The 15 Best Shorts for Working Out, From Nike to Ten Thousand

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It’s time to reconsider wearing baggy, college-era sweat shorts at the gym. Your workout deserves better. We’re not saying you need to put the same level of thought into your fit for breaking a sweat as you do for, say, a nice dinner out—but we’re also not not saying that either. There’s a time and place for worn-in loungewear. Hell, break out all of your alma mater’s spirit gear for binging past seasons of Succession on the couch. But in the fitness world, performance-oriented brands have so much more to offer when it comes to the best shorts for working out.

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I waded in the waters of cheap mesh gym shorts for years, the DePaul imprint peeling off the leg, ultimately becoming “D__ua,” and the waistband elastic depleted before I finally tossed them out—give or take—a decade after graduating. They were fine. They did the job OK. They didn’t hinder my workouts. But they also didn’t enhance my experience. Would you accept “just OK” for anything else in your life? When I finally upgraded to workout shorts that weren’t sold at a college store, I realized what I’d been missing. Support! Moisture-wicking fabric! Stretch! These kinds of styles were there to reduce any friction in my workout and then got out of the way, like a good spotter.

What to Consider Before Buying Best Shorts for Working Out

The key to the best shorts for working out: You don’t notice them. They’re working hard for every rep, mile, and burpee, but they’re quiet about it—subtle stretch, airflow, and support when you need it. Nothing extraneous. We identified four key characteristics when testing 50-plus pairs (yes, we did our due diligence): comfort, fit, material, and special features.

Comfort: Comfort comes down to the sum of a number of details. The softness of the waistband, smoothness of the seams, and overall ability to virtually disappear are all things to look for. Are these shorts annoying me in any way? Are the seams or hems chafing? Do I put these on and forget about them (the answer should be yes)?

Fit: Fit, of course, is somewhat subjective depending on your body, but some elements are worth considering regardless of your size. What inseam length do you like (as a 5’10” average-height guy, I think five inches is just perfect; the length hits my mid-thigh, but I also err on the shorter side)? Is the waist too loose or too tight for the specified size? Are they overall too baggy or too constricting? I have thicker thighs and glutes, so ill-fitting, too-tight shorts will quickly ride up, scurrying up my quads like a squirrel up a tree. At the same time, I find too-baggy shorts get in the way or reveal too much if I’m moving in certain directions.

Material: Most of the shorts we tested were made from some kind of shell polyester material, but the weights and hand-feels varied widely. There’s a whole range of stretch capacity available. The best workout shorts found the balance between stretch, durability, moisture-wicking properties, and lightness.

Special Features: Some features such as zip pockets, linings (compression or not), perforated details, drawstring gadgets, and tearaway tags are useful. Some are not. You don’t need a lot of bells and whistles, but some are thoughtful and welcome, making your time in the gym (and to/from the gym) smoother.

Best Lightweight Shorts for Working Out

Ten Thousand Session Shorts

Ten Thousand excels at workout shorts. It’s the brand’s specialty, its raison d’être. Which shows in every pair of shorts they offer. It stripped down these Session shorts to the essentials, so they’re incredibly lightweight without feeling flimsy. Even the waistband is perforated, and the shell (mostly) resisted clinging, allowing for total mobility. One note: There are a couple of internal pockets (Ten Thousand’s “Every Day Carry System”) and a small zippered outer pocket. They were fine, but I missed having two easily accessible side pockets.

Materials: Polyester and spandex.
Inseam: 5 or 7 inches.
Fit: Regular.  
Liner: Optional.
Pros: Very lightweight and breathable; quick-drying.
Cons: No side pockets; some clinging.

Buy Now on Ten Thousand: $68

Best Casual Shorts for Working Out

Rhone Pursuit Shorts

Nothing wrong with a generalist. Something that can move through any situation seamlessly and make everyone feel comfortable in the process. These shorts are like the friend you can take anywhere and they’ll fit right in. The Pursuit Shorts are new to Rhone’s lineup, and if you’re a fan of the Mako (see below), they seem to be the next iteration. They’ve got an all-way stretch (seriously stretchy), a short flexible waistband, and plenty of pockets. There’s an in-or-out waist drawstring, which seems like an unnecessary addition, but I guess if you’re a thrill-seeker and thrive on change, you have the ability to switch it up. Gym, errands, runs, and weekend hangs: These are up to the job.

Materials: Nylon and elastane.
Inseam: 5, 7, or 9 inches.
Fit: Regular.
Liner: Optional.
Pros: Great mobility, lightweight, versatile.
Cons: Weird drawstring thing, not the most luxe feeling of the bunch.

Buy Now on Rhone: $74

Best Odor-Fighting Shorts for Working Out

Mack Weldon Stratus Active Short

With all that (hopeful) sweat comes some less-than-desirable odors, especially when wearing the same shorts on a weekly-ish basis. Mack Weldon thrives on battling these scents with its basics and workout wear—i.e. it uses the same technology that makes its underwear so great in these Stratus Active shorts. Unsurprisingly, the liner is especially comfortable if you go that route.

