After researching more than 75 pairs, we purchased the best 12 women's hiking shorts for head-to-head testing. For over a year now, we've built an extensive foundation to find the ideal shorts for specific uses and conditions. We focus on comfort, function, breathability, and style, ranking each model against one another. Including a variety of inseam lengths, from short to long, we also hope to cater to a wider spectrum of wants and needs. From strolls around town to strenuous hikes, we tested each contender as thoroughly as possible. Here, you'll be able to see for yourself how each hiking short scored and what we feel to be their overall value.
The Best Hiking Shorts for Women
Best Overall Hiking Short
The North Face Aphrodite 2.0 Short
An incredibly lightweight synthetic short, The North Face Aphrodite 2.0 is hailed by OutdoorGearLab for its excellent comfort and flexibility. Versatile and cute, they are a dream come true. They fit like a glove and yet move as if nothing is there. The stitching is modern and durable, and we could transition easily from hiking to casual, indoor settings.
They are hard to criticize, but depending on your preferences, a possible drawback is in how short they are. Thankfully, The North Face offers a longer inseam option for this very model. The main flaw we found is in the lack of water resistance. But, on the other hand, the quick-drying quality of the fabric makes up for the water absorption.
Read review: The North Face Aphrodite 2.0
Best Bang for the Buck
Columbia Sandy River Cargo - Women's
Quirky and yet fundamental, these shorts are technical and easy to move around in. They perform well beyond expectations, and the price is a deal-making jaw-dropper. The Columbia Sandy River Cargo is ultralight (without the belt) and has just the right amount of bagginess for ample venting. These shorts nearly have it all.
They are not as comfortable for all-day wear as a few of the others we tested. The waistband is irritating mostly due to it sitting high and snugly at the waist, and a few of the features seem to slightly miss the mark, such as the "cargo" accessory pockets (they are actually quite small). Regardless, the athletic and versatile nature of these shorts is what ranks them near the top, warranting them our Best Buy Award.
Read review: Columbia Sandy River Cargo - Women's
Best for Length & Versatility
More minimally designed than most, the look of the Arc'teryx Sabria is technical and streamlined. With a pull-on waistband and two small pockets on the thighs, they offer a neat balance between style and function. Water-resistant and durable, the length allows for greater versatility across different sports and activities, and across a wider range of temperatures and climate, all while being decently cute.
The slim fit and inflexible waistband were an obstacle around the hips. They are challenging to pull on for curvier bodies, but once they are on, the fit is perfect around the waist and thighs. Basically, we wish the waistband stretched more readily.
Read review: Arc'teryx Sabria
Best for Classic Style and Features
Columbia Silver Ridge Stretch II - Women's
One of the more classically styled hiking shorts with modern twists, the Columbia Silver Ridge Stretch II has all the unique features Columbia is known for: sun protection, breathability, water and stain resistance, and cargo-styled pockets. Cute, athletic, and very affordable, this pair is truly noteworthy.
With only above-average marks in comfort and versatility, the 5-inch inseam limits the variety of activity and temperatures they can be used for the standard summer hiking venture. The materials used are also not as soft and flexible as the top-ranking pairs, but the Silver Ridge stands strong and stylish.
Read review: Columbia Silver Ridge Stretch II - Women's
Why You Should Trust Us
This comparison of women's hiking shorts is brought to you by OutdoorGearLab Review Editor Sara Aranda. Sara is a writer by trade, as well as a dedicated trail runner and climber. She divides her time between Yosemite and Colorado, where there is ample opportunity for adventure. As a writer, she has been published by Alpinist, The Climbing Zine, The American Poetry Review, Boulder Weekly, and others. Sara's background as an outdoor athlete, from setting a Fastest Known Time to being a scrambling enthusiast, has equipped her well to identify the fundamentals and finer points of women's hiking short performance. As a result, we think you'll find this review to be a useful tool in selecting your own pair.
We started things off by combing through all the current offerings from various manufacturers and selecting the strongest from an initial group of over 75 pairs. After purchasing, we began to score them according to several metrics we consider to be fundamental to this gear category. Our ratings in all these metrics are informed through field testing primarily on trails in Colorado and Utah. We test water resistance by splashing the fabric of each pair side-by-side, taking note of how well water beads and dries. We wear each model all day to get a well-developed notion of their relative comfort. With the average hiker in mind, we want to make sure we cover the basics thoroughly.
Related: How We Tested Hiking Short for Women
Analysis and Test Results
The best hiking shorts will not only keep you comfortable but will also be the most functional for your needs in the outdoors. Style and the aesthetic of the total length leave the first impressions, but overall performance matters most. With varying inseam lengths from 3 to 11 inches, these competitors had their own unique blend of fashion and practicality. All are made with synthetic materials, whether it be a hint of spandex in cotton or a durable fabric entirely constructed from nylon. The variety of materials makes for an interesting range of flexibility and technical features, but the metric with the most potential to be a deal-breaker is our first one: comfort and mobility.
