Best Hiking Shorts for Men of 2020
Best Overall Hiking Shorts
Patagonia Quandary Short
The Patagonia Quandary offers an exceptional combination of comfort and versatility. Not only does this pair look good, but it feels good too. Lightweight, breathable, and quick-drying, these shorts perform admirably and do a commendable job of standing in as a bathing suit on multi-day trips. They are thoughtfully constructed — one small example is the very secure button closure. They are also a great choice for those who want to be conscious of the human and environmental impact that their purchases make; the fabric is 65% recycled, and Bluesign approved.
These shorts don't have a whole lot of drawbacks. It would be nice if all of the pockets had zippers on them or the price was a bit lower, but we really feel like we got what we paid for. When all is said and done, this pair is our first choice for day hikes, longer trips, and even water-based activities.
Read review: Patagonia Quandary Short
Best Bang for Your Buck
REI Co-op Sahara Cargo Short
The REI Co-Op Sahara Cargo offers the most for the least. This pair is comfortable and the integrated belt makes fine-tuning the fit super simple. We also love the depth of the front pockets. If you get caught in the rain, the DWR coating keeps water beading and rolling off in what we determined to be the best performing out of any model tested. Given their length and variety of features, we are surprised by their low weight and breathability.
We don't love the cut of these shorts. Their 11" inseam is on the longer side, which isn't inherently a drawback, but paired with their looser fit and abundance of pockets, they just aren't what we would consider fashion-forward. Even so, for those who prioritize practicality and price, these shorts are a great option.
Read review: REI Co-Op Sahara Cargo Short
Best for Trail Running and Distance Hikes
Patagonia Nine Trails Short
Light and airy, the Patagonia Nine Trails is a prime choice for trail runs and long hikes. They come with an interior liner that provides the support and comfort that we want when we are on the move all day. The liner is finished with an odor control treatment, which is especially useful if you are wearing the pair again and again and again without having the opportunity (or energy) to wash them. The elastic waist and drawstring keep these shorts in place.
They are great for all kinds of hiking and other physical activity, but the style limits their versatility. They look much more like a classic pair of running shorts, so we wouldn't opt for them if we knew we had to go directly from the trail into town. All things considered, we really like this pair and wouldn't hesitate to grab them on our next warm-weather endurance adventure.
Read review: Patagonia Nine Trails
Arc'teryx Palisade Short
The Arc'teryx Palisade takes top honors for its feature set. This model has a soft, felt-lined waistband and a sleek integrated belt. We love that every single pocket has a zipper on it, and even though there are five of them, they still manage to blend pretty seamlessly into the rest of the short without that strong cargo shorts look. The hems around the legs are also sealed in such a way that they are almost invisible, and the cut is a good balance between form and function.
For a pair that otherwise has such carefully considered features, we aren't totally sure about the fly. It is very short and not…uhh…user-friendly. They are also by far the most expensive model that we tested. We know we really want them, but the price tag is enough to make us think twice about how much we really need them. Dollars and cents aside, if you appreciate good design and quality construction, these shorts are for you.
Read review: Arc'teryx Palisade Short
Why You Should Trust Us
Our expert testers have decades of experience in the backcountry. Lead hiking shorts reviewer, Ben Applebaum-Bauch, has hiked well over 5,000 miles along both coasts of the United States. He began his professional career in the outdoors as a trip guide, leading backcountry backpacking adventures through the most rugged portions of the Appalachian Trail in New England, including Maine's 100-mile Wilderness. Having done some gnarly scrambles through the unrelenting humidity of dozens of east coast summers, he has developed an acute awareness of the comfort features to look for in a pair of hiking shorts (as well as those that will keep you bogged down).
After researching over 50 models of hiking shorts, we chose 10 of the most promising to test hands-on. From there, we took to the trails, hiking, running, and backpacking. They came along for the ride on a thru-hike of the Oregon Coast Trail as well as on sections of the North Country Trail. To assess versatility, each pair also found its way on a handful of trail runs, and also got regular wear during a variety of domestic outdoor activities as well as social gatherings.
Related: How We Tested Hiking Shorts
Analysis and Test Results
Our testing gave us valuable insight into the performance and quality of our contenders. Though many hiking shorts share similar design features, the devil is in the details. From waist closures to leg seams and the angle and orientation of pocket zippers, we consider every element that makes a difference. We really appreciate when it is clear that a company takes a user-centered approach to their products. Below, we discuss standouts in each of our scoring metrics: comfort and mobility, features, versatility and style, weather resistance and dry time, and venting and breathability.
