After researching more than 75 pairs available in 2021, we purchased the best 10 women's hiking shorts for head-to-head testing. We've built an extensive foundation to find the ideal shorts for specific uses and conditions. We focus on comfort, function, breathability, versatility, and style to rank each model against one another. With a variety of inseam lengths, from short to long, we also hope to cater to a wider spectrum of wants and needs, as well as uses beyond purely hiking. From strolls around town to strenuous hikes to bike rides and more, we test each contender as thoroughly as possible. Here, you'll be able to see for yourself what we feel to be top performers and value purchases.Related: Best Hiking Pants for Women of 2021
Best Hiking Shorts for Women of 2021
|Price||$49.73 at REI|
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|$29.99 at Backcountry|
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|Pros||Comfortable, water-resistant, breathable, versatile for general outdoor recreation||Stylish, comfortable, versatile||Lightweight, breathable, athletic, low price||Affordable, water resistant, breathable||Ultralight, versatile, stylish|
|Cons||Not the cheapest, not the most stylish||Minimal water resistance, minimal features||Baggy looking, no hand pockets||Unnecessary belt, small cargo pockets||Lack of stretch in waistband, not as comfortable|
|Bottom Line||A versatile and high-performing pair of shorts with subtle styling and deep pockets||Style and function combine to offer greater versatility, breathability, and high comfort||A seeming hybrid between hiking and running shorts, these aerobics-focused shorts offer high comfort but no hand pockets||Functional and fun, these shorts cover all the basics||A very technical pair of long shorts with added style|
|Rating Categories||Dynama 2 Bermuda||Prana Alana||Active Pursuits 4.5"||Sandy River Cargo||Arc'teryx Sabria|
|Comfort And Mobility (35%)|
|Venting And Breathability (20%)|
|Water Resistance (15%)|
|Specs||Dynama 2 Bermuda||Prana Alana||Active Pursuits 4.5"||Sandy River Cargo||Arc'teryx Sabria|
|Weight (in oz)||4.6 oz||6.7 oz||4.9 oz||5.1 oz||4.4 oz|
|Material||94% nylon, 6% elastane||95% recycled nylon, 5% spandex||86% polyester/14% spandex (liner: recycled polyester | rib: 91% polyester, 9% spandex)||100% nylon||87% nylon, 13% elastane|
|Water Resistance||DWR||Minimal||Minimal||Perfecta Plus II quick-dry||Minimal|
|Sizing (waist, length options)||XS - XL||0 - 14||XS - XL||XS - XL||00 - 14, 8.75" inseam|
|Sun Protection||UPF 50||UPF 50||UPF 50||Yes, UPF 30||No|
|Waist Strap/Fasten||Elastic waistband||Double metal snap, zip fly||Elastic waistband||Elastic waistband with plastic snap and zipper fly, optional belt||Elastic waistband, internal drawstring|
Best Overall Women's Hiking Shorts
Mountain Hardwear Dynama 2 Bermuda
The Mountain Hardwear Dynama 2 Bermuda shorts are very comfortable and made with flexible, breathable fabric. The wide elastic waistband makes it easy to pull over our hips. The pockets actually hold and secure a phone without feeling uncomfortable. This pair scores high in all our metrics and even incorporates some 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 summer fun.
If we had to gripe about something, style might be the only questionable 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. Best used for all sorts of adventures, truly, we highly recommend this Bermuda.
Read review: Mountain Hardwear Dynama 2 Bermuda
Best Bang for the Buck
Columbia Sandy River Cargo - Women's
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. These shorts nearly have it all.
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 there is a lack of style in these shorts. 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.
Read review: Columbia Sandy River Cargo - Women's
Best for Trail Running and Distance Hikes
REI Co-op Active Pursuits 4.5" - Women's
The REI Active Pursuits are a great alternative to the traditional hiking short design. With minimalism in mind, these shorts are all about simplicity and comfort. The fabric is breathable, quick-drying, and offers UPF 50 sun protection. The versatility is also high when it comes to cross-sport activity due to its baggy, and therefore roomy, nature. When backpacking, thru-hiking, or going on trail runs, the Pursuits can be a technical, breezy choice.
In the realm of casual hiking and other slower-paced endeavors, however, having no hand pockets can be a huge detraction. The style is also quite baggy and can be a little unflattering. But, overall, we understand that these relative drawbacks aren't at the forefront of a thru-hikers mind. If you're carrying a backpack around with you, having hand pockets isn't always necessary. These shorts aren't for all hiking needs, but for hot weather hiking and general aerobic activities, they are great.
Read Review: REI Co-op Active Pursuits 4.5" - Women's
Best for Style
For its combination of style and performance, the Prana Alana has become a favorite of ours. A fun, versatile pair, the fabric is flexible enough for most activities and is one of the most water-resistant pairs we've tested. We are also really grateful for the large pockets. This pair also won the most compliments when out and about, and we are stoked that the performance matches the good looks.
However, the one downside is that breathability is rather average since the material is highly water-resistant. Feature-wise they're fairly standard as well, but they do provide UPF 50+ and they are made with recycled nylon. Overall, they wear well and transfer easily into town. We love this modern version of a more traditional hiking short, and that they are useful for more than just hiking.
Read review: Prana Alana
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 tends to divide her time between California 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 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 then scored them according to 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 California. 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. 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.
