During a round of tights testing, one of our testers was completely won over by a pair—with the exception of one glaring flaw: “LACK OF POCKETS! These leggings would be PERFECT if they had side pockets.” Pockets can make or break a run. We hear it all the time from our wear-testers; bottoms with good pockets always get more positive responses.
The same goes for nearly every other piece of running apparel—shorts, bra, joggers, rain jacket—and I couldn’t agree more: Give us pockets. Good news: There’s a variety of options out there to stow whatever your little beating runner heart can’t run without—smartphone, ID, or midrun snack—if you know where to look.
More Pockets, Please
The pocket seems to be a relatively new concept in activewear. I can still recall the pocketless track shorts that were the norm less than 20 years ago. Running apparel brands are now adding this essential feature, but there are still instances where pockets are missing, especially when it comes to women’s wear.
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Some brands, like Janji and Fourlaps, which recently launched a women’s line, try to cater to both men and women when it comes to storage.
“We try to be as equitable as possible for both genders around pocketing because the reality is that they both want a ton of pockets now,” said Janji cofounder and CEO Dave Spandorfer. “To be honest, we get even more requests from women to have more items, more pockets.”
On a video call with Sally Bergesen, founder and CEO of women’s running apparel company Oiselle, I lamented how the biggest affront with women’s clothing is the side “pocket” that’s stitched shut. Bergesen concurred.
“Fake pockets are the worst,” she said. “If you go way back, pockets weren’t in women’s clothing at all. I remember reading about how there was this notion that women were going to be carrying seditious material about a revolution—like you might be hiding something dangerous in your pocket.”
Women runners know that the only things we’re packing are gels, money, or tampons to stay out of the literal red zone during long runs. Oiselle has a webpage devoted to its collection of products featuring pockets (you’ll see models stowing Picky Bars, lip balm, and even toaster pastries). Among the brand’s offerings are the Toolbelt Roga Shorts ($62).
I tested the Toolbelt in 2019, and they changed my life. Race belts were too big to adjust on my waist, causing them to loosely flop against my hips as I ran. The Toolbelt’s mesh 360 Pocket allowed me to carry multiple items on everyday runs, while the waistband’s internal infinity drawcord limited bouncing. I wear Oiselle’s compression O-Mazing Mini Power Shorts ($58), which also have a 360 Pocket, when I’m on vacation and need to take my smartphone in case I get lost. Racing in Oiselle’s Pockito Bra ($58), which has a mid-chest pocket, makes reaching for gels easy-peasy. Wearing the O-Mazing and Pockito together: max cargo capacity.
What Makes a Good Pocket?
These are the three factors a pocketed running garment requires, according to Oiselle founder and CEO Sally Bergesen.
- Accessibility: “One thing you want is ease of access, just to really be able to drop your hands or fingers in there to get what you need.”
- Placement: “The key location for pockets when you’re running is your center of gravity, your core: your hips, butt, upper thighs. If whatever you’re carrying is appropriately secured to that area, that’s going to provide the least amount of bounce. We like to add pockets to as many things as possible, but we also like to design them in such a way that they’re either minimal or hidden, or they just hold up really well and don’t make the garment look awkward on the body.”
- Support: “If you have the right compression fabric and the right position of the pocket, you actually don’t need a zipper. You’re running, you’re standing up—you’re not doing handstands. The compression fabric will keep what you have in its place.”
The Price on Pockets
Some brands are still skimping on storage space because it drives up the cost.
“Pockets aren’t cheap,” said Spandorfer. “Bigger companies need to have a high margin and sell to more traditional wholesalers. They aren’t willing to add those pockets because they’re worried about the cost. But I think many of the smaller brands enjoy adding pockets because they know how meaningful it is to the customers, even if the product is more expensive.”
Janji tries to integrate as many pockets into its pieces as reasonably possible. The brand’s Groundwork bottoms come in varying lengths and styles with four to six pockets. Janji also offers its back-pocketed Groundwork Long Bra 2.0 ($66) and Transit Tech Cap ($38), which has a zip pocket on one side.
“Having more pockets allows runners to not just run fast or run hundreds of miles at a time, but to really explore the world around them, whether it’s going for a run to the grocery store, running home, continuing to go for a run afterwards,” said Spandorfer. “It’s all about creating more options, more space, and more storage so you can go wherever you want to.”
Where My Pockets At?
Running bottoms with pockets galore for whatever you need on your next long run
The Best Place to Store Your Phone
I asked the RW staff, “When it comes to a phone pocket, do you prefer carrying it on your thigh or lower back?” Our house is divided.
→ Jeff Dengate, deputy editor / “I have a pair of New Balance Impact tights that I live in during the winter. They have drop-in pockets on the thigh, and there’s literally no movement of my iPhone 13 Pro. I totally don’t feel it.”
→ Sarah Hemstock, marketing director / “I’ve found my phone fits better into most thigh pockets vs. back. Also, I have short arms, so it’s easier for me to grab my phone from the side if I need it instead of reaching around my back midrun!”
→ Hunter Young, digital designer / “I love thigh pockets! Less sweat, easier access, doesn’t feel like they’re pulling my pants down. If I’m running for a longer distance, I make sure I have shorts with thigh pockets ready for it.”
→ Mallory Creveling, deputy editor, health & fitness / “I go for the back pocket if I am not going to get my phone out to change a song. If I don’t have a playlist ready, I’ll go for the side. Some thigh pockets are too low though, so I usually prefer back.”
→ Gabrielle Hondorp, commerce editor / “Back pocket. I feel lopsided when my phone is on one leg, and I swear I lean in that direction. I feel like I’m always readjusting my pants.”
→ Jess Movold, RW+ run coach / “There’s a New Balance pair I found that has a back pocket wide enough for a phone—zero bounce! My favorite, however: phone-free runs!”
Amanda is a test editor at Runner’s World who has run the Boston Marathon every year since 2013; she's a former professional baker with a master’s in gastronomy and she carb-loads on snickerdoodles.