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The Best Hiking Shorts for Women of 2019

By Sara Aranda ⋅ Review Editor
Wednesday June 5, 2019
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Looking for an excellent pair of shorts to handle all of life's adventures? After researching over 75 pairs, we purchased the best 8 for 2019. Each pair was put through an extensive testing process, and we focused on measuring breathability, functionality, and style. We also made sure to include a variety of inseam lengths, from short to long. From stretching in a gym to autumn strolls beneath the turning trees to steep approaches to a favorite crag, we tested these shorts as broadly and as thoughtfully as possible. When it's time to start scheming for all your warm-weather hiking endeavors, you'll want to think about the best shorts for the task. Read on for detailed results and current award winners.


Top 8 Product Ratings

Displaying 1 - 5 of 8
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Awards Editors' Choice Award Top Pick Award Best Buy Award   
Price $39.95 at Backcountry
Compare at 2 sellers
$22.98 at Amazon$29.99 at Backcountry
Compare at 2 sellers
$38.98 at Backcountry
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$34.98 at Backcountry
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Overall Score Sort Icon
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Pros Trendy, comfortable, lightweightComfortable, stretchy, longAffordable, water resistant, breathableLightweight, water resistant, versatileAnti-odor, moisture wicking, quick drying
Cons Shorter inseam, no water resistanceOnly one pocket, not the most flatteringUnnecessary belt, small cargo pocketsRuns big, abrasive waistbandExpensive, runs large, not ideal for incline
Bottom Line A highly comfortable, performance-based hiking short.Boldly athletic, these shorts are lengthy and comfortable.Functional and fun, these shorts cover all the basics.For water sports or hiking, these classic baggies are light and casual.A more conservative pair of shorts that are ideal for flat trails.
Rating Categories Aphrodite 2.0 Short Back Beauty Long Sport Sandy River Cargo Baggies 5" Sol Cool Nomad Short
Comfort And Mobility (35%)
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6
Venting And Breathability (20%)
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Versatility (15%)
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Water Resistance (15%)
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Features (15%)
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Specs Aphrodite 2.0 Short Back Beauty Long... Sandy River Cargo Baggies 5" Sol Cool Nomad Short
Weight (in oz) 4.4 oz 5.4 oz 5.1 oz 5.2 oz 4.9 oz
Material 95% nylon, 5% elastane OMNI-SHADE and OMNI-SHIELD 89% polyester/11% elastane Max Lite double weave OMNI SHADE 100% nylon Perfecta Plus II 100% nylon (92% recycled) 100% nylon
Water Resistance None (Flashdry™-XD quick-dry) Omni-Shield repellancy Perfecta Plus II quick-dry DWR coating Sol Cool™ Jade quick-dry
Sizing (waist, length options) XS - XXL, 4" or 6" inseam XS - XL XS - XL XXS,XS, S, M, L, XL 2 - 16
Sun Protection No Yes, UPF 50 Yes, UPF 30 No Yes, UPF 50
Convertible, or option available? No No No No No
Pockets 3 1 4 2 5
Waist Strap/Fasten Elastic waistband with drawstring Elastic waistband Elastic waistband with plastic snap and zipper fly, optional belt Elastic waistband with drawstring Two metal snaps and zipper fly
Other Features Flashdry-XD quick-dry fabric, triple needle stitch for durability, zip stash pocket Elastic, athetic, contoured fit, one stash pocket Zip cargo pocket, quick-dry nylon fabric Fair Trade Certified sewing SILVADUR coating in fabric activates silver ions to reduce odor, zip stash pockets, tricot-lined waistband
Warranty Limited Lifetime Warranty One Year Good Faith Guarantee One Year Good Faith Guarantee Ironclad Guarantee 1-Year Warranty

Best Overall Hiking Short


The North Face Aphrodite 2.0 Short


Editors' Choice Award

$39.95
at Backcountry
See It

78
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Comfort and Mobility - 35% 9
  • Venting and Breathability - 20% 8
  • Versatility - 15% 7
  • Water Resistance - 15% 6
  • Features - 15% 7
Weight: 4.4 oz | Inseam: 3.5 inches
Stretchy and comfortable
Affordable
Highly breathable
Short inseam
Absorbs water

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 move from hiking to casual settings.

These are hard to criticize, but depending on your preferences, a possible drawback is how short they are. Thankfully, The North Face offers a longer inseam option for this very model. Thus, the main flaw we found is in the lack of water resistance. On the other hand, the quick-drying quality of the fabric makes up for how well it absorbs water.

