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BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We only make money if you purchase a product through our links, and all opinions about the products are our own. Read more  
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We buy all products with our own funds, and we never accept free products from manufacturers.Read more 
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We purchase every product we review with our own funds — we never accept anything from product manufacturers.

52 Models Considered
8 Hours Researched
2 Experts Interviewed
60 Consumers Consulted
Zero products received from manufacturers.

We purchase every product we review with our own funds — we never accept anything from product manufacturers.

Buying guide for best athletic shorts for women

Picking the right shorts for a gym session or a long run can be complicated these days. That’s because so many options are available when shopping for athletic shorts for women. From ultra-minimalist running shorts to baggy basketball shorts — and everything in between — athletes have a huge range of styles from which to choose. 

It wasn’t always this way. In decades past, female athletes often found the athletic shorts styles they could wear were restricted by rules, written or unwritten. Today, however, athletes at all levels do not have to compromise their performance to adhere to a certain standard. The goal is to find a pair of athletic shorts that allow you to excel at your activity and feel great while doing so.

Our buying guide will give you a headstart on figuring out which style of athletic shorts for women would work best for your particular sport or exercise.

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The length of the split or notch in shorts is defined by a portion of the seam length of the shorts leg. For example, a “3/4 seam” means the split or notch takes up 1/4 of the shorts leg seam length.

Key considerations

First, think about the sport or activity you’ll be participating in. Will it be indoors or outdoors? Team or individual? Are you exercising at home or working out in a crowded gym? What kind of weather conditions do you expect to encounter most days, if you’re outside? Here are some key considerations.

Mobility: You need to be able to move in your athletic shorts. Depending on the activity, you may need shorts that allow for a greater range of motion. Runners probably don’t need to worry as much, but volleyball players need to change direction quickly, dive, and jump. As another example, Olympic lifters may be doing deep squats that require specific accommodations.

Comfort: Athletic shorts absolutely need to be comfortable, no matter what sport you’re participating in.

Breathability: This is an important factor for performance and comfort. Athletic shorts should wick away sweat and dry quickly to prevent chafing and sticking. There is almost nothing more uncomfortable than sweat-dampened seams chafing your thighs.

Your sport: Your coach or trainer may recommend a specific shorts style. These styles are typically chosen because they strike a desirable balance between mobility, comfort, and performance.

Balancing breathability and comfort is a key design concern in athletic shorts.

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Features

For such a seemingly simple article of clothing, athletic shorts incorporate myriad features. Here are a few of the most common.

High-cut: Athletic shorts for women generally have a higher waist than men’s shorts, with a shorter length between the bottom of the waistband and the crotch. The high-cut waist style is comfortable and fits securely.

Low-cut: The waistband of low-cut shorts sits just above the hips. Some athletes find this style more comfortable while others find they don’t stay in place or fit as well.

Split: Created by overlapping the front and back panels of the shorts, split shorts have side seams that are offset, reducing chafing for some athletes. Each side opens up, similar to a V-notch style, to provide room for the thighs.

Square: The leg cuffs on these shorts have no notch or split. You’ll rarely see this feature listed in a product description, but it’s standard in compression shorts and can also be found in baggy gym shorts.

V-notch: These shorts have a traditional side seam with an upside-down V notch cut into each side of the shorts. The notch opens up the shorts leg slightly to enhance breathability and mobility.

Double-layered: Also called two-in-one shorts, this style combines a stretchy, sweat-wicking undershort with a comfortable, stylish overshort. The undershorts have varying levels of compression depending on preference. These are great for looking stylish while staying warm and reducing chafing. They often have room for more pockets than other athletic shorts.

Baggy: Basketball and softball players have helped keep baggy shorts a popular choice, especially for athletes who want mobility and extra fabric coverage for the legs.

Elastic waist: Even in athletic shorts for women with a drawstring waist, a bit of elastic is added to the waistband to provide snug comfort.

Inseam length: Athletes have a choice of 3-inch, 5-inch, 7-inch, and even 11-inch inseams. These fall at the upper thigh, mid-thigh, lower thigh, and below the knee, respectively.

Pockets: Hidden pockets are popular with runners and are often added to high waistbands or as a separate piece of material sewn into the inside of the shorts. Longer-inseam shorts can have larger pockets, including side and cargo pockets.

Liners: Thin liners sewn into shorts can replace underwear for hot-weather workouts, providing comfort and reducing the potential for chafing.

Reflective strips: Racing or running shorts frequently include reflective strips sewn into the back or side seams to help make athletes visible to drivers.

Breathable fabrics: Polyester is a common choice for athletic shorts that helps wick away sweat, and the shorts tend to dry quickly.

