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Published Jan. 21, 2022

Even when hiking in the hot, desert sun, is it okay to wear hiking shorts? This question is very subjective and depends on the conditions and the hiker. No matter what you decide, know that you can’t wear just any shorts. You want the best hiking shorts. 

The best hiking shorts offer a mix of durability, water resistance, versatility, and mobility. Yes, it’s true that they will not provide as much protection or coverage as hiking pants. But hiking shorts can still offer a hiker the comfort they desire as they embark on any warm-weather adventure. 

Many of the considerations you should make about hiking shorts will overlap with the best hiking pants, but there are a few nuances to consider as well. Read through our buyer’s guide to get a feel for what to look for, and then jump down to sift through our top picks for the best hiking shorts.

Things to Consider Before Buying Hiking Shorts

It is no secret that human bodies vary in all shapes and sizes. Plus, we all have personal preferences, especially when it comes to clothing. Outdoor recreation clothing can end up being expensive, but keep in mind that you often are paying for quality. With that in mind, before you start shopping around for the best hiking shorts, there are some very important things to consider.

Materials

The materials of your clothing determine a lot of things. From the durability and longevity to their overall performance in the field, knowing what the best hiking shorts should be made from can help drive your buying decisions moving forward. 

When it comes to any outdoor clothing, avoid materials like cotton that absorb and hold onto moisture. In the hot summer months, this additional moisture won’t create a hypothermia risk, but it can cause uncomfortable chaffing as you continue to hike. 

Many outdoor brands produce a wide array of short options, so the materials and language used to describe the shorts can help you determine their intended use. For instance, if a brand describes shorts as being suitable for “varied conditions” or for “technical trekking,” it is likely that the shorts are intended for hiking specifically, not casual wear. 

The most common materials used in the best hiking shorts include: 

  • Recycled polyester (rPET)
  • Nylon
  • Spandex
  • Synthetic Blends

You’ll notice that on this list, there are only synthetic materials. This is because synthetics have become an industry standard and are currently one of the better options for moisture-wicking and quick-drying capabilities. Synthetic blends have become more common to help improve durability as well. 

Some hiking shorts may be a mix of synthetics and cotton. These shorts are likely not intended for extended outdoor use but can be used for short day hikes or casual outdoor wear. More eco-conscious brands are starting to use fewer synthetics and more natural fibers in their clothing. However, the most you’ll likely see is a blend of synthetic fibers along with a natural fiber like Tencel. 

Comfort, Fit, and Mobility

The materials used to make hiking shorts will also impact the overall feel, comfort, fit, and mobility of the shorts. You’re likely to see shorts made from a synthetic blend, which is very intentional. 

For instance, you may see shorts made from some type of polyester, nylon, and spandex blend. Those shorts will not only be relatively quick-drying and durable but will offer greater mobility and stretch when hiking due to the addition of spandex.

Comfort and fit will be an individual experience, and all brands seem to have different ways of sizing their shorts. We recommend taking the time to go try on shorts in person if you can. Still, you can use online research (like reading this article) to your advantage to investigate materials and read through verified customer reviews. 

Trying hiking shorts on in person gives you a chance to test them out for mobility and comfort. You can walk around a little, bring your knees up to your chest, practice some lunges, do some squats, and perform any other awkward maneuvers you think may occur while you’re hiking. 

You want to avoid shorts that may dig into your thighs, have seams that rest on your hips where a backpack’s hip belt sits, and may chafe in any areas. (Looking for a new backpack? Check out our round up of best hiking backpacks and get the right one for you.) Unless you are looking for a complete spandex legging design, hiking shorts should be somewhat loose-fitting to improve mobility as well as breathability. 

Breathability

When hiking in any type of heat, you need breathable clothes. Breathability in hiking shorts can come from loose leg openings to allow more airflow while moving, lightweight fabrics, and any ventilation in pockets or other parts of the shorts. 

