For midsummer conditions or high-exertion days on the trail, nothing beats the easy-breezy feel of a hiking short. Today’s offerings run the gamut from technically savvy softshell designs to casually minded numbers that look the part both on and off the trail. Regardless of the style, most hiking-specific shorts feature durable, breathable, and quick-drying fabrics, functional storage, and a customizable fit at the waist. Below we break down our favorite women’s hiking shorts of the year, including details on fit, pockets, performance, and more. For more information, see our buying advice and comparison table below the picks.
- Best Overall Women's Hiking Short: Mountain Hardwear Dynama/2 Bermuda
- A Close Second (with Casual Intentions): prAna Halle II Short
- Best Hiking Short for Performance Use: Arc’teryx Gamma LT Short 9
- Best Quick-Drying Hiking Short: Patagonia Baggies Shorts
Best Overall Women’s Hiking Short
Inseam: 9 in.
Materials: 94% nylon, 6% elastane
What we like: Stretchy waistband and thin fabric offer excellent fit and comfort.
What we don’t: Not particularly stylish or durable; zip pockets do not accommodate a smartphone.
Our favorite hiking shorts are durable, breathable, and quick-drying, offer great fit and mobility, feature a range of storage options, and look good too. The Mountain Hardwear Dynama/2 Bermuda checks all of the boxes better than most, with lightweight fabric that dries quickly after a dousing, two deep hand pockets and zippered stashes on the rear and thigh, and a modest 9-inch inseam. Notably, the shorts are also built with a wide, stretchy waistband, which slides smoothly over our hips (some elastic waistbands are painstakingly hard to get on) and does a great job keeping the shorts in place while minimizing bulk and pressure points under a backpack hipbelt. Added up, the Dynama/2 Bermuda is the most well-rounded short we’ve tested for hikers who prioritize both comfort and performance.
But the Dynama/2 Bermuda isn’t ideal for every woman on the trail, for a few key reasons. First off, it’s far from the most stylish option here: You only get the option of a 9-inch inseam (fairly long for some), and the colorway choices (five in total) aren’t too exciting. Second, while the thin fabric excels in terms of mobility and breathability, it lacks the premium feel of offerings from Patagonia and Arc’teryx (our shorts have already started to pill). And finally, neither of the Dynama/2’s zippered pockets are large enough to accommodate a smartphone, although the generously sized hand pockets suffice. Despite our gripes, these Mountain Hardwear shorts are far-and-away the most comfortable and well-fitting design of any we tested, and most hikers will prefer their lightweight feel over some of the heavier options below. A final note on sizing: We wear a size extra small in the Dynama/2 pants, but found that a small fit us best in the shorts.
See the Mountain Hardwear Dynama/2 Bermuda
A Close Second (with Casual Intentions)
Inseams: 5, 7 in.
Materials: 95% nylon, 5% elastane
Waist: Button & fly
What we like: Stylish design; premium ReZion fabric is durable and doesn’t stretch out of shape.
What we don’t: Non-adjustable waistband; storage is not super functional.
The Dynama/2 Bermuda gets our top billing for its combination of comfort and performance, but some women will prefer a more stylish short for casual hiking and around-town use. The prAna Halle Short II is a shoo-in for this pick, featuring a nice balance of trail-ready features alongside a stylish look (offered in four modern colorways and two lengths), traditional zip fly and button closure, and a modest mid-rise waist that lends great coverage for high-stepping over boulders or bending over while setting up a tent. We’re big fans of prAna’s ReZion fabric, too: Reminiscent of lightweight softshell material, it has a premium and durable feel that resists abrasions and doesn’t stretch out over time (this is one of our common complaints with hiking shorts).
We considered the Halle Short II as our top pick, but it slightly misses the mark for performance use. Our main gripe is the waistband, which has no way of cinching tighter (unless you add a belt), and has a tendency to dig into our stomach when compressed under a backpack’s hipbelt. What’s more, we found ourselves in between sizes with the prAna, but unlike the Mountain Hardwear above, you get very little wiggle room at the waist, resulting in one size being a bit baggy and the other being too tight. And finally, while the front pockets are reasonably deep, the back pockets are too small for a smartphone (not to mention that the flaps get in the way), and the shorts don’t feature any zippered storage. But the Halle certainly wins out for casual use—we wear our pair just as much around town as we do on the trail.
See the prAna Halle II Short 5" See the prAna Halle II Short 7"
Best Hiking Short for Performance Use
Inseam: 6, 9 in.
Materials: 88% nylon, 12% elastane
Waist: Snap/built-in belt & fly
What we like: Premium fit and finish, highly durable, functional storage.
What we don’t: Expensive and too thick for hot weather.
