Best running shorts for women reviewed of 2023

We give our round-up of the best running shorts for women. Prioritising comfort and performance above all else.

running shorts collage

by Kate Milsom |
Updated on

It’s not easy to find a pair of good-fitting running shorts for women, which tick both the comfort as well as practicality box. Then, you’ve got to consider sizing, length, pockets, material, style… it’s a minefield! If you’re keen to level up your performance and the spec of your gear, then there’s some brilliant women’s running shorts out there, and we’ve been testing the best of the bunch.

So, let’s take it back to basics. Above all, we want a pair of running shorts that will fit us well. There's more to consider here than for men's running shorts. For those women who are prone to the dreaded thigh chafe, length is a key consideration here.

You may want to look for a 2in1 pair of running shorts, or some that’ll sit snug to the skin and provide a protective layer between the legs as you run. Grab a tape-measure and decide the length of in-step on yourself that would work for your needs and style preferences (tip: you’ll likely want 4” inseam minimum).

Once that’s out of the way, you need to consider what style you like best. If you’re prone to overheating and hate anything tight-fitting, there’s plenty of options in this article which offer a loose fit for maximum ventilation, and even some verging on baggy. Only once you've found the perfect pair of running shorts, should you worry about other gear like lightweight running tops, good running base layers, and of course, running leggings for the colder months.

runner in long grass

Our shortlist

Montane Slipstream Twin Skin Shorts Women’s – Best in Test

Fohn Trail Women’s Lightweight Short – Best Value

Dryad Eido – Best for Sustainability

Rab Women’s Talus Trail Light Shorts – Best for hot weather

Rab Women’s Talus Ultra Shorts – Recommended for 2in1

On Running Essentials Shorts Women’s – Best for a run/hike versatility

Inov-8 Trailfly Ultra 3” 2in1 Short Women’s – Recommended

Ronhill Tech Distance Twin Short- Recommended

Icebreaker Women’s Zoneknit Merino Shorts – Recommended

Don’t forget to take note of what features you’ll need in a pair of running shorts. Maybe you like to be minimal, but some sort of pocket capacity always comes in handy, even if it is just a tiny pouch for your keys. Also think about whether you’d like a secure phone pocket, zip pocket for valuables, or maybe even gel loops for race purposes. This article will show you a range of shorts with all of the above.

Lastly, but by no means least important, pay keen attention to the materials used and their sustainability. These days, whether running kit is made from and by eco-friendly materials and practices is an important consideration if we want to make a collective move away from fast-fashion, and towards supporting good-quality and long-lasting running gear that can really be relied upon on the trails.

Best women's running shorts

Best in Test

montane twin skin womens run shorts
Price: £70.00

montane.com

When it comes to feeling most at home in a pair of women's running shorts, the Slipstream Twin Skin Shorts from Montane fill the brief. As the name suggests, the two-part design involves snug-fitting nylon undershorts paired with a thin and breathable, stretch polyester outer shell. 

Unlike others here, the two layers align so that you can’t see the undershorts when on. Instead, they work their magic tucked away from sight. They’re tight enough to feel supportive rather than compressive, and long and secure enough for a large smartphone to sit flush in the leg side pocket. The undershorts stay firmly in place while running and being five inches long, are the perfect length to protect from thigh chafe.  

Travelling up the shorts, there’s a nice and wide (7cm) stretch waistband with drawcord, which hugs the stomach gently. Set within the band is a large rear zip pocket and two smaller side pouches for gels. The shorts are true to size and we like the dual-tone navy colourways.

Pros

  • Extremely comfortable
  • Fits well with good coverage
  • Plenty of pocket options
  • Non-bounce phone pouch

Cons

  • A touch heavier and less breathable than others here

Best Value

fohn trail womens lightweight short
Price: £24.99 (was £50)

www.wiggle.com

A great pick for those who prioritise their shorts being lightweight and short, these trail running shorts from Fohn have to be one of our favourite options. They’re relatively simple in style, with a nice and thick, high waistband and drawcord in waffle weave, flowing down into loose shorts with a subtly curved hem. If you do like a certain degree of coverage on the legs though, take a look at the longer options in this test as these shorts have a small 2.5” inseam.  

These and Rab’s shorts we’ve reviewed below would be our top picks for hot weather running. Though Fohn doesn’t disclose the material used, its feels very light and breathable when running, with some nice four-way stretch for added movement and comfort.

