The 9 Best Hiking Shorts of 2021

These hiking shorts are made to hit the trails with you

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The Rundown

Best Overall: REI Co-op Active Pursuits Women Shorts at REI

"Made from bluesign-approved recycled polyester, they have a comfortable 4.5-inch inseam."

Best Budget: Target Women's Stretch Woven Shorts at Target

"These lightweight shorts are made with all the benefits of pricier brand-name ones."

Best for Men: prAna Altitude Tracker Shorts at Amazon

"Made with a fit designed for on-the-trail movement."

Best for Women: Duluth Trading Co. Women's Dry on the Fly Shorts at Duluth Trading

" A high-waisted fit with belt loops and an inseam that keeps thigh rub at bay."

Best for Kids: Columbia Silver Ridge Shorts at Campmor

"Partial elastic at the waist keeps the fit comfortable while little ones explore."

Best Cargo: Arc'teryx Sabria Women's Shorts at Backcountry

"A sleek, subtle take on the usual cargo shorts."

Best Water-resistant: Patagonia Quandary Shorts at REI

"A durable water repellent finish and UPF protection make these great short for hikes that feature a swim."

Best for Running: Patagonia Women's Strider Pro Running Shorts at Backcountry

"A top pick among runners who get their miles on the trails."

Best Biker Shorts: Pristine Hold Me In Ribbed Biker Shorts at Pristine Fitwear

"These have a smoothing, hold-you-in fit and have a cool ribbed look that goes with your favorite t-shirt."

Sure, your usual yoga leggings or Nike shorts can work for casual hikes, but when you go off the beaten path or encounter bad weather, hiking shorts with a few technical features can really make a difference. Generally boasting a few handy pluses like DWR coating, UPF protection, and/or a few extra pockets, hiking shorts are there to let you focus on the great outdoors and not sweat the small stuff. 

Fabrics are more advanced than ever, and hiking shorts these days are made specifically to keep you comfortable in conditions that range from mild to...uncomfortable. We’ve broken down what to look for, our favorite product picks, and a few FAQs about how to buy hiking shorts so you can get all the intel before you buy; we consulted a few experts for their opinions and recommendations, too. 

Read on for our nine best hiking shorts picks and how to shop for them below. 

Best Overall: REI Co-op Active Pursuits Women Shorts

REI Co-op Active Pursuits 4.5" Shorts - Women's

Courtesy of REI

These hiking shorts from REI are a favorite from the company’s well-respected Co-op line, and they’re made to take you out on the trails comfortably. Made from bluesign-approved recycled polyester, they have a comfortable 4.5-inch inseam and a sun protection UPF rating of 50. They’ll serve double duty, too: Customers also love them for their daily runs. 

  • Sizes: XS-XL, plus sizes in 2X and 3X available here 
  • Weight: Unknown 
  • Sun Protection: UPF 50

Best Budget: Target Women's Stretch Woven Shorts

Target's Women's Stretch Woven Shorts

Courtesy of Target

For less than $30, it’s hard to beat these stretchy athletic shorts from Target. Perfect for casual hikers or people who also want a comfy pair of shorts to lounge around the house in, these lightweight shorts are made with all the benefits of pricier brand-name ones: moisture-wicking fabric, quick-dry material, and even UPF 50+ protection. There’s also a hidden passport pocket, so you can wear them for those travel days when you just want loose-fitting clothing. 

  • Sizes: XS-XXL
  • Weight: Unknown
  • Sun Protection: UPF 50+

Best for Men: prAna Altitude Tracker Shorts

These shorts are made with a fit designed for on-the-trail movement and feature plenty of protections built in to them to wick sweat and help block the sun’s harsh rays (there’s UPF 50+ protection built into the fabric). The herringbone-blend knit is a mix of fabrics, including recycled polyester and TENCEL™ lyocell. There's enough stretch to get you where you’re going comfortably, and you'll find a concealed pocket to help keep items like keys safe while you’re in the great outdoors.

  • Sizes: S-XL
  • Weight: Unknown 
  • Sun Protection: UPF 50+

Best for Women: Duluth Trading Co. Women's Dry on the Fly Shorts

Women's Dry on the Fly 7" Shorts

Courtesy of Duluth Trading

Duluth Trading Co. is known for quality goods at fair prices, and travel and science journalist Kate Morgan swears by the company’s Dry on the Fly shorts, which she loves for their high-waisted fit, belt loops, plentiful pockets, and an inseam that keeps thigh rub at bay. “It’s gonna be Duluth for me every time,” says Morgan, an avid hiker. “And that 'dry on the fly' thing is not a lie. Walk through a river or sweat a couple gallons, and I swear they’ll dry right up in like 20 minutes.” 