Compression: Also known as “biker style” shorts, these above-the-knee shorts provide support, wick away sweat, and drastically reduce chafing.

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DID YOU KNOW?
Athletic shorts for women became popular in the 1930s, at about the same time that men’s shorts were popularized. Before this, female athletes wore skirts, baggy trousers, or a combination of both.
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Accessories

Athletic shorts of any style tend to be minimalist in nature, but it is possible to accessorize around them.

Hydration belt: PYFK Hydration Waist Pack
Stay hydrated during athletic activity by keeping a water bottle at your waist. This waist pack from PYFK is available in a choice of colors. Additional storage pockets hold car keys and ID.

Water-resistant compact wallet: Chums Surfshort Wallet
Peeling apart sweat-soaked money to buy yourself a refreshment at the end of a run is so out of style. Try this slim wallet instead: it holds an ID, credit card, and a few dollars and slips easily into the hidden pocket of most athletic shorts. 

Clip-on LED safety light: Apace Vision LED Safety Light 2-Pack
Snap this onto your waistband to provide a high-visibility signal to motorists or others who are following you on the trail after sunset.

Athletic shorts for women: prices

Inexpensive: For $5 to $8, athletic shorts are available with basic features like side pockets or no pockets. These low-cost options are usually made of thinner, less-durable fabric — a good spare pair to keep around. 

Mid-range: New athletes may do better in the $9 to $18 price range, where more style options, better sizing and fit, and increased durability are available.

Expensive: The latest styles and premium fabrics reside comfortably in the $19 to $29 price range for women’s athletic shorts. 

Try out shorts with different seam lengths to find which length is more comfortable around your thighs.

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Tips

  • Fit matters. Shorts that are too tight at the top of the leg will be uncomfortable no matter what activity you’re doing. Pass them by, even if they are super-stylish. Every athlete can eventually find a pair of shorts that fits perfectly, but it may take a few tries.
  • Consider the material. Cotton shorts are comfortable for lounging around the house, but they tend to bunch up and chafe during athletic activities. Consider a poly-cotton blend, or avoid cotton altogether. Also, if you wear no underwear while working out, consider lined, double-layer shorts or compression shorts.
  • Those with latex allergies must read the fabric label carefully. Choose athletic shorts with either natural fabric or Lycra to avoid a reaction.
  • Pay attention to seam split lengths. A “half-split seam” goes halfway up the shorts leg. In shorter inseams of 3 inches, that’s quite a lot of leg showing. Note that some athletes find split shorts to be a little too revealing. If this is you, consider wearing a compression layer underneath, or choose split shorts with longer fabric at the back of the legs.
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To determine the correct inseam length, measure from the top of your inner thigh to the part of your thigh where you want the cuff to fall.

FAQ

Q. What is the best fit for shorts for a female runner of a heavier build?

A. Running and other cardio-intensive sports require shorts that reduce bouncing, fabric shifting, and chafing. Compression shorts are a godsend for runners of all sizes, but no one likes being relegated to one style of shorts. Consider a layered short that has a compression layer underneath and a stylish yet breathable split or V-notch layer on the outside.

Q. Can I wear biker-style shorts for a bike ride, or is this just a style?

A. “Biker style” just describes the cut of the shorts: compression shorts that reach the mid or lower thigh. They are a comfortable addition to any athlete’s wardrobe, but they do not have the additional protection and comfort features of biker shorts. These include inner padding at the crotch and reinforced fabric along the inner thighs as well as strategic ventilation and a chafe-resistant waistband and leg cuffs. If you’re biking just a few miles, any comfortable short will do as long as they don’t bunch up at the crotch. For long rides of 20, 40, or 100 miles, invest in sport-specific biker shorts.

Q. I’m worried about what people will think of me in the style of shorts that I am comfortable lifting weights in. I prefer big, baggy shorts while others wear tight shorts. 

A. Comfort and safety are two of the biggest factors to consider when buying athletic shorts for women. If you are comfortable in the style you’re wearing and it provides the protective coverage you’re looking for, that is what matters. The only exceptions are if you’re participating in a team sport and must wear a uniform or if the gym you use has specific rules about attire. In most cases, the only stipulation is that they be clean, neat, and cover the important areas.

Q. Should I wear shorts with a square leg or a V-notched seam?

A. That depends on your exercise or sport. A V-notch or split opens up the leg to allow for greater mobility. In a sport like running, this can help cool off the athlete and may reduce chafing. Square legs, which have no notch at all, may chafe when doing cardio, but they are very popular among weightlifters and tend to look a little neater in the gym.

 

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