Most hiking shorts check in around $60 to $70, so you know the Gamma LT Short must have something different up its sleeve. Priced at $130 for the 9-inch version, the Arc'teryx is by far the most premium offering here and a great option for dedicated hikers looking for top-notch performance. Following in the footsteps of the much-loved Gamma LT pant, these shorts are made with Arc’teryx’s Fortius DW 2.0 softshell fabric, which translates to excellent durability, a great balance of wind protection and breathability, and a generous bit of stretch to keep mobility high. The built-in belt offers a customizable fit without too much bulk, and storage is the best in the game, with three large zippered pockets (two are sized to fit a smartphone and the thigh storage is accessible while wearing a harness).
The Gamma LT has just about everything going for it, but you’ll have to ask yourself if you need such a technically oriented short—especially when you can save over $60 with many of the other models here. Further, the Fortius softshell fabric runs warm on particularly hot days, and it won’t dry out as quickly as thinner nylon designs like the Dynama/2 above or Baggies below. But you’d be hard pressed to find a more durable and functional hiking short, making the Gamma LT the crème de la crème for mountain-goers, guides, and outdoor professionals looking for a premium daily driver. Finally, it doesn’t hurt that Arc’teryx’s offerings are reliably well fitting, and the Gamma LT (which comes in both 6- and 9-in. inseams) is offered in ten sizes from 00 to 16.
See the Arc'teryx Gamma LT Short 9 See the Arc'teryx Gamma LT Short 6
Best Quick-Drying Hiking Short
Inseams: 2.5 , 5 in.
Materials: 100% nylon
Waist: Elastic & drawcord
What we like: Fun styling; quick-drying fabric is great for hiking and water-based activities.
What we don’t: Storage is lacking and fit doesn’t work for everyone.
The Patagonia Baggies are just about as classic as it gets. These versatile shorts fit the part for everything from hiking and water sports to everyday use, and their fun designs and colorways make them a crowd favorite, year after year. The formula is very simple: The shorts feature an elastic waist with drawcord, two mesh-lined pockets (great for draining water), a key loop to secure valuables, and a 5-inch inseam (Patagonia also offers the Barely Baggies with a 2.5-in. inseam). Added up, you get a board-short-inspired aesthetic with the functionality of a hiking short, great for hot summer days and quick dips along the trail. And in 2022, the Baggies are now made with Patagonia’s NetPlus fabric, which is constructed completely from recycled fishing nets.
For years, the Baggies have been our short of choice for hot-weather hiking and guiding, namely due to their fun vibe and quick-drying design. But we do have a few gripes, including storage, comfort, and fit. The hand pockets aren’t attached to the legs—meaning the contents can hang below the hem—and aside from the key loop there’s no security for essentials like a wallet or phone (by contrast, REI’s similar Sahara Amphib has a rear zippered pocket). Further, the Baggies are a little stiff and tend to ride up around the crotch (we find that we’re often pulling ours down), and the elastic waistband isn’t as comfortable as sleeker designs like the Dynama/2 above. And finally, fit can be difficult for women with hourglass shapes (the shorts are a pain to pull on and narrow in the hip region), although the newest version does offer some improvement with a higher rise. No short is perfect, and if the Baggie fits, it’s a wonderful and quick-drying companion for hot days both on the trail and in town.
See the Patagonia Baggies Shorts See the Patagonia Barely Baggies Shorts
Best of the Rest
Inseam: 9 in.
Materials: 96% nylon, 4% spandex
Waist: Button/drawcord & fly
What we like: Quick-drying, traditional hiking short design; available in 14 sizes.
What we don’t: Not particularly durable and will stretch out in between washings.
Over the years, REI Co-op has vastly improved their in-house offerings, and their Sahara Bermuda shorts are case in point. These are the full package for everything from casual day hikes and longer overnights, offering great coverage with the mid-rise waist and 9-inch inseam, four pockets (including one with a zipper), and lightweight, quick-drying fabric with a bit of give. We particularly like the recent redesign, which subs in a patch of elastic at the back of the waistband for a closer fit (you also get a drawstring inside the button-and-fly closure). Priced at $60 and available in 14 sizes, the Sahara Bermuda is an excellent all-rounder that gets the job done for women looking for a functional and modest short for summer adventuring.
But while the Sahara Bermuda’s lightweight fabric makes them a great companion for hot days on the trail, it’s far from the most durable or premium here. The shorts will stretch out between washings (particularly important if you plan to wear them on a week-long backpacking trip), and are much more prone to abrasion and pilling than a design like the Gamma LT above. And while the new elastic waistband will help maintain a good fit over time, it’s a bit of a polarizing feature (those looking for a traditional design might not love it). Finally, REI only offers three colorways and one length, and none of the pockets on our size 4 fit a smartphone. All nitpicks aside, the Sahara Bermuda offer a thoughtful take on the standard hiking short design, and fit the part whether you’re hitting the trail, headed to the lake, or running errands in between.
