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After researching more than 75 pairs available today, we purchased the best 11 women's hiking shorts for head-to-head testing. We've built an extensive foundation to find the ideal shorts for a variety of uses and conditions. We focus on comfort, function, breathability, versatility, and style to rank each model against one another. With a range of inseam lengths, from short to long, we also hope to cater to a wider spectrum of wants and needs. From strolls to strenuous hikes to bike rides and more, we've tested each contender as thoroughly as possible. Here, you'll be able to see for yourself what we feel are the top performers and why.
The Mountain Hardwear Dynama 2 Bermuda shorts have nearly everything we look for in a hiking short. They are reliably comfortable and made with flexible, breathable fabric. The wide elastic waistband makes it easy to pull over our hips, and the pockets actually hold and secure a phone without feeling like it's about to fall out. This pair scores high in all our metrics and even incorporates odor control technology. From casual strolls to strenuous all-day hikes, we fell in love with the versatility and high comfort this model provides. Beyond just hiking, we enjoyed wearing these shorts for a huge range of outdoor recreation and warm-weather activities.
Style might be the only drawback for some people. We recognize that the longer inseam and overall design might not be appealing, but we rather enjoy the look, especially since it offers added sun protection and doesn't impede our mobility whatsoever. They perform well for all sorts of adventures, and we highly recommend this Bermuda.
The Columbia Sandy River Cargo is ultralight (without the belt) and has just the right amount of bagginess for ample venting. Quirky and yet functional, these shorts are technical and easy to move around in. They perform well beyond expectations, and the price is a deal-making jaw-dropper.
However, they are not as comfortable for all-day wear as a few of the others we tested. One tester found the waistband tends to be irritating due to it sitting high and snugly at the waist. A few other features also seem to miss the mark slightly, such as the "cargo" accessory pockets (they are relatively small), and they're definitely not the most stylish option. Regardless, the athletic and versatile nature of these shorts is what ranks them near the top. For shorts that function great for hiking while keeping costs low, this is our recommendation.
The Patagonia Nine Trails are a great alternative to the traditional hiking short design. With minimalism in mind and with ultralight fabric, these shorts are all about high comfort and function. The fabric is water-resistant and durable, and the sewn-in liner is bolstered with odor-control technology. With a longer inseam than is traditional of running shorts, the pair offers a little more versatility in colder conditions. Too, they are more appealing across a wider range of age groups. The zippered pocket on the back of the waistband is also very useful. When backpacking, fastpacking, or simply running local trails, these Nine Trails can be a technical, breezy choice.
In the realm of casual hiking, having no hand pockets might be a huge detraction. The style is also on the minimalist side, with running as its primary focus, so this might not be what hikers are looking for at all. Too, the sewn-in liner is surprisingly tight-fitting despite the shorts themselves being true to size. Overall, we understand that these relative drawbacks are small when compared to how comfortable and technical they have proven to be. If you're carrying a backpack or a running vest, having hand pockets isn't always necessary. In conclusion, these shorts aren't for all hiking needs, but they are an ultralight dream come true.
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 tends to divide her time between California and Colorado, where there is ample opportunity for adventure. As a creative writer, she has been published by magazines like Alpinist. Sara's background as an outdoor athlete, from setting Fastest Known Times to wandering local trails with friends, 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 next pair.
To start, we combed through all current offerings from various manufacturers and selected the strongest from an initial group of over 75 pairs. After purchasing, we tested and scored them according to metrics we consider to be fundamental to this gear category. Our ratings in all these metrics are informed mostly through field testing, primarily on trails in Colorado. In addition, we tested water resistance by splashing each pair's fabric side-by-side, noting how well the water beads and how fast the fabric dries afterward. We wore each model all day to get a well-developed notion of their relative comfort. With the average hiker in mind, we wanted to make sure we covered the basics thoroughly.