Though it's not an official part of our quantitative rating metrics, we recognize that value is an important component of many purchasing decisions. In our reviews, we try to quantify value to give you some sense of whether or not you are getting your money's worth with any given pair of hiking shorts. By comparing a product's overall rating score with its cost, we take a small step towards understanding how what you spend translates to what you get. Some items might be incredibly expensive, but have the quality to back it up, while others are more affordable, but still score highly.
Many of our award winners offer excellent value. The Patagonia Quandary and Patagonia Nine Trails both cost below average for the category, but are our two highest-scoring products. The REI Co-Op Sahara Cargo is tied for the least expensive pair that we tested, and still scores in the top tier.
Comfort and Mobility
Comfort and mobility are interconnected. Together they are the highest priority for us when we look for a pair of hiking shorts. We figure that comfortable clothing is clothing that people are actually going to use and what are any of the other metrics even worth if you aren't going to wear the shorts in the first place? When we talk about comfort, we mean the fit and adjustability of the waist, the amount of space in the crotch, and whether or not the crotch is gusseted. We also look for design elements that are meant to improve comfort, such as anti-chaffing waist liners and low-profile seams that also reduce rubbing. We consider the softness of the fabric as well.
We think of mobility as 'active comfort'. That is the degree to which each pair of shorts facilitates or limits our ability to do an activity. We not only consider factors such as crotch space, but also things like the fabric blend and the amount and direction of stretch that each pair offers (some fabrics are manufactured in a way that only permits mobility in a single plane, while others have a quality often marketed as "4-way stretch"). It includes the cut of the shorts and whether they ride up when stepping up (or sitting down).
Our testing revealed some steady trends. The Patagonia Nine Trails scores highly because of its super stretchy and supportive liner. It moves with you and doesn't restrict movement, even with a shorter 8" inseam. The elastic waistband and drawstring ensure that they stay put all day long. The REI Co-Op Sahara Cargo and Prana Stretch Zion take a slightly different approach, but still knock it out of the park in terms of comfort. These models pair an integrated belt with a stretch fabric blend and slightly looser fit. The Patagonia Quandary sort of splits the difference between the first two variations; not quite as stretchy as the Nine Trails, not quite as much space in the crotch as the Stretch Zion and Sahara Cargo, but an excellent balance of the two.
Another decent scorer in this metric is the Fjallraven Abisko, which is (partially) made from ultra-stretchy material incorporated into strategically positioned panels. The Columbia Silver Ridge II Stretch, Prana Brion, and The North Face Paramount Active each include some comfort elements really well but also left us wishing we they had a slightly longer inseam in the case of the Paramount Active or a better-fitting waist in the case of the Silver Ridge.
When you close your eyes and think of a pair of shorts, there are a few key components that define what that is in its most basic terms. Features are the things you get in any particular model beyond the very basics. In this case, our assessment includes the number, placement, size, and shape of the pockets, how those pockets close (if they do at all), and how easy or difficult it is to access something that you put in them. We also consider waist fastening mechanisms like buttons versus snaps, as well as waist tightening systems, with integrated belts, drawstrings, or traditional belt loops being the most common. Fly and fly zipper length and ease of use are also variables that we note.
What we are interested in is not only how many features a particular model has but how much they enhance the performance and experience of the shorts. We will gladly take a pair with fewer, very helpful, and carefully considered features over one with a bunch of extras included just for the sake of it.
The highest scorer in this metric is the Arc'teryx Palisade. It showcases an excellent array of pockets that all include zipper closures, which are great for peace of mind whether you are in the front or backcountry. The integrated belt is simple and sleek and the snap is easy to use. Rounding out the top of the metric are the Patagonia Nine Trails, with its zippered pockets, lightweight liner, and quick-dry fabric, Patagonia Quandary, which includes nice pockets, a low profile drawstring, and button closure that stays securely buttoned. The Fjallraven Abisko is an honorable mention here as well. Overall, we aren't convinced that the style is quite right for the average hiker, but it has a complement of carefully considered pockets that really did impress us.
Versatility and Style
Versatility is the extent to which the shorts perform well in a variety of activities. We took each pair on hikes, of course, both shorter day-long adventures as well as longer, multi-week trips. We also consider how functional they would be for other activities like canoeing, swimming, running, climbing, and traveling.
