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 2023, 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 Budget Hiking Short: REI Co-op Trailmade Shorts
- Best Performance-Oriented Hiking Short: Arc’teryx Gamma Short 9"
- Best Quick-Drying Hiking Short: Patagonia Baggies Shorts
- Best Biker Short for Hiking: Outdoor Research Ad-Vantage 10" Shorts
Best Overall Women’s Hiking Short
Inseams: 3, 4, 6, 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 is storage: The shorts only include three pockets (two hand and one zip pocket on the thigh), none of which are deep enough to accommodate a large smartphone. 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 started to fade and pill after just a few washings. And finally, the muted colorway choices aren't too exciting. But despite our gripes, these Mountain Hardwear shorts are far-and-away the most comfortable and well-fitting design of any we tested, and the good news is they're also available in 3- (the Dynama Pull-On Short), 4-, and 6-inch inseam options for those who prefer a shorter cut (Mountain Hardwear also recently released an updated Dynama High Rise Bermuda, which is only available through their website at the time of publishing). A final note on sizing: We wear an 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 5- and 7-in. versions), 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 abrasion 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. And new this year, Prana also offers the Halle with an elastic waistband (the Halle E-Waist II Shorts), which come with the option of a 3- or 5-inch inseam.
See the Prana Halle II Short 5" See the Prana Halle II Short 7"
Best Budget Hiking Short
Inseam: 5 in.
Materials: 96% nylon, 4% spandex
Waist: Elastic & drawcord
What we like: A versatile and affordable short with a whopping six pockets.
What we don’t: Only available in one inseam length.
Not everyone will want to spend upwards of $70 on a hiking short, making the REI Trailmade a nice solution for budget shoppers. For just $45, there’s a lot to love about this short: It features an elastic waistband and bungee adjustment, quick-drying nylon with a nice bit of stretch, and a modest 5-inch inseam that will appeal to the masses. And the Trailmade offers better storage than just about any other short here, including a total of six pockets spread out across the front and back.
A lack of useful pockets is often one of our main gripes with women’s outdoor apparel, so we’re happy to see REI respond to the needs of their female audience. What’s more, we love the Trailmade’s versatile vibes and fun colorways, which look just as good on the trail as they do in the heart of your favorite mountain town. And finally, we appreciate REI’s push toward inclusive sizing: The shorts are available in eight sizes ranging from XS to 3X (we’d love to see them also offer another inseam length). Added up, you won’t find a better combination of function and value, making the Trailmade a runaway favorite for our top budget pick.
See the REI Co-op Trailmade Shorts
Best Performance-Oriented Hiking Short
Inseams: 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 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 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 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 or Trailmade above. But you’d be hard pressed to find a more durable and functional hiking short, making the Gamma 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 (which comes in 6- and 9-in. versions) is offered in ten sizes from 00 to 16.
See the Arc'teryx Gamma Short 9" See the Arc'teryx Gamma Short 6"
Best Quick-Drying Hiking Short
Inseams: 2.5 , 5 in.
Materials: 100% nylon
Waist: Elastic & drawcord
What we like: Quick-drying fabric is great for hiking and water-based activities; fun styling.
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 with a recent update, the Baggies are now built with Patagonia’s NetPlus fabric, which is made exclusively 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, The North Face’s similar Class V below 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
Best Biker Short for Hiking
Inseams: 4, 6, 10 in.
Materials: 74% nylon, 26% spandex
What we like: More durable than most biker-short designs.
What we don’t: Not particularly quick-drying and can run warm.
High-waisted biker shorts are having a moment in 2023, and they’re as practical on the trail as they are in the yoga studio. There are a number of hiking-specific models to choose from, but the Outdoor Research Ad-Vantage 10" Shorts here offer the best combination of style, function, and price. For $69, the Ad-Vantage 10” feature a stylish high-waisted design with added elastic for better security, modest 10-inch inseam, and two generously sized thigh pockets that fit everything from your phone and wallet to a small camera (you also get a hidden waistbelt pocket). An outdoor company to the core, Outdoor Research also added abrasion-resistant material at each thigh, which tacks on an extra dose of durability compared to most biker shorts on the market.