Related: How We Tested Hiking Short for Women
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. With varying inseam lengths, these competitors have their unique blends of fashion and practicality. All the models utilize synthetic materials, whether it be a hint of spandex with cotton or a durable fabric entirely constructed with nylon. The variety of materials makes for an interesting range of flexibility and technical features, but the rating metric with the most potential to be a deal-breaker is our first one: comfort and mobility.
Price doesn't impact performance ratings but does influence our baseline impressions of the apparel's overall value since 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, however, 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 in 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 all the 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 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 simply walk out and about in a casual setting is a massive strike. Keep in mind that if something doesn't sit/fit 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 steep 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. Too, the cut of 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 up steep trails with steps. 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 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.
The Arc'teryx Sabria is another example of a pair with a long inseam (8.75 inches) and slim cut that doesn't restrict movement necessarily but does have some issues with fit. With flexible and elastic fabric, they allow for endless movement, yet the waistband itself hardly stretches at all, creating frustration with pulling them over larger hips. They are form-fitting from hips to partially down the thigh, making sizing tricky for curvy bodies similar to the Patagonia Skyline pair.
Other shorts that performed well in this metric are the REI Active Pursuits and the Prana Alana. They 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, and the Houdini Wadi are all somewhat middle of the road due to similar drawbacks in waistband design and fit. The Sandy River shorts run small and have a snug, scrunchy waistband that doesn't the best after long hours. The Patagonia Baggies have the same 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. Too, tightening it up enough to prevent the shorts from falling down causes the fabric to cinch and fold, lending to discomfort over time.
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 the summer heat. Breathability is crucial for body temperature regulation. So, we consider how performance might be affected by a lack of venting or of having highly breathable fabric, which will only lead to discomfort. Our experiences reveal that most breathable shorts are 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. They are thin and breezy and they both have large leg openings; thus, a baggier fit around the legs, creating 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.
Other notable pairs include the Houdini Wadi, Prana Alana, 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 less venting 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. There are so many nuances when it comes to this metric. Many of the shorts rank sufficient in this category, as breathability becomes more and more inherent in hiking apparel design. However, when it comes to venting, the more cotton-based shorts like the Patagonia Stand Up and the Outdoor Research Wadi Rum have limited capabilities. These two barely let light and air through during our tests. Granted, they work well enough and are adequate for casual, warm-weather outings.
Being multi-functional is a benefit when you want to lean down your wardrobe or you live in a place with distinct seasons. We feel that 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 risk being rather unappealing for wear into 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 might express different preferences, too, especially for inseam length.
We feel the most versatile pairs 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, Arc'Teryx Sabria, Houdidni Wadi, and even the Patagonia Skyline are going to provide more flexibility in shoulder seasons and among a variety of sports or activities. They tend to be more comfortable on a bike ride, too, and provide more coverage for activities like yoga. Of these longer shorts, the Dynama 2 is hands-down the most versatile option.
Style alone, we feel the most notable pair is the Prana Alana due to its modern take on traditional, or "old school," hiking fashion. They are chic and functional, and we wore them often to run errands or dine out in.
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 REI Active Pursuits is an example of how even in the realm of hiking, long-distance or thru-hiking endeavors might require a different sort of apparel altogether. This pair is an excellent option for backpacking, 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.
If you're after a relatively youthful design, the Patagonia Stand Up is subjectively the most "hip" of the bunch due to its 3-inch inseam and vintage-inspired high waist, but they aren't very useful in the gym. They rank at the bottom for this metric since they also don't offer much flexibility for shoulder-season weather. Other pairs that don't fare so well here are the Columbia Sandy River Cargo and Patagonia Baggies, which earned average scores for their shorter inseams and baggy nature, which can limit, in our opinion, their varieties of use, season, and style.
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 summer ventures.
Water beads extraordinarily well on the DWR coated Patagonia Skyline Traveler. During our test, we were happy to find that the beading remained unchanged throughout the whole testing period, as in, there was no apparent absorption from what we could tell. The second 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 ranks almost as high as the Baggies (as it also has DWR technology), while the Columbia and Arc'teryx Sabria shorts rank slightly 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. 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, Prana Alana, OR Wadi Rum, and Patagonia Standup have little to no water resistance at all. Even though water does absorb quickly on these three pairs, the materials breathe well enough (except for the Patagonia Standup) 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, button closure, and a contoured waistline. Material features include elements like sun protection or odor control. 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, the 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. 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 think that the belt design needs to completely re-thought. While many of the competitors appear to score the same, there are distinct nuances between them.
For example, the Arc'Teryx Sabria only has two pockets on the thighs but scores high for sun protection and quick drying time. The Patagonia Standup on the other hand has ample pocket storage but dries far more slowly than most and provides very little sun protection for how short they are. 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 are of the longer inseams like the Columbia Sandy River Cargo, which has a UPF rating of 30, and the Prana Alana, which 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. Too, clothing is inherently going to block sunlight, which is why 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 or OR Wadi Rum are still quality options. The REI model nonetheless suffered the most from the lack of pockets, which we feel is an oversight in design (they feel more like traditional running shorts in this regard). We also have critique over the small, almost non-usable stash pocket on the Columbia Sandy River Cargo.
Specific to quick-drying scores, the fastest drying models are the nylon or polyester-based lightweights, like the Arc'teryx Sabria and the Patagonia Baggies, as the splash marks dried within minutes for these pairs. But those with mainly cotton construction, like the Patagonia Standup, took over half an hour to feel completely dry to the touch.
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 in. We hope we've provided you with the necessary information to choose the best pair of hiking shorts for your upcoming adventures.
— Sara Aranda