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Seeking the best hiking shorts? After researching over 50 models, our expert hikers purchased and tested 11 of the best options on the market. With over 200 hours of hiking with hundreds of miles logged, we know what goes into a good pair of shorts. We encountered torrential downpours, high humidity, and cold snaps while hiking through Oregon and along the East Coast. We meticulously analyze and rate the performance of each pair based on five important performance metrics. Using this data, we selected award winners to help guide you to the right hiking shorts for your next big (or small) adventure.
Editor's Note: This review was updated on November 10, 2022, to include a new product, the Patagonia Baggies Longs, and updates to the Outdoor Research Ferrosi, Prana Brion II, Prana Stretch Zion II, and REI Sahara Cargo.
The Patagonia Quandary offers an exceptional combination of comfort and versatility. They are thoughtfully constructed — one small example is the secure button closure. They are also a great choice for those who want to be conscious of their purchases' human and environmental impact; the fabric is 65% recycled, and Bluesign approved. Not only does this pair look good, but it feels good too. Lightweight, breathable, and quick-drying, these shorts perform admirably and are a great bathing suit on multi-day trips.
With all these attributes, it's hard to find drawbacks. However, zippers on the pockets would be useful. The price point is also a touch high, but you certainly get your money's worth. This pair is our go-to choice for day hikes, long trips, and water activities.
The REI Co-Op Sahara Cargo offers the most for the least. This pair is lightweight and has a full complement of six pockets, including two cargo pockets. The elastic swatches incorporated into the waist mean they accommodate a range of sizes if your weight fluctuates slightly. Given their utility and variety of features, we are surprised by their breathability and water resistance. However, they are one of the lightest pairs in the category and a highly practical option for many uses.
The biggest issue is that many of the pocket openings are small. The cargo and rear pockets all have top security flaps, and getting items out is hard. One small detail is the corner of the fabric near the button is surprisingly sharp and sometimes rubs uncomfortably. And the previous iterations had a superior fabric and a nice cinchable belt. Even so, these pants are still a highly functional pair without a high price tag. These shorts are a great option for those who prioritize practicality and price.
Light and airy, the Patagonia Nine Trails is a prime choice for trail runs and long hikes. They come with an interior 'compression shorts' liner that provides the support and comfort we want on the move all day. Elastic in the waist and a drawstring keep these shorts in place. The liner uses an odor control treatment, which is especially useful if worn repeatedly without the opportunity (or energy) to wash them.
They are great for hiking and other physical activity, but the style limits their versatility. They look like a classic pair of running shorts, so that we wouldn't go with them from the trail into town. We love this pair and grab them on our warm-weather endurance adventures.
The Prana Stretch Zion II is one of our favorites for its feature set. This model has a felt-lined waistband and an integrated belt. We also appreciate the traditional belt loops, which provide extra versatility. They have a gusseted crotch, which makes them more comfortable. This pair also comes with an array of pockets with different types of closures to keep some items secure and some more accessible.
The primary drawback is that because of the bells and whistles; they aren't especially stylish. We also found that the pockets with zipper and flap closures are difficult to reach if you have larger hands. However, these shorts are for you if you appreciate good design and quality construction.
We have been testing hiking shorts for four years. After researching over 50 models, we chose the most promising to test hands-on. We took to the trails, hiking, running, and backpacking. They came along for the ride on thru-hikes of the Oregon Coast Trail and Pinhoti Trail and on sections of the North Country Trail. To assess versatility, each pair went on trail runs and got regular wear during a variety of domestic outdoor activities as well as social gatherings.
Our hiking shorts testing uses six rating metrics:
Comfort & Mobility (35% of total score)
Venting & breathability (20%)
Versatility & Style (10%)
Weather Resistance & Dry Time (10%)
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. After gnarly scrambles through the unrelenting humidity of dozens of east coast summers, he developed an acute awareness of key comfort features in hiking shorts (as well as those that bog you down).
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 appreciate when a company takes a user-centered approach to its products.. Below, we discuss standouts in each scoring metric: comfort and mobility, features, versatility and style, weather resistance and dry time, and venting and breathability.
Though it's not a part of our quantitative rating metrics, we recognize that value is an important component of many purchasing decisions. In our reviews, we quantify value in a basic way to give you some sense of whether or not you are getting your money's worth with any given pair of hiking shorts. We compare a product's overall score with its cost to understand how your spending translates to what you get. Some items might be incredibly expensive but have the quality to back them 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 cost below average for the category but are our two highest-scoring products. The REI Co-Op Sahara Cargo is one of the least expensive pairs we tested that maintains all required functions for a pair of trail shorts.
