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2020 has been a weird one so far: Not only are we without races this spring/summer, but we’re working from home, we’re training mostly on land, and we’ve been racking up more running miles than we ever thought we would (along with the injuries that come with it). If you’re like me, you’ve got That One Pair of running shorts that you break out when you have your long run, or That Other Pair of running shorts for when you need to hit the track and go fast or race. I’m not saying I only have two pairs of running shorts—for those of you counting—but I have my favorite pairs, and I have the “filler pairs.” Like me, you might also be running much more than you used to, so those shorts are stretching pretty thin, or maybe your weekly long run is turning into two long runs per week. Maybe you’re Strava KOM hunting. Either way, now more than ever we need the simple things in life to make us happy, so it might be time to think about getting That Third Pair of running shorts or pushing a new pair to the top of the drawer hierarchy. To help, we’ve put together a quick guide on what to look for this spring, and then rounded up our top picks for the best men’s and women’s running shorts in spring 2020 — with help from Podium Runner’s Jonathan Beverly and some insight from Meg Lappe’s work at Women’s Running.
It’s All About The Pockets
Gone are the days when you’d have to clench your keys tightly—swapping those sweaty things from hand to hand throughout the run. The best running shorts this spring have pockets left and right, some zippered, some internal, all of them super useful. Particularly now when hand sanitizer and/or a mask might be a part of your daily jog, be sure to take a close look at the type of pockets, their size, and their accessibility if you need to grab something quickly.
Even on women’s bike shorts styles, people are crazy about their pockets, Jeff Garabedian, strategic business unit manager of New Balance apparel told Women’s Running. “Not just more pockets, but smart placement, different closures, and innovative concepts. A variety of storage is important,” he said. Think: shorts with a combination of internal pockets for keys and external pockets for those new necessities while out on the roads and trails.
“Bike Shorts,” Yes Bike Shorts
Though it hasn’t caught on with men as much (die-hard triathletes who like to train in their race gear notwithstanding), running in bike-short style shorts (ie. spandex or tights) is the best thing this year, particularly as temperatures climb. Tights for running aren’t necessarily new, but the desire from elites seems to be having a trickle-down effect for ladies. “We [heard] a lot from our racing team and run club that women wanted more options—both longer and shorter—in tights that could stay put when they were pushing the pace,” said Matt Taylor, founder and CEO of Tracksmith, told Women’s Running. New athletes also help drive the trend. “We’ve seen an increase in demand for more compression shorts (or as most women call them, ‘bike shorts’) in the market, thanks to our celebrity and influencer female role models,” Julianne Ruckman, senior product line manager of women’s apparel at Brooks, explained to Women’s Running. So whether you want to emulate 2020 Olympic Trials podium finisher Sally Kipyego or Insta-heros like @girlsrunnyc, get thee some “bike shorts” to run in this spring.
Different Lengths for Different Folks
Even if you have the best materials, the best pockets, and the exact model of your insta-inspiration, it doesn’t mean much if you’re not comfortable in your shorts. For ladies, Triathlete’s editor-in-chief Kelly O’Mara has a few rough guidelines: Under 3 inches is considered short—for those looking for freedom of movement and minimal coverage; 3.5 to 5 inches is considered midrange; and anything 6 inches or over is best for those seeking modesty and longer, nearly full-length coverage. For men, a good rule of thumb is 6-7 inches is a pair you could feel ok about wearing to the store after a run—assuming you have a slim to medium build. Under 6 inches, and you’ll be wearing something that’s pretty much for the run only. Four inches and under, and you’re looking at a very competitive cut—think of something a collegiate or super fit high school runner would wear. As a big-legged guy who has accidentally ordered some very tiny shorts in the past, trust me that you don’t want to skip checking this measurement (and try to go to the grocery store post-run).