But it’s important to be aware of the tradeoffs in opting for a tight-fitting short like the Ad-Vantage here. Despite the OR’s relative durability, its thin and stretchy fabric will form holes and tears a lot faster than other shorts here, especially if subjected to sharp branches and abrasive boulders. What’s more, the elastic-heavy design can’t resist moisture as well as 100% 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 thinner and more free-flowing. 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 (note: the Ad-Vantage also comes in 4- and 6-in. varieties). And for a few of our other favorite biker shorts, check out the Patagonia Maipo and Fjallraven Abisko Short Tights.
See the Outdoor Research Ad-Vantage 10" See the Outdoor Research Ad-Vantage 6"
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 above. And while the 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%-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, and zippered storage is lacking (the zippered mesh compartment inside the back pocket can fit keys but not much else). But as a nice crossover option for casual and outdoor use, the Dirt Shorts—which come in five modern and eye-catching colorways—are one of our favorite designs here. For a similar alternative with a built-in belt rather than a drawcord, check out Topo Designs’ Mountain Shorts.
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 $65, and Patagonia offers two inseams (5 and 7 in.) in ten sizes from 0 to 18. For a slightly longer (8-in.) and stretchier alternative, we also like Patagonia’s Skyline Traveler Shorts.
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 come in four 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 9"
Inseam: 5 in.
Materials: 62% cotton, 36% nylon, 2% elastane
What we like: Comfortable elastic waistband and good crossover appeal.
What we don’t: Cotton-heavy build isn’t great for performance use; no zippered storage or waist drawcord.
The Halle II above is Prana's flagship hiking short, but not everyone will love the button closure, which tends to dig into the stomach under a hipbelt. Enter Prana's Kanab Short, which swaps in a lower-profile elastic knit waistband that stays securely in place with far less bulk. Another key difference is that the Kanab is made with mostly cotton (the Halle is 95% nylon), which adds a nice boost in overall comfort and softness. And compared to Topo Designs’ cotton Dirt Shorts above, the Kanab offers far better mobility with four-way stretch and a healthy dose of nylon, which also helps with long-term durability. Combined with the versatile 5-inch inseam and classy colorway selection, the Kanab stands out as a stylish and modern option for comfort-focused hikers.
What’s not to like with Prana's Kanab Short? Like the Halle II above, the Kanab doesn’t include any zippered storage, which may or may not be a deal breaker depending on how you prefer to stash valuables like your phone and keys while hiking. As we mentioned above, cotton is also thicker and warmer than alternatives like nylon or polyester, and it doesn’t dry out as quickly when wet. In other words, the Kanab shorts wouldn’t be our first pick for mid-summer hikes in full sun, although they breathe better and have an airier feel than the 98%-cotton Dirt Shorts above. We rank the Topo Designs shorts higher because they include a drawcord for dialing in fit, tack on a small mesh zippered compartment inside one of the rear pockets, and are more widely available at the time of publishing. But the Kanab is no slouch and will save you $10, making them a nice alternative for those who want the comfort of cotton without compromising too heavily on all-out performance.
See the Prana Kanab Short
Inseams: 2.5, 4 in.
Materials: 94% nylon, 6% elastane
Waist: Elastic & drawcord
What we like: Cheaper than the Patagonia Baggies with a rear zip pocket.
What we don’t: Pockets aren’t mesh-lined; slightly large and baggy fit.
A direct competitor to the Patagonia Baggies above, The North Face’s Class V Shorts are an ideal choice for hot-weather hiking, water sports, and everyday use. Like the Baggies, they feature a nylon build that prioritizes moisture wicking but with a bit of elastane for added stretch, along with an elastic waistband and internal drawcord for dialing in fit. In our opinion, the 4-inch inseam also 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 a nice selection of vibrant patterns and colorways, and the Class V Shorts stand out as a fun and well-equipped pick for summer adventuring.
But a few gripes push the Class Shorts down our list. First, the hand pockets lack a mesh lining, which we’ve found helpful for quick draining during days on the water. The fit may also pose issues for some: Those with thicker thighs might experience bunching and riding up, and the shorts run on the larger and baggier end (we recommend trying them on before you buy, but sizing down is a pretty safe bet). But if you’re on the hunt for an alternative to the Baggies, The North Face Class V Shorts are a slightly more affordable option with a fun cut and length (a 2.5-in. inseam option can also be found on TNF's website), and we love the drawcord and additional rear zip pocket.
