Included in this guide:
It’s a wonderful feeling to wander along coastal tracks and wild woodland hiking paths when the trail ahead is bathed in summer sunlight and you’re wearing a pair of short hiking pants, soaking up the rays and feeling unconstricted by needless layers of fabric.
For routes with river, stream or estuary crossings, walking shorts are perfect, especially if you’re wearing a pair of hiking sandals or water shoes. But on nice days from late spring through summer and into fall, the feeling of freedom that walking in a pair of good hiking shorts can bring is sensational.
Hiking shorts are even good in the rain when the temperature is reasonably warm – better to let your skin get wet for a short while than to walk around all day with sodden trouser legs.
The best hiking shorts for any given hike will depend on numerous factors, not least personal preference. Some people like longer hiking shorts, with a bit of heft and plenty of pockets, while others prefer to bare more to the air, making the most of the free supply of Vitamin D on offer from our nearest star. In mid summer, you may want something super light and breezy, while in the shoulder months a more substantial material might work better. For help deciding whether shorts are the way to go, check out Hiking shorts or pants? And if you added coverage comes up trumps, our buying guide to the best hiking pants is the place to be.
The best hiking shorts you can buy today
We have trail tested a selection of the best hiking shorts currently available for hikers, trekkers and backpackers, covering a broad range of styles suitable for various outings in a range of terrain.
Best lightweight hiking shorts
Rab Calient Shorts
Lightweight but high-performing shorts for hiking, scrambling and climbing
RRP: $80 (US) / £50 (UK) | Style: Lightweight midlength hiking shorts | Gender specificity: Men’s (closest women’s short is the Rab Raid) | Size & Fit: Regular; S–XXL; Inside leg (men’s large): 31.5cm/12.5in | Average weight: 205g / 7.2oz | Materials: Lightweight Matrix plain weave fabric with DWR (100% nylon) | Colors: Cumin / Graphene / Pine | Compatibility: Hiking and climbing in warm conditions
A good-looking pair of hiking shorts from the well-respected British outdoor brand Rab, the Calient, as the name suggests, perform at their peak when the going gets hot. The fit is pretty slim, but they’re comfortable and don’t feel restrictive. If you do get caught out in a shower, the DWR-treated material (see: What is DWR?) will repel water up to a point, but these shorts dry out quickly anyway, and stay light even after a drenching. They feature two hand pockets and a thigh pocket, all with zips so you can keep keys, cash and other important things securely stashed away. The left pocket also acts as a stuff sack. The waist fastens with a double popper, and the Calient comes with a belt – which is held in place with Velcro (handy when you put them through the washing machine). There are also larger loops, if you’d prefer to wear a more substantial belt. The material offers UPF30+ protection from the sun. The closest women’s version of these shorts from Rab is the Raid Short. ($75/£65)
Salomon Wayfarer Short
Streamlined shorts for traveling light and moving fast in fine weather
RRP: $85 (US) / £65 (UK) | Style: Mid length (28cm / 11in inseam), sporty cut | Gender specificity: Men’s and women’s versions available | Sizes: Men’s: XS–XXL; Women’s 6–18 | Average weight: 200g/7oz | Materials: Polyamide (86%), Elastane (14%) | Colors: Men’s: Ebony / Black / Goji berry / Martini Olive; Women’s: Night sky / Marina / Martini olive / Black | Compatibility: Hiking, trekking, fastpacking, scrambling
Maybe it’s simply because they’re made by Salomon – a highly respected running brand – but there’s something about the Wayfarer shorts that encourages you to walk fast. They’re unquestionably hiking, rather than running shorts, but they still have a distinctly sporty feel to them. The four-way stretch in the main material certainly allows for plenty of high-energy movement when you’re roaming around on the hillsides and peaks, and there’s no excess fabric flapping around to annoy or slow you down. They’re also well ventilated, with mesh webbing behind the pockets allowing air to get through and cool you down when things threaten to get sticky. They’re water repellent (enough to deal with light showers), but also quick drying, and don’t get weighed down by retaining water when you get caught out in a heavier downpour. Fastened with a single popper and zipper, the waist is slightly elasticated, making belts (extra unwelcome weight for many) optional, but there are hoops if you do want to wear one. The Wayfarer is designed for people who don’t want to waddle around with pockets full of stuff; the men’s version has just three pockets: one jeans-style hand pocket on each side, and a modest-sized zipped pocket on the right thigh, while the women’s shorts has one small back pocket and one on the thigh, both with zips.