Testing breathability is another reason why seeing the shorts in person can be of benefit. You can feel the material’s thickness and weight when trying on the shorts. When you’re holding the shorts, you can hold them up to a light to see how much passes through or even blow on the fabric to feel how much air passes through. 

If you are buying online, look at the materials used, overall weight, and description of breathability. Then check for verified customer reviews to see if there are mentions of breathability and use in hot and muggy weather. 

Avoid thick and heavy fabrics, like cotton, that limit breathability. Heavier materials may work in some weather conditions, but in general, the best hiking shorts will help prevent moisture from building and keep you cool as you move.

Water Resistance

Another aspect of the short’s material will include any type of water resistance. Keep in mind that if they are completely waterproof, this will severely impact their breathability. Because breathability is such an essential factor in hiking shorts, most shorts are only water-resistant, not waterproof. Still, water resistance can affect breathability to an extent. 

Water-resistant shorts will be treated with DWR (durable water repellent) coatings or something like it. Some Colombia brand shorts utilize their OMNI-SHIELD technology that is both water and stain-resistant. 

Unfortunately, there isn’t necessarily a brand standard for water-resistant fabric, even if treated with a coating like DWR. In general, synthetic materials are going to be faster to dry. However, a water-resistant coating will allow water to bead and roll off more easily before soaking into the fabric. 

Unless the fabric itself is water-resistant, the coating on the material may have to be reapplied after a certain amount of time and washes. These details should be provided in the product description or the product care guide. 

Features and Versatility

The features hiking shorts offer will vary. Most hiking shorts, at the very least, are equipped with pockets. Not all pockets will be of the same depth or in a convenient place. So, investigate and evaluate the pocket situation to see if it will fit your needs. Although having mesh-lined pockets is excellent for breathability, this can impact the pocket lining’s durability. 

The closure of the pockets should be another consideration. Are they all open pockets, or do the lower pockets include a zipper to ensure items in those pockets don’t fall out when you high step over a log? How things stay in your pockets is another excellent aspect to test when trying on hiking shorts in person. 

Other features may include UPF sun protection listed in the product description. If you choose thin, lightweight materials, having some sort of UPF rating can help prevent sun damage to your skin without needing sunscreen under your shorts. 

The versatility of your hiking shorts correlates to their ability to cross into multiple seasons, climates, and activities. Depending on your intended use and the activities you enjoy, finding shorts you can wear both hiking and fishing may be ideal. You may opt for hiking pants and a short combo instead of hiking shorts alone to make them better suited for summer and shoulder seasons. 

How versatile your shorts are is up to you and will depend on the intended use.

Best Hiking Shorts Overall: Patagonia Nine Trails Shorts

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Why It Made the Cut

The Patagonia Nine Trails Shorts are a versatile, lightweight pair of shorts that allows for ample breathability while still being water-resistant and comfortable. 

Key Features

  • Materials: 100% Recycled Polyester
  • Weight: 6.6 ounces
  • Water Resistance: DWR coating

Pros:

  • Secure zippered pockets
  • Lightweight 
  • Quick-drying and odor resistant

Cons:

  • Not all wearers will like that they have a liner

As you make your way through our list, you’ll notice that Patagonia makes a few appearances. The Patagonia Nine Trails Shorts became our top pick for best overall hiking shorts because of their versatility, durability, and comfort while moving. 

They utilize a somewhat simplistic design that provides a lightweight and airy hiking experience. With a thinner fabric, it is nice that there is a liner for added support and mobility. Some hikers will see the liner as a benefit, but the liner can also be a downside to some wearers. The best comparison we have for the liner is as if you are wearing compression shorts under a pair of loose-fitting shorts. 

Versatility is somewhat hard to find in hiking shorts, which is part of why these were bumped up on the list. They are equally as comfortable for high endurance activities like trail running or a casual day hike. As far as warm weather adventure goes, these will take you across any trail in comfort with enough water resistance and breathability to tackle even the hottest days.