See the REI Co-op Sahara Bermuda
Inseam: 4.25 in.
Materials: 98% cotton, 2% spandex
Waist: Elastic & drawcord
What we like: Cotton build is comfortable and stylish; offered in a lot of fun colorways.
What we don’t: Not ideal for hot or potentially wet days.
The vast majority of hiking shorts are built with nylon or polyester, which do a good job wicking moisture, dry out quickly, and offer great freedom of movement with their lightweight and airy builds. Going against the grain are Topo Designs’ Dirt Shorts, which feature a 98-percent organic cotton build for a solid dose of comfort and style. In fact, comfort is the first thing we noticed about the Dirt Shorts, which are soft and supple against the skin and have a noticeable amount of stretch for moving around. Further, the side-seam pockets are massive and positioned perfectly, and you get two stylish rear pockets, too. For dry and moderate conditions (they were perfect for our April hiking trip in Moab), these are a cozy and stylish alternative to many of the more traditional, synthetic hiking shorts here.
But before you spring for the Dirt Shorts, it’s important to be aware of the shortcomings of cotton. When used in hiking shorts, cotton is overall thicker and warmer than nylon or polyester, and does not dry out as quickly when wet. Further, it lacks the airy and free-flowing feel of synthetic blends—you won’t want to wear these on particularly hot days. In addition, the overall design of the Dirt Shorts is far from performance-minded: The waistband is a little thick and bulky (not great for wearing under a burly hipbelt), the 4.25-inch inseam will be too short for some (we personally loved the length), and you don’t get any zippered storage. But as a nice crossover option for casual and outdoor use, the Topo Designs Dirt Shorts—which come in eight modern and eye-catching colorways—are one of our favorite designs here.
See the Topo Designs Dirt Shorts
Inseams: 5, 7 in.
Materials: 94% nylon, 6% spandex
Waist: Button/drawcord & fly
What we like: A high-quality traditional hiking short for just $59; available in two inseam lengths.
What we don’t: Button and drawcord have a tendency to dig into the stomach.
If you like the traditional look of the Sahara Bermuda above but prefer something a little shorter, the Patagonia Quandary is a great option. This is another lightweight hiking short that offers a good deal of function without too many bells and whistles: You get two pockets at the front and two at the rear (one with a zipper), a standard button-and-fly closure with internal drawcord, and a good dose of stretch throughout. We wore the Quandary shorts on a four-day trek through Patagonia’s Río Eléctrico valley and were impressed with their mobile and quick-drying nature: After soaking the shorts on a river crossing, they were completely dry in just 20 minutes.
The Quandary is a great option for women looking for standard hiking-short fare (complete with your choice of drab colorways), and—like most of Patagonia’s offerings—they’re well built and feature high-quality materials. However, this style of hiking short won’t appeal to everyone, especially when a stylish design like the prAna Halle above offers similar performance. Further, after testing many hiking shorts with sleek elastic waistbands (like the Mountain Hardwear Dynama/2 Bermuda above), we have a hard time choosing shorts with buttons and drawcords—both of which are noticeably bulky under the hipbelt of our backpack. But the Quandary is nevertheless a durable and functional option for just $59, and Patagonia offers two inseams (5 and 7 in.) in ten sizes from 0 to 18.
See the Patagonia Quandary Shorts 5" See the Patagonia Quandary Shorts 7"
Inseams: 5, 7, 9 in.
Materials: 86% nylon, 14% spandex
Waist: Elastic & built-in belt
What we like: OR’s Ferrosi fabric is very durable, comfortable, breathable, and mobile.
What we don’t: The elastic waistband is a pain to pull on over our hips.
Outdoor Research’s stretchy Ferrosi fabric has achieved legendary status amongst hikers, climbers, and skiers, prized for its great mobility, abrasion resistance, breathability, and weather protection. OR uses the lightweight softshell material in everything from jackets and pants to gaiters and skorts—along with the women’s hiking shorts here. Notably, the Ferrosi shorts are available in two different styles—the 5- and 9-inch models have an elastic waistband with built-in belt, while the 7-inch design has a more traditional button and fly closure with internal drawcord. Regardless of which model you choose, you’re getting a durable short with a bit more heft than thinner models like the Dynama/2 and Sahara Bermuda above.
