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Trail Running Shorts Review Roundup

Photos by Alyssa Henry

Up until last Summer and Fall, I hadn’t done much experimenting with different running shorts. Partly this was because I didn’t want to spend the money on something that I didn’t think could be improved upon that much, and partly because there just weren’t that many shorts that deviated from the basic short design with one zipper pocket and a basic material/liner. After meeting with some of the brands at Outdoor Retailer last year, they sent me a small selection of apparel to try out based on my preference for shorts with lots of storage and inner boxer liners. Below are the shorts I was able to try out. Disclaimer: All of the the apparel other than the inov-8 shorts were provided free of charge by the respective manufactures.

Trail Running Shorts

From Top Left to Bottom Right – inov-8 Race Elite 140 (my go to for last 2 years), Brooks Sherpa 2-in-1 7″, The North Face Better Than Naked Long Haul Short, Dynafit Enduro Dry Short, Dynafit React Dry 3/4 Tight.

inov-8 Race Elite 140 (now called Race Elite 6″) – 6″ inseam, inner boxer liner, 1 gel pocket, 1 zipper pocket, elastic waistband. $65 available from Wiggle.com in UK.

inov-8 Race Elite 140

inov-8 Race Elite 140 Shorts

I’ll start with the inov-8 since I’ve used it extensively over the last 2 years. It was the first short I’d tried with an inner boxer brief (as opposed to just a regular brief), and for long mountain outings that is super nice. The liner is very thin, not hot like you would think, and like many other heavier boxer liners are. I’ve done ultras in these with no need for Body Glide, and ran them at Western States where they were wet most of the race and had no issues. Also, the waistband is thick and elastic so I can get it tight to hold my Simple bottle, wind jacket, gloves and other things I want to stick in there without them falling down. The biggest downfall is the lack of pockets. Only one gel pocket on the back right side, and a small zipper pocket in the center. Still one of the best shorts out there, just hard to find in the US for some reason. (Running Warehouse Europe has the 2, 6 and 8″ shorts)

inov-8 Race Elite 140

One small gel pocket on back right and zipper pocket center back.

Brooks Sherpa 7″ 2-in-1 Short – 7″ inseam, inner boxer liner, 2 medium sized hip pockets, 1 back zipper pocket and 1 pocket on right thigh on liner, $64 and available at Running Warehouse

Brooks Sherpa 7" 2-in-1 Short

7 inches is about as long as I like for running.

I really enjoyed the Sherpa short. It has minimal, yet functional pockets, with plenty of storage for most runs, and the liner is very soft and comfortable without being too hot. It is also probably one of the better looking shorts out there that blend in a little more in the summer and don’t as loudly scream “Runner!” as some split road shorts do if you go get lunch after your run :). All in all, a great short for daily training and races, and probably the most versatile out of all the ones I tried as it works good on the road too.

Brooks Sherpa 7" 2-in-1 Short

Very comfortable inner brief liner and 1 gel pocket on right thigh.

The North Face Better Than Naked Long Haul Short – 7″ inseam, inner boxer liner, 2 medium back hip pockets, 1 zipper pocket, 5 pockets on the outer thigh of liner (3 smaller on right, 2 larger on left), $65 and available at Running Warehouse.

The North Face Better Than Naked Long Haul Short

Longest fitting short to me even though they are supposed to be 7″ like the Brooks. Very light outer material with a thicker liner.

The Long Haul Short gets the nod for the most storage of all the shorts I tried. The outer pockets are very similar to the Sherpa short by Brooks, but it adds quite a bit of storage for smaller food items on the outer thigh of each side of the liner. This concept was new to me before these two shorts, and my take away is that it works decent for small items like gels, but not so much for anything larger because then the shorts don’t move very well and look weird too. The Long Haul Short is better suited for colder Fall/Spring weather due to a hotter and longer boxer liner, and I don’t prefer how long the liner is (also 7″ so it comes right to the end of short – they do make these shorts and 5” and 3.5” versions as well). I prefer the liner to be a few inches shorter than the short so it doesn’t show when running, and also it holds less heat too. All in all a great short to carry quite a bit of stuff in cooler weather.

