Asking a triathlete what the most important piece of gear will get you a very different answer depending on when you pose the question. Ask a veteran racer what’s most important right before their 10th Ironman and they might say the bike or maybe nutrition. Ask them afterwards, as they hobble like a bowlegged cowboy out of the finish area, and that cowpoke might be whistling a different tune. Still the bike? Still nutrition? What if you could call them on the phone in the middle of that first post-race shower—what piece of gear would they say is most important then? Maybe they’d ask you a question right back (between cringey yelps as the water runs down south): What are the best triathlon shorts?
Now, just like anything where your body hits the gear, it’s impossible to say what the best pair of triathlon shorts is because we’re all made up of different shapes. The best pair of triathlon shorts for someone who’s doing their first sprint may not be the best for someone who’s doing their 20th long-course race. The best triathlon shorts for a woman obviously won’t work as well for a guy. Lots of cash to spend? No money in the tri bank? Tiny little thighs? Big ol’ booty? Different shorts for different folks.
Before diving into our guide to a few choice shorts—in categories based on features, price, and more—it’s also important to be armed with the knowledge to weed out the good from the bad and give yourself the best chance to get the best triathlon shorts possible.
How to Pick the Best Triathlon Shorts for YOU
The flatter (or more nonexistent) the seams, the better, pretty much always. Yes, flat or glued or welded seams might cost more, but it’s simple: The fewer stuff you have sticking up and possibly rubbing, the better.
Generally if your, let’s say, underparts, hurt most while riding, go with a thicker pad. If you experience more chafing while running, go slightly thinner. In my experience, someone with years spent in a running background can get away with a slightly thicker pad because their underparts/thighs/etc are a little more calloused from rubbing. (And they’ll need the padding for the bike more.) On the other hand, someone with a big cycling background might be a little more used to the feel of a saddle, while the chafing experienced during running may feel unbearable—this cycling-person should go with a thinner pad. Swimmers? Sorry, you’re just screwed. (Kidding, sort of.)
This is where things can go off the rails. Each brand has their own marketing mumbo jumbo about all of the benefits of why they make the best tri shorts due to their special proprietary material that’s both space age and sourced from the mountains of Tibet. If you know you’ll be racing in a super hot environment, then shoot for something thinner that has marketing terms based around evaporation, cooling, and so on. If you have big thighs and issues with leg cramping, avoid heavy compression (this, from personal experience). Worried about speed only? That marketing talk about clothing saving you watts is actually pretty on point, according to aerogeeks much smarter than me, so look for something that has aero-specific gains.
This is usually a matter of preference/style/modesty, but usually the best tri shorts for long-course racers (70.3 and above) are around 9 inches, while short-coursers prefer more in the 7-inch range. A longer cut gives a little more sun protection for the long day, and it can also give a tiny bit more coverage in chillier climes.
Sometimes shorts can be more than just shorts, and the best triathlon shorts for you just might be ones that can carry nutrition or garbage or an inhaler or the kitchen sink. Some shorts have storage in the back, some in the sides, none in the front (thank God). If you know you won’t be swimming with a wetsuit and speed is important, don’t forget that giant pockets will act like giant parachutes in the water.
Yes, some tri shorts have reflective or hi-viz strips built in. This may seem unimportant or superfluous (and for some, it is), but sometimes the best tri shorts are the ones that don’t make you another unfortunate statistic on an open, trafficky course.
Below we’ve assembled a jumping-off point for the best triathlon shorts, based on features, for a few categories. While we can’t hit every brand and model, if we missed one of your favorites, let us know why you think your tri shorts are the best!
Note: While we do have a category for best triathlon shorts for women, every other pair listed below comes in a men’s or women’s version, with the exception of the Huub Dave Scott Edition Tri Short.
Best Triathlon Shorts on a Budget
Louis Garneau Tri Power Lazer Short, $90
This affordable, long cut (10-inch inseam) tri short is a great choice for long-course triathletes not looking to spend a ton. Using Garneau’s perforated chamois pad to help with water wicking out of the water (and as you sweat), expect a dry undercarriage—which is a happy undercarriage. Don’t expect over-the-top fancy material or seams here and this pair doesn’t have pockets, but Garneau’s “coldblack” material is said to reflect heat, and reflective accents are always a plus.