Read review: The North Face Aphrodite 2.0

Best Bang for the Buck


Columbia Sandy River Cargo - Women's


Best Buy Award

$29.99
at Backcountry
See It

76
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Comfort and Mobility - 35% 7
  • Venting and Breathability - 20% 9
  • Versatility - 15% 7
  • Water Resistance - 15% 8
  • Features - 15% 7
Weight: 5.1 oz | Inseam: 6 inches
Lightweight material
UPF 30 sun protection
Highly breathable
Belt is pointless
Cargo pockets are too small

Quirky and yet fundamental, these shorts are technical and easy to move around in. Performing well beyond expectations, 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 definitely 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. A few of the features seemed to slightly miss the mark, too, such as the "cargo" accessory pockets; they are actually quite small and undesirable for practical use. Regardless, the athletic and versatile nature of these shorts is what ranks them at the top - and makes them the winner of our Best Buy Award.

Read review: Columbia Sandy River Cargo - Women's

Top Pick for Length & Features


Columbia Back Beauty Long Sport


Top Pick Award

$22.98
(52% off)
at Amazon
See It

77
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Comfort and Mobility - 35% 8
  • Venting and Breathability - 20% 8
  • Versatility - 15% 7
  • Water Resistance - 15% 9
  • Features - 15% 6
Weight: 5.4 oz | Inseam: 11 inches
Stretchy material
Affordable
Water and stain resistant
Lack of pockets
Not the most flattering

As practical as athleticwear can get, these are all about lasting through the trek. Minimally designed, don't misread the simple look for a lack of technicality. Seemingly legging-inspired, the design is snug around the hips but baggy around the legs. This is a plus for many of the metrics, like mobility. We also like how comforting and low-profile they are beneath shirts and backpacks.

The fit can be a con, however, when it comes to the general aesthetics of the shorts and their singular function as athletic wear. At first glance, they almost look like cycling shorts. Bottom line: with only one security zip, the most apparent setback is the lack of pockets.

Read review: Columbia Back Beauty Long Sport


Our lead tester is shown wearing The North Face Aphrodite 2.0 on a casual scramble.
Our lead tester is shown wearing The North Face Aphrodite 2.0 on a casual scramble.

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 all of these pursuits. As a writer, she has been published by Alpinist, The Climbing Zine, The American Poetry Review, Boulder Weekly, and others. Sara is also an ambassador for the No Man's Land Film Festival, and works as a representative for outdoor brands on occasion. Her background as an outdoor athlete well-equipped her to identify the fundamentals and finer points of women's hiking short performance, and 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 8 from an initial group of over 75 pairs of shorts. After ordering these, we rated them on a number of metrics that we consider to be fundamental performance aspects of this gear category. Our ratings in all these metrics, besides water resistance, were informed through field testing primarily on trails in Colorado and Utah. We tested water resistance by splash-testing the fabric of each pair side-by-side. We wore each model all day to get a well-developed notion of their relative comfort, and tried to embody the intermediate hiker in our outings to understand how well these shorts fit their needs.

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 each had their own unique blend of fashion and practicality. All are made with some sort of synthetic material, whether it be a hint of spandex in cotton or a durable fabric entirely constructed from nylon. The variety of materials make for an interesting range of flexibility and technical features, but the metric with the most potential to be a deal-breaker is comfort and mobility.

Finding the right balance between stretch and durability is tricky for hiking shorts  especially for longer inseams.
Finding the right balance between stretch and durability is tricky for hiking shorts, especially for longer inseams.

Along the foothills of Colorado and in the vast desert of Utah, we tested each short with the goal of finding out which one fits the high-standard bill for this season's best hiking shorts. 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 and numerous well-known, well-revered brands.

Value


Price doesn't impact performance ratings, but they do influence our baseline impressions of the apparel, as a fair price is always a plus. Our pick for Editors' Choice, The North Face Aphrodite 2.0 is also incredibly affordable amongst our fleet, 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 tested are either mid-rise or high-waisted; this means that while sitting down or squatting, nothing accidentally peeps out on us. Higher rises also increase the likeliness of finding comfort beneath a pack.

Scores didn't necessarily shrink as inseam length increases because they are dependent on the elasticity of the material. From technical terrain to the low-key stroll, each short is critiqued on whether or not our movement was restricted while trying to high-step, hike up a long incline, or while simply walking out and about in a casual setting. 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 handled 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, the material never bunched up on us or felt cumbersome, scoring consistently high across the board for this metric. Being that this metric carries the most weight, setbacks are critical.

Mobility is non-issue for the short and sweet Aphrodite 2.0 by The North Face. Our lead tester is shown scrambling in them without resistance.
Mobility is non-issue for the short and sweet Aphrodite 2.0 by The North Face. Our lead tester is shown scrambling in them without resistance.

Consider how the shorts might feel beneath a backpack with a hip belt. If they are bulky in the waistband, with large buttons and a hefty zipper, long-term comfort might be drastically impacted.

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 was 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 quite readily while hiking. Even the stretch is minimal for high-stepping, but the 3-inch inseam helped mitigate this issue.

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 comfort, and in the end, maintained. Influenced largely by the materials used, our testing revealed that the most breathable shorts are made with lightweight, synthetic blends.