See The North Face Class V Shorts
Inseam: 4 in.
Materials: 88% nylon, 12% spandex
Waist: Button, fly, elastic, & removable belt
What we like: Tons of storage and sizing options.
What we don’t: Polarizing belt design and elastic waistband fits pretty snugly.
Alder is a relative newcomer to the hiking apparel scene, but their focus on inclusive sizing and women’s-specific designs has propelled them to popularity remarkably quickly. Their Take A Hike Shorts are case in point: They’re available in 10 sizes from XS to 6X, come in six classy colorways, and have a high-waisted fit with a versatile 4-inch inseam that provides a flattering, streamlined look. Storage is another highlight, including eight total pockets (two with zippers and two with large flaps), all of which are generously sized and thoughtfully laid out. The fabric mix is similarly effective, including a mostly nylon build that’s durable and quick to dry with a generous dose of spandex for added stretch and mobility. Taken together, the Take A Hike Shorts are a decidedly modern and trail-ready choice.
Our main complaint with the Alder Take A Hike is the overly complex closure system, which comprises a button and fly along with a partially elasticized waist and belt. The belt in particular seems like an afterthought: The bulky plastic buckle is polarizing and adds an unnecessary headache to getting the shorts on and off. The good news is that the belt is removable, but there’s no drawcord inside the waistband for cinching things down. The shape also won’t work for everyone: The waist is fairly snug and narrow, and many women report needing to size up, which may cause some bagginess at the front and upper thighs. Finally, at $105, the Take A Hike Shorts are a steep investment for what you get—for $25 more, you can pick up Arc’teryx’s Gamma above, which gets the clear edge for performance use with more zippered storage, harness-compatible pockets, and a better belt design. But if they fit you well, the Alder shorts have better around-town appeal while still managing to hold their own outdoors.
See the Alder Take A Hike Shorts
Inseam: 3 in.
Materials: 100% polyester
Waist: Elastic & drawcord
What we like: Extremely light without feeling overly compromised.
What we don’t: Not everyone will love the short inseam and wide legs.
The second Mountain Hardwear design to make our list this season is their Trail Sender, which is the lightest design in the brand’s trail lineup at a scant 2 ounces. Importantly, however, the Trail Sender doesn’t feel overly compromised: You still get decent storage, including two deep, snap-equipped hand pockets and a zippered pocket at the left thigh that easily swallows a small wallet and keys (although it can’t accommodate a smartphone). Mountain Hardwear also retained a drawcord inside the elasticized waistband, and the 100%-polyester fabric offers great breathability and gives the shorts a barely-there feel. In sum, the Trail Sender is a great pick for everything from fast-and-light thru hikes to mid-summer hiking and backpacking missions.
What’s not to like with the Mountain Hardwear Trail Sender? First is the short 3-inch inseam, which doesn’t offer much in the way of modesty or protection. The legs are also pretty roomy, resulting in a slightly baggy look and feel (although women with bigger thighs will likely appreciate the added room). But in our opinion, these are minor tradeoffs of the substantial boost in mobility—the Trail Sender feels reminiscent of running designs with a free-flowing shape that moves with you, making it a great choice for those who like to move quickly on the trail. All told, if you like the fit and feel of running shorts but don’t want to compromise on storage, the Trail Sender could be just the ticket.
See the Mountain Hardwear Trail Sender Short
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: 3 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; drawstring causes pressure points underneath a 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 Vintage Ripstop Shorts are high on comfort and maintain an easy-breezy casual appearance while offering great 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 an adjustable elastic waistband, and the Vuori Vintage 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-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. But for a fashionable and comfortable short that can hold its own on the trail, there’s a lot to like about Vuori’s Vintage Ripstop design. If you prefer a longer cut, it’s also worth checking out Prana’s Double Peak Shorts, which have a 5-inch inseam, tack on a button and fly closure, and use a mixed cotton and polyester build for a nice balance of comfort and durability.
See the Vuori Vintage Ripstop Shorts
Inseams: 10, 12 in.
Materials: 96% nylon, 4% elastane
Waist: Button & fly
What we like: A great hot-weather option at a low price.