Materials: Polyester and spandex
Inseam: 7 inches.
Fit: Regular.
Liner: Optional.
Pros: Odor fighting and well ventilated.
Cons: Tailored fit and one inseam option may be limiting.

Buy Now on Mack Weldon:

Price: $78

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Most Ergonomic Shorts for Working Out

Adidas Designed for Training Shorts

I was skeptical when I put on these Adidas shorts for the first time. The dual fabric—a softer, stretchier backside and plain weave shell front—seemed unnecessary. But after a session full of squats and kettlebell swings, I was convinced. There’s plenty of room to move with a scalloped, almost flared hem, and the stretchy back accommodated the deepest of squats. It’s also one of the most comfortable pairs of the bunch.

Materials: Polyester and elastane.
Inseam: From 5 to 9 inches.
Fit: Regular.  
Liner: No.
Pros: Accommodates a range of movements without clinging; very comfortable.
Cons: Somewhat heavy; shallow zip side pockets.

Buy Now on Adidas:

Price: $40

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Most Versatile Shorts for Working Out

Vuori Banks Short

Some guys and some shorts don’t want to be pigeonholed. If this rings a bell, I hear you loud and clear. Vuori’s Banks shorts work just as well in the gym as they do outside of it. The brand designed them with versatility at the top of the priority list—and it shows. This style is great for jumping in a pool or hanging out at home, but it’ll also serve you well during a daily workout. Plus, there are lots of colors to choose from.

Materials: Polyester and elastane.
Inseam: 5 or 7.5 inches.
Fit: Regular.  
Liner: Optional.
Pros: Highly versatile; quick-drying fabric made to go in the water.
Cons: Fit and lack of stretch for intense workouts.

Buy Now on Vuori:

Price: $68

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Best Two-in-One Compression Shorts for Working Out

Nike Unlimited Dri-FIT 2-in-1 Versatile Shorts

If you’re looking for a classic jack-of-all-trades kind of short, these Nikes are a good bet. They have a smooth, stretchy outer layer and fitted compression shorts all in one. Whether you’re running, training, doing yoga, or HIIT—whatever gets your body in motion—they’ll wick sweat and move with you. The phone pocket in the compression shorts is also a nice idea.

Materials: Polyester and spandex.
Inseam: 7 inches.
Fit: Regular.
Liner: Yes.
Pros: Versatile; varied color options.
Cons: Some unnecessary features; limited length options.

Buy Now on Nike:

Price: $70

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Best Workout Shorts for Running

Lululemon Fast and Free Lined Short

We could easily do a whole other test of running shorts specifically. There are plenty of great ones out there that specialize in technology designed for runners. These Lululemon shorts are a prime example, but I found them useful for other workouts, too. The liner was especially comfortable (I’m very particular when it comes to liners; they’re often too loose, too tight, too long, too chafe-y, or generally lacking support). There’s also a little zip pocket to hold keys, and I appreciated the elastic waistband loops to hold my shirt when I took it off mid-run—kinda genius.

Materials: Polyester and spandex.
Inseam: 6 inches. 
Fit: Regular.
Liner: Yes.
Pros: Perfect length; comfortable, supportive liner; perforated lightweight fabric.
Cons: Not ideal for all kinds of workouts; built especially for running.

Buy Now on Lululemon:

Price: $88

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Best Loose Shorts for Working Out

Under Armour Project Rock Woven Shorts

If you really want some space in your shorts, these are the ones for you. A generous 8.25-inch inseam and loose fit will give you plenty of room, but they’re lightweight and nicely cut, so they don’t look sloppy. They’re part of the Rock’s collection for Under Armour, and you know he doesn’t allow sloppy.

Materials: Polyester and elastane.
Inseam: 8.25 inches. 
Fit: Loose.
Liner: No.
Pros: Generous fit; lightweight material.
Cons: No zipper pockets; limited color options.

Buy Now on Under Armour:

Price: $50

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Best Celebrity-Endorsed Shorts for Working Out

Brady All Day Comfort Short

Dammit, Tom Brady! I didn’t want to like these. But again, you’ve managed to exceed expectations. Your shorts are good. Not too long, not too short. Wearable in the gym and out. Just enough pockets. Stretchy but not rubber-like. There’s bonded seams to avoid chafing. Maybe this really is your calling after retirement.

Materials: Cordura and lycra.
Inseam: 7 inches. 
Fit: Regular.
Liner: No.
Pros: Four-way stretch; versatility and comfort.
Cons: The “Brady” embossed waistband; nonstarter for Peyton Manning fans.

