How to Choose a Pair of Running Shorts

Perry Dau

I’m often asked a wide variety questions regarding running shorts. This article summarizes the many considerations and options related to the purchase of running shorts.

Do you wear underwear with the shorts?

The intent is NO, running shorts have an integral liner built in. If they do not have this liner I would suggest that they are not “running” shorts. Wearing underwear along with the liner is akin to wearing suspenders and a belt or underwear with a swimsuit. Additionally, underwear if often made of cotton, which is a whole issue in itself. Look for liners made of Coolmax Alta Crepe This lightweight short liner provides increased support and supple hand, alleviating chaffing. The hydrophilic micro fibers of our short liner instantly remove moisture from crucial areas keeping them dry. The crepe construction reduces points of contact on your skin sustaining airflow and over all comfort. Another fabric, TechniFine Mesh is designed for ultimate performance in the summer heat; Technifine Mesh features a mini-triangle hole pattern that provides excellent breathability and moisture transfer without visibility. Lightweight, quick drying and pill-resistant with a soft, silky touch to reduce abrasion.

Do running shorts offer enough support for men?

The answer is yes. A jock strap is unnecessary; the built in liner is sufficient. This is not to say that you can transition into the weight room with out a change. Heavy lifting is a very different activity that running and strains the body differently. For the track and field athletes, for some events, the typical distance running shorts would not be appropriate without additional support.

There are so many materials from which to choose. What is good? What about chafing?

Look for a soft fabric that will wick moisture and will be breathable. One of the best that I have found is Micro Soft This ultra light micro-denier polyester is three times finer than silk allowing these super fine breathable fibers to wick moisture from the skin and instantly evaporate. The beautiful, uncommon drape of our Micro Soft fabric creates a superior fit, enhanced functional movement and the best running short available. Wet clothing is a leading cause of chafing. By all means, stay away from cotton and nylon. Neither of which offers both of these properties. Another beauty is the durability. I personally have a pair that are about three years old and have a hard time distinguishing them from a brand new pair.

There are so many lengths. How do I choose?

This is a matter of personal preference. Shorts are sold in a variety of lengths noted by the inseam measurement. Starting with the very short 1″ and extending to 7″. Longer than this and you’re leaving the realm of running shorts and entering “pop” fashion. Modesty seams to have a large roll in personal choice here. Once again, chafing comes into play here. If your thighs tend to rub together you would be advised to go with a longer pair to minimum the problem. Another tendency with runners is to wear a shorter pair during shorter/faster runs and longer for the long/slow distance.

What is the difference between split leg and v-notch?

This is simply how the outside seam on the leg is constructed. The v-notch is simply a sewn seam running the length of the leg until the last 1/2 inch where it is notched in an upside down “v”. This is the most common type of shorts sold. The split leg is not sewn the length of the leg; rather is constructed by overlapping the front panel over the back. The length of the split can vary from a full split starting at or near the waistband to a ½ inch split. Split leg shorts offer the greatest flexibility and have been a favorite of elite runners for many years.

Shorts are sold in Men’s, Women’s and Unisex styles. Is there a difference within these styles?

The answer is – Yes, there should be. And for good reason as the male and female body is shaped differently throughout the waist, hips, and thighs. A quality pair of shorts will be cut to maximize the fit for each gender separately. We sell both men’s and women’s shorts and they are not interchangeable.

What’s up with the pockets?

Most all shorts will have a small “key” pocket on the inside/front of the waistband. Look for a pocket large enough to hold a credit card. Side pockets are not very common but are showing up on “trail” shorts. “Nutritional” pockets sewn onto the backside are very handy, particularly for those training for long distances. These are designed primarily for the gel packs but certainly can hold other items. Look for a wider waistband and pockets sewn close to the waistband. This will help to reduce bouncing.

What styles are in fashion?

Popular culture has a profound influence on the design and retail industry, even in running apparel. During the ’70s and ’80s, running shorts were very short and form fitting. As hip-hop culture began to gain influence, it dictated looser, more voluminous street clothes. Even suburbanites began to embrace this fashion; athletic apparel was not far behind. First basketball shorts began to expand in length and width. Running apparel took a longer time, but have definitely followed suit. It has held that the younger runners and the recreational runners tend to buy the more fashion-forward apparel. Elite runners on the other hand have continued to run in shorter shorts. Today’s fabrics are more technical, brighter in color, and bolder in patterns. While fashion and trends push the market, the full split short, much loved by older runners but lately difficult to find, is making a comeback. Fashion can only dictate form to a point, and then function reigns. The trend during past few years has been toward longer and baggier shorts. Runners are realizing that running in long shorts is not easy or comfortable, so the trend is beginning to swing back toward more traditional, “shorter” shorts. In monitoring discussion boards of high school and college runners there has been a lot of talk regarding “short” shorts. The bottom line is that both gals and guys are thinking that they are “hot” as long as the body fits the shorts.

In conclusion, as you can tell, there are lots of options from which to choose along with some big price differences. I’ve found that shorts that I have purchased from the large discount stores soon lose their appeal, are uncomfortable, and don’t hold up. I like to look at it as an investment in miles per dollar. Buy a discount knockoff for $15.00 and after 100 miles of use, you are wishing for something else as you have an investment of $.15 per mile. A quality pair of running shorts can cost about $35.00; you will still love them 500 miles later. This translates to $0.07 per mile, half the cost!

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Perry Dau is the owner of Revel Sports, a specialty, on-line running store. Perry has been a runner and “silent sports” enthusiast for nearly 30 years.

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Thomas Watson is an ultra-runner, UESCA-certified running coach, and the founder of MarathonHandbook.com. His work has been featured in Runner's World, Livestrong.com, MapMyRun, and many other running publications. He likes running interesting races and playing with his two tiny kids. More at his bio.

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