Best Hiking Shorts for Women: The North Face Aphrodite Motion Shorts

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Why It Made the Cut

The North Face Aphrodite Motion Shorts are indeed made for a woman in motion with a quality and comfortable design made from nearly all summer outdoor sports. 

Key Features

  • Materials: 95% Nylon Herringbone, 5% Elastane woven with FlashDry™
  • Weight: 5 ounces
  • Water Resistance: DWR coating

Pros:

  • Versatile design 
  • Packable 
  • Exceptional mobility

Cons:

  • Some women may want more leg coverage 
  • Water repellent but not super quick drying 

Many readers will be happy to see a fashionable and functional hiking short on our list. The Aphrodite Motion Shorts are a pair of shorts that you’ll want to wear for essentially all outdoor activities in warm weather. From paddling to hiking and even a quick workout session, these shorts seem to be able to do it all. 

The side pockets are not the most secure for items, but a zippered back pocket holds valuables like keys. That pocket can also serve as a packing pouch to bring these shorts on backpacking trips. The waist is elastic with a drawstring for added comfort and increased mobility. 

Surprisingly, the sizing on these shorts is relatively accurate, and while the waist will fit snuggly, the legs provide enough flexibility to be loose while wearing. If you are a lover of warm-weather outdoor activities, you will be happy with your investment, as these shorts will soon become your favorite.

Best Hiking Shorts for Men: Patagonia Quandary Short

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Why It Made the Cut

The Patagonia Quandary Shorts are lightweight, versatile, and quick-drying hiking shorts that allow for ample mobility and coveted comfort. 

Key Features

  • Materials: 95% nylon, 5% spandex
  • Weight: 7.1 ounces
  • Water Resistance: DWR coating

Pros:

  • Comfortable while moving
  • Durable design
  • Quick-drying materials 

Cons:

  • Pockets could be more secure

Another pick from Patagonia is their Quandary Short. These have long been a favorite among hikers because of their lightweight comfort and durable design. A plus is Patagonia’s longstanding commitment to sustainable clothing designs with the integration of recycled materials and the use of Bluesign fabrics. 

When it comes to how these shorts perform, they do not disappoint. They already have a quality water-resistant DWR coating, but they also are very quick drying. Their overall comfort and mobility while hiking seems top-notch, but there are some complaints about tightness in the thighs when seated. The general fit is relatively loose on the legs, but they may be a pair of shorts you benefit from trying on in-person to ensure they’re the right fit for your body.

Best Hiking Shorts for Plus Size: Columbia Saturday Trail Shorts

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Why It Made the Cut

Columbia Saturday Trail Shorts are a high-performing and comfortable hiking short option that comes in a wide range of sizes. 

Key Features

  • Materials: 96% nylon, 4% elastane 
  • Weight: 5.9 ounces
  • Water Resistance: Omni-Shield™ advanced repellency

Pros:

  • Affordable
  • Seem true to fit and size
  • Extensive sizing options and guide

Cons:

  • The inseam may feel short to some wearers

While I list only one of the women’s versions of the Saturday Trial shorts here, Columbia’s Saturday Trail collection offers several options suitable for plus-size hikers. The sizing guide and overall fit are spot on, and the only consistent comment is that some wearers feel the inseam makes the shorts feel too short on them while others love the length. Luckily, Columbia also makes a Saturday Trail Long Short option with even more size options if this is an issue for you. 

They are an affordable hiking short option proven to be durable, comfortable, and versatile during warm weather outdoor activities. The mobility of the shorts is optimal for hiking with or without a pack on your back. The two-way comfort stretch combined with the active first and mid-rise waist will help you feel confident and cool while out on the trail. 

Best Hiking Swimming Shorts: Patagonia Baggies Shorts

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Why It Made the Cut

The Patagonia Baggies Shorts are a durable and lightweight hiking shorts that are designed to be used both in and out of the water. 