Get In Line(r)
While the vast majority of running shorts have liners, some shorts that look like running shorts might not. If a liner is something you need (men, looking at you) in a pair of running shorts, be sure you double check before you hit “add to cart.” Another bit of advice for men and women: Don’t wear underwear with a pair of running shorts that has a liner…trust me. If you don’t like shorts with a liner or you have a great pair without one, there are actually some great options for women and men to keep “things under control” without a liner—we really like U.K.-based Runderwear. For women, O’Mara again weighs in and suggests women should also get shorts with a liner to avoid an underwear situation that could cause chafing when temperatures warm up (the bike-short style is another solution for when the mercury rises). Either way, just know what you’re getting into.
Now that you have a PhD in running shorts, let’s take a look at some picks from the experts:
Best Women’s Running Shorts For Spring 2020: Spanx Booty Boost Active 4” Short
$60, 4-inch inseam, Spanx.com
Boasting a 4-inch inseam, Spanx says these shorts are specifically constructed to provide a “booty lift” by using fabric that not only wicks sweat, increases breathability, but also gives your rear some extra structure. One hidden pocket in the waistband fits small object like keys (probably not a phone, however), and Spanx’s well-known waistband also prevents any kind of unflattering bulges while helping with what they call a “perkier rearview”. The testers from Women’s Running said that “The active shorts fit and feel great. Between the high waist and stitching above the butt, these are super flattering.”
Best Women’s Running Shorts For Spring 2020: Janji Pace Shorts
$54, 6-inch inseam, Rei.com
Not only does Janji use some very fun and funky prints to spice up your closet—which change each season as they collaborate with new artists—but there’s a great give-back component to their clothes—2% of each sale goes back to nonprofit organizations working on clean-water initiatives in the Philippines. Aside from simply doing good, these shorts are actually a cornucopia of features like a lightweight compression, a waist drawcord that won’t get pulled out accidentally, and two pockets: one internal for small items like keys, and one on the back large enough for a phone or food (or hand sanitizer). Women’s Running called the Janji Pace Shorts, “Perfect if you like to shake up your running wardrobe. A super-high drawstring waist with silicone to stay put means these seemingly never move.”
Best Women’s Running Shorts For Spring 2020: Athleta Ultimate Stash Pocket 7” Short
$60, 7-inch inseam, Athleta.com
Even though Athleta likes to market these a little more toward the gym crowd, there’s no reason they can’t be a perfect solution for a longer-length running short. Using their “Supersonic” fabric to provide a sheer fit and compression, the Ultimate Stash is the packmule of bike-short style bottoms. Women’s Running liked them for their double side pockets that “make these the perfect long-run short—they’ll hold all your gels and your phone.”
Best Men’s Running Shorts For Spring 2020: Tracksmith Van Cortlandt Grand Shorts
$65, 4-inch inseam, Tracksmith.com
Any runner—or any runner who knows running—knows that Tracksmith may not be cheap, but you get what you pay for. Boasting an old-school New England-cool style and vibe, attention to detail is the name of the game. This updated version of their popular Van Cortlandt short with a less “competitive” (read: straight hem) cut gives more coverage and adds a dose of rarely seen mesh. Testers were first surprised by the lightness and sheerness of the mesh—a material that hasn’t been popular for decades—but they ended up being some of the most comfortable and quick-drying shorts in our arsenal. Two internal pockets in the back round out the features we need.
Best Men’s Running Shorts For Spring 2020: UnderArmour Qualifier Speedpocket 5” Shorts
$50, 5-inch inseam, Underarmour.com
The “speedpocket” in these shorts’ name is a stretchy, water-resistant pouch inside the front of the waistband that held a modern iPhone without bouncing better than any Podium Runner’s testers tried. The shell is a light, four-way-stretch woven with mesh side panels adding ventilation and style, while the next-to-skin feel of the breathable mesh liner is the high quality you’d expect from Under Armour.
Best Men’s Running Shorts For Spring 2020: On Lightweight Shorts
$80, 7-inch inseam, On-running.com
These shorts from Swiss On are as well-designed and finely-finished as their shoes. The front is a light, four-way stretch blend for full, unrestricted movement while the back is a perforated mesh to vent heat. Podium Runner’s testers especially liked the inclusion of a large pocket embedded in the back of the wide, stretchy waist, big enough for a smartphone. Better yet, with no zippers or hardware, this is an ideal pair for strength/core training on the ground.