The Patagonia Quandary shorts are rockstars of versatility. They are a lightweight, breathable pair of shorts that earn our Editors' Choice award for all-around performance. With an exceptional fabric blend, they have the rare combination of stretch comfort, performance, and style that can take you from trail to town in the same day. Though the feature set isn't perfect, we never felt like we were missing anything that was keeping us from enjoying the adventure. The trim fit is nice for slimmer people, and the fabric is friendlier to the environment, to the wearer, and to the folks who manufacture the garments. If we had to pick one pair of hiking shorts for a summer of activity, it'd be these ones.
Patagonia Quandary Short Review
Compare prices at 3 resellers Pros: Comfortable, stylish, water resistant
Cons: A little tight when sitting down, no integrated belt
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Our Analysis and Test Results
The right shorts are all about balancing practical features with comfortable styling and versatility, and we found this model does it the best out of any that we tested. Our testing showed that they are up to the task of long days, big climbs, and wet weather.
The Patagonia Quandary shorts are all-around high scorers and earn our Editors' Choice award for their solid and reliable performance.
Comfort and Mobility
The Quandary are among the most comfortable that we tested. The reality is that comfort often competes with style, but this model does the best job of balancing the two. The 94%/6% nylon/elastane fabric blend is stretchy enough that the wearer has free mobility in all typical hiking situations.
The Quandary shorts are a relatively slim fit. We like the cut because it keeps them light and prevents extra fabric from getting snagged on overgrown trails. However, with that comes just a little bit of a sacrifice in comfort. The gusseted crotch mitigates this, providing more space in what would otherwise be a tight fit.
If comfort is a top priority for you as it is for us, we recommend the Patagonia Nine Trails shorts, which come with a super stretchy interior liner. The REI Sahara shorts achieve comfort with a looser, baggier cut, and the Prana Stretch Zion is a model we wouldn't consider tops for hiking but is still super comfortable.
In hiking shorts, basic tends to be better, and the Quandary gets its features just about right. The pair comes with regular belt loops as well as an interior elastic drawstring if you need to fine-tune the fit, but left your belt at home (the drawstring is thin and really stretchy. We could imagine that it would lose its elasticity comparatively quickly, but it does cinch down nice and tightly, so it doesn't come undone or loosen during activity). This model also comes with six pockets; two front handwarmer, two rear (left zip, right open), one thigh (right zip) and a coin pocket (right). The thigh pocket has a (mostly) horizontal opening that is angled just slightly to make it easier to use with one hand.
A subtle but nice component of these shorts is that the front fastener has a super slim profile and is attached to the shorts with a small piece of webbing. This matters when you have the hip belt of a backpack over the waist of these shorts-- there's no rubbing!
One wishlist improvement that we have for these shorts is that they sew the bottoms of the pockets to the main leg so that when you have something heavier in them, they don't flop around as much when you move.
Versatility and Style
We appreciate the versatility of the Quandary shorts, as they are equally at home on day hikes and longer backpacking trips. The pockets offer enough storage for a couple of protein bars, a phone, and car keys, but are light enough that we didn't feel weighed down when we took them out on extended trips.
We could also easily envision them as an option for canoeing and fishing trips. They earn their score here though because at the end of the day, you could roll right into town without necessarily looking like you just came from the trail.
Versatility can be hard to come by with hiking shorts, but another excellent option is the Arc'teryx Palisade. Though they aren't as trail-ready as most other models, a couple of others that just look good are the Prana Brion and Prana Stretch Zion.
Water Resistance and Dry Time
There isn't a ton of variability in this metric, but as far as it is important to distinguish contenders from one another, the Quandary is a model that both resists water well and dries faster than most when they do get wet. They come with a DWR (durable water repellent) finish that allows water to bead rather than absorb into the fabric. In our spray test, the water stayed entirely at the surface; in real-world rain, light passing showers were no problem, and it took about ten minutes in moderate rain before we noticed that water was getting through to our skin.
Unsurprisingly, these shorts also dry out faster than most. Since much of the water rolls off as you move, there is less of it that needs to evaporate off of the shorts. In our control testing, they were also near the top of the pack.
Venting and Breathability
These shorts are airy. The front pockets are mesh-lined (though the rear pockets are not, and the thigh pocket is at the very bottom). However, these potential ventilation points are less critical on a pair of shorts than, say, on pants. What is essential though, is that they are also lightweight, and the fabric is a good balance of durability and breathability.
Another great lightweight option for warm weather is the Patagonia Nine Trails. The REI Sahara Cargo also scores well in this metric, but they are a longer, looser fitting model.
These shorts are awesome for almost any activity. They are great for day hikes but are also light and comfortable enough to be a good option for longer warm-weather backpacking trips. They are nice spring and summer travel shorts as well. If you are planning a vacation and trying to keep your suitcase light, they easily double as a swimsuit.
At $70, we think that there is fair value in what you pay for. They are a little pricey, but if you are all in on having a rock-solid, versatile pair of hiking shorts, we would opt for these over something $10 or $15 cheaper. Having said that, it does feel like at least a little bit of what you are paying for is the Patagonia brand itself.
The Patagonia Quandary shorts are our Editors' Choice award winner. They stand out in almost every metric, and we think they do the best job of balancing all of the competing factors in a pair of hiking shorts. They do well in a wide variety of warm-weather activities, and we would be happy to take them to the mountains, waterways, canyons, and beaches of our next adventures.
— Ben Applebaum-Bauch