Style is a special kind of versatility. Especially with clothing, we recognize that people are likely to make a purchase based not only on function but the way something looks. Style is our way of acknowledging that we think you could wear these shorts out with friends and no one would give them a second look (or maybe they would!).
Here we find the Patagonia Quandary again on top. It strikes a great balance between form and function, keeping all of the essential elements we want in a pair of shorts while also looking pretty darn good as well. They edge out the Arc'teryx Palisade, which also earns high marks. With its cargo pockets and more rugged-feeling material, it leans more towards the practical while still maintaining a minimalist aesthetic.
A pleasant surprise in this metric is the Prana Brion. We aren't sold on them as hiking shorts in a strict sense (they don't have the water-resistance or features that a lot of folks would be looking for), but we love these shorts for their style. If you live in a drier climate and just want a good looking pair, this is it. The Patagonia Nine Trails, Columbia Silver Ridge II, and Prana Stretch Zion also perform admirably for each leveraging different combinations of versatility and style.
Venting and Breathability
We think about venting as the design elements that facilitate the escape of heat from the body and the rate of sweat evaporation. For shorts, this is typically mesh-lined pockets. Breathability aims for the same goal but largely has to do with the weight and density of the fabric. Because shorts are inherently ventilated to some degree, this metric also accounts for a comparatively small proportion of a model's overall score.
The Patagonia Nine Trails and The North Face Paramount Active each earn high scores because they are both lightweight and have a shorter inseam than many other contenders. Both also have fully-mesh pockets, with the latter having a slightly looser weave. The REI Co-Op Sahara Cargo is again a surprise in this metric because the material is deceptively thin and breathable. The Patagonia Quandary rounds out the top tier. It earns its mark for its combination of moderate weight, mid-inseam, and half-mesh pockets. Interestingly, the Prana Stretch Zion is the only model that incorporates an additional ventilation feature; it includes four discrete holes in the crotch, which provides appreciated airflow to a commonly humid region.
Weather Resistance and Dry Time
As far as metrics go, this one is relatively straightforward. We measure water resistance, that is, how effectively each pair of shorts sheds water or the amount of time each pair of shorts can resist different amounts of precipitation. Dry time is the amount of time it takes for that moisture to evaporate. These two pieces are highly correlated but importantly different. The primary x-factor is fabric thickness and weight. Other considerations for weather resistance are the amount of wind and sun protection that they provide. Obviously, by definition, shorts are not going to offer complete protection from any of these elements. Accordingly, this metric accounts for a smaller proportion of a garment's overall score; however, having the right equipment is always important. Depending on what adventure you find yourself on, some pairs may be better suited to the task.
Two pairs can be treated with the same DWR (durable water repellent) coating, but if rain is heavy enough to penetrate the shorts anyway, the thinner pair will usually dry out faster, ultimately leading to a more comfortable experience. In fact, we would prefer shorts that are less water-resistant initially but dries out faster than a pair which is more heavily coated but takes longer to dry. An interesting phenomenon that we encountered during testing is that stretchier fabrics, even if they have a DWR coating applied, tend to be more porous; as you step and move, the space between fibers expands and contracts, so the stretchier the material, the more opportunity there is for water molecules to work their way through to your skin.
With that in mind, the big surprise during testing was the REI Co-Op Sahara Cargo. It boasts a combination of thorough DWR coating with relatively thin fabric that dries quickly, even when it does get wet. The Patagonia Quandary and Columbia Silver Ridge II Stretch (both lightweight and moderately resistant), and the Arc'teryx Palisade (thicker and very water-resistant) all follow closely behind. The Fjallraven Abisko and The North Face Paramount Active are both examples of shorts that bead water well when the fabric is static, but on the move, it finds its way through.
After hours of research and lots of trail miles, we are confident that we have found the best of the best when it comes to men's hiking shorts. From best overall to best bang for the buck and a couple of specialty pairs, our experts put hundreds of miles into these models to be able to speak to their advantages and their drawbacks. It's easy to get caught up in the technical details of materials and design; to be fair, sometimes that stuff matters. However, at the end of the day, with something as simple and essential as shorts, you need something that you can turn to again and again without really even thinking about it. We hope that this review provides all of the basic information that you need to make the informed decision that is most right for you. Happy trails.
— Ben Applebaum-Bauch