When you spend all day in the mountains, there’s nothing worse than poorly-fitting clothing. But, with so many different hiking shorts on the market today, it can be tricky to find just one pair that’s right for your next adventure.
While hiking shorts might seem simple, there’s a lot of work that goes into choosing the perfect pair. To make the process easier for you, we’ve reviewed some of the best models available and created this guide to finding the right shorts for you.
The 8 best shorts for hiking:
1. Arc’teryx Stowe Shorts (Best Overall)
For overall performance, our top choice is the Arc’teryx Stowe Shorts. These shorts are made with a cotton/nylon/elastane blend that provides the perfect mix of breathability, comfort, and stretch.
They also have a durable water repellent finish to help you stay dry during afternoon showers. The Stowe Shorts have a gusseted crotch that allows for plenty of freedom of movement on the trail.
Additionally, unlike many pairs of athletic shorts, the Stowe Shorts have plenty of pockets. This includes two hand and rear pockets, as well as two zippered cargo pockets, which are perfect for quickly storing your phone, map, or compass while on the go.
- Stretchy and comfortable fabric provides freedom of movement
- DWR treatment for water-resistance
- Good selection of pockets
- No UPF protection
Check Pricing: Men’s
2. Columbia Featherweight Shorts
The Columbia Featherweight Shorts are a fan-favorite of weight-conscious hikers. They feature a nylon/elastane fabric that has built-in Omni-Shade UPF 50 sun protection, which is great for sunny days on the trail. Plus, they have a DWR treatment that repels moisture when the weather turns sour.
For a better hiking experience, the Featherweight Shorts’ fabric also has four-way stretch that allows for excellent range of motion without feeling constrained. These shorts even have some elastane in the waist for added comfort.
As far as pockets go, the Featherweight Shorts have two hand pockets and a single zippered security pouch on the thigh. Oh, and these lightweight shorts are also one of the most affordable options on the market today, so they’re a good option for budget-conscious hikers.
Check Pricing: Men’s
3. Patagonia Nine Trails Shorts
The Patagonia Nine Trails Shorts are designed for a range of different high-octane outdoor pursuits. Originally crafted for runners, the Nine Trails are a solid choice for hikers that prefer the comfort and freedom of movement of a pair of athletic shorts.
These shorts are made using a lightweight polyester/spandex fabric. The fabric is both highly breathable and moisture-wicking, which makes it a good option for particularly hot days in the mountains.
Both the men’s and women’s Nine Trails shorts come with a built-in liner with HeiQ Fresh durable odor control. If that wasn’t enough, the Nine Trails is made with bluesign-approved recycled fabrics and is Fair Trade Certified sewn, so they’re good for the environment and workers’ rights.
- Environmentally and socially-responsible fabrics
- Lightweight, stretchy, and breathable fabric
- Built-in liner for comfort
- Poor selection of pockets
- Expensive for athletic shorts
4. Prana Stretch Zion Men’s & Prana Stretch Zion Olivia Women’s
Prana’s Stretch Zion and the Olivia shorts are both built with their proprietary “Stretch Zion” fabric, which is specifically designed for active outdoor lifestyles. This fabric is a nylon/spandex blend that boasts UPF 50+ sun protection and a moisture-wicking finish.
They are quick-drying and abrasion-resistant, so they’re great for long days on the trail. The men’s version of these shorts has two inseam options – 10″ (25.4cm) and 12″ (30.5cm) – while the women’s has a 5″ (12.7) inseam
Thanks to their longer inseam, the men’s shorts have two hand warmer pockets, as well as a cargo pocket on each thigh. Meanwhile, the Olivia shorts have large hand pockets and two rear pockets for ample storage options. Plus, these shorts are stylish enough to wear in town, so they’re a great lifestyle option for the outdoor adventurer.
- Use very comfortable Stretch Zion Fabric
- UPF 50+ sun protection and moisture-wicking properties
- Stylish enough for every-day use
- No zippered pockets
5. REI Co-Op On The Run Shorts
Crafted specifically with trail runners and lightweight hikers in mind, the REI Co-Op On The Run Shorts are a highly breathable option for any summertime outdoor trip. These shorts are made with a four-way stretch polyester fabric that’s both wicking and breathable.