The top performer in this metric is the Columbia Sandy River Cargo, made with nylon. They are thin and breezy but differ drastically in style. The Sandy River is much baggier fitting around the legs, which adds to the ventilation factor.

Having a wider 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.

These high-waisted shorts are breezy and casual. The belt is optional  however  and only adds extra weight.
These high-waisted shorts are breezy and casual. The belt is optional, however, and only adds extra weight.

Coming close in competition, other notable pairs include the Columbia Back Beauty, mostly made of polyester, and the Patagonia Baggies, which are made entirely with nylon. Many of the shorts ranked well in this category due to the very nature of our modern, yet rugged outdoor apparel standards, such as the need to stand up to extensive hiking and climbing, sometimes days on end. The more cotton-based shorts, such as the Patagonia Stand Up and the Outdoor Research Wadi Rum, however, offer limited capabilities when it comes to venting. But they are nonetheless adequate for casual, warm-weather outing.

The bagginess of the Patagonia Baggies aids in their ability to vent.
The bagginess of the Patagonia Baggies aids in their ability to vent.

Versatility


Being multi-functional is a benefit when you want to streamline your wardrobe or live in the mountains. 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 (i.e., inseam length) and thus is something to keep in mind.


Beyond aesthetics, we acknowledge the multi-sport benefits as well. 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, trail 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. As such, having a more extensive range of seasonal wear is always a plus. This is why the Kuhl Splash scores 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.

These Kuhl Splash are cute enough for casual wear and long enough for colder temperatures.
These Kuhl Splash are cute enough for casual wear and long enough for colder temperatures.

In second place sits five of the shorts, the notable ones being 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. A pair that doesn't fare so well, in comparison, is the ExOfficio Sol Cool Nomad due to its more singularly-oriented travel style and its lack of flexibility for activities other than walking across non-technical terrain.

A very cute trail option with adequate mobility  the Wadi Rum is above average for versatility.
A very cute trail option with adequate mobility, the Wadi Rum is above average for versatility.

Water Resistance


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 is the perfect combination for summer ventures into the woods.


Water beaded 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. Both the ExOfficio and Columbia Back Beauty shared first place with the Baggies, while the Columbia Sandy River Cargo ranked next in line. It was a subtle difference that we only noticed when we rolled the water off the shorts. The more resistant the shorts, the more the water rolled without leaving any soaking water behind.

Water resistance is an important feature for an ideal hiking short. Here water is shown beading just the way we want it to on the Patagonia Baggies.
Water resistance is an important feature for an ideal hiking short. Here water is shown beading just the way we want it to on the Patagonia Baggies.

On the other side of the spectrum, it was unfortunate to find that quality shorts like the KUHL Splash and TNF Aphrodite 2.0 had no water resistance whatsoever. While the water absorbed quickly during our test, the materials breathed well enough to combat the absorption with quick drying times.

The results of our water resistance test. The Back Beauty shorts are highly resistant.
The results of our water resistance test. The Back Beauty shorts are highly resistant.

Features


When it comes to extra pockets and neat material perks, this is where every short ends up being unique in its own way. Stylistic features 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 came 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 unquestionable. While the KUHL Splash also has numerous pockets, they aren't the most spacious. The 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.

The cargo-inspired pockets are decently sized and have snap closures. There are 6 pockets total for the KUHL Splash.
The cargo-inspired pockets are decently sized and have snap closures. There are 6 pockets total for the KUHL Splash.

In regards to sun protection, four of the shorts explicitly have UPF ratings from 30-50. All of them 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.

Clothing that has a rating below 15 is considered not to have effective UV-protection. We think it's safe to assume that the shorts not labeled as having explicit UV resistance are likely below this mark.

Yet, the shorts with minimal distinctive features are still quality options. The Patagonia Stand Up is the most basic when compared to the others. With four, albeit deep pockets, and durable stitching, they simply don't shine as well as the more performance-based, quick-drying pairs for this category.

Accessory pockets and material features are where the Sol Cool Nomad shorts truly shine.
Accessory pockets and material features are where the Sol Cool Nomad shorts truly shine.

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 Patagonia Baggies, 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.

Conclusion


The North Face Aphrodite 2.0 earns the title for Best Overall, with the Columbia Sandy River Cargo taking the Best Buy award. The Columbia Back Beauty Long Sport short is our Top Pick for those wanting a healthy combination of lengthy coverage, technical features, and key 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 water is encountered.

It's easy to get mixed up in the technical perks and stylistic features, but 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 of how well each pair scored in our tests, as well as the level of comfort said stretch contributes. The material of each pair influences all metrics, from the feel and level of comfort to the optimal 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!

The Sandy River Cargo shorts are roomy enough to do more than just hiking. Here we have them out for a casual run.
The Sandy River Cargo shorts are roomy enough to do more than just hiking. Here we have them out for a casual run.


Sara Aranda