Jack Wolfskin Overland shorts
Sporty softshell shorts for hardcore mountain hikes and backcountry bimbles
RRP: $70 (US) / £60 (UK) / €69.95 (EU) | Style: Sporty softshell midlength shorts (Inside leg length Men’s: 26cm/10in; Women’s: 22cm/8.7in) | Gender specificity: Men’s and Women’s versions available | Sizes: Men’s XS–XXL; Women’s: | Weight: Men’s: 240g/8.5oz; Women’s: 150g / 5.3oz | Materials: Flex Shield fabric (94% Polyamide & 6% Elastane) | Colors: Men’s: Dark indigo / Dark cobalt / Spring lime / Ebony; Women’s: Dark aqua / Dark indigo | Compatibility: Walking, running, fastpacking, trekking
At first glance the Overlands could quite easily pass as either long trail-running shorts, or perhaps board shorts. And you can run in them, of course – they make for very good fastpacking apparel. But despite their sporty look, they are designed primarily for trekking and hiking escapades – and they work well as walking shorts. The PVC-free, Bluesign-certified, bi-elastic softshell ‘Flex Shield’ fabric is extremely dynamic, so your movement isn’t restricted at all, even on the most technical of ridgeline scrambles and peak clambers. It also offers wind protection, water repellence, breathability and UPF 40+ UV cover from the sun’s rays too, so these shorts look after you whatever the weather. The waist is elasticated, eliminating the need for a belt (unless you’re desperate to wear one, in which case there are hoops) and it fastens securely with a zipper, single popper and Velcro tab (just to make sure). There are four zipped pockets – two jeans-style hand pockets, a back pocket (the women’s version has two back pockets) and a thigh pocket on the right leg, which is accessed via a vertical zipper (meaning you need to double check that’s it’s shut, or risk donating the contents to the trail).
The best cargo hiking shorts
Fjällräven Abisko Shorts (Men) / Nikka Shorts (women)
Highly featured, beautifully made, Scandinavian designed cargo-style hiking shorts
RRP: $120 (US) £100 (UK) | Style: Cargo midlength, (men’s inseam length: 28cm/11in) | Gender specificity: Men’s and women’s versions available | Sizes: XL–XXXL | Weight: Men’s 316g/11oz; Women’s: 262g/9.2oz | Materials: G-1000 (63% polyamide, 26% polyester, 11% elastane) | Colors: Men’s: Uncle blue / Black / Light olive / Dark olive / Dusk; Women’s: Light olive / black | Compatibility: Hiking, backpacking, alpine trekking, scrambling
Swedish brand Fjällräven are well known for the superb quality of their hiking pants and guess what… the sun does shine during those long Scandinavian summers, and their hiking shorts are every bit as beautifully designed, well considered and well made as their long pants. These hiking shorts manage to retain a really clean, unfussy look, despite being heavily featured. There are cargo pouches on both thighs; the one on the right leg is broad enough to take a map (and it has a secret subpocket) and the one on the right is specifically sized to cradle a smartphone or GPS device. The front pockets are so deep you can barely get your hands to the bottom of them. Made from Fjällräven’s tough G-1000 material (which is breathable, durable, water-resistant and has plenty of stretch) there are lots of lovely little flourishes that reveal the fact these have been designed for hikers, by hikers – for example, the waistband rises slightly at the back, to avoid drizzle dripping into your undies if you’re wearing a pack and your coat rides up a bit. The pockets are accessible, even when you have the hip fins of a big backpack pulled tight around your waist, and extra material has been strategically placed on seams and gusset, to alleviate the risk of rubbing. There is a light version of these shorts too.