We tested the 5-inch Ferrosi Shorts, which comes in six fun colorways and six sizes from XS to XXL (the same design comes in a 9-in. plus-size version, too). We really liked the look of the shorts, and the high-rise waist extended well above our belly button and offered a really nice amount of coverage. However, we weren’t huge fans of the waistband design—getting it over our hips required a lot of wiggling and pulling (similar to our experience with the Patagonia Baggies)—although the shorts did fit quite well once on. Further, while the built-in belt is nice for aesthetics, it’s a bit superfluous when paired with the elastic —so much so that we often forget to tighten it. Importantly, we haven’t had a chance yet to test the 7-inch version, but suspect these might be a better option for women with wide hips. But if you can nail the fit, it’s hard to find fault with the Ferrosi fabric, which moves well with your body and will stand the test of time.
See the Outdoor Research Ferrosi Shorts 5" See the Outdoor Research Ferrosi Shorts 7"
Inseam: 8 in.
Materials: 87% nylon, 13% elastane
Waist: Elastic & drawcord
What we like: Sleek design; lightweight stretch nylon offers great mobility and water resistance.
What we don’t: Difficult to get on and off over the hips.
Merging Arc’teryx’s premium quality with a modern design reminiscent of the Mountain Hardwear Dynama/2 Bermuda above, there’s a lot to like about the Sabria Short. Namely, this high-performance offering features our favorite style of waist: a sleek, low-profile elastic band that eliminates pressure points under a backpack hipbelt or climbing harness (especially when compared to shorts with button-and-fly or drawcord designs). The rest of the Sabria follows a similarly streamlined formula, with a notably trim fit and 8-inch inseam, hidden thigh pockets with zips, and lightweight stretch-nylon fabric that repels water and dries extremely quickly. It all adds up to a well-built short that looks good both on and off the trail and offers a level of technical savvy that exceeds most offerings here.
However, we do have a few gripes with the Sabria’s design that land it toward the middle of our list. First off, the elastic waistband has far less give than we would prefer, making the short painstakingly difficult to get on and off. Sizing up can alleviate this issue (and the integrated drawcord offers a good cinch at the waist), but often results in a poor fit in the hips and legs. Another issue we have is regarding the thigh pockets, which are too shallow for our iPhone 11 (over a third of it pokes out). But if the Sabria fits (we’re looking at you, women with narrow hips), it’s a premium and comfortable hiking short that’s built to last.
See the Arc'teryx Sabria Short
Inseam: 3.5 in.
Materials: 95% nylon, 5% spandex
What we like: Extremely comfortable and free-flowing; large front zip pockets fit a smartphone.
What we don’t: Minimal coverage and you’ll likely need to size down.
Athleta is a major player in yoga and athleisure wear, and their Trekkie North Short takes that know-how to the trail. With a short, 3.5-inch inseam and fairly free-flowing design, the Trekkie North isn’t for everyone, but it has a lot to offer for casual, style-minded hikers. The stretch nylon is lightweight and quick-drying (although not particularly durable), the waistband pulls on easily over the hips and sits snug against the body (we far prefer it to that of the Sabria above), and the two front zip pockets—large enough to accommodate a smartphone—are built into the short, meaning the contents won’t hang lower than the hem (as we see with the Patagonia Baggies). It all adds up to a comfortable and stylish design for hot-weather hikes.
The Trekkie North Shorts are among the most comfortable options here, and freedom of movement is top-notch with the lightweight fabric, semi-fitted (read: roomy) legs, and short inseam. That said, our standard size 4 felt a bit reminiscent of clown pants—there’s a lot of room in the legs, and most women will want to size down to achieve a closer fit (REI offers limited sizes, but you can find the Trekkie North Shorts in size 00 to 26 on Athleta’s website). Keep in mind that with the 3.5-inch inseam the Athelta shorts don’t offer the same amount of modesty or protection as you can expect from longer designs, but neither are a prerequisite for hiking on warm summer days.
See the Athleta Trekkie North Shorts
Inseam: 9.5 in.
Materials: 65% polyester, 35% cotton
Waist: Snap & fly
What we like: Premium lightweight fabric and a great set of pockets.
What we don’t: Expensive and a bit overkill for some.
Born and bred in Sweden, Fjallraven is known for their attractive styles that straddle the line between performance and looks. The Abisko Midsummer Shorts are case in point, with a host of functional features alongside an eye-catching, two-toned design. The shorts are built with a combination of Fjallraven’s G-1000 Air Stretch fabric (35% cotton) and contrasting panels of polyester, resulting in a surprisingly lightweight design that offers the best of both worlds in terms of comfort and moisture wicking. Tack on a long 9.5-inch inseam and some of the best pockets here (including one with a nice snap closure), and the Abisko Midsummer Shorts are high on both utility and style.