Analysis and Test Results
The best hiking shorts will not only keep you comfortable but will be the most functional for your outdoor needs. Style and the total inseam length leave the first impressions, but overall performance matters to us most. Due to their varying inseam lengths, these competitors have their unique blends of fashion and practicality. All the models we've tested utilize synthetic materials, whether it be a hint of spandex with cotton or a durable fabric entirely constructed with nylon. Of course, the materials used influence style and technical features, but the aspect with the most potential to be a deal-breaker is our first rating metric: comfort and mobility.
Price doesn't impact performance ratings but it does influence our baseline impressions of the apparel's overall value as a fair price is always a plus. The Patagonia models we tested aren't remarkably affordable but aren't overly expensive either. They are made well and offer fair value. The Columbia Sandy River Cargo and REI Active Pursuits shorts are both examples of how we celebrate the high value of an item that also doesn't break the bank. The Mountain Hardwear Dynama 2 Bermuda is an excellent value as well, since it provides top-shelf performance while being priced near the middle of the pack.
Comfort and Mobility
Comfort and mobility comprise a single metric, which carries the most weight in our ranking system. These essential qualities are based on all-day wear, general comfort and fit, the fabric's flexibility, and, therefore, the overall ease of movement. With fit, we are thankful that the majority of pairs we've reviewed thus far are either mid-rise or high-waisted, meaning that while sitting down or squatting, the waistband doesn't drop too low in the back.
Scoring for mobility doesn't necessarily shrink as inseam length increases because it is more 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, like hiking up a steep or staired incline, or even walking about in a casual setting is a massive strike. Based on our experience, if something doesn't sit/fit or move right within the first few miles, it'll likely only get worse, or all the more annoying, by day's end.
The Mountain Hardwear Dynama 2 Bermuda handles scrambles and hikes with ease, exceeding any initial impressions. By far, they are the most comfortable and flexible pair of shorts in our test group due to the soft, flexible material. With an inseam of 9 inches for the size Small we tested, there isn't much to complain about when it comes to comfort. The wide waistband is simple but form-fitting, which means it contours easily with our bodies. Additionally, the cuts for the legs are roomier, flowing with the legs as opposed to creating points of constriction.
For our testing purposes, we pay attention to how often, if at all, we have to adjust the shorts to maintain comfort and motion, especially when going uphill. The Patagonia Skyline Traveler is the most restrictive out of our testing group, but they still stretch well nonetheless. The fit is the biggest drawback for them, as they run small and fit rather snugly around our hips and thighs. The Prana Halle II shorts have a slightly thicker fabric than many of the others but stretch really well. The fit, however, changes over time as the fabric stretches out with use.
The REI Sahara Bermuda is another example of a pair with a long inseam (9 inches) and relatively slim cut, but it just isn't as free-flowing as our overall category winner. With flexible and elastic fabric, they do allow for endless movement, yet the waistband itself is where comfort is slightly compromised as the elastic design traps sweat and is stiffer than other waistbands in our line-up. Too, the high-waist cut with limited waistband stretch might not be as comfortable for some.
Consider how the shorts might feel beneath a backpack with a hip belt. Long-term comfort may be drastically impacted if the waistband is bulked up with large buttons, thick belt loops, or a hefty zipper.
Other shorts that performed well in this metric are the Patagonia Nine Trails, REI Active Pursuits, and the Outdoor Research Ferrosi. They all have very different designs but provide stretch for movement and fit well on our bodies. We can easily wear them all day. The Columbia Sandy River Cargo, Patagonia Baggies, Patagonia Quandary, and the Houdini Wadi are all somewhat middle of the road or just above average either due to drawbacks in waistband design, fit, or elasticity. The Sandy River shorts run small and have a snug, scrunchy waistband that doesn't feel the best after long hours. The Patagonia Baggies have a similar issue with the waistband design. The Houdini Wadi shorts run large and therefore require the use of the integrated belt. The belt, however, is difficult to use and creates bulk, and tightening it up enough to prevent the shorts from falling down causes the fabric to cinch and fold, lending to discomfort over time. The Quandary shorts, however, are simply outranked by the top players in this metric, mostly due to their more form-fitting cut.
