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Ashley Mateo is an award-winning journalist, editor, and certified running coach whose work has appeared in the Wall Street Journal, Outside Magazine, Men's Journal, among many others.
The thing about trail running is it’s unpredictable: The weather can change on a dime, you might be dodging tree branches and rocky outcroppings, and you generally need a lot more stuff than you do on the road. To go the distance, you need gear that works for, not against, you.
That makes storage and durability two of the main features to keep in mind when considering running shorts specifically for trail running. Secure pockets allow you to carry all your essential running gear—fuel, hydration, poles, even extra layers—without a pack. And, out in the wilderness, features like DWR (durable water-repellent) coatings, which protect you from wind and water, and UV-protective fabrics, which block your skin from the sun, can help you and your kit stand up to the environment.
Most importantly, though, you need to be comfortable. There’s so much else to consider when you’re tacking dirt and vert, you don’t want to be distracted by chafing seams, digging waistbands, and sweat-logged fabrics.
We consider the following trail running shorts to be the best running shorts you can get—they'll keep you cool, dry, and moving freely, so you can tackle any terrain with confidence. You'll find the men's options first, followed by trail running shorts for women.
The 5 Best Men's Trail Running Shorts
They may look minimalist, but these half tights from Nike hide eight pockets: two on the hips that are big enough for water flasks; a zippered back pocket for your phone; two easy access front pockets for snacks; and a drop-in pocket at the brief for small stuff, like your car key. They work as compression shorts to help keep your muscles supported, but the fabric is a stretchy, lightweight knit that won’t restrict your movement when you’re ready to fly.
Push the pace in The North Face’s Summit Series shorts, which call to mind traditional road running shorts with their split hem, stretch fabric, and subtle pockets (there are four total, including a zippered pocket for your iPhone). These, however, are not only constructed from the brand’s proprietary lightweight and quick-drying fabrics, they’re designed with abrasion and tear resistance so you can get after it in more rugged conditions from the Colorado Rockies to New Hampshire's White Mountains (which is where one of our testers took his pair) and beyond.
Leave nothing behind in Rabbit’s Shredder shorts, which have six pockets lining the waist with one zip pocket for your phone and enough space elsewhere to fit a small water flask, and two elastic loops to carry your trekking poles. Between the compression liner and internal drawstring, these aren’t budging—even when you’re fully loaded. Eco-conscious trail runners will appreciate that these are made from recycled coffee grounds and sustainable nylon, both of which keep you cool and help control odor.
Nathan’s Front Runner Shorts are so light, you’ll barely feel them. They’re also soft and stretchy, stitched together with flatlock seams to avoid any chafing, which essentially eliminates all distractions so you can focus only on the trail ahead of you. You can still carry what you need, though; these no-frills lightweight shorts actually hide three pockets: a zippered one on the side, and two phone pockets tucked into the inner liner.
If you’re looking for a short that can handle the trails and pretty much any other activity out there, go for the Vuori Kore. These men's running shorts/gym shorts/do-anything shorts are available in 15 colors and three different inseam lengths (see: the 5-inch and 9-inch options), all of which have a boxer-brief liner, elastic waistband, and slash pockets. What makes these so damn comfortable, though, is the brand’s super soft polyester blend, which is also anti-odor, moisture-wicking, and quick-drying with great breathability.
The 5 Best Women's Trail Running Shorts
Brooks designed these shorts with input from their elite trail running athletes, and it shows. There are four drop-in hip pockets to store gels and snacks (or trash), a zippered back pocket big enough to fit most smartphones, and a drawstring at the waist to keep it all from bouncing around. The mildly compressive liner prevents chafing, while the looser outer layer, which is made of DWR-treated ripstop fabric to prevent snags on the trail, allows for full freedom of movement.
Rabbit’s best seller features a built-in race belt, with six waistband pockets and two elastic loops for storing poles. They’re way more comfortable than your average belt, though; the brand’s lightweight fabric uses quick-drying and odor-controlling technologies, along with bonded seams that prevent chafing. So while this pair of 4" shorts may look minimal, it's truly geared for long distance running.
From the inside out, Tracksmith’s trail shorts seamlessly meld fashion and function. The compressive knit liner has drop-in side pockets for your phone or fuel, while the shell is crafted from lightweight, quick-drying, and moisture-wicking, Italian-made, stretch knit fabric with built-in UV protection. There are two more pockets on the waist, and the adjustable elastic belt—which is so much sleeker than a drawstring—can be used to hold your shirt when temps heat up.
Salomon’s Cross Run shorts fit like a second skin. The half-length running tights are made from recycled polyester and elastane to provide support and stretch without riding up as you run; plus, the fabric is moisture-wicking and quick-drying. The mid-thigh length accommodates pockets on each side that are deep enough to fit your phone, your fuel, and then some, and the wide waistband—with an adjustable drawcord—helps keep everything from bouncing.
If you spend hours on trails, opt for shorts you know will outlast you. The Strider Pro from Patagonia is made mostly from recycled polyester, with four-way stretch spandex that allows you to scramble over more technical terrain. Three pockets make it easy to stash gels and other essentials, and the internal drawcard lets you adjust the fit on the go. Fast-drying fabric in the liner and wide waistband help keep you from overheating no matter how hard you’re working.