The North Face Better Than Naked Long Haul Short

Left side has 2 larger pockets, right has 3 small gel specific pockets.

Dynafit Enduro Dry Short – 3.5″ inseam, 2 Large hip pockets and 1 zipper pocket on short. $65 for short on the Dynafit website and at Backcountry.com.

Dynafit Enduro Dry Short

Shorter, near split short style with a great, light but tough fabric.

The Dynafit Enduro Dry Short is probably the best designed split, roadie style short that caters to the mountain/trail runner that I’ve come across. I used to run regular New Balance or Nike road shorts all the time and always had trouble putting gear in them because they usually have very little or no pockets, and are made of light and cheaper materials. The Enduro short has the best pocket setup of any short I’ve tried, with two super large back hip pockets, and one zipper pocket in the center. You can fit a lot of stuff into these pockets – they would fit windjackets, gloves, hats, burritos, etc. and not just gels. The biggest issue with all of this is that there is no drawstring on them!?!?! Thankfully, I’ve been told by Dynafit that it will have a draw string in the 2016 version, and I would highly recommend waiting till then to pick them up if you are interested…I sure will be getting myself a pair with the drawstring as they are definitely the best mountain short I’ve tried. They don’t have a boxer liner, but would probably need to be 5″ inseam or longer to realistically incorporate one. Regardless, such a great short for summer mountain outings in minimalistic style.

Dynafit Enduro Dry Short

Huge hip pockets of stretchy material. Such a nice design.

Dynafit React 3/4 Tight -3/4 tight has 2 small hip pockets, 1 zipper and large right thigh pocket. $85 for the 3/4 tight again from Dynafit’s site.

Dynafit React 3/4 Tight

Great fabric on them.

The Dynafit React 3/4 tight is equally nice in design as the Enduro short. The fabric is thin, stretchy and comfortable. It is also a 3/4 tight that that works in a range of temps from 35-55 degrees and will be awesome in the rain. My other 3/4 that I have I’d probably only wear up to 45 degrees as it gets too hot above that. The pocket design is great as well, with 2 smaller gel pockets on the back hip area and 1 zipper pocket in the middle. The most unique feature is a very large pocket on the right thigh. A thigh pocket on a tight is a fantastic idea, and doesn’t come with the problems of the the thigh pockets on liner shorts like the Sherpa or Long Haul Shorts above. Very cool tight, but again no drawstring to help utilize all the storage?!?! Unfortunately the 3/4 tight is not continuing in the line so there will be no updated version with a drawstring. I’m hoping to make one for them; they are that good.

Dynafit React 3/4 Tight

Huge thigh pocket. Why don’t more tights have this type of design? Fantastic idea.

I’d love to hear what shorts work best for you when you have to carry a fair bit of items. Let me know in the comments below!

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Recent Posts By Category: Running Shoe Reviews | Running Gear Reviews | Running Science
About David Henry

David Henry is a 31 year old husband and father of 3 young children. He has completed over 23 ultra marathon events as well as many other shorter races. Some of the notable races he has completed include The Pike’s Peak Marathon, Speedgoat 50k, The Rut 50k, Gorge Waterfalls 100k and Bighorn 100. He has raced in diverse environments ranging from Alaska in winter to the Arizona desert. David appreciates well-crafted running shoes and running on any surface and distance. If interested you can follow my running on Strava: https://www.strava.com/athletes/davidjonhenry

Comments

  1. Tom Davidson says:

    Great ideas. Shorts are one area I can use some new gear in. (and pockets!)
    Have you checked out RaceReady? They have great shorts with pockets. They are my go-to distance race shorts for trail or road.