Buy Now on Dick's Sporting Goods: $65

Best 6-Inch Inseam Shorts for Working Out

Fourlaps Endure Short

The goldilocks fit: the elusive six-inch inseam. Many guys find five-inch workout shorts too short and seven inches a touch too long, so six inches is the sweet spot. However, very few brands make shorts with the rare length. This is why Fourlaps’s Endure short is a class apart. It’s made of four-way, quick-dry stretch fabric and features an overall excellent fit—accommodating guys with thicker legs and not billowing for folks with slimmer ones. They’re made with sustainable materials, too.

Materials: Polyester and spandex.
Inseam: 6 inches.
Fit: Regular.
Liner: No.
Pros: Four-way stretch; excellent fit. 
Cons: Pockets bulged and bunched a bit during workouts

Buy Now on Fourlaps:

Price: $58

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Best Mesh Shorts for Working Out

Nike Solo Swoosh Straight Leg Mesh Shorts

For all my talk about my threadbare college-issue mesh gym shorts, mesh has its place in the conversation. It’s breathable, light, and loose to provide adequate ventilation. And sometimes the slinkiness just plain feels nice. However, I find many options too flimsy and, frankly, cheap. Not these Nikes, though. The key here is a double layer of mesh that’s downright hefty—when I took these out of the box, I initially thought they’d gotten my order wrong. They have a real weight to them. Would I opt for these for a particularly sweaty HIIT session? Probably not, but they’re ideal for a lighter workout or something like shooting hoops (there’s basketball DNA here.)

Materials: Polyester
Inseam: 8 inches.
Fit: Loose.
Liner: No.
Pros: Solid weight for mesh shorts, breathable.
Cons: Cumbersome for intense workouts

Buy Now on mR pORTER: $75

Best Shorts for Working Out with Pockets

Satisfy TechSilk Running Shorts

A running conundrum: finding a place for essentials—phone, keys, ID, health insurance card (I learned this one the hard way), etc. The non-negotiables you need to have on your person leaving the house. I want to be as liberated as possible running outside without anything jostling around with every stride. Satisfy has figured this system out with a zippered sweatproof pocket in the back with inner key pockets, an integrated pocket in the liner for your phone, and a mini carabiner set into the double waistband for your keys. It’s all locked down, which means freedom for you.

Materials: Polyester.
Inseam: 5-inch short, 8-inch liner.
Fit: Regular.
Liner: Yes.
Pros: Thoughtfully placed pockets, luxe lightweight silky shell.
Cons: Liners could have fit better.

Buy Now ON mR porter: $210

Buy Now on Matches Fashion: $210

Best French Terry Shorts for Working Out

Alo Yoga Chill Short

I’d argue people wear Alo Yoga’s supremely soft goods as much for sedentary endeavors as active ones. Find you a short that can do both. I don’t know where Alo sourced this ridiculously soft French terry from, but it’s damn cozy. Do these shorts motivate me to power through that 11th kettlebell swing or tack on another quarter mile? Not really. But they are comfortable for days when I’m focusing on heavy lifts—or not doing much at all.

Materials: French terry.
Inseam: 6.75 to 8.75 inches.
Fit: Regular.
Liner: No.
Pros: Wildly soft and comfortable, good fit.
Cons: Heavier weight, not the most breathable.

Buy Now on Alo Yoga: $78

Best Moisture-Wicking Shorts for Working Out

Rhone Mako Tech Shorts

Most of the time, you intend to sweat during a workout. That’s the whole point! So, you’ll need some shorts that mitigate the moisture as much as possible. Rhone’s Mako Tech shorts do the job well with a lightweight four-way stretch material that keeps sweat at bay. I appreciated the lay-flat waistband, too, although it was on the tight side.

Materials: Polyester and elastane.
Inseam: 5 or 7 inches.
Fit: Regular.  
Liner: Optional.
Pros: Great at wicking moisture away; excellent fit.
Cons: Slightly tight waistband; noticeable seams that might chafe.

Buy Now on Rhone: $68

Best Rugged Shorts for Working Out

Ten Thousand Tactical Shorts

For some, the eucalyptus-scented, softly lit, honey-wooded luxury gym isn’t the primo spot for a hard-core workout. Maybe you prefer an outdoor rucking session on a trail or you’re hoofing it up the courthouse steps with parkour fantasies. Or perhaps you’re just really tough on your gym shorts. Even for my firmly indoor workouts, I see the use for a durable pair that can stand up to the abuse, but I find they’re often too heavy. Our favorite, Ten Thousand, answers the call with their Tactical Shorts, designed and tested in collaboration with members of the U.S. Special Operations Forces. They’re made from lightweight, virtually indestructible, quick-drying ripstop shell (amphibious, even) with a substantial waistband and a bunch of spandex to up the mobility factor. I could probably set up camp with these things.

Materials: Nylon and spandex.
Inseam: 5 or 7 inches.
Fit: Regular. 
Liner: Optional.
Pros: Tough as nails, lightweight and breathable; quick-drying.
Cons: Waistband can be tight and stiff, some clinging.

Buy Now on ten Thousand: $78

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