Páramo Maui shorts
Dynamic hiking shorts with excellent pocket storage
RRP: £65 (UK) | Style: Cargo shorts | Gender specificity: Men’s (closest women’s short is the Alipa) | Sizes: S–XXL | Average weight: 299g / 10.5oz | Materials: Quick-drying Parameta, a Nikwax Cotton+ fabric (73% cotton and 27% polymide) | Colors: Charcoal | Compatibility: Excellent for hiking, backpacking and travelling
The Maui are supremely comfortable, quick-drying, cargo-style shorts, absolutely ideal for hiking in a range of conditions from late spring to early fall. There’s plenty of stretch in the main fabric, plus a shaped gusset to aid freedom of movement out on the hills. Carry capacity is generous, with two hand pockets at the front, a zippered rear pocket and a cargo pocket that’s capable of swallowing a folded paper map such as the Ordnance Survey/USGS Topo sheet maps. In total there are five pockets, including a secret zippered pocket within a pocket on the right thigh, for safely stashing a credit card, some cash or a hotel key room (Páramo claim this hidden pocket is passport sized – we found it a bit tight for that, but it’s still useful, especially when travelling). With a button-and-fly fastening system, the waist is slightly elasticated, which means a belt is optional (the Maui does have good-sized belt loops if you prefer to wear one). The close-weave Nikwax Cotton+ fabric dries super fast, provides UPF 50+ protection from UV rays, and fends off biting insects too. These shorts have a classy look, perfectly pub acceptable, and are available in any color you like… so long as you only like charcoal grey. Páramo’s manufacturing ethics are excellent, and they will recycle old gear with their label on it, offering cash back in return. The closest women’s version of these shorts is the Alipa, which are a bit shorter and have three pockets.
Berghaus Extrem Baggy short
Hardwearing and protective shorts for all sorts of outdoor adventures
RRP: Men’s: £75 (UK); Women’s: £65 (UK) | Style: Mid-length, baggy cargo shorts | Gender specificity: Men’s and women’s versions available | Sizes: Men’s: 28–42in waist; Women’s: 8–20 (UK) / 4–16 (US) | Average weight: Men’s: 270g/9.5oz; Women’s: 246g/8.7oz | Materials: Polymide (96%) and elastane (4%) | Colors: Men’s: Black / Grey / Blue; Women’s: Turquoise / Grey | Compatibility: Hiking, trekking, walking, camping, scrambling
Like all Berghaus gear, the emphasis is on reliable functionality rather than fancy flair with these shorts (note the down-to-earth colorway descriptions – black, grey, blue – you know exactly what you’re getting with this brand). Although they feel a fair bit thicker and more robust than other shorts on test, and despite the fact that the fit is more generous and there’s more material involved, the Berghaus Baggy family of shorts remain impressively light. They boast a decent level of water repellency, and also dry fast if you do get caught in heavy rain. And they are very well vented, with mesh-backed splits going down both thighs, which allow plenty of airflow. Refreshingly, both the men’s and the women’s versions feature plenty of pockets (women’s shorts so often lack storage), with two very generously proportioned front pockets, both zippered, and an equally large back pocket, also zippered. On the thigh is a discreet fourth pocket, again zippered, which is barely noticeable unless in use. The material – which feels very durable – doesn’t have quite as much multi-directional elasticity as some other shorts on test, but there is a stretch gusset, and they offer plenty of freedom whether you’re striding along the trails, scrambling along a ridge or stretching out in camp. While manmade, the materials used in the manufacturing of these shorts are bluesign approved, so their environmental footprint is lighter.
The best environmentally friendly hiking shorts
Salewa Alpine Hemp Cargo Shorts
Sustainably made shorts, conceived in the mountains and intended for alpine ambles
RRP: $90 (US) / £85 (UK) | Style: Midlength cargo shorts (Side seam length: 53cm/21in) | Gender specificity: Men’s only | Sizes: XS–XL | Weight: 260g / 9.2oz | Materials: PFC-free Alpine Hemp, recycled polyester and elastane | Colors: Navy blue / Bungee cord brown / Duck green / Pale frog green | Compatibility: Hill walking, trekking, climbing, scrambling
A fantastic looking pair of mountain striders, Salewa’s Alpine Hemp shorts are even more impressive when you learn about the material, which is a mixture of hemp (a natural product, which is much more eco-friendly than synthetic materials because it biodegrades) and recycled poly fabric. Salewa is in the process of moving hemp cultivation from China back to Italy, to further reduce their carbon footprint. As well as being far more sustainable than other yarns, hemp is very comfortable and has excellent thermal properties, keeping you cool when you need it to, and warm when required. It’s also breathable, wicks moisture away from the skin and, when mixed with elastane, becomes very dynamic. Somewhat bizarrely, these shorts fasten with a zip, a button and a drawcord (maybe in case the button fails). The fit is regular, if fairly streamlined, but there is plenty of flex in the fabric, and a gusset, allowing for a good range of movement. There are no side pockets on these shorts, reflecting perhaps the fact they were born in the Italian Dolomites, where hikers don’t wander around with their hands thrust in their pockets because they’re needed for holding on to the precipitous rockface or grasping a trekking pole. There are, however, two thigh pockets, which both zip shut.