Pockets include two side gel pouches and a large rear zip pocket with loop for securing keys, this larger compartment can also fit a smartphone, though the weight of this does cause slight bounce when running. All in all, we love the simplicity and comfort of Fohn’s trail shorts, which obviously has a quality build with its bonded hems and reflective detailing.

Pros

  • Lightweight and breathable
  • Soft and comfortable
  • High waistband
  • Affordable price

Cons

  • Could feel too short/not provide enough coverage for some

Best for sustainability

dryad womens running short
Price: £49.00

dryad.co

Dryad is a community-driven sportswear company based in Wales, with a focus on providing transparency when it comes to the sustainability of their products. That’s evident in Dryad’s Eido women’s running shorts, which are made from 88% recycled polyester. 

The most striking feature of these shorts is the high and thick double-layer waistband, which really hugs the stomach while you run. The band has a mesh overlay, within which there are two large pouches located at the front, for easy stashing of gels and bars. Meanwhile, there’s also two slim gel pouches at the sides and a rear envelope pouch with loop for securing keys or a phone. With no zip pocket, we were nervous to leave our keys inside as we ran, but they remained safe and secure while running. It fits a smartphone like a glove.

Though they’re relatively short with a 3.75” inseam, they’re not skin-tight, which is great as this means some extra ventilation while running. A built-in brief (knicker) liner makes the shorts feel even more secure. Due to the length, these would not be long enough to prevent thigh chafe, but others on this test tick that box well. Our size S fits a UK8 well.

Pros

  • Sustainably produced using recycled materials
  • Comfortable and supportive high waist
  • Plenty of pocket capacity

Cons

  • No zip pocket for peace of mind

Best for hot weather

The lightest pair of running shorts on test by quite a stretch at 77g, the Rab Talus Trail Light Shorts feel heavenly thin and breathable in action. If you’re wearing running shorts, it’s likely fairly warm out (unless you’re one of those annual short wearers), so you want shorts that’ll help keep you cool and comfortable as you run. Enter, the Talus Trail Light. 

Shorter than others on test (2.5” inseam), the Talus have an in-built, mesh brief liner for modesty and little side cut-outs for greater freedom of movement. Like many here, there’s a thick and high waistband. Now comes our only gripe, there’s no drawcord for tightening. But since the fit is true to size, we found they still managed to stay up well when running. 

When it comes to pocket capacity, Rab hasn't skimped in favour of weight savings. There are two front mesh pockets for stashing stuff on the go, smaller than that of the Dryad shorts, but still adequate. One inner key pouch is the perfect size to prevent bounce, and the large rear zip pocket can just about fit a large smartphone, after a bit of wrestling.

Pros

  • Super lightweight and breathable
  • Plenty of pocket capacity
  • Nice style and design

Cons

  • Not long enough to prevent thigh chafe

Recommended for 2in1

The Rab Talus Ultra Shorts have a similar look and build to Rab’s Talus Trail Light Short (see above review), the main difference being that these provide more coverage, yet less pocket capacity. 

The Talus Ultras have a 2in1 design, with 4” undershorts which are snug without feeling restrictive, protruding from under the top layer so the 2in1 style is visible. They also cover the upper part of the thighs most prone to chafing. Over the top sits a supremely breathable waffle mesh shell made from Rab’s Matrix Aero stretch fabric. 

Though there’s no side phone pocket like with the Montane Twin Skin Shorts, there is a large mesh pouch at the rear that’s accessible via two smaller openings. This means we’re not able to fit our phone inside, but it’s great for easy access to gels and bars. There’s also a small key pouch tucked away inside. Like the Trail Light, a drawstring at the waist would have been appreciated to make the fit more adjustable.

Pros

  • Good coverage while remaining breathable
  • Comfortable materials and waistband

Cons

  • Could do with more secure pockets

Best for run/hike versatility

These On Running Essentials Shorts are a simple pair of workout shorts that perform best over shorter running distances. Though they have a 4” inseam, they feel longer than most on test thanks to the boxy style and generous fit. Other stylistic features include two small side slits for range of movement, with the discreet On logo adding reflective detailing. 

It must be noted that these are not run-specific shorts, so it's no wonder the two pockets are set into front of the shorts and open to the side like a normal pair of trousers, making them not super secure for running.

Although, this isn’t a massive issue if you only need to bring a key, as there’s a handy hidden mesh envelope compartment with loop within one of them for this purpose. We like the look of the Essentials Shorts, the design making them more versatile for other activities, such as walking. 

In terms of sizing, size S fits UK8 well with some room to spare, while a drawstring waist allows for adjustment.

