2020 Shorts Review

Short season is upon us, so let’s delve into the details of the new shorts you may want to add to your gear stash this season. We reviewed running shorts last year — so be sure to check out that list for a broader review of running shorts. This review is going into detail on the shorts that came out new this season or are variations of the shorts we reviewed last year. We want to keep you updated so you have some insight on all your options.

As per usual, I have gone into detail on the shorts then talked about the best parts, what I would change if I could, and how they feel on my body. I also did some measuring as well — both for the shorts inseam and the overall length of the shorts. The inseam is self-explanatory, while the length is measured from the top of the waistband to the longest bottom hem.

Icebreaker Cool-Lite Impulse Shorts

The Icebreaker Cool-Lite Impulse Shorts are made with a breathable nylon outer short and a Cool-Lite eyelet inner brief. This combination provides extra breathability and comfort when you’re out on the trail in the heat. The overall design of the shorts is quite traditional with the inner brief, relaxed leg and narrow waistband making these shorts a great option for those looking for a very lightweight, traditional short.

There is one small pocket inside the liner. The inseam measures at 3.5” and the waist-to-hem measures at 13” in a size medium.

What We Loved: The shorts are very lightweight, to the point that you almost forget you’re wearing shorts — this is in part because of how comfortable the inner brief is.

  • What We Would Change: The inner pocket is so small it doesn’t hold much — really just a stasher key. It would be nice to make this pocket at least large enough for an ID/credit card.
  • Fit & Feel: The Cool-Lite Impulse shorts are very comfortable and they stay put when you’re running, which is what every runner dreams of! They are true to size.

Arc’teryx Kapta 3.5” Short

The Arc’teryx Kapta 3.5” Short is made with the breathable Teslin fabric to help keep you cool while taking on mountain trails. The material is durable enough to withstand the abuse of technical terrain [ahem, those bum slides!] but also stretchy enough to allow for your full range of motion when on the move.

There is one hidden pocket on the left side and one pocket on the right inner short leg, both are quite narrow. The inseam measures at 3.5” and the waist-to-hem measures at 12” in a size medium.

What We Loved: The inner shorts are very comfortable and stay in place once settled while you’re out running and move. Also, the shorts have a “subtle athletic” look that you can wear into town without looking like you just left the gym.

  • What We Would Change: The pockets are very narrow and can’t hold much more than a gel or simple snack [or a stasher key/credit card].
  • Fit & Feel: Overall, the shorts are comfortable and they got bonus points for the secure yet flexible fit of the wider waistband and inner shorts. They also fit true to size.

Brooks Chaser 5” Running Short

The Brooks Chaser 5” Running Short is one of the lengths offered in the Chaser collection. It boasts a wide waistband, hidden pockets and discrete side slits. These shorts have a brief insert, which combined with the longer length offer full coverage without restricting your range of motion.

There are two side pockets and one pocket in the waistband. The inseam measures at 5” and the waist-to-hem measures at 15” in the size medium.

What We Loved: The brief fits comfortable without riding up and the longer length provides more coverage and protection from possible chafing.

  • What We Would Change: The two side pockets are a few inches in from the outer hip, where most pockets are located. This is an odd position for pockets, making it awkward to use for your hands or anything you may want to stash.
  • Fit & Feel: The shorts fit comfortably overall and the wide waistband sits nicely on your waist. They are quite true to size, although they are still comfortable if you choose to size up for a slightly baggier fit.

REI Co-op On the Trail Run Shorts

The REI Co-op On The Trail Run Shorts are made with a stretchy material that has been treated with DWR [Durable Water Repellent] to keep them dry in light rain showers or on wet morning trails. The inner brief is sweat-wicking to help keep you comfortable throughout your run. The wide leg openings and mini side slits work with the stretchy material to give you plenty of room to move.

There are three pockets total — one pouch along the back waistband and two zipper pockets in the front. The inseam measures at 3.5” and the waist-to-hem measures at 13” in a size medium.

What We Loved: The wider leg openings and the seamless hems are designed in such a way that you don’t even notice them as they move along your legs.

  • What We Would Change: The narrower waistband seems to cut in a bit when secured with the drawcord, but moves a bit when not secured. A wider waistband, or material around the elastic band, may help with this.
  • Fit & Feel: The shorts fit well with a more relaxed, almost boxy, feel. The inner brief is comfortable and provides enough coverage to stay in place. The shorts fit true to size.

Smartwool Sport Lined Shorts

The Smartwool Sport Lined Shorts is lined with an inner brief made of ultralight 150 merino wool to provide a comfortable next-to-skin feel, while the outer shorts are made of a quick-dry, stretchy material to add to your range of motion. The outer shorts have hidden vent panels along the back to provide even more ventilation.

There are two small pockets — one hidden in the waistband, the other a zipper pocket in the back of the waistband. The inseam measures at 3” and the waist-to-hem measures at 12” in a size medium.

What We Loved: The added [yet hidden] ventilation along the back helps keep you cool on the move, almost making it feel like you forgot your shorts.

  • What We Would Change: The inner brief is lightweight but only loosely secured. If you prefer a secure inner brief definitely consider sizing down if you’re at the edge of sizes.
  • Fit & Feel: The shorts are comfortable to wear and the integrated wide waistband helps everything stay put when you’re running. They are true to size.

Tracksmith Session Shorts

The Tracksmith Session Shorts are made from a four-way stretch knit fabric that is soft to the touch and very breathable. The inner brief is full enough to provide comfortable coverage with their anti-microbial material while staying in place when you’re on the go. You’ll find that the legs have wider openings so you can have the free movement of a split-short without the split.

There is one zipper pocket on the back of the right hip. The inseam measures at 3” and the waist-to-hem measures at 13” in a size medium.

What We Loved: The inner brief is genuinely comfortable and the four-way stretch of the shorts allows the material to move without bunching up between your legs.

  • What We Would Change: You do notice the seam at the hem of each leg — not necessarily as a chafing issue, but as a thicker layer of material. 
  • Fit & Feel: The Session Shorts are comfortable to wear with a rather sleek fit [ie: not bunching in ways that make them look like workout shorts]. The waistband is a rather narrow band of elastic [1.5 inches] but it does fold over nicely if you’re someone who prefers the lower riding short. They are true to size.

Comparison Chart

Brand & StyleInseam / Waist-to-HemType of LiningPockets
Icebreaker Cool-Lite Impulse Short [M]3.5” inseam / 13” lengthBrief1 total
Arc’teryx Kapta 3.5” Short [M]3.5” inseam / 12” lengthCompression Shorts2 total
Brooks Chaser 5” Short [M]5” inseam / 15” lengthBrief3 total
REI On The Trail Run Short [M]3.5” inseam / 13” lengthBrief3 total
Smartwool Sport Lined Short [M]3” inseam / 12” lengthBrief2 total
Tracksmith Session Shorts [M]3” inseam / 13” lengthBrief1 total

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Heidi Berghammer

Heidi Berghammer

Heidi Berghammer is a trail runner, world traveler, mountain climber, and all around adventure enthusiast. As a trail runner she has covered thousands of miles in the Colorado Rockies and beyond training for and running races from the half marathon distance to the one hundred mile ultra. Heidi is so stoked about finding adventure on trails that she has made it her career as the owner of Adventure Feet First, a travel company that focuses on getting people outside to explore the world as they travel. Over the past years Heidi has spent months living abroad, volunteering around the world, living out of a van/car/truck, and finding new ways to explore on foot, by bike or with a backpack. She has learned the ins and outs of self propelled exploration the hard way, so she’s here to help us learn from her mistakes and to help us become more informed on how to make your own mistakes…safely.


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