At $120, the Abisko Midsummer Shorts are undeniably pricey, but their premium build quality and high-performance design goes head to head with top players like the Arc’teryx Gamma LT above ($130). However, we wouldn’t recommend the two shorts for the same environment: While the Gamma features decently thick softshell fabric and is ideal for mountain jaunts, the Fjallraven are airy and thin, ideal—as their name states—for hot, midsummer days. We do wish the shorts had a more tailored fit at the waist (you can add a minimalist belt, but we prefer not to when wearing a backpack), and some hikers will find the Euro-centric styling to be rather polarizing. But you’d be hard pressed to find a more functional and protective short for warm days on the trail, earning the Abisko Midsummer Shorts a spot on our list.
See the Fjallraven Abisko Midsummer Shorts
Inseam: 4 in.
Materials: 89% nylon, 11% polyester
Waist: Elastic & built-in belt
What we like: Cheaper than the Patagonia Baggies with a rear zip pocket.
What we don’t: Odd fit and buckle is hard to operate.
A direct competitor to the Patagonia Baggies and a spinoff of the popular Sahara Bermuda above, REI’s Sahara Amphib shorts are an ideal choice for hot-weather hiking, water sports, and everyday use. Like the Baggies, they feature a stretch-free design that prioritizes moisture wicking, and their deep hand pockets are lined with mesh for quick draining. You get an elastic waistband along with a built-in belt, and in our opinion, the 4-inch inseam provides a nice middle ground between the 5-inch Baggies and shorter options here. Tack on a rear zip pocket (an improvement over Patagonia’s overly simplistic design), and the Sahara Amphib are a fun and functional short for summer adventuring.
Our main complaint with the Sahara Amphib is the waist buckle, which adds an unnecessary headache to getting the shorts on and off. We appreciate the look, but similar to the Ferossi above, the buckle is unnecessary when combined with the snug elastic waistband, and we found it rather cumbersome to operate (others have reported it breaking or coming off in the wash). Further, like the aforementioned Patagonia shorts, the Sahara Amphib have a bit of a strange fit that’s tight around the hips, causing them to bunch up at the top of the thighs (the lack of give in the fabric doesn’t help). But if you’re on the hunt for an alternative to the Baggies, the REI Sahara Amphib are a slightly more affordable option with a fun cut and length, and we love the additional rear zip pocket.
See the REI Co-op Sahara Amphib Shorts
Inseam: 3.5 in.
Materials: 98% cotton, 2% elastane
Waist: Elastic & drawcord
What we like: Versatile styling; impressively durable and water-resistant for cotton.
What we don’t: Short inseam and drawstring causes pressure points underneath a backpack hipbelt.
California-based Vuori offers a healthy lineup of active lifestyle apparel, and their Ripstop pants and shorts have made waves in the hiking world with their unique combination of style and performance. Made with stretch-infused cotton, the Vuori are high on comfort and maintain an easy-breezy casual appearance, but a Teflon finish adds durability and stain resistance. In our experience (we’ve worn the women's pants and men's shorts), the Ripstop fabric is impressively tough and decently water-resistant, too. Tack on a full set of pockets (including secure zippered storage at the rear and on the leg) and an adjustable elastic waistband, and the Vuori Ripstop shorts are the full package both on and off the trail.
Of course, avid hikers will likely want to opt for a more performance-oriented design: The Ripstop’s 3.5-inch inseam offers minimal coverage, and—although fairly impressive for cotton—the shorts do take longer to dry out than the lightweight synthetic options above. What’s more, the bulky drawstring will cause pressure points under a backpack hipbelt, and its sewn-in design makes it a pain to remove. Finally, Vuori only offers the shorts in five sizes from XS to XL—if you’re looking for a more inclusive size range, it’s worth checking out the Athleta Trekkie North or prAna Halle II above. But for a fashionable and comfortable short that can hold its own on the trail, there’s nevertheless a lot to like about Vuori’s Ripstop design.
See the Vuori Ripstop Shorts
Inseam: 10 in.
Materials: 100% polyester
Waist: Snap/drawcord & fly
What we like: An inclusive hiking short with modest coverage and a range of sizes from 0 to 22.
What we don’t: Dated styling and fabric; pockets are difficult to access.
KUHL’s Freeflex Cargo might not be the hippest shorts, but what they forfeit in style they more than make up for in function and coverage. With a 10-inch inseam, the Freeflex Cargo are the longest shorts on this list, which translates to protection from the elements and a modest fit for a range of body types (the shorts are available in 11 sizes from 0 to 22). Traditional cargo-style side pockets and back pockets with flaps keep your essentials secure, and a drawcord helps dial in a good fit at the waist. Added up, the Freeflex Cargo Shorts are a nice option for women in search of a traditionally minded hiking short that’s high on coverage.