Venting and Breathability
We determined the second-most important metric to be a combination of venting and breathability. We'd like for shorts to keep us cool and dry during our hiking experience. Breathability is crucial for body temperature regulation. So, we consider how performance might be affected by a lack of venting or by not having highly breathable fabric, which will only lead to discomfort. Our experiences reveal that breathable shorts tend to be made with lightweight, synthetic blends.
Both made with nylon, the Columbia Sandy River Cargo and Patagonia Baggies are great examples of shorts with high ventilation. Both pairs are thin and breezy with large leg openings. Their baggier fit around the legs creates ample room for ventilation. However, since the Baggies have a DWR coating, the fabric isn't as breathable as some of the others in the group. Essentially, each pair has its unique combination of breathability and ventilation. One of the notable pairs is the Mountain Hardwear Bermuda, which scores high in this metric due to its ability to breathe and vent well despite its longer inseam — a feat worth celebrating.
Having a wide waistband can be more comfortable but can also create a greater pocket of heat around the abdomen. Being light and highly breathable is a must.
Other notable pairs include the Houdini Wadi, Patagonia Nine Trails, and REI Active Pursuits, all made with synthetic blends, such as nylon and elastane or polyester and spandex. The first two models have high breathability and moderate venting capabilities, but they still accomplish excellent temperature regulation for us. The REI pair has greater venting capability due to the flowy leg openings and thin material but has a thicker waistband. Too, these shorts are not treated for water resistance, allowing for greater airflow. Overall, there are so many nuances when it comes to this metric. Basically, all of the shorts rank sufficient in this category, as breathability becomes more and more inherent in hiking apparel design and within consumer expectations.
Being multi-functional is a benefit when you want to lean down your wardrobe or if you live in a place with distinct seasons. The balance between design and utility is important to consider, so we weigh in style as well. Trendier designs transfer well to the city and can stand on their own as casual urban wear if they are less traditional. In contrast, more straightforward, athletic designs might not be considered stylish, but to each their own. This is a tough call and the metric is admittedly more subjective. We understand that different age groups might express different preferences, too, especially for desired inseam length in relation to style.
We feel that the most versatile pairs tend to be those with longer inseams. While style points are a give or take, the longer inseams in models like the Mountain Hardwear Dynama 2, REI Sahara Bermuda, Houdidni Wadi, and even the Patagonia Skyline are going to provide more flexibility in shoulder seasons and among a variety of sports and activities. They tend to be more comfortable on a bike ride, too, and provide more coverage for activities like yoga. Of these longer shorts, we think the Dynama 2 is hands-down the most versatile option.
Style alone, we feel the most notable pair is the Prana Halle II due to its meshing of technicality with a traditional fashion short design. This model comes in other color and pattern choices, but the one we tested pops with an earthy yellow and is fun to wear. Both chic and functional, we wore them often to run errands or dine out. Too, the Patagonia Quandary shorts, with their slimmer fit, are also subjectively fashionable. On the flip side, we feel that the Columbia Sandy River Cargo and the Patagonia Baggies are rather average in style for their shorter inseams and baggy nature, and are overall less versatile than the others in our current testing group.
Examples of other activities we integrated into our tests include rock climbing, running, cycling, and floor workout routines. Not all of the shorts are practical for these movements, so we took note of such sentiments and why we felt that way. Since this review is focused on hiking, we honed in on activities that prioritize mobility in the legs. The Patagonia Nine Trails and REI Active Pursuits are examples of how even in the realm of hiking, long-distance or thru-hiking endeavors might warrant a different sort of apparel altogether. These pairs are excellent alternatives, and our lead tester has personal experience using running-like shorts while on the Pacific Crest Trail instead of something more traditional for the category.
As a stand-out feature of outdoor apparel, we want to make sure the shorts that have resistance are rewarded for this 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 hiking ventures.
