Nirvana drummer and Foo Fighters frontman Dave Grohl once remarked, “I love being a drummer. Everyone thinks you’re dumb. [But what] they don’t realize is that if it weren’t for you, their band would [stink].” Perhaps the same could be said of running shorts. Indeed, if the shoes are the guitar and the tech tee is the bass, then shorts play the hidden-yet-essential role of the drummer: it’s only when they’re sub-par (i.e. not “there”) when you realize how essential a “good” pair of running shorts is. Considering this, maybe it’s no coincidence that Brooks—one of the brands whose shorts we proudly carry at all Marathon Sports locations—calls their 5” offering the Essential Run Short. In the review that follows, we’ll compare the Essential with the Nike Dri-Fit 2” Split Leg and the Saucony Interval 2-1 to give every summertime runner (and perhaps a few timekeeping musicians) a better sense of which pair to don for their next race, long run, or cross-training session.

To begin, Brooks’ 5” Essential Run Short—the middle child in the inseam length offerings of the three—comes with mesh insets, a secure rear-zip pocket (big enough to hold a slim tri-fold wallet), and an internal key/I.D. pocket. It features a 100% polyester shell, 100% polyester mesh on the sides, and a 100% crepe liner. And although this writer has yet to put those rear-zip and internal key/I.D. pockets to the test, the Essential did come through performance-wise at the 38th Annual Marathon Sports 5-Miler, where despite the heat (85°F+) and humidity, this runner found a nice balance of light-fabric mobility and thigh coverage to keep him relatively cool and comfortable for the duration of the course. (The rear-zip liner was also pleasantly unnoticeable—i.e. no “zipper dig”—as were the internal key/I.D. pockets.) Fit-wise, the short overall is definitely noticeable (this is not a split short, more on that later) but what one sacrifices in “noticability,” one gains in versatility: this is a short that, with the dual pockets, 5” length and internal crepe liner, can be worn for essentially anything having to do with running—from a race to a tempo run to a long run. Indeed, perhaps that’s why they call it the “Essential.”

For contrast, Nike’s Dri-Fit 2” Split Leg comes in at the extreme end of “barely noticeable” and, really, it feels like you’re wearing nothing. With a 2” inseam, a built-in brief liner, a vented hem, and Dri-Fit 100% polyester body with a Dri-Fit 100% polyester crepe, the Split Leg is designed for racing—thus designed to not get in the way—and for that purpose, it excels. Granted, this runner used the Split for a road and trail run after a day of rain in the Boston suburbs (i.e. not a race), but after 45 minutes at a relatively easy pace it was hard to imagine the Split feeling any less “there” than they already did. Indeed, the Dri-Fit microfiber polyester fabric wicks away moisture quite well, and with mesh panels at the side seams, ventilation was not an issue. And while some gentlemen may find the side split panels cut a little too high, it is in these cases that we must remember a Split is really for speed, not for style

Finally, from Saucony comes the Interval 2-1, a short with a stretch shell and lightweight built-in compression short. With an 8” inseam and 100% Polyester stretch Ultrasilk, the Interval is the big brother in the inseam length offerings of the three, and the built-in compression short makes it somewhat unique. (2XU offers a similar short, see my write-up featuring the Compression X Run. We should also note that Saucony’s offering features looser compression for more of a spandex feel.) And although one could wear the Interval for long runs, as this writer did, with the length and built-in compression this short seems more destined for short runs or cross training in the gym; the length is just a tad too long to be consistently comfortable over 10 miles. (Either that, or break out the BodyGlide.) The Interval slso features a zippered welted pocket at back right for keys or a slim wallet.

In short, if you’re looking for versatility while running, go with the Brooks 5” Essential Run Short. If you’re looking for a short that feels like nothing while racing, go with the Nike Dri-Fit 2” Split Leg. And, if you’re looking to try something different that you can even take to cross-training, go with the Saucony Interval 2-1. And remember, if it weren’t for the proper pair of shorts for the activity, it is possible that said activity could suffer. With the Mystic Runners Swimsuit Classic, the End of Summer Classic, and the EMARC 5K all upcoming, that’s not a risk worth taking. So, as always, we’re more than happy to answer any and all apparel questions at any of our locations, and do come in soon. In the meantime, enjoy the middle of summer and happy training!