For as long as we've been walking, we've been hiking. The marked trails, well-equipped backpacks and moisture-wicking, quick-drying fabrics of today may look different than what our ancestral wanderers wore, walked and used, but the basic concept is the same: one foot in front of the other, up and down hills, through the woods in communion with the natural world.
Although the act of hiking is one of the simplest and oldest forms of outdoor recreation, the apparel certainly is not. Today's hiking gear is more functional than the gear of the 20th century, with the addition of 21st century style. Whether you're new to hiking or just looking to upgrade your kit, there are a few things to consider when it comes to picking out your next pair of trekking shorts.
Best Overall Hiking ShortsLululemon Multi-Pocket Cargo High-Rise Hiking Short 5 lululemon Read More
Best Affordable ShortsAthleta Trekkie North Short Read More
Best Bike ShortsNorrøna Short Tights Read More
Best Lightweight ShortsMountain Hardwear Trail Sender Short Mountain Hardwear Read More
Best Merino Wool ShortsSmartwool Merino Sport Hike Short Read More
What to Look for in Hiking Shorts
As you begin to shop for this summer's go-to hiking shorts, consider the three F's: fit, fabric and features.
Hiking shorts have a few common fits: the cargo style short, which typically has a longer inseam and more pockets; the bike short, which is compressive, supportive and offers minimal storage; the running-inspired short, which can come in lined and unlined versions and typically features a 3-inch inseam, and the hybrid, a 2-in-1 short that often combines the anti-chafing and supportive qualities of a compressive liner with the style and breathability of a running short.
Everyone has a preference when it comes to fabric: if you've got sensitive skin, think twice before buying wool. (This applies less to merino wool, which is softer and thinner than its traditional counterpart). Polyester, nylon and elastane are the three most common fabrics and materials in hiking shorts, but if you're into more natural fibers, consider merino wool, hemp or cotton.
Which features you require depend entirely on the length and location of your hike. If you're going out sans backpack but want to have certain necessities like hydration packs, snacks, a pocket knife, smartphone and keys with you, invest in a pair with more pockets and a more supportive waistband that can support the weight of your items. If you're going on a quick hike and don't plan on bringing much, or if you're utilizing a pack and don't need to rely on your shorts for storage, pick a pair that prioritizes comfort over storage. UPF protection is another common feature to look out for, as well as moisture wicking and breathability.
How We Tested
I took each of these shorts out for at least one month at a time. I hiked in the rain, in the sun, and in multiple environments, including the deserts, mountains and beaches of Southern California. In addition to hiking at least 2o miles in each pair, I also traveled, ran and worked in each short. I considered the three F's as I tested in each environment.
Lululemon Multi-Pocket Cargo High-Rise Hiking Short 5"
- Materials: Body: 65% Recycled nylon, 30% Nylon, 5% Elastane
- Built For: Hiking
- UPF: Yes
- Features: Drawcord for customizable fit, cargo-inspired pockets, abrasion-resistant fabric, carabiner-friendly front loops/ D-ring
As one of the most popular fitness apparel brands of all time, it was no surprise that when Lululemon released its first-ever hiking-specific line in summer 2022, it was a well-considered and high-performance collection of aesthetically-driven, highly functional garments. This cargo-inspired hiking short is the crème de la crème of its kind: the 5-inch inseam provides coverage without too much length, and the abrasion-resistant fabric is soft to the touch while being durable enough to support plenty of pocketing. The waistband is a little snug — the drawcord is really there for looks more than anything, in our experience — but if you like a secure fit, it'll do the trick.
Athleta Trekkie North Short
- Materials: Recycled nylon, nylon, elastane
- Built for: Hiking
- UPF? Yes
- Features: 4 pockets, quick-dry ripstop fabric, UPF protection, moisture wicking
Athleta's hiker is a budget-friendly option that doesn't sacrifice style or performance for cost. One pro of these shorts is the inclusive sizing — the Trekkie is available in sizes 00-26, making finding a comfortable and capable shape much easier for hikers of all shapes and sizes.
The wide, stretchy waistband, multiple pockets and lightweight ripstop fabric come together in an easy-to-wear package, available in six colorways. According to reviews, these shorts run slightly large, so consider sizing down if you're between sizes.
Norrøna Short Tights
- Materials: Recycled nylon and elastane
- Built for: Hiking, trail running, mountaineering
- UPF? Yes
- Features: Cargo pocket, rear phone pocket, reflective details
Bike shorts are having their moment, and I haven't found a pair as comfortable as these. The clincher here is the fabric — it's smooth and compressive without being uncomfortable or constricting. Bike shorts can sometimes have an odd fit — if they're comfortable in the waist they can often be too tight on the thighs, but Norrona's pair is perfectly proportioned. I love them for hiking long distances when I want extra coverage, without the weight or heat of traditional pants. Off trail, wear them with a baggy t-shirt and slides.
Mountain Hardwear Trail Sender Short
- Materials: Ultralight ripstop
- Built for: Hiking, trail running, backpacking
- UPF? Yes
- Features: Elastic waistband with adjustable internal drawcord; two side snap hand pockets with reverse entry pocket flaps; secure zip pocket at left thigh
Mountain Hardwear is well known for its cold-weather gear — if you're a fan of the brand's puffy jackets and shells, you should definitely get your hands on a pair of their new hiking shorts. I like these shorts for multiple reasons: they're lightweight to the point where I barely remember I have them on but don't be fooled by their feathery feel — the ripstop fabric makes them just as durable as other options on this list. The shorts look as good as they feel, and I can easily wear them from the trail to town if I don't have time to change. The major thing to note with Mountain Hardwear is fit; I consistently have to size down in their apparel, and if you're petite, you should expect to have an oversize look when you wear the brand's threads.
