Running Shorts vs Swim Trunks (Similarities and Differences)

Though made with completely different activities in mind, running shorts and swim trunks have several similarities. But do the functionalities that each provides make them interchangeable? Let’s compare and contrast running shorts vs. swim trunks.

The differences between running shorts and swim trunks lie in the purpose each is designed for, the fabrics used to create them, the specific fit each offers, certain unique features such as liners and pockets, and the common uses of each. While they may look similar at first glance, running shorts and swim trunks are quite different.

Take a look at specific similarities and differences below to determine the best uses of running shorts and swim trunks. 

Are running shorts and swim trunks the same?

First, let’s take a look at the similarities between running shorts and swim trunks. While they are not the same, they both include very similar design features, and each can serve as an adequate substitute for the other if necessary. 

  • Both swim trunks and running shorts are designed to be lightweight and breathable and are made from fabrics that are comfortable to wear during the intended activity.
  • Both swim trunks and running shorts may have an elastic waistband with a drawstring for a snug and comfortable fit.
  • Both swim trunks and running shorts may have pockets and a lining for added convenience and comfort.
  • Both swim trunks and running shorts can be purchased for around the same price, with cheaper pairs coming in at $12-30 and more expensive brands priced at $40-80.

What’s the difference between swim trunks and running shorts?

man wearing swim trunks

While swim trunks may serve as running shorts in a pinch (or vice versa), there are some distinct differences between these two styles of shorts. Take a look at the list below to get a better idea of how swim trunks and running shorts differ from each other.

  • Purpose
  • Fabric
  • Fit
  • Features
  • Use

Purpose

Swim trunks are specifically designed for water use while running shorts are designed for use during high-friction activities such as running.

Fabric

Swim trunks are typically made from lightweight, breathable, quick-drying fabrics that are comfortable to wear in the water. On the other hand, running shorts are typically made from moisture-wicking fabrics that help keep the body cool and dry during exercise.

Fit

Swim trunks come in various lengths and, depending on the brand, may or may not have an elastic waistband. Often, swim trunks are made with a mesh liner, drawstrings, and/or velcro in the groin area. Swim trunks are also usually made for men only while running shorts are made for men or women. 

Running shorts are typically shorter than regular shorts and may have an elastic waistband with a drawstring for a snug and comfortable fit. They may also contain a liner, but they will likely be linen or cotton rather than mesh. 

Features

Swim trunks may have pockets and a mesh lining (as mentioned above) for added convenience and comfort. Running shorts may have zipper pockets and a linen or cloth lining, which will help avoid chafing, unlike the mesh liners found in most pairs of swim trunks.

Use

Swim trunks are commonly used for swimming and other water-based activities, while running shorts are used for running and other high-friction activities.

What are swim trunks?

swim trunks next to the pool

Swim trunks are a style of clothes used for swimming and other water sports. They are often constructed of a breathable fabric, like polyester or nylon, and are intended to be lightweight and quick-drying. Swim trunks come in various lengths and frequently contain an elastic waistband with a drawstring, pockets, and a mesh lining.

Swim trunks began their rise to popularity as a “no shirt” movement among males in the summer of 1936 at American beaches, inspiring a lot of men to object to the dress codes that previously required chest covering to swim in public. This act of defiance was carried out even though topless men were prohibited from swimming at beaches all over America. 

The men eventually changed public opinion, and by 1937 it was acceptable for men to appear in public while only wearing swim trunks. Men’s swimwear fashions haven’t really changed all that much since then. The swimwear styles popular among men today still mimic the styles pioneered by the “shirtless” men of the 1930s. 

Can you use swim trunks for running?

Swim trunks can be worn for running, but they’re not always the greatest option. Swim trunks are developed specifically for water use. However, because of the use of breathable, lightweight fabrics, many people attempt to use them for running.  

The problem with this is that the fabric may not offer enough support or protection for the skin for high-friction exercises, therefore, these attributes might not be optimal for running. When embarking on a long run, wearing apparel made expressly for running, like running shorts or tights, is greatly advised to avoid chafing or discomfort.

Are swim trunks necessary?

Even though they aren’t legally required for swimming, swim trunks are a popular choice of apparel for water activities. Of course, there are several other types of shorts, such as running shorts, gym shorts, or even boxers, that can be used in place of swim trunks if need be. You can also forgo all this, but remember that covering one’s private parts is strictly and legally required while swimming in public!

As stated in the previous sections, swim trunks are lightweight, quick-drying, and comfortable to wear in the water, so using them for swimming is the optimal choice.

What are running shorts?

black running shorts

Running shorts are a particular style of clothes people wear when running or engaging in other high-impact activities. They are usually constructed of moisture-wicking textiles, which help keep the body cool and dry when exercising. 

They are light, breathable, and frequently made with pockets, a lining, and elastic waistbands with a drawstring for a secure fit. These shorts have undergone a number of changes over the years, with different models, such as split-leg, v-notch, and compression running shorts, all being developed over the decades.

They are typically shorter than conventional shorts and are created specifically to be worn while engaging in high-friction sports. They can support and safeguard the body’s sensitive areas, such as the inner thigh or private areas, while running or engaging in similar sports.

Is it OK to swim in running shorts?

Running shorts can technically be worn when swimming, but they are usually not the best option since they are meant for use during high-impact sports like running. 

Running shorts are built from materials that drain away sweat, helping keep the body cool and dry while exercising. This moisture-wicking fabric might not offer enough support or protection for the body while submerged. 

Running shorts are also frequently shorter than swim trunks, which may not be as appropriate or pleasant for swimming. Wearing gear made expressly for swimming, like swim trunks or a swimsuit, is typically best for water-related sports.