Pros

  • Run shorts which also double-up as walking/everyday shorts
  • Secure key pocket
  • Stylish and comfy, relaxed fit

Cons

  • Two main pockets not secure for running

Recommended

The Inov-8 Trailfly Ultra 3" shorts are a pair of short running shorts made for longer distances, as the name suggests. The 2in1 design includes inner shorts made partly from recycled polyester and a very thin waffle weave outer shell with side slits. A wide and very soft waistband completes the ensemble with an inner drawcord for adjustment. 

In use, though the shorts feel comfy at first, the inner lining isn’t tight enough to sit flush to the legs and the silicone hem doesn’t completely keep them in place. Though we appreciated the lightness of the outer shell, this was diminished somewhat by the thickness of the waistband. Nevertheless, we liked the two front pouches for stashing gels and bars, and the back rear pocket and loop for securing our valuables. Our UK8 felt tighter than others of the same size on test.

Pros

  • Good-quality materials and build
  • Decent pocket capacity

Cons

  • Thick fabric not very breathable
  • Sizing runs a bit small

Recommended

Recommended

If you love standing out from the crowd and wearing bright and bold colours, then the Ronhill Tech Distance Twin Short is for you. The shorts have a 2in1 design with an extremely ventilated mesh, purple undershorts and an aerated, bright green outer shell with high side-slit. For the cherry on the cake, Ronhill have added a fluorescent yellow rope drawstring to the waistband. 

Despite its striking looks, these shorts are made for practicality. They’ve got two large side pockets on each leg which can each fit a phone comfortably, a large zip rear pocket, and multiple front storage loops. The loops are too large for one gel, only feeling secure when two gels are wedged in. 

The undershorts have a modest 6” inseam, offering more coverage than most other shorts on test. They also feel very breathable and ventilated when running, with good wicking capacity. 

In terms of sizing, a UK8 is true to size, giving a relaxed fit. The Tech Distance shorts are one of a few on test who use primarily recycled materials, so gets a big tick in our books. If you can look past the colourways, then these shorts.

Pros

  • Very aerated and breathable
  • Two side phone pockets
  • Long inseam for coverage
  • Highly visible

Cons

  • Colourways may not be to everyone's taste
  • Front loops too loose to secure one gel

Recommended

The Icebreaker Zoneknit Shorts stand out from the crowd with their use of the naturally breathable and odour-resistant mix of Tencel and merino wool. The jersey-like fabric seems a far cry from the technical polyester and nylon blends used in the other shorts on test. Although it is certainly less stretchy, the fabric manages to remain fairly breathable and cool, partly thanks to the use of Icebreaker’s ‘Cool-Lite’ aerated side panels. 

There’s one side envelope pocket that can fit a couple gels, and one rear zip pocket for small valuables. A drawstring waist allows some adjustability, but these shorts are less flexible in terms of size than others here. The merino brief liner is super gentle against the skin. In terms of sizing, we found them to run a little small, so would recommend sizing up for comfort.

Pros

  • Supremely soft material
  • Made from merino wool
  • Feels lightweight

Cons

  • Sizing runs a bit small
  • Not loads of pocket options
  • Less affordable than others

What to look for in women’s running shorts

Length: What length you go for in running shorts will depend on your personal comfort preference and style. Shorter ones should feel less hot and heavy, especially if they’re not skin-tight. Longer shorts will help prevent thigh chafe, as well as provide more coverage and protection from the elements.

Material: Trail running shorts are typically made of lightweight, breathable, and moisture-wicking fabrics such as polyester or nylon blends. These materials help keep you dry and comfortable during your runs.

Inner liner/brief: Many trail running shorts have an inner liner made of a stretchy and moisture-wicking material like mesh or synthetic fabric. The liner helps provide support and prevents chafing by reducing friction between your thighs.

Outer shell: For those 2in1 shorts with a lining will have an outer shell, which will be designed to be abrasion-resistant and lightweight. It may have features like reinforced stitching or panels in high-wear areas to enhance durability.

two people under umbrella

Pockets: Most running shorts will have pockets to store small essentials like keys, energy gels, or a smartphone. These pockets can be located on the sides, back, or even integrated into the waistband. If you’re one to run with your phone, look for large thigh pockets or secure waistband ones.

Adjustable waistband: Most trail running shorts feature an elastic or drawstring waistband that allows you to adjust the fit according to your preference. This helps keep them secure and comfortable while running.

Ventilation: Trail running shorts often incorporate mesh panels or vents in strategic areas to promote airflow and improve ventilation. This helps regulate body temperature and prevents overheating during intense workouts.

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