In Search of Superlative Shorts

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I spend a preposterous amount of time wearing shorts. Unless there’s a blizzard, I’m at the office, or visiting some kind of religious site where they are strictly forbidden, I will not be caught wearing pants. If I’m doing anything other than running or hiking (and sometimes even when I am), I’m usually wearing a pair of Patagonia Baggies, which are not only bombproof–I wore them for nearly the entirety of my Appalachian Trail thru-hike–but also comfortable and practical for yoga, lounging, or swimming.

Ultrarunning and long-distance hiking put unique strains on not just your body but also your clothing, so finding gear that works for you is essential. I equate the importance of proper bottomwear to that of finding the right shoes, and both are difficult because of the sheer number of options and styles available. Both categories are similar in that just about anything will work up to a certain point. For example, you could wear ill-fitting shoes for short runs forever and likely never experience significant adverse affects yet in the later stages of a race or thru-hike they can make all the difference.

By (my) definition, a sublime pair of shorts is one that fits well, lasts long, and allows you to carry everything you need for a long race or regular training run.

Where art thou, superlative shorts?

For the last two years, shorts have barely been a thought for me. I bought a pair of Patagonia Striders (2017 model) which, despite their lack of storage, worked fine for most runs. I paired these with an Ultimate Direction Utility Belt which worked quite well. For longer events I’m usually wearing my hydration vest which provides all the storage I need for water and nutrition, so life was good. However, having only one pair of good running shorts was resulting in either far more loads of laundry than usually necessary or having my apartment smell like a locker room.

When 2019 rolled around, I excitedly purchased a pair of Patagonia Strider Pro 7″ shorts, the updated and upgraded version of my previous pair, and was initially very happy with them. However, after just a couple of months I noticed that the inseams were beginning to tear and that I was developing hotspots not only around the liner area but also on my lower back from the waistband. Something had clearly changed in the fit and design of my favorite shorts, and I realized these were not going to cut it. Not yet willing to give up on my beloved Strider Pros, I exchanged my initial pair for another, hoping maybe I’d received a lemon, but unfortunately experienced the same results.

I decided that until Patagonia fixes its Strider Pros I would have to supplement with something else, and I began a deep dive into the strange land of running shorts. I bought, tried, and subsequently returned half a dozen pairs of shorts that were touted in blog reviews and YouTube videos as being “the best of the best” and decided to share my findings to perhaps assist with someone else’s search for the perfect pair of shorts.

For context, I am 5’10” tall, 180lbs, and have larger-than-the-average-runner’s thighs. My focus is on lightweight and breathable garments for the hot and humid conditions that I currently train in within Pakistan. I didn’t focus in on a specific price range because if there’s a pair that hits all the marks I’d be willing to pay for it. I need enough storage for a phone, keys, and ID card for shorter runs and less of a storage requirement for longer runs because I have plenty of space in my hydration vest.


Saxx Pilot 2N1

MSRP: $65 – on sale in many places (discontinued?) for $25-$30.

Saxx is a new brand for me. Their primary focus has been men’s underwear with “BallPark Pouch” technology, which is essentially a set of mesh panels to keep your man parts compartmentalized to help reduce friction. In addition to underwear, they also have several pairs of shorts with integrated liners that have this patented feature. I happened to see this pair on sale and snagged them up to try them out, and I was pleasantly surprised.

Pros

  • The BallPark Pouch hype is real. Incredibly comfortable – more so than any other liner I’ve tried.
  • Both the liner and shell are very lightweight and not too tight or stuffy as with most other shorts I tried. They feel like I’m wearing pajamas.
  • The phone pocket on the liner helps make these usable for shorter runs when I don’t have my hydration vest.

Cons

  • With only the rear zip pocket and sleeve on the liner, these shorts have minimal storage options.
  • The cut is trifle baggy. I would have preferred the legs to be just slightly more slim.
  • The waistband is loose and low. I would have preferred that they, and subsequently the rear pocket, ride a little higher. It looks like newer versions of their shorts have an updated waistband.

Overall

These shorts are damn near perfect for my needs. They are the most comfortable pair I tried and although the fit isn’t quite ideal, it’s good enough and the excellent liner more than makes up for it. Although there isn’t much storage for nutrition on these, I could see myself wearing them for races where I can store everything in my vest. These (and other versions by the company) usually retail for $75, but snagging them at more than 50% off was a fantastic deal and makes them a definite keeper for me.