Smartwool Merino Sport Hike Short
- Materials: Recycled polyester, elastane, merino wool, recycled polyester
- Built for: Hiking, camping, backpacking
- UPF? No
- Features: 5 pockets, a drawcord-adjustable waist, lightweight stretch-woven fabric and a zippered fly
In my opinion, merino wool is the gold standard of fabrics, and in many people's opinion, Smartwool is the gold standard in merino — so odds are, if you like this soft, thin, naturally antimicrobial material, you're going to dig Smartwool.
Like many hiking-oriented shorts, the Merino Sport Hike Short is comfortable and capable, but there are a few features that separate it from the pack. I appreciated the merino lining on the waistband and inner lining of the pockets — the next-to-skin feel is soft and non-abrasive, and the wool provides breathability, temperature regulation, and moisture management. It's a small touch that goes a long way.
I found myself swimming in these shorts, even though Smartwool says these run true to size. The inner drawcord helps combat the limits of the fixed waist and snap closure, but the ties could be a bit more substantial; I had mine cinched down pretty tight, but they still came undone multiple times. Despite the sizing, I would wear this short in spring, summer and fall — with the right layering on top, the Merino Wool Sport Hike Short is a light, packable, functional option for three-season hiking.
Satisfy Rippy 3" Trail Shorts
- Materials: Ripstop Tech-Silk, proprietary Justice lining
- Built for: Running, hiking
- UPF? No
- Features: Six pockets, expandable sweat-proof phone pocket, expandable nutrition pockets, sweat-proof zipper back pocket, reflective print
Luxury, baby. That's the name of the game with this boutique running brand. Satisfy, well, satisfies the requirement of those that crave the marriage of performance and art in their athletic gear.
Although these are technically running shorts, that's okay — wear them as a hiker, if it speaks to you. The Rippy's inseam is 3 inches, so if you like a shorter short for moving fast down the trail, this is your pick. Six pockets, an inner liner, drawcord closure, mini carabiner and a double waistband — all in, it weighs just 100 grams (0.2 pounds). The Rippy is expensive, but I've been hiking and traveling in my Satisfy shorts for over a year now, and don't see any wear and tear. If you're a quality-over-quantity type of person, don't sleep on these shorts.
Prana Electa Short II
- Materials: Recycled nylon, elastane
- Built for: Hiking, biking, running
- UPF? Yes
- Features: Flatlock construction, triangle Coolmax gusset for added comfort and reinforcement, hidden key pocket inside waist, novelty side pockets, high rise, moisture wicking
Prana has made a name for itself by putting the environment first in the manufacturing of its products, and the Electa Short II continues that tradition. Made with over 70-percent recycled, Bluesign certified materials in a fair trade factory, this 7-inch inseam bike short is designed for a variety of activities, including hiking and climbing.
I admire the mission of the Electa, but I found upon wearing that the material was too thick, and not breathable enough, for my taste. However, it is squat-proof and definitely not see-through, which are two qualities a lot of women like to see in a short. I personally ended up gravitating toward other options on this list more often, but in a pinch, Prana's bike short is a dependable option with an admirable mission.
Nathan 2.0 Front Runner Shorts
- Materials: Polyester, elastane
- Built for: Hiking, running
- UPF? No
- Features: Quick-dry fabric, 2 side exterior pockets, 1 back zippered pocket, reflective logo and piping, flat lock seams on the interior short to reduce chafing and friction
Nathan launched its apparel line in 2021, but the new line is already gaining traction. I recently saw their new and improved Front Runner Shorts at this summer's Outdoor Retailer, and I was impressed by the feel of the fabric and overall look of the short.
More often than not, we're forced to choose between a compressive, but revealing bike short or a cute and comfortable flow short with no protection. The Front Runner combines both in a lightweight package, so if you're concerned with chafing or modesty, you can rest easy in these hikers.
Patagonia Outdoor Everyday Shorts
- Materials: Recycled nylon; PFC-free DWR finish
- Built for: Hiking, camping, backpacking
- UPF? No
- Features: Two drop-in side pockets with snap closures, Two slash front pockets secure with zippers, 7.6 ounces
Patagonia is the leader in sustainable and capable outdoor apparel, and its Everyday Shorts make good on the promise to be more environmentally friendly, without sacrificing performance.
The Outdoor Everyday Short is a classic cargo-style short, without being frumpy or unappealing to wear. The short is constructed from fabric made with recycled fishing nets from the ocean but has a soft next-to-skin feel despite its past life as ocean trash. The PFC-free DWR finish keeps water at bay, so if you encounter water crossings on a trail, you won't get water logged (or stay damp for long). The 4-inch inseam provides enough coverage without cramping your style, and the multiple pockets provide plenty of storage for essentials on the trail.
Tracksmith Off Roads Shorts
- Materials: Polyamide, elastane
- Built for: Hiking, trail running
- UPF? Yes
- Features: 4-inch inseam, woven adjustable belt, two back pockets, side liner pockets
Built by a boutique running brand for the express purpose of heading out onto the trail, the shorts are the most comfortable lined hiking shorts I've ever worn. The first time I put them on, I was struck at how accurate the fit is — the Off Roads Short are proof that investing in quality products oftentimes means a better fit.
For anyone that has a slimmer waist and has struggled to find a short that doesn't gap, try these on for size. The most important feature in my book is the elastic belt: it can be adjusted to cinch in or expand and is exposed in the back so you can tuck your shirt in. The short's other notable features include plenty of pockets for storing fuel, cell phones and keys, as well as quick-drying, UV protective fabric that feels as good as it looks. If you want a capable hiker that doesn't slip, slide or ride up, these are the shorts for you.