Water beads extraordinarily well on the DWR-coated Patagonia Skyline Traveler and on the water-resistant fabric of the Outdoor Research Ferrosi. During our tests, we were happy to find that the beading remained unchanged throughout the length of the water test, as in there was no apparent absorption from what we could tell. The third notable pair was the Patagonia Baggies, also DWR coated. We did notice minimal absorption, however, which was the case for many of the top scorers. The Mountain Hardwear Dynama 2 Bermuda, Patagonia Nine Trails, Patagonia Quandary, and REI Sahara Bermuda rank almost as high as the Baggies (as they also have DWR technology). There are only subtle differences between all the competitors mentioned above, ones that we only notice when we roll the water off the shorts. Most of these showcased both mild absorption and beading of water.
On the other side of the spectrum, we found the Houdini Wadi, REI Active Pursuits, and Prana Halle II, to have little to no water resistance at all. Even though water does absorb quickly on these three pairs, the materials breathe well enough to combat the absorption with quick drying times.
When it comes to extra pockets and neat material perks, every pair ends up being unique in its own way. Design features we've come across include a gusseted crotch, drawstring closure, belt loops or integrated belts, a contoured waistline, and side vents. Material features include elements like sun protection, odor control, and recycled materials. Pockets are the most obvious storage feature, and we make sure to critique the quality, depth, and security of the pockets. Brands like to have their own savvy terminology for their techy fabrics, but in the end, performance speaks louder than words.
The Mountain Hardwear Dynama 2 Bermuda has some of the most extensive fabric perks. With four deep pockets, anti-odor fabric, UPF 50, and PVC-free DWR treatment, these shorts have a technical and practical nature that is highly competitive. Too, the REI Sahara Bermuda, OR Ferrosi, and Patagonia Quandary all have an array of material advantages and design features. They also have ample pocket space, although the Quandary's pockets are more on the snug side due to the slim fit of the shorts. While many of the competitors appear to score the same, there are distinct nuances between them.
The Houdini Wadi is notable for its extra-deep pockets and gusseted crotch, but there isn't much else going on. The integrated belt is actually a point of contention for us, and we wish that Houdini would go back to the drawing board with their belt design. The OR Ferrosi belt design is easy to use, for example, but it also causes the waistband to cinch a tad if tightened down a lot.
The REI Active Pursuits and Patagonia Nine Trails only have one pocket each but their scores differ. The REI model has a small stash pocket inside the waistline as is typical of most lightweight running shorts. The Nine Trails, however, has a zippered pocket on the outside of the waistband at the back, which has proven very useful and is larger than most stash pockets. They also differ in that the REI model has far higher sun protection but the Nine Trails has odor control technology in the liner. These smaller metrics, however, balance out during our final calculations since we prioritize pocket quality, durability, and drying time over things like odor control.
When it comes to sun protection, the majority of the shorts explicitly have UPF ratings from 30-50. Most of the longer inseams or shorts that also sit lower on the waist will inevitably offer more protection for the legs. The Columbia Sandy River Cargo has a UPF rating of 30 and the Prana Halle II is equipped with UPF 50. Clothing that has a rating below 15 is considered not to have effective UV protection. It's likely the case that shorts not labeled as having explicit UV resistance are below this mark. Given that clothing is inherently going to block sunlight to some degree, we don't place too much weight on whether a fabric offers extra protection or not. Overall, shorts with minimal distinctive features, like the REI Active Pursuits, are still quality options. Even the Columbia Sandy River Cargo with its small, almost non-usable stash pocket.
Specific to quick-drying scores, the fastest drying models are the nylon or polyester-based lightweights, like the OR Ferrosi and the Patagonia Quandary, as the splash marks dried within minutes for these pairs. Having water resistance helps from the get-go as to the degree of how wet the fabric gets, so pairs like the Prana Halle II that soak water readily have a drying time that is to be expected for synthetic blends, and therefore are average performers.
It's easy to get mixed up in the technical perks and stylistic features of hiking shorts. Still, it's necessary to keep in mind the importance of comfort and mobility, especially if you plan to take extended trips in the backcountry. Even 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 scores in our tests, as well as the level of comfort the flexibility contributes. Each pair's material construction influences all metrics, from the feel to the environments each pair succeeds within. We hope we've provided you with the necessary information to choose the best pair of hiking shorts for your upcoming adventures.
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