What we don’t: Unflattering fit and fabric tends to pill.
Rounding out our lineup is another quality budget option: the Columbia Saturday Trail Long Shorts. Priced at just $55 and available in both 10- and 12-inch inseams, these shorts offer budget shoppers a longer alternative to the Trailmade above. In terms of design, you get straight legs and a mid-rise waist, and the Saturday Trail goes fairly traditional with a button and fly closure. Top it off with a light, stretchy build that’s great for keeping you cool and comfortable on hot summer hikes, and there’s a lot to like about Columbia’s Bermuda hiking short.
The Saturday Trail Stretch was a contender for our top budget pick, but the Trailmade won out for a few key reasons. First, while the Columbia features two hand pockets, two rear pockets, and a zip pocket on the right thigh, none is large enough to securely stash a smartphone. Second, we prefer the REI’s colorways and more modern elastic waistband with bungee drawcord. Its 5-inch inseam is also a better fit for mobility and hot conditions (although this will ultimately come down to a matter of personal preference). But for only $55 and often found on sale, the Saturday Trail Stretch is another adventure-ready option at a great price.
See the Columbia Saturday Trail Long Shorts
|Mountain Hardwear Dynama/2||$69||3, 4, 6, 9 in.||94% nylon, 6% elastane||Elastic||3|
|Prana Halle II Short 5"||$69||5, 7 in.||95% nylon, 5% elastane||Button & fly||5|
|REI Co-op Trailmade Shorts||$45||5 in.||96% nylon, 4% spandex||Elastic & drawcord||6|
|Arc’teryx Gamma Short 9"||$130||6, 9 in.||88% nylon, 12% elastane||Snap, fly, & belt||3|
|Patagonia Baggies Shorts||$59||2.5, 5 in.||100% nylon||Elastic & drawcord||2|
|OR Ad-Vantage 10" Shorts||$69||4, 6, 10 in.||74% nylon, 26% spandex||Elastic||3|
|REI Co-op Sahara Bermuda||$60||9 in.||96% nylon, 4% spandex||Button, fly, & drawcord||4|
|Topo Designs Dirt Shorts||$79||4.25 in.||98% cotton, 2% spandex||Elastic & drawcord||4|
|Patagonia Quandary Shorts 5”||$65||5, 7 in.||94% nylon, 6% spandex||Button, fly, & drawcord||4|
|Outdoor Research Ferrosi 7"||$79||5, 7, 9 in.||86% nylon, 14% spandex||Elastic & belt||4|
|Prana Kanab Short||$69||5 in.||62% cotton, 36% nylon, 2% elastane||Elastic||4|
|The North Face Class V Shorts||$60||2.5, 4 in.||94% nylon, 6% elastane||Elastic & drawcord||3|
|Alder Take A Hike Shorts||$105||4 in.||88% nylon, 12% spandex||Button, fly, elastic, & belt||8|
|MTN Hardwear Trail Sender||$75||3 in.||100% polyester||Elastic & drawcord||3|
|Kuhl Freeflex Cargo Shorts||$89||10 in.||100% polyester||Snap, fly, & drawcord||6|
|Vuori Vintage Ripstop Shorts||$68||3 in.||98% cotton, 2% elastane||Elastic & drawcord||5|
|Columbia Saturday Trail Long||$55||10, 12 in.||96% nylon, 4% elastane||Button & fly||5|
- 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 2023, 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 wraparound 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 Multi Trail Shorts to be very practical, with two zippered front pockets and one back snap pocket. 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% 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 Outdoor Research Ad-Vantage, which contain 26% 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%-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, which features a stretchy and relatively thick softshell fabric. And it's also worth noting that there are some exceptions to these rules: The Vintage Ripstop Shorts (98% cotton), for example, use Vuori's DuraTerra ripstop fabric that’s impressively tear- and stain-resistant and 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 and OR Ad-Vantage) 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 Trail Sender, Prana Kanab, and others above. 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), 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 Columbia Saturday Trail Long (12 in.). We also often see shorts offered in two or more inseam options, such as the Outdoor Research Ad-Vantage (4, 6, and 10 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 Outdoor Research 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 REI Co-op Sahara 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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