KUHL claims that their Freeflex fabric is 100% polyester, but in our experience it features a healthy dose of stretch and is thicker than most synthetic blends here. The result is decent freedom of movement and great durability; but the flipside is that the Cargo Shorts aren’t a great hot-weather option and won’t dry quickly after a solid dousing. And while you do get ample storage, it’s not particularly useful—while nice for security and style, the flaps make the pockets’ contents difficult to access, and none are large enough to accommodate a smartphone. It’s also worth mentioning that KUHL offers the standard Freeflex Shorts, which feature a more modern design with an 8-inch inseam, wide elastic waistband, and zippered front pockets.
See the KUHL Freeflex Cargo Shorts
Inseam: 9 in.
Materials: 80% polyester, 20% elastane
What we like: Stylish, great freedom of movement, functional pockets.
What we don’t: Durability falls short; not particularly quick-drying.
High-waisted biker shorts are having a moment in 2022, and they’re as functional on the trail as they are in the yoga studio. There are a number of hiking-specific models to choose from—including the Mountain Hardwear Mountain Stretch High Rise and Arc’teryx Essent High Rise—but the Motivation High-Rise Pocket here offers the best combination of style, function, and savings. For just $55, you get a stylish waistband, compressive fit throughout, and two generously sized thigh pockets that fit everything from your phone and wallet to a small camera. Top it off with the stretch of a yoga pant, and the Motivation High-Rise Pocket shorts are an easy-moving companion for casual days on the trail.
But it’s important to be aware of the tradeoffs in opting for a tight-fitting, yoga-inspired short like the Motivation here. The thin and stretchy fabric is not meant to tango with sharp branches and abrasive boulders, and will form holes and tears a lot faster than the other shorts here. What’s more, the elastic-heavy design can’t resist moisture as well as 100-percent nylon or polyester builds, meaning the shorts will grow wet and stay wet for longer. And finally, we don’t recommend such a tight-fitting short for particularly hot days on the trail—you’ll likely want something more free-flowing like the Athleta Trekkie North shorts above. But for casual outings and mild summer days, high-waisted biker shorts can certainly lend a stylish flair without giving up much in the way of performance.
See the TNF Motivation High-Rise Pocket Shorts
|Mtn Hardwear Dynama/2 Bermuda||$65||9 in.||94% nylon, 6% elastane||Elastic||3|
|prAna Halle II Short||$69||5, 7 in.||95% nylon, 5% elastane||Button & fly||5|
|Arc’teryx Gamma LT Short 9||$130||6, 9 in.||88% nylon, 12% elastane||Snap & belt||3|
|Patagonia Baggies Shorts||$59||2.5, 5 in.||100% nylon||Elastic & drawcord||2|
|REI Co-op Sahara Bermuda||$60||9 in.||96% nylon, 4% spandex||Button & drawcord||4|
|Topo Designs Dirt Shorts||$69||4.25 in.||98% cotton, 2% spandex||Elastic & drawcord||4|
|Patagonia Quandary Shorts 5”||$59||5, 7 in.||94% nylon, 6% spandex||Button & drawcord||4|
|Outdoor Research Ferrosi Shorts||$75||5, 7, 9 in.||86% nylon, 14% spandex||Elastic & belt||4|
|Arc’teryx Sabria Short||$99||8 in.||87% nylon, 13% elastane||Elastic & drawcord||2|
|Athleta Trekkie North Shorts||$59||3.5 in.||95% nylon, 5% spandex||Elastic||4|
|Fjallraven Abisko Midsummer||$120||9.5 in.||65% polyester, 35% cotton||Snap & fly||4|
|REI Co-op Sahara Amphib Shorts||$50||4 in.||89% nylon, 11% polyester||Elastic & belt||3|
|Vuori Ripstop Shorts||$58||3.5 in.||98% cotton, 2% elastane||Elastic & drawcord||5|
|KUHL Freeflex Cargo Shorts||$79||10 in.||100% polyester||Snap & drawcord||6|
|TNF Motivation High-Rise Pocket||$55||9 in.||80% poly, 20% elastane||Elastic||2|
- What Defines a Hiking Short?
- Wearing Running Shorts for Hiking
- Hiking Short Materials
- Thickness and Durability
- Quick-Drying Hiking Shorts
- Waistband Styles
- Inseams and Length
- Sizing and Fit
- Hiking Shorts vs. Hiking Pants
There’s certainly no rulebook on hiking attire, and in 2022, women take to the trail in everything from running shorts and high-waisted biker shorts to quick-drying water-ready designs. Depending on the conditions and day’s objective, these might even be your best option. That said, there's also a cadre of shorts purpose-built for hiking, which tout features like durable and breathable fabrics, functional storage, modest coverage, waist belts that fit securely and ride comfortably underneath a backpack hipbelt, and more. If you're looking for the best performing and longest-lasting tool for the job, hiking shorts are a great place to start. And the good news is that there's something for everyone, from technical, performance-minded offerings to more casual pieces that look just as good at the brewery as they do on the trail.