Buy now


The North Face ‘Better Than Naked’ Long Haul

MSRP: $69.99

Many reviews from pre-2018 cited the “Better than Naked” line as some of the most comfortable running shorts on the market. I was skeptical about this claim but figured I would give them a shot as I have not used any North Face products for running in quite some time. I picked up a pair of the “Long Haul” version, which includes an integrated liner.

Pros

  • Lots of storage around the waistband. Pockets all the way around provide both secure storage for a mobile device and also lots of nutrition or a headlamp. The pockets on the liner were a nice touch as well, albeit a little small.
  • The outer shell was lightweight and water-resistant.
  • The waistband is comfortable and overall fit for a Medium was good.

Cons

  • The liner is heavy and felt “stuffy”. It didn’t match the light airy-ness of the outer shell and would not be as ideal for warmer conditions as I had expected.
  • While the waistband was comfortable, it was loose and required that I cinch it down every time I put them on which is not ideal.

Overall

These shorts are a bit more expensive than the norm at $70 but offer a good amount of storage and performance. The liner isn’t ideal, but I don’t think I would have any problem running a long race with these. That being said, there wasn’t anything particularly impressive that would justify the high cost of these shorts for me, so they were returned.

Buy now


Lululemon Surge 6″ – Liner

MSRP: $68

Until recently, I completely wrote off Lululemon as overpriced Millenial-focused althleisure wear that had no place in the “serious exercise” market. While that may still be true in many ways, I decided to keep an open mind and try a pair of their shorts after many recommendations on forums and blog comments. They have a couple different running short styles with variations on liners and inseam length, but I went with one of their “longer” versions with a liner and was pleasantly surprised.

Pros

  • Extremely comfortable all around – another pair that felt like pajamas.
  • The liner was thin, breathable, and barely noticeable, which was great. The phone pocket was a nice touch as well, although not ideal for any kind of long run as it would get too sweaty.
  • The waistband was comfy and never rode up.

Cons

  • Their sizing runs small, in my opinion. I wear a medium in most brands and these were a tad tight. I should have sized up to a large.
  • Not much for storage. The pocket in the back is difficult to access while moving, and although it looks sleek it’s not very practical.

Overall

My opinion on Lululemon has definitely changed. Although the sizing was a bit off for me, I think that if I moved up to a Large these would be a comfortable and suitable pair of shorts. However, I couldn’t justify the high price tag compared to its minimal offerings and questionable quality so they were sent back.

Buy now


Janji Traverse 2-in-1

MSRP: $72

Janji is another company that has really gained some traction in the running community. Their business model focuses on charity work and supporting clean water initiatives, which is admirable. Their products seem to be targeted at petite runners who like to show a lot of leg, but I figured I’d give them a shot anyway and ordered a pair of Traverse 2-in-1 shorts.

Pros

  • Nice amount of storage. In addition to the liner pocket, these have one good-sized hip pocket on either side which would hold several gels or trash.
  • The waistband is super comfortable – one of the best I tried.
  • The outer shell is lightweight, soft, and dries quickly.

Cons

  • The liner is very slim and was quite uncomfortable for me. Clearly designed for someone with smaller features than I.
  • The quality is questionable. Within just a couple of runs, I could notice some pilling and wear at the seams of the liner.

Overall

I love the mission of Janji, but their shorts don’t work for me. Although the waistband was great, their fashion sense with loud patterns, slim legs, and aggresive inseam lengths is a bit much for me. Paired with the fact that the liner began to literally unravel within three runs was a sure sign that I should pass.

Buy now


Patagonia Strider Pro – 7″

MSRP: $69

Ah, my beloved Strider Pros. These were my third or fourth pair I’ve owned, and up until this year they were my favorite shorts ever. Not cheap, of course, but usually tough as nails, light as air, and had more than enough storage. Now? Not so much.

Pros

  • The storage on these shorts are the best on the market. Large pockets with elastic closures allow you to store a phone, light jacket, hat, and gels all at the same time. It’s almost absurd how good it is.
  • The cut and length of these shorts are PERFECT. They are slim without constraining movement, ride at just the right place, and the inseam hits at just the right place.
  • They are lightweight, quick-drying, and attractive.