The shorts also have a DWR coating that helps shed water in light rain. Their wide waist belt helps provide all-day comfort. The On The Run Shorts even have sewn flat seams that reduce chafing during a long run or hike.
Additionally, the shorts have fabric perforations strategically placed around the thigh to increase their breathability on warm days. They even have reflective panels to help you stay visible during early morning or late night runs.
- Very comfortable and breathable
- No-chafe flat sewn seams
- Stretchy fabric for increased range of motion
- Poor selection of pockets, especially on women’s model
6. Patagonia Baggies
The Patagonia Baggies are the classic river shorts, but they’re also a good all-around choice for mountain use. These shorts are made using a 100% recycled quick-drying nylon that’s treated with a DWR coating.
Their elasticized waistband provides comfort while an internal drawstring helps you get the perfect fit. Both the men’s and the women’s models have mesh pockets that drain easily after a dip in the lake. Moreover, the men’s Baggies have a built-in quick-drying mesh liner for added convenience.
In keeping with Patagonia’s commitment to environmentalism, these shorts are certified bluesign approved. They’re also Fair Trade Certified sewn, so they help support better living conditions for workers overseas.
- Comfortable, quick-drying, and water-resistant
- Environmentally-friendly and socially-conscious design
- Wide elasticized waist belt with drawstring for a better fit
- Only two handwarmer pockets
- Expensive for athletic shorts
7. Columbia Silver Ridge Stretch
The Columbia Silver Ridge Stretch shorts are a sleek modern take on the traditional hiking shorts design. They are made using Columbia’s unique polyester/elastane fabric that has a built-in Omni-Shield insect repellent.
These shorts also offer Omni-Shade UPF 50 protection for use in hot, sunny environments. The fabric on the Silver Ridge is stretchy enough to allow for full freedom of movement while still maintaining a stylish regular fit.
The men’s Silver Ridge has two hand warmer and two rear pockets, in addition to one zippered thigh pouch. On the other hand, the women’s version has just two rear and two hand warmer pockets due to its shorter inseam. Overall, the Silver Ridge is one of the most affordable pairs of hiking shorts on the market today, so it’s great for budget-conscious adventurers.
- Built-in insect repellent and sun protection
- Stretchy and comfortable
- No DWR coating
- Only available in one color
8. Patagonia Quandary Shorts
Made to look equally as good in town as they do on the trail, the Patagonia Quandary is a solid choice for an all-around pair of shorts. These shorts feature a bluesign-approved lightweight fabric that’s a blend of 65% recycled nylon and spandex.
The fabric on these shorts is treated with a DWR coating for water-resistance. It also has UPF 50 protection for those extra sunny summer days. The Quandary also has a classic regular fit that makes style a priority.
The men’s version of these shorts comes in three different inseam lengths while the women’s is available in a 5″ inseam. Both models also have at least one zippered pocket, which is great for securing small items on the go.
- Stylish enough for everyday use
- DWR coating and UPF protection
- Environmentally-friendly fabrics
- Not very stretchy
How To Choose The Best Hiking Shorts
Finding the right pair of hiking shorts isn’t easy. Here are some of the most important things to keep in mind while shopping for that next pair of shorts:
Hiking Conditions / Intended Use
What you intend to use your shorts for will greatly dictate the pair you should buy. There are three main types of hiking shorts, each of which is designed for a specific type of hiking:
- Traditional Shorts. A traditional pair of hiking shorts is generally made from thicker nylon fabric. They usually have lots of cargo-style pockets and a longer inseam for added protection from the elements. Often, traditional shorts will be made with a UPF fabric and have a DWR coating.
- Lifestyle Shorts. Many outdoor gear manufacturers have started making hiking shorts that are stylish enough to be worn around town. These shorts have many of the features that you see on traditional models, but usually don’t have bulky cargo pockets.
- Athletic Shorts. As the name suggests, athletic shorts are very similar to what you’d wear for a run or a workout session in the gym. These shorts are lightweight, highly breathable, and quick-drying. But, they usually don’t have many pockets, so they’re not the most functional option for longer backpacking trips.
Materials / Fabrics
Most hiking shorts will be crafted from a fabric blend that includes nylon, polyester, or elastane. These materials are popular among gear manufacturers because they provide a good mix of comfort, breathability, stretch, and durability.