We'll be honest: you'll often catch us wearing running shorts while hiking. Running shorts are lightweight, offer great comfort and freedom of movement, and dry quickly, too—they're especially great for particularly hot days or when mixing some running in on your hike. However, there are a number of clear downsides. For one, storage is lacking: some running shorts have no pockets, while others have just one or two small pouches. Second, durability is not a strong suit: running shorts' thin build won't hold up well to trail abuse, and dollar for dollar hiking shorts will certainly provide a lot more value over time. Finally, with short inseams and minimal fabric, running shorts will do little to protect your legs from the elements, including the sun, wind and cold, pesky bugs, and sharp branches. But we do love the comfort they provide, and think that hiking shorts should take some tips from running shorts when it comes to simple yet comfortable waistbands and free-flowing designs.
For those who like the idea of hiking in a running short, there are a few designs that stand out to us as more capable than others. We particularly love the Oiselle Toolbelt Roga Shorts, which feature a four-way stretch woven fabric that gives rather than tears, translating to exceptional durability—we've worn this short for months' worth of days on the trail (both running and hiking), and have yet to put a hole in it. Storage is excellent as well: The wrap-around mesh waistband pocket can fit everything from an energy bar to a smartphone, and a secure zip stash at the rear is great for valuables. We've also found Patagonia's Nine Trails running short (available in 4 and 6 in. inseams) to be reasonably durable, and like the Roga it features a zippered pocket at the lower back. Of course, neither of these shorts can match the durability, features, and protection of a purpose-built hiking short, but the added mobility, style, and comfort will be well worth it for some.
Like hiking pants, most hiking shorts are made of nylon or polyester. These materials are reasonably durable, moisture wicking, and breathable, and their lightweight make-up offers great freedom of movement. Many designs—like our top-ranked Mountain Hardwear Dynama/2 Bermuda and prAna Halle II—also incorporate a small amount of built-in stretch via elastane (spandex), which is a real boon for everything from high-stepping over logs to setting up camp. The added give and thickness also makes these shorts among the most durable here, great for brushing up against rock and branches, sitting on rough surfaces, and withstanding the wear and tear of a heavy backpack.
We’ve also included a small handful of outliers on this list. The Topo Designs Dirt Shorts for example, are made with 98-percent cotton, a rarity these days in outdoor clothing. In general, cotton lacks the durability and mobility of nylon or polyester, and unlike the synthetic blends it absorbs water, meaning it’s not as quick-drying and can get heavy when wet. But the upside is that the Topo Designs is impressively comfortable and stylish, which is all some hikers need for casual days on the trail. And then there are stretchy, spandex shorts like The North Face’s Motivation High-Rise Pocket Shorts, which contain 20-percent elastic for a very snug, yoga-inspired design. In the end, it’s a good idea to tailor your hiking short choice to your objective: We prefer stretch-nylon blends for serious hiking, 100-percent nylon shorts for water sports, and cotton or fitted designs for more casual days out.
One of the headlining features of a hiking short is durability, especially when compared to casual or running-specific designs. Hiking shorts are meant to take a beating on trail and around camp, and ideally should last you seasons of use. However, we still see a lot of variation within the category: as mentioned above, nylon and polyester shorts are generally more robust than cotton styles, and (in most cases) thicker designs are more resistant to abrasion. We've also found that some—but not too much—added stretch can increase durability, allowing a fabric to give rather than tear when stressed.
Considering the factors above, one of the most durable shorts here is the Arc'teryx Gamma LT, which features a stretchy and relatively thick softshell fabric. And it's also worth noting that there are some exceptions to these rules: The Vuori Ripstop Shorts (98% cotton), for example, feature a strong Teflon coating for tear and stain resistance that far exceeds most cotton designs. What's more, one of our testers wore a pair of Patagonia Baggies (relatively thin nylon with no stretch) for over five seasons of mountain guiding without sustaining a single hole or tear.
When you're hiking in the heat of summer, nothing beats a refreshing dip in a trail-side lake or stream. Most of the hiking shorts above will dry out fairly quickly in warm and sunny conditions, but thin, nylon designs are the best tool for the job, including the Patagonia Baggies and REI Sahara Amphib. On the other hand, thicker synthetic shorts or those with more added stretch (for example, the Arc'teryx Gamma LT and TNF Motivation High-Rise) tend to absorb more water, and cotton is the worst culprit of all. Many shorts will also add a durable water repellant finish to keep water from penetrating the fabric, but keep in mind that this can degrade over time. In the end, if you're looking for a quick-drying short for trail-side swimming and other water-based activities, your best bet is a thin, nylon design with relatively short inseam, mesh pockets, and not too much added bulk at the waist (running shorts work well, too).