Cons

  • While the outer fit is great, the liner is where this version falls apart. It’s tight, itchy, and restrictive. I normally do not have chaffing issues, but with these I would chafe in my groin and also my lower back (from the waistband) on long runs. That got old really quickly.
  • The quality has taken a significant downturn on these. My first pair from 2 years ago are still going strong, whereas I’m on my second pair of these because of blown inseams.
  • Because of the light colors these are produced in and the way the liner sits, when you sweat a lot if collects in the groin area and makes it look like you pissed yourself. Maybe that’s just a pet peeve of mine.

Overall

I really wish these were better, but they’re not. Maybe Patagonia will realize the mistakes they’ve made and introduce a better product next year and we can go back to snubbing our noses at other brands, but until then I’m steering clear.

Buy now


PATH Projects Graves PX 7″

MSRP: $47

PATH Projects is a relatively new brand that is making waves in the run-garment industry. Founder Scott Bailey discovered, as I think we all knew, that “a truly functional pair of shorts simply didn’t exist” and decided to build them himself on a direct-to-consumer model–meaning you won’t find these in REI. Working from the creed of “shorts and liners should be separate”, all PATH Projects shorts are unlined and can be used with any liner (or none) of your choosing. Of course, they sell several types of liners as well in case you decide to use theirs.

Pros

  • In my initial tests (including multiple 20+ mile runs), these are some of the highest quality shorts on the market right now. The material feels great, the zippers and seams are solid, and you can tell that a lot of thought and care went into the design.
  • The storage on these shorts is unique–and I dig it. There aren’t many long-distance running shorts with two hand pockets and a small single-gel pocket on the leg, but it works. Even when putting keys or a phone in these pockets, they don’t bounce around awkwardly like you’d think. Also, the rear pocket in the back is the biggest of any model I’ve ever seen and can easily accommodate just about any phone on the market.
  • By not having a liner, you can pick and choose one based on your comfort or climate. Why have a thick and stuffy liner when it’s 100 degrees outside or a barely-there broadcloth when it’s below freezing? Or what if you wanted to wear full-length tights? No problemo with these.

Cons

  • I found the sizing on these shorts to be a tad wonky. According to their size chart I’m on the higher end of a Medium, so I went with that initially. When I received them, they were a bit tighter than I was comfortable with, so I exchanged for a Large (seen in photos). While they aren’t quite as flowy as the Saxx 2N1 I show above, they are looser than I’d like. If I don’t cinch the waistband they will ride up slightly, which is annoying.
  • Although the shorts themselves cost just $47 – some of the cheapest available – you need to also buy or otherwise obtain a liner separately. If you purchase a liner from their site, it will cost between $27 and $32 more, so the package ends up costing more than most other “2-in-1” shorts available. What’s more, you don’t get free shipping for orders less than $80 or free returns.

Overall

It was hard to come up with drawbacks for these shorts. Although the fit is slightly off for me personally, everything else about them is top notch from the quality to the customer service.

Having found that Saxx makes some of the most comfortable liners/underwear I’ve tried, I have the ability to wear those exclusively with any pair of PATH Projects shorts and am not tied down to their offerings.

Buy now


Summary of Findings

The number of available options for shorts is eye-watering. Although there are a few general styles–longer inseam or shorter, brief liner or long compression short, pockets or no pockets– every brand tries to distinguish themselves in ways that make it impossible for consumers to know what will work and how it will fit. Being a medium in some brands and a large in others is a pain.

I did pick up on a couple of interesting new trends, such as pockets on the inner liners (smart) and loops to hang your shirt on (who does that?). Otherwise shorts are more or less like any other piece of gear – you have to try a few out and see what works for your body type and preferences. Again, people have raved about some of the shorts I tried but most just didn’t cut it for me.

As far as I can tell Saxx is really on to something with their underwear and liners but have a bit of work to do on their shells. Likewise, PATH has perfected the shell but can’t compete when it comes to liners (who can?). Having tried all these pairs, I’ve settled on two: the Saxx Pilot shorts and the PATH Projects Graves PX (with a pair of Saxx Kinetic liners) until something better comes along, which might take a while.

Did I miss anything?

 

Header Photo by Hunter Bryant on Unsplash

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