    • David Henry says:

      Thanks for the tip on Race Ready Tom. I’ll check them out. I recently did get the Dynafit Enduro shorts with the updated drawstring for 2016 and I can highly recommend them if you don’t mind a more minimal short length. You can carry so much with them very comfortably with little bounce. -David

  2. Storage and fit fav. for me is still the Patagonia Strider pro 5 inch. Check out this pic of Jeff Browning racing fully stuffed.:)

    link to scontent.xx.fbcdn.net

    • David Henry says:

      I’ve had my eye on the Patagonia shorts for a while and agree they look great! I don’t have any PR contacts for them so wasn’t able to get a pair for this review, but I’m tempted to buy a pair myself for my ultras this summer. Thanks for the tip and great pic of Jeff…seen other pics/videos of him with those things stoked full! -David

  3. Adam B. says:

    Just like JT I love my Patagonia Strider Pro 5 inch. They are a brief, not boxer, but one of favorite with briefs.

    A note on the North Face shorts. They are the only better than naked with a boxer liner (I have 3 varieties myself, 5″, 5″ split and Long Haul). The Long Haul is definitely an awesome cold-cool weather short.

  4. Do these pocketed trail shorts typically have enough room to comfortably hold something like a headlamp (In my case, a Tikka RXP)? I’ve been wearing a mostly empty vest a lot this year just so I have somewhere to stuff my lamp rather than carrying it around for 90 minutes after using it for 30. I’d much rather just stick it in my shorts.

    Also, what’s the appeal of the boxer briefs/compression shorts? In my experience, they’re always either too tight for my quads or constantly riding up.

    • David Henry says:

      Hi Eric. The North Face Long Haul shorts and the Dynafit Enduro both definitely have big enough pockets for the a headlamp. I’ve been using the 2016 Dynafit Enduros a bunch lately and have had a full windbreaker and extra 500 ml soft flasks in those pockets and both are bigger than most headlamps.

      RE: Boxer liners, it is mostly to prevent chaffing on very long outings or ultramarathon races when your shorts may get wet from weather or sweat and then dry out…when that happens a couple times during the course of a long day in the mountains chaffing can be more problematic. That said, I’ve had shorts that don’t have a boxer liner that still turned out ok and you are right that the fit has to be right on them to work. The inov-8 race elite 140s are by far the best fit boxer liner in this regard and doesn’t run hot like some of the thicker short liners do.

      • I had no idea shorts could hold so much in their pockets. But how many times per group run do you hear “is that a 500 ml soft flask in your pocket, or are you just happy to see me?” :)

  5. Hi David,

    My name is LJ. I work for a company specializing in developing innovative sports fabrics and apparel. We are looking in to develop a fabric/apparel targeting chafe prevention in runners.

    We would like to get input from runners like you in to develop our products.Would you be interested helping us by giving your input & trying out our products ?

  6. Hi David! You’re post looks great! Just a quick question though, I am speaking in behalf of new runners, I know some runners aren’t physically fit at all, and I guess not all sport manufacturers offer big short sizes, do you know other brands that provide extra sizes for new runners?

    • David Henry says:

      I’m not sure on every brand, but I do know that most brands off at least an XL size which typically goes up to size 40 waist depending on the brand. I also find that I can go with a slightly smaller size in running shorts than my jeans size where I’m a 33 waist where I can do 32 in in running shorts usually because the materials are stretchy and designed for movement. The more specialized the short (like some of these above) the less likely possibly that they offer and XXL, but that will probably vary with brands. I’m sure New Balance and Nike and some of the other larger shoe companies offer shorts in large sizes in some of their more basic models which some of the small companies like inov-8 or Dynafit are too specialized to offer very large sizes. Hope that helps some! -David

  7. Christian Messerschmidt says:

    Hey David,
    thanks for a nice review, I really like the concept of the Enduros.
    My new go-tos are the Salomon Men’s Intensity with a built-in compression short and a wide waistband, almost as good as the Exo but much more affordable.

  8. For storage when running I have always used running belts of some kind but they are usually made from some kind of canvas that rubs or they have a buckle that pinches and they always bounce around when I’m running so these shorts with their own storage are a great idea. I particularly like the 3/4 tights, especially for the cold weather.

  9. Thanks, David. I was a running now for almost a year and I love it. I’m hoping to read new reviews for 2017.
    Best regards!

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