Trying to find a pair of hiking shorts that fits well is a daunting and often futile task. Regardless of body shape, it seems that there’s always an area that’s too tight or too loose (in fact, it’s for this reason that we often find ourselves resorting to running shorts). That said, the ability to customize a short’s waistband can go a long way in terms of fit. Hiking short waistbands run the gamut from standard button-and-fly closures with belt loops to more modern designs, including fitted elastic waistbands, integrated belts, and drawstrings. In almost every case, we prefer the sleekness of the latter styles over the bulkiness of an added belt.
Our favorite waist design is a low-profile spandex band, as seen on shorts like the Mountain Hardwear Dynama/2 Bermuda and Arc’teryx Sabria. These waistbands lie flat against the body, offer ample stretch, and are generally quite soft and comfortable. Importantly, their streamlined build doesn’t get in the way of a backpack hipbelt or cause awkward pressure points throughout the day, as we've experienced with button-and-fly or drawstring styles. Shorts like the Patagonia Baggies and Outdoor Research Ferrosi also build a strip of elastic into their waistbands, but they’re overall less sleek and fitted than the panel-like designs seen in more modern offerings. Built-in belts are another great option for tailoring fit at the waist and are found on some of the more performance-oriented options here (like the Arc’teryx Gamma LT), but you'll want to make sure they're fairly low profile if you're wearing backpacking pack. Finally, some shorts use a drawstring at the waist, which allows you to get a good fit but does add some extra bulk near the belly button.
Having functional storage is one of our main requirements of a hiking short, but it’s also one of our largest complaints. Ideally, we want a pair of shorts to be able to fit a smartphone in at least one of its pockets, and secure items like a key or chapstick in a zip pocket. Unfortunately, these features aren’t always present; if storage is important to you, you’ll have to shop discriminately. That said, all of the shorts listed above include at least one pocket, and many sport upwards of four or five: two on the front, two at the back, and perhaps one on the side (keep in mind though, these aren’t always super functional). Given that the topic of pockets and storage is so important to us, we make sure to call it out in the write-ups above.
The hiking shorts on our list come in a range of lengths, which is most commonly measured in terms of the inseam (the length from the crotch seam to the hem). These span from the Patagonia Barely Baggies (2.5 in.) to the KUHL Freeflex Cargo (10 in.). We also often see shorts offered in two inseam options, such as the Arc’teryx Gamma LT (6 or 9 in.).
The length of short you choose will predominantly come down to a matter of personal preference, although it’s important to acknowledge that longer shorts do offer more protection from both the sun and sharp objects like branches and boulders (on the other hand, shorter designs generally provide more freedom of movement and ventilation). Finally, keep in mind that some manufacturers also list an outseam measurement, which specifies the length from the waist to the hem. The outseam can give you an idea of how high-waisted the short might be, which many hikers will appreciate for added coverage when bending over and high-stepping over trail obstacles.
We’ve put up with our fair share of baggy, ill-fitting hiking shorts over the years, but the good news is that the market has improved significantly of late, incorporating stretchy fabrics and features like sleek elastic waistbands and gussets for better range of motion. Many brands have also expanded their lineups to include a range of plus-sized options, which we’re happy to see (REI Co-op and KUHL are leaders in this movement). And as we mentioned above, it’s common for a short to come in two different inseam lengths—the prAna Halle II, for example, is offered in 5-inch and 7-inch lengths. Like hiking pants, we recommend trying on a number of shorts before you buy, but to assist online shoppers we make sure to call out sizing and fit discrepancies in the write-ups above.
If you're hitting the trail in mild to hot conditions, you'll be faced with the decision of whether to wear a pair of hiking pants or shorts. There are a number of benefits to both: with pants, you get significantly more protection (from sun, sharp objects, and bugs), and if temperatures drop or the wind picks up, your legs will be insulated against the elements. Pants generally offer more storage as well, don't bunch up when worn underneath a harness, and can guard against debris getting into your hiking shoes or boots. In short, they're the more high-performance design, and generally our choice for variable days, mountain environments, or when we want maximum protection.
On the other hand, shorts are by far the more ventilated choice, and their more minimalist design dries out quickly after getting wet. We generally prefer them on hot days or when we know we'll be playing in or around water (or needing to ford deep rivers). They're also the best option if you're mixing in a little running with your hiking: with less fabric overall, shorts won't weigh you down as much as pants, and you won't have to deal with the legs brushing up against each other with each stride. Oftentimes, we'll bring shorts for the hiking portion of our day, but pack a pair of pants for our destination, whether it's a climbing route, a campsite, or an exposed mountaintop. For the most versatile option, convertible pants (like the Patagonia Quandary Convertible Pants) zip off at the knee and convert to shorts, but the design is polarizing and certainly not for everyone.
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