  • Sizes: 2-18
  • Weight: 4.7 ounces
  • Sun Protection: UPF 50

Best for Kids: Columbia Silver Ridge Shorts

Columbia Silver Ridge Shorts

Courtesy of Columbia

When it comes to hiking shorts for kids, you’re going to want a pair that’s not just comfortable but super-durable as well. These wicking hiking shorts are made from 100 percent ripstop nylon and have Columbia’s reputation for quality backing them up. Partial elastic at the waist keeps the fit comfortable while little ones explore and climb, and there’s a leg pocket on the side for any shells or pet rocks they take home. A girls’ fit is available here

  • Sizes: XXS to L 
  • Weight: Unknown 
  • Sun Protection: No

Best Cargo: Arc'teryx Sabria Women's Shorts

Arc'teryx Sabria Shorts - Women's

Courtesy of Arc'teryx

The minimalist styling of these shorts is a sleek, subtle take on the usual cargo shorts. Available in black or plum, these shorts are made specifically for technical hiking and trekking; while they fit close to the body, they also come with enough stretch for you to bend, lift, and maneuver on the trail. The waist is designed to be worn comfortably with a hip belt, too.

  • Sizes: 00-14
  • Weight: 4.8 ounces
  • Sun Protection: No

Best Water-resistant: Patagonia Quandary Shorts

Patagonia Quandary shorts

Courtesy of Patagonia

Patagonia’s shorts are ready for whatever your hike might bring: They have a four-way stretch and are finished with that magical durable water repellent, so any rain showers roll right off. Couple that with UPF 50+ sun protection and Patagonia's commitment to sustainability, and you've got the perfect shorts for hikes that feature a swim or showers.

  • Sizes: 28-40 (men), 0-18 (women)
  • Weight: 7.2 ounces (men), 5 ounces (women)
  • Sun Protection: Yes

Best for Running: Patagonia Women's Strider Pro Running Shorts

Women's Strider Pro Running Shorts

Courtesy of Patagonia

A top pick among runners who get their miles on the trails, these are Patagonia’s highest-powered running shorts. The waistband sits securely without riding up, and these exceptionally lightweight shorts are fast-drying enough to keep sweat or rain from settling too far into the fabric. Plus, there’s a zippered pocket for keys on the back—and the color-blocking is attractive, too. If you like a wider waistband, this other take on the Striders features one. 

  • Sizes: XXS-XL
  • Weight: 2.8 ounces 
  • Sun Protection: No

Best Biker Shorts: Pristine Hold Me In Ribbed Biker Shorts

Hold Me In Ribbed Biker Shorts

Courtesy of Pristine Fitwear

Biker shorts are just as comfy for hiking as they are for hanging around the house, and Pristine’s are another favorite of Castro’s due to their longer 8-inch inseam. “I love all of Pristine’s shorts, especially ones with pockets,” she says. “However, for hiking, I prefer a little bit longer [inseam].” These have a smoothing, hold-you-in fit (hence the name) and have a cool ribbed look that goes with your favorite t-shirt or oversized sweatshirt. 

  • Sizes: S-XL
  • Weight: 5 ounces 
  • Sun Protection: No

What to Look For in Hiking Shorts

Fit

Just like with jeans, there’s a number of hiking shorts fits available, with variations in inseam and rise. Go with how you generally prefer your trousers to sit on you and what’s most comfortable as you’re moving around. Some people prefer longer inseams for hiking: “When I am looking for hiking shorts, I like my shorts to be a little bit longer, I prefer them to have deep pockets for my phone, and I want them to be quick-drying,” says Castro. “If I can look cute in them, that's a desired bonus!”


Material

Hiking shorts tend to use technical, synthetic fabrics like nylon, spandex, and polyester that are designed specifically for the purpose at hand. Often, the material has special features like water repellent or UPF protection. Those added protections are worth looking for. Shorts are also often made from super-lightweight fabric, which keeps things airy and breezy on warm days. 


Pockets

Traveling light is the way to go when it comes to hiking, and having pockets can keep essential items right at hand—reducing what you carry in a backpack or even eliminating the need for one altogether. Look for pockets that have secure but easily accessible closures like zippers to keep your keys from falling out if you trip or go in the water.  


FAQs


How should you wash hiking shorts?

Always follow the instructions on the manufacturer’s tag, which can usually be found inside the waistband or on the leg seam on a pair of shorts. Be sure to double-check how to wash and dry them before you get a cycle going since different technical fabrics have varying care needs.


Where should I buy hiking shorts?

While heading to a sporting goods or outdoors store is always a sure bet for finding hiking shorts from quality brands like Patagonia and Columbia, you don’t have to spend a ton of money. Check out local thrift stores or online resale sites for hiking shorts from the same name brands at a fraction of the cost. “Hiking shorts are a great thing to buy at a thrift store,” says Morgan. “My theory is people stock up for a vacation, wear them maybe once, then never look at them again.” 


How should you measure yourself?

Measure around your waist and hips, and figure out your ideal inseam from measuring from your crotch seam. While it’s always best to know your measurements, especially if you’re shopping quickly, there’s a quick tip Morgan recommends that could save you time waiting for a dressing room at the store or in a thrift shop. “Generally speaking, the circumference of your waist is about twice the size of your neck,” she says. “So just hold the shorts at either end of the waistband and see if it fits around your neck. If yes, they’ll probably fit.”

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