Comfort and Mobility
Comfort and mobility are interconnected. Together they are the highest priority metric for us. We assess 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 such as anti-chafing waist liners and low-profile seams that 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. It includes the cut of the shorts and whether they ride up when stepping up (or sitting down). 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".
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 same goes for the REI Co-Op Active Pursuits. The Prana Stretch Zion takes a slightly different approach but still knocks it out of the park in terms of comfort. This model pairs an integrated belt with a stretch fabric blend and a slightly looser fit. The Patagonia Quandary and Outdoor Research Ferrosi sort of split the difference between the first two variations; they are not quite as stretchy as the Nine Trails, not quite as much space in the crotch as the Stretch Zion, but they strike a good balance between 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 Prana Brion II includes some comfort elements, but we want a slightly longer inseam and a better-fitting waist.
When you close your eyes and think of a pair of shorts, a few key components define what that is in its most basic terms. Features are the things you get in any particular model beyond the 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 and waist tightening systems, with integrated belts, drawstrings, or traditional belt loops being the most common. We note that fly and fly zipper length, and ease of use are variables.
We are interested in not only the number of features but also their ability to enhance the experience and performance of each pair. We happily trade in a tricked-out model full of unnecessary features for a minimalist design with helpful and carefully crafted features.
The highest scorer in this metric is the Prana Stretch Zion II. It showcases an excellent array of pockets that include various closure options. The integrated belt is simple and sleek and the button lies flat against the waist, so it doesn't rub if you wear a backpack hip belt. 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 REI Co-Op Active Pursuits has a somewhat unique pocket architecture. Though it lacks any rear pockets, it has a zippered pocket embedded within the traditional right-side handwarmer pocket, which is great for securing keys or small items when moving quickly.
The Fjallraven Abisko is an honorable mention here as well. The style is quite right for the average hiker, but it has a complement of carefully considered pockets that impressed us.
Versatility and Style
Versatility is the extent to which the shorts perform well in various activities. We took each pair on hikes, of course, shorter day-long adventures and longer, multi-week trips. We also consider how functional they are 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 on function and how something looks. Style is how we acknowledge that you could wear these shorts out with friends and no one would think you just came from an afternoon on the trail.
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. Joining them 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 many folks seek), but we love these shorts for their style. This is it if you live in a drier climate and want a good-looking pair.
The only thing that gives away the Outdoor Research Ferrosi as a 'hiking' short is the zippered cargo pocket. Other than that, the traditional belt loops and fit make this a decent choice for a casual night out in the summer. The Patagonia Nine Trails, Prana Stretch Zion II, and Patagonia Baggies Longs also perform admirably for each, leveraging different combinations of versatility.
Venting and Breathability
Venting is the design element that facilitates heat escape from the body and the rate of sweat evaporation. For shorts, these are 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.
Regarding breathability, the Patagonia Nine Trails and the REI Co-Op Active Pursuits 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 also including a section of pinholes around each hip to increase ventilation and interior liners that are more breathable than regular underwear. 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-length inseam, and half-mesh pockets.
Interestingly, the Prana Stretch Zion is the only other model (besides the Active Pursuits) that incorporates an additional ventilation feature; it has four discrete holes in the crotch, which provides appreciated airflow to a commonly humid region. Again, the infrequency of specific ventilation design elements makes sense, given that shorts are already generally well-ventilated (as opposed to hiking pants).
Weather Resistance and Dry Time
This metric is straightforward. We measure how effectively each pair of shorts sheds water or the amount of time each pair of shorts 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 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 important. Depending on what adventure you find yourself on, some pairs may be better suited to the task.
Two pairs may use the same DWR (durable water repellent) coating. Still, if rain is heavy enough to penetrate the shorts anyway, the thinner pair dries faster, ultimately leading to a more comfortable experience. We prefer shorts that are less water-resistant initially but dry faster than those that are more heavily coated but take longer to dry. 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 DWR finish paired with relatively thin fabric that dries quickly. The Patagonia Quandary is also with them, with the Prana Stretch Zion II following closely behind. The Fjallraven Abisko is an example of a pair of shorts that beads water well when the fabric is static, but on the move, it finds its way through.
As for dry time, we were particularly impressed again with the REI Sahara Cargo and the Outdoor Research Ferrosi and Patagonia Baggies Longs, which comes with an interior liner that is significantly thinner and more breathable than wearing underwear. The Patagonia Nine Trails is similar, but the interior liner is longer (more like compression shorts) and takes more time to dry.
It's easy to get caught up in the technical details of materials and design and sometimes that matters. However, with shorts, you need a pair you can turn to repeatedly without thinking about it. After hours of research and hundreds of trail miles, we are confident we found the best. Our experts put hundreds of miles into these models to speak to their advantages and drawbacks. 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.
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