Many shorts will also be made with fabrics that have built-in UPF protection, which is ideal for particularly sunny environments. Additionally, if you do a lot of hiking in rainy locales, a pair of shorts that has a DWR (durable water repellent) treatment that provides some weather-resistance is also a good idea.
Comfort / Fit / Style
Comfort, fit, and style are all very important when buying a pair of hiking shorts. When it comes to comfort, though it’s all about finding the pair that fits you best. So, trying on shorts before you buy is key.
Generally, shorts that are made with stretchy fabrics will be more comfortable for hiking. But, each piece of technical outdoor apparel is cut to fit a different body shape. So, it’s a good idea to read through the manufacturer’s “fit guide” to see if a pair of shorts are right for you.
As far as style goes, lifestyle shorts are usually going to be the best looking options. However, they have fewer pockets than cargo shorts, so they are less functional for outdoor use.
Here are our answers to your top questions about hiking shorts:
Are Cargo Shorts Good For Hiking?
Cargo shorts are a popular choice for hiking because their assortment of pockets are useful for carrying small pieces of gear as you walk. Many companies make hiking-specific cargo shorts with large thigh pockets.
Is It Better To Hike In Pants Or Shorts?
Whether you choose to hike in pants or shorts is really a personal decision, so it’s hard to say that one is “better” than the other. Hiking in pants is helpful if you’re going somewhere that’s particularly buggy as they help to shield your legs from the mosquitoes and biting flies.
Plus, pants are great for protecting your legs from cuts and scrapes while bushwhacking and for preventing sunburn. But, pants are less breathable than shorts, so they’re not ideal for hot conditions.
In reality, both pants and shorts have their advantages and disadvantages for hiking. Ultimately, the most important thing is that you’re comfortable while you hike, whether that’s in shorts or pants. So, choose your clothing based on what feels best to you.
Why Is Cotton Bad For Hiking?
Cotton is generally a poor choice for hiking because it actually sucks heat away from your body when wet. Meanwhile, other fabrics, like nylon, can insulate you, even when they’re sopping wet, cotton does the opposite.
Since hypothermia is a real danger for hikers, even in the summer months, people are usually encouraged not to wear cotton outdoors. But, some people enjoy wearing cotton in hot, dry environments, like the Desert Southwest, where cotton’s breathability outweighs its drawbacks.
My Recommended Shorts For Backpacking And Hiking
If I had to recommend a pair of shorts for your next hiking trip, I’d go with the Arc’teryx Palisade for men and the Arc’teryx Sabria for women. Here’s what you need to know about these shorts:
Arc’teryx Palisade Shorts – Men’s
The Arc’teryx Palisade shorts are made with a lightweight and breathable TerraTex fabric. This fabric is quick-drying, which is great for rainy summer days. Meanwhile, the fabric’s stretchiness and the shorts’ gusseted crotch provide excellent freedom of movement as you hike.
Additionally, the Palisade has five pockets, all of which are zippered to protect your gear. These shorts also have a soft chamois lined waistbelt for next-to-skin comfort and an integrated webbing belt to help you get the best possible fit.
- Very stretchy with great freedom of movement
- Lightweight and highly breathable
- Five zippered pockets
- No DWR coating or UPF protection
- Very expensive
Check Pricing: arcteryx.com
Arc’teryx Sabria Shorts – Women’s
When style meets function, you get the Arc’teryx Sabria shorts. These shorts are made using Arc’teryx’s Fortius DW 1.0 fabric that’s super stretchy and ultra-durable. Since this four-way stretch fabric is combined with a gusseted crotch, these shorts provide unparalleled freedom of movement on the trail.
Unlike most women’s outdoor shorts, the Sabria also has two zippered thigh pockets for plentiful gear storage. Oh, and the fabric in these shorts provides UPF 50+ protection for those extra sunny days in the mountains.
- Very stretchy fabric with full freedom of movement
- Two zippered thigh pockets
- UPF 50+ protection
- No handwarmer pockets
Check Pricing: arcteryx.com
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David is an accomplished mountain endurance athlete who has completed over 25 ultra marathon races (follow on Strava). He is most proud of his finish at The Drift 100 – a high elevation, 100 mile winter foot race that zigzags along the Continental Divide in Wyoming. In the future he hopes to compete in the ITI 350 and ultimately the full 1,000 mile Iditarod Trail Invitational that follows the same path as the historic dog sled race.