Like a pair of airy and comfortable sandals, shorts are a spring and summertime essential. And yes, that includes cargo shorts. Though birthed from a utilitarian need during World War II, today’s breed is either tastefully relaxed or sleek and tapered, and in both cases, a far cry from the overly baggy styling of the late ‘90s and early aughts.
What to Look for
Cargo shorts, as the name implies, are built for cargo — they’re shorts equipped with gusseted pockets on the sides of the legs that can hold extra goodies you may want close by. Those side pockets can make or break a cargo short, however. When searching for a pair, take note of how bulky and billowing those pockets may appear while empty. If you dislike how they look unoccupied, you’re likely to not be a fan of their stockiness on your body.
If you’ve sworn off cargo shorts since middle school, good news: Today’s brands lean more tapered and sleeker than the pairs your dad may still favor. You’ll be hard-pressed to find a pair in a shorter inseam length, however, as most cargo shorts still start at around an 8 inch inseam, reaching just above the knee and up to an inch or two below them. If you want to slim down that figure, go full outdoorsman mode and pull them up, tucking your T-shirt into the waistline.
Throwing on cargo shorts emits a much different signal than a pair of chino or board shorts — they can convey a more rugged look, giving a utilitarian edge to your outfit. Seeking a versatile pair of cargo shorts? Reach for ones that adapt well from the trail to the streets. If you need something more technical, grab them in a water-resistant polyester or nylon for some element guarding. Many modern cargo shorts are made with ripstop fabric, which reinforces the material with nylon using a crosshatch pattern, making it tougher and tear-resistant.
Are Cargo Shorts Out of Style?
They’ve surely been considered tasteless in the past but today you’ll find more contemporary cuts and flavors. So no, they’re not out of style. They’ve gotten better. Modern iterations may recall the streetwear trends from decades past and not so much fratty Woodstock goers of the early aughts (or mid-2000s dads) — they’re still practical and offer plenty of pocket space, but lean trimmer, tapered and less clunky. Still, even the baggier cargo shorts of today look as intentional as your typical relaxed, wide fit styling.
Go full hiker mode with these utility-forward shorts from Nike’s outdoor line, Nike ACG. These loose-fit, relaxed shorts replace the typical Velcro pocket with zippers and have more than enough storage, as a well as a built-in carabiner for your keys. They’re also made from a blend of polyester and nylon, making them perfect for wicking moisture.
This asymmetrical cargo short is the only one on this list that has an inseam length that hits right above the knee, making it perfect for those who like to show a little thigh. It’s also the only to be made entirely out of deadstock fabrics from leftover production runs. Crafted in Los Angeles, it has five pockets total, including one rear snap closure and one that cinches shut with a bungee cord.
Cookman USA wants you to know that chef apparel isn’t exclusive to chefs, and I want you to know not all baggy shorts are bad. Made with ripstop fabric and available in solid colors and patterns — like zebra, stripe and tiger camo — these unisex-sized, wide fit shorts have plenty of pockets, a string loop for your keys and an oversized silhouette for maximum airflow.
Made from organic materials, these cargo shorts are said to be 25 percent tougher than conventional duck canvas. They’re also long, with 11 inch inseams. Pull ‘em up and take a hike in these earthy shorts, which come in dark ash and coriander brown.
This collaborative pair from Alpha Industries and Gramicci is as functional as it is interesting. Despite having such spacious side pockets, it boasts a flattering fit, a gusset crotch for extra maneuverability and, in typical Gramicci fashion, a built-in cinch belt to show off that brand around your waistline. Grab a pair in red, khaki or black.
These military-inspired shorts have pockets that stay close to the leg instead of protruding outward, which gives it a sleek silhouette. Made with hard-wearing ripstop cotton, they’re tough enough for the trail but casual enough for the city.
These recycled nylon blended shorts feature a concealed zipper coin pocket, a zipper cargo pocket with double entry and a ventilated gussets along the inseam for breathability. Get it in eight colors and three inseam lengths, and stay protected by the sun with its UPF 50+ rating.
Leave it to Lululemon to craft a chino short built for a wide range of motion. Made with two-way stretch recycled polyester, this sharp option stays close to the leg and tapers at the knee. Its 9 inch inseam means it’ll likely go past that, but the slim legs ensures a fit that’s modern, not frumpy. Grab it in olive or dark khaki.
Not all cargo shorts have to look like military wear. This one from Adidas throws side pockets on a lounge-ready cotton pair of sweat shorts, with an elasticized waistband and drawstrings. Toss ‘em on for a quick grocery run or a lazy Sunday at home.
Cut those dual side pockets down to one with this piece from Birdwell. Made of mostly spandex, these stretchy cargo shorts come in four colors and will quickly dry when wet. Plus, they’ve got adjustable side tabs that customize the fit.