Key Features

  • Materials: 100% recycled nylon
  • Weight: 7.8 ounces
  • Water Resistance: DWR coating

Pros:

  • Light and loose-fitting
  • Quick drying
  • Vertical pockets to reduce drag in the water

Cons:

  • Not all wearers are a fan of the length or overall fit

If you’re searching for a pair of hiking shorts that could also work for a short swim or even a surf session, then look no further than the classic Patagonia Baggies Shorts. These shorts have been a longstanding design in the Patagonia hiking short collection, and for a good reason. They are reliable and never fail to perform when in action. 

They are made from recycled nylon materials with a mesh lining and DWR finish. The lining allows for a more breathable design and shorts that perform better in the water. The lightweight fabric will be comparable to a classic swim short in its drying time but will likely be more breathable while hiking. 

The pockets are also lined with mesh to allow water to drain easily, and they have an integrated vertical design to make it easier to swim. While the pocket design is perfect in the water, some wearers find them awkward to use when hiking and need to access items. 

Methodology

What to wear hiking is a personal and intentional journey. The time of year, your preferences, and your budget can all influence your decision. These aspects were all considered when crafting my list of best-hiking shorts. I wanted to make sure that I helped cut down on your research time as you search for hiking shorts, no matter your needs. 

Along with the buying considerations discussed at the beginning of this article, I took the following into account when choosing my top picks: 

  • Longevity: What is the expected lifespan of these shorts? How durable are these for my intended use? Can I use these for several hiking seasons? How quickly do these materials wear out or break down?
  • Repairability: How easily can I repair these on my own? Does the company provide care instructions? Do they offer any repair or exchange programs for damaged products?
  • Sustainability: Does this brand use ethical production practices? Are they transparent about their environmental impact? 
  • Customer Service: How easy is it to get a response from a brand about questions? Are other customers happy with this product and the company?
  • General Performance: Do these shorts fit my needs? Do they perform well enough for me to wear for days at a time? 

Read through the “things to consider before buying hiking shorts” section at the beginning of this article to identify other aspects of our methodology. 

FAQs

Q: Are biking shorts good for hiking?

Not all bike shorts are suitable for hiking, but some can be okay. Non-padded bike shorts, better classified as yoga shorts, can work well for hiking if you are comfortable wearing form-fitting, tight clothing. These will be flexible and intended for movement but not necessarily the most durable for all conditions. Bike shorts that are padded will be uncomfortable to hike in and cause chaffing.

Q: What should you not wear while hiking?

You should not wear bulky or absorbent materials while hiking. Fabrics like cotton (including denim) not only are good at absorbing moisture, but they also hold onto it. While this won’t cause issues like hypothermia in warm weather, it can cause chaffing and general discomfort as you hike.

Q: Are leggings good for hiking?

Leggings can work for hiking but usually are best used during less technical and short day hikes. Leggings allow ample movement and generally have decent breathability, but they are far less durable than other materials and easily rip when snagged on rocks and branches.

Q: How should hiking shorts fit?

Your hiking shorts should fit in a way that feels comfortable to you. Some hikers prefer form-fitting, tight shorts, while others prefer loose-fitting legs. No matter the style, hiking shorts should not restrict movement of any kind and limit the amount of friction on your legs while walking. 
Choosing the best hiking shorts can take some time, and honestly, it should. You want shorts that not only are comfortable to wear on the trail, but you want ones that will last you for several hiking seasons. Even if you didn’t find the right fit and style in your price range on our list, we hope you can utilize our buying guide as a way to narrow down your top choices.

Final Thoughts on the Best Hiking Shorts

Choosing the best hiking shorts can take some time, and honestly, it should. You want shorts that not only are comfortable to wear on the trail, but will also last you for several hiking seasons. Even if you didn’t find the right fit and style in your price range on our list, we hope you can utilize our buying guide as a way to narrow down your top choices. Happy hiking!

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