Along the foothills of Colorado and in the vast desert of Utah, from mellow dirt trails to rocky, steep inclines, we wanted to see what these competitors were made of. We included both short and long inseam lengths to cater to different preferences and needs.
Price doesn't impact performance ratings, but they do influence our baseline impressions of the apparel's value, as a fair price is always a plus. Our pick for Editors' Choice, The North Face Aphrodite 2.0 is also remarkably affordable, something that seems to rarely occur in the world of retail.
Comfort and Mobility
Comfort and mobility carry the most weigh in our metric system. This essential metric is based on all-day wear, general comfort and fit, the stretchiness of the fabric, and the overall ease of movement. With fit, we are thankful that all the pairs we recently reviewed are either mid-rise or high-waisted, meaning that while sitting down or squatting, the waistband doesn't drop too low in the back. Higher rises typically increase the likeliness of finding comfort beneath a pack with a hip belt.
Scores didn't necessarily shrink as inseam length increased because they are dependent on the elasticity of the material. From technical terrain to the aimless stroll, each short is critiqued on whether or not our movement is ever impeded. Being restricted while trying to high-step, hike up a long incline, or while simply walking out and about in a casual setting is a massive strike. Keep in mind that if something doesn't sit right within the first few miles, it'll likely only get worse or all the more annoying by day's end.
Exceeding our initial impressions, The North Face Aphrodite 2.0 handles steep scrambles and short runs with ease. They are, by far, the most comfortable and flexible pair of shorts in our test group. With a shorter inseam of 3.5 inches for the size XS we tested, the material never bunches up on us or feels cumbersome, scoring consistently high across the board. Similarly, the Prana Revenna provides excellent comfort with its soft, flexible materials. The fit, however, stretches out by the end of the day, particularly in the legs, which can lead to a more baggier feel and look.
For our testing purposes, we paid attention to how often, if at all, we had to adjust the shorts to maintain comfort and motion, especially when going up steep trails with steps. The ExOfficio Sol Cool Nomad is notably restrictive in these situations, which heavily detracted from their overall mobility score. The Patagonia Stand Up shorts have a thicker fabric than all the others, to the point where the material bunches in the front quite readily while hiking. Even the stretch is minimal for high-stepping, yet the 3-inch inseam helps mitigate this issue.
An example of a pair with a long inseam that doesn't restrict movement is the 11-inch Columbia Back Beauty. With an entirely flexible and elastic design, they allow for endless movement. The fit, however, is a tad different. They are form-fitting snug at the waist and very baggy in the legs. It is, of course, challenging to customize fit for everyone and to cater to preferences and personal comfort levels. With longer inseams, it seems all the more tricky.
Venting and Breathability
We determined the second most important metric to be venting and breathability. We want shorts to keep us cool and dry during the summer heat. Breathability is crucial for how well body temperature is regulated and how performance might be affected by the lack of venting, which only leads to discomfort. Largely influenced by the materials used, our testing revealed that the most breathable shorts are made with lightweight, synthetic blends.
The top performers in this metric are the Columbia Sandy River Cargo and Patagonia Baggies, both made with nylon. They are thin and breezy but differ drastically in style. They both have large leg openings and, thus, a baggier fitting around the legs, which adds to the ventilation factor.
Coming close in competition, other notable pairs include the Columbia Back Beauty, mostly made of polyester, and The North Face Aphrodite 2.0, which is made with a blend of nylon and elastane. Many of the shorts ranked well in this category due to the very nature of the summer hiking and, thus, warmer temperature tolerance as a standard. The more cotton-based shorts, like the Patagonia Stand Up and the Outdoor Research Wadi Rum, have more limited capabilities when it comes to venting, however (but they are so short). They work well and are adequate for the casual, warm-weather outing.
Being multi-functional is a benefit when you want to lean down your wardrobe or if you live a place with distinct seasons. Thus, we feel that the balance between design and utility is an important thing to consider. Trendier designs transfer well to the city and can even stand on their own as casual urban wear if they are less traditional. More straightforward and athletic designs, in contrast, risk being rather unappealing for wear in town if fashion is important to you. But who says athletic apparel can't be stylish? This is a tough call and is admittedly subjective. We understand that different age groups are typically going to have different preferences (especially for inseam length).
For this metric, we appreciate pairs with multi-sport benefits. The more potential for other activities, the better the deal in the end. Examples of other activities we integrated into our tests include rock climbing, running, and stretching in the gym. Though, not all of the shorts are practical for some of these other things, so we took note of what we weren't willing to wear, particularly since this review is hiking focused.
The majority of the hiking shorts are designed exclusively for summer, but the longer inseams are also applicable to shoulder seasons and colder temperatures. This is why shorts like the Kuhl Splash and Arc'teryx Sabria score so high for versatility. Offering up relative style points and a longer length, they can be worn in the shoulder seasons as well as the summer. Activity-wise, we can scramble and stretch in them with relative ease, and they provide decent comfort.