Craghoppers Kiwi Pro Shorts
Decent hiking shorts made from recycled material and available for a reasonable price
RRP: Men’s £45 (UK); Women’s £40 (UK) | Style: 9in (men’s) / 7in (women’s) trail-walking shorts | Gender specificity: Men’s and women’s versions available | Sizes: S–XL | Weight: 230g / 8.1oz | Materials: Polyamide (96%) & elastane (4%) | Colors: Men’s: Ocean blue / Black / Pebble / Dark lead / Dark khaki; Women’s Dark navy / Graphite / Desert sand / Dove grey / Black / Mediterranean blue | Compatibility: Walking, hiking, trekking
British brand Craghoppers have produced a really decent pair of hard-wearing hiking shorts here, made largely from recycled materials. As with their long-trousered cousins, the Kiwi Pro shorts are constructed with a splash-proof finish, which is both lightweight and quick drying. There isn’t quite as much movement in the fabric of these shorts as there has been with some others on test, but neither do they feel restrictive when you’re out hiking on the hills and clambering across crags. There are four pockets (three in the women’s shorts) – two side ones, a rear pocket and a relatively shallow thigh pouch – all of which have zippers. In the left hand pocket there is a dedicated lens wipe for cleaning sunglasses or camera lenses. The waist, which fastens with a zip and a button, is slightly elasticated, so a belt is purely optional, but there are hoops if you’d like to wear one.
How to buy the best hiking shorts
Just as with long pants, or any other form of outdoor apparel, there are several things to consider when searching for the best hiking shorts, including personal preference and the kind of terrain and conditions you are most likely to encounter on your hiking adventures.
Think carefully about what is most important to you: would big pockets be an advantage, because you like to carry around numerous gadgets (see: Best hiking technology), tools and snacks, or because you don’t want to take a backpack out for the day? If so, then cargo shorts with large thigh pouches would be ideal. If you still like to use hardcopy cartography, then having shorts that can accommodate a paper map is a real bonus. If, however, you despise putting anything in your pockets because you erroneously think it makes your butt look big, then you may as well dispense with them and go for a sportier short.
Comfort and protection are the number one priorities when buying apparel, and in the outdoors the two should never be mutually exclusive. Seek out shorts made from materials that don’t rub, and look for products that offer dynamic stretch – there’s only one thing worse than feeling like you’re wrestling with your own clothes when you’re being active in the outdoors, and that’s splitting your pants and having to finish the walk with your undies showing. Water repellency is extremely useful, and all the better if materials are quick to dry and wick moisture. Protection from the sun and biting insects are also considerations (although you’ll still have to look after your lower legs), as explained in our guide to hiking in hot weather.
Increasingly, brands are sitting up and taking notice of the fact that consumers want their clothes to be made as cleanly and greenly as possible, and they are responding accordingly. Look for brands that use recycled and PFC-free fabrics, Bluesign-certified materials or more sustainable yarns such as hemp.
Pockets are an important consideration – many people like to have jeans-style hand pockets on either side of their pants, but aim to have at least one pocket that zips shut, so you can keep car keys or valuables safely stashed. Hidden security pockets can be very useful when you’re travelling. Other features you commonly see on hiking shorts include elasticated waists, which immediately mean that you’re not going to need a heavy belt to keep them up, and integrated belts (of varying quality).
Hikers tend to reach for shorts in the warmer months of the year, obviously, and in lots of places the trails can get seriously hot in the midday sun. Tactical use of mesh in the design of shorts – even if it’s behind the pockets – can really help with airflow and temperature management.
Writer, editor and enthusiast of anything involving boots, bikes, boats, beers and bruises, Pat has spent 20 years pursuing adventure stories. En route he’s canoed Canada’s Yukon River, climbed Mont Blanc and Kilimanjaro, skied and mountain biked through the Norwegian Alps, run an ultra across the roof of Mauritius, and set short-lived records for trail-running Australia’s highest peaks and New Zealand’s Great Walks. He’s authored walking guides to Devon and Dorset, and once wrote a whole book about Toilets for Lonely Planet. Follow Pat’s escapades here.
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