Pearl Izumi Select Pursuit Tri Short, $65
Pearl Izumi’s Select Pursuit tri short is one of those pieces of equipment that almost every triathlete has had (or still has) at some point. Almost as ubiquitous in the transition area as Body Glide, these simple black shorts at an unbeatable price are an excellent jumping off point for anyone looking for their first tri-dedicated short with one pocket and some reflectivity. While it does have a vented tri chamois and flatlock seams (though most tri shorts do too), you’ll find very few fabric panels which can feel slightly more constricting than higher-end models. With that said, these durable shorts can serve for many seasons before it’s time to upgrade.
Best Triathlon Shorts for Long-Course Racing
DeSoto 400-Mile Cycling Short, $170
Ok, these are marketed as a cycling short, but here’s a pro tip: These are amazing for long-course racing. With a varying inseam based on size from 8 inch to 9 inch, the secret to these sleepers are the 11-panel construction (super form fitting), floating chamois (meaning not sewn into the top of the fabric), and elastic-free leg bands. Again, these are more like tri shorts than cycling shorts because they also have three pockets for anything one could need during a long day in the saddle, but there’s a big caution not to do any practice sessions in a chlorinated pool to reduce the risk of ruining the material. These are the best tri shorts that somehow aren’t tri shorts.
Zoot Ultra Tri Dragzero 9” Short, $125
Bolstered by Zoot’s years of experience in long-course tri, the Ultra Dragzero’s biggest selling point is the edge-free chamois for super long rides and runs. These 9-inch shorts have not only a pocket on each hip, but also a unique dual-entry pouch in the back for endless nutrition (or garbage) storage. A modesty liner is an added bonus that we wish more people thought of, and the Italian material throughout means excellent body mapping and grip on the legs.
Best Triathlon Shorts with All the Bells and Whistles
Huub Dave Scott Edition Tri Short, $135
You know it’s going to be well thought-out when The Man stands behind it. This pair is definitely one of the best triathlon shorts because so much has gone into designing it—special low pressure leg openings and waistband prevent the dreaded “sausage leg syndrome,” while a clever forward-position 6mm chamois is tailor made for the aero position. With that said, these tri shorts cover the basics as well with “coldblack” heat reflective material and a covered aero pocket in the back.
Roka Gen II Elite Aero Tri Short, $125
Without completely breaking the bank, Roka has done the traditionally Roka Thing and engineered and tested the heck out of these shorts. Available in both 7.5 inch and 9.5 inch, these shorts have been run through the windtunnel for aerodynamic efficiency, are optimized with a different front fabric to allow better cooling, and are one of the best triathlon shorts for speed on the road. Similar to the Huub tri shorts, this Roka pair uses a special no-sew leg opening to reduce a lack of circulation around more…substantial thighs, and also utilizes “coldblack” to help with heat.
Best Triathlon Shorts For Women
Soas Tri Short (Couch Kit shown), $98
Ladies-only clothing brand Soas is not only known for their funky style and colors, but also for providing women with a bevy of options for race-day wear. Soas’ classic tri short may have a simple fleece liner, but the elastic-free, yoga style waistband is a nice feature. As these shorts are available with a silicone gripper leg (with a 5-inch inseam) or a cuff leg opening (with a 6-inch inseam), ladies can really lock down their preference where other brands might just give you what they’ve got. Small triple rear pockets round out this simple-but-well-thought-out pair of shorts that are certainly the best tri shorts for different color options and different body shapes.
Dixie Devil Moroccan Tri Short, $170
Another ladies-only brand of tri gear takes a different, more substantial angle to the chamois, with their renowned custom sewn-in Italian pad. Also, rather than the yoga-style waistband that’s popular on many women’s-specific tri shorts, their latest offering has a wider band to keep a higher back with more coverage. Bear in mind, these shorts are available in a 7-inch inseam only and sport only one pocket in the back.