Scoring above average, the notable shorts are the OR Wadi Rum, due to their trendiness, and The North Face Aphrodite 2.0, due to their ease of movement across a variety of sports. If you're after a rather youthful design, the Patagonia Stand Up is subjectively the trendiest of the bunch due to its 3-inch inseam and vintage-inspired high waist. They ranked at the bottom for this metric. A pair that doesn't fare so well, in comparison, is the ExOfficio Sol Cool Nomad due to its more singularly-oriented tourist style and its lack of flexibility for activities other than walking across non-technical terrain. The Columbia Sandy River Cargo and Patagonia Baggies earned average scores for their shorter inseams and baggy nature, which limits, in our opinion, the varieties of use and style more so than the others we reviewed.
As a stand-out feature of outdoor apparel, we wanted to make sure the shorts that had resistance were rewarded for the advantage. Being completely waterproof would severely diminish the key aspect of breathability, so having adequate resistance while also having the ability to dry quickly and breathe is the perfect combination for summer ventures into the woods.
Water beads extraordinarily well on the DWR coated Patagonia Baggies, and, during our test, we were happy to find that the beading remained unchanged after several minutes. As in, there was no apparent absorption from what we could tell until after we rolled the water off. This was the case for many of the top-scorers. The ExOfficio and Arc'teryx Creston, all rank high with the Baggies. The two Columbia shorts and the Arc'teryx Sabria rank a bit lower, with above-average scoring. There are only subtle differences between all the competitors mentioned above, ones that we only notice when we roll the water off the shorts. The more resistant the shorts, the more the water rolled without leaving any behind to soak in.
On the other side of the spectrum, it is unfortunate to find that quality shorts like the KUHL Splash and TNF Aphrodite 2.0 have no water resistance whatsoever. The Prana Revenna is detailed as having a DWR treatment but, during our test, we found the fabric to not bead at all and absorb water as quickly as the KUHL Splash. Even though water does absorb quickly for these three pairs, the materials breathe well enough to combat the absorption with decent drying times.
When it comes to extra pockets and neat material perks, this is where every short ends up being unique in its own way. Design features we've come across include a gusseted crotch, drawstring closure, button closure, or a contoured waistline. Material features include elements like sun protection or odor control. Pockets are the most obvious storage feature, and we made sure to critique the quality, depth, and security of the pockets. Brands like to have their own savvy word for their techy fabrics, but in the end, the performance, of course, speaks louder than words.
The ExOfficio Sol Cool Nomad has come out on top in the feature category. With five pockets, anti-odor fabric, UPF 50, and other key features, the technicality and practical nature of these shorts are competitive. While the KUHL Splash also has numerous pockets, they aren't the most spacious. Their fabric also isn't the stretchiest, so when we add items to the pockets, the bulk can create an unwanted, tighter fit around our thighs.
When it comes to sun protection, the majority of the shorts explicitly have UPF ratings from 30-50. Most are of the "longer" inseams, for some reason, like the Columbia Sandy River Cargo, which has a UPF rating of 30. Others like the Columbia Back Beauty and Exofficio Sol Cool Nomad are equipped with SPF 50. The one inseam exception to this seeming trend is the 5-inch Columbia Silver Ridge Stretch II with a UPF rating of 30. But being of the Columbia brand, we are not surprised.
Yet, the shorts with minimal distinctive features are still quality options. The Patagonia Stand Up is the most basic when compared to the others in this category. With four, albeit deep pockets, and durable stitching, they simply don't offer much else.
We averaged quick-drying scores in with the Features metric. The fastest drying models are, of course, the nylon or polyester-based lightweights, like the Columbia Back Beauty and the Arc'teryx Creston, as the splash marks dried within minutes for these pairs. But those with mainly cotton construction, like the OR Wadi Rum, took over half an hour to feel completely dry to the touch.
The North Face Aphrodite 2.0 earns the title for Best Overall, with the Columbia Sandy River Cargo taking the Best Buy award. The Arc'teryx Sabria is our Top Pick for those wanting a healthy combination of lengthy coverage, technical features, and decent comfort. In our minds, the best pair will move with your body, feel good, have ample pocket space, and dry quickly when the weather is hot or if water is encountered.
It's easy to get mixed up in the technical perks and stylistic features, but it's necessary to keep in mind the importance of comfort and mobility, especially if you plan to take extended trips in the backcountry. All said and done, we learned quite a bit about how the most basic-looking shorts can still pack an athletic punch. The elasticity of the materials used is a leading factor in how well each pair scored in our tests, as well as the level of comfort the flexibility contributes. The material of each pair influences all metrics, from the feel to the environments each pair succeeds in. If you're unsure of the style or fit of a particular brand, we recommend trying on a model in a local store to mitigate fit issues and unflattering bagginess. As always, we hope we've provided you with the necessary information to choose the best pair of hiking shorts for your upcoming adventure! Happy trails!
— Sara Aranda