft and breathable, as is the outer shell. The rear pocket fits the compact iPhone SE but wouldn’t accommodate anything bigger than that. The elasticated waist is soft and stays secure. They also offer sun protection of 40+C.
TCA relentless power shorts
These simple but effective shorts from East London sportswear brand TCA tick all the boxes. Cool and comfortable, they stay in place without riding up, move well with your body while running and the nice high waistband with internal drawstring adjustment stays firm at the waist. A drop-in pocket on the back can house a smaller phone or keys.
Smartwool merino sport lined short
Extremely lightweight and soft, these kept us icy cool on a sunny day. Our only gripe is that the internal drawcord is in one loop (rather than having two ends) which makes it hard to secure in a knot. But the built-in briefs are soft and breathable. Neither of the two pockets are big enough for a phone but the shorts are so lightweight that a phone would drag them down anyway.
Modibodi active running shorts
This well-known period underwear brand has branched out into activewear and we're impressed. These shorts are comfortable, well designed for movement and flattering. An internal drawstring ensures a good fit and a rear zipped pocket easily fits a phone. Two side pockets are fairly superfluous but could hold a tissue. If you’ve worn Modibodi pants before, you’ll know that the period protection is not a great wedge of padding between your legs but slimline and low-profile – you can’t feel it’s there. Built into the inner brief, it’s designed for light to moderate flow and can absorb about two tampons worth, so should be used as a back-up if you have heavy periods. We found that it really works, absorbing quickly while still feeling comfortable.These shorts are also ideal for women who struggle with urinary leakage when they run.
Brooks chaser 5” shorts
The side of the leg openings on these super-soft shorts are cut high with overlapping panels of fabric, offering great freedom of movement. They have a nice wide, secure waistband and an internal key pocket is tucked into the front (it just about fits an iPhone SE, but that feels awkward). They’re soft and breathable and we like the extra coverage that the length provides. The only downside is that the built-in briefs are quite snug with a fairly thick seam.
Decathlon kiprun lightweight running shorts
For a budget option, these perform well. The built-in brief sits softly next to the skin without being too tight. The shorts are short, making them perfect for people that don’t like a long inseam. There are drop-in pockets at the front for keys and a zipped pocket at the back that just about fits an iPhone SE but would be more suited to an energy gel. They’re cut nicely high on the leg openings, with overlapping flaps of fabric. All we’d ask for as an addition is some elastication in the waist as they’re secured with a drawstring only.
Salomon s/lab short
Minimalist is the word here. Elasticated panels sit at either side of the waistband but the rest is seamless and holds up with sticky hems that grip your skin. The leg openings are also free of seams and offer total freedom of movement. There are no pockets and no inner brief, which means you could wear them over a pair of cycling-style shorts.
The barely-there feeling of these extremely lightweight shorts takes some getting used to, but they offer the ultimate in ventilation and they’re water repellent. The lightness of the material means that black pants can be seen through them, so we'd suggest wearing white ones only.
Ronhill stride stretch short
A sycling-style short with a 21cm inseam, these are soft, comfortable and give you plenty of freedom of movement. They felt cool and breathable on a warm run and they stayed put. Despite being skin-tight, they don’t cling in an uncomfortable way – sizing is fairly generous (a 10 feels more like a 12), so size down if you want a firmer fit. A rear zip pocket fits an iPhone SE but nothing bigger.
New Balance q speed breathe 2 in 1 short
The outer shorts in this pair are extremely lightweight, quite flared to the point of looking a little like a skort and are very short, which meant that they didn’t bunch up between the legs while running. The undershorts have a long 8in inner seam, providing plenty of thigh coverage. They also stay in place and are soft, breathable and flexible. These shorts are quite low-waisted and have a small drop-in pocket at the back big enough for keys (although they’d jangle as it’s not tight to the body).
The verdict: Women's running shorts
We couldn’t find fault with the Under Armour shorts on performance and looks. They feel durable, kept us cool and comfortable, look good and we liked the held-in feeling of the compression fit. If you prefer a traditional, loose short, the Lululemon speed up short long 4” was the best of the bunch – the quality, fit and performance was excellent and the brand does shorter lengths if you don’t like longer inseams.
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