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Seeking the best hiking shorts? After researching over 50 models available today, our expert hikers purchased and tested 12 models of the highest quality 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.
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 the human and environmental impact that their purchases make; 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. All in all, 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 as well as their water resistance. However, it turns out they are one of the lightest pairs in the category and a highly practical option for a wide range of uses.
The biggest issue is that many of the pocket openings are small. The cargo and rear pockets all have top security flaps, and it's hard to get items out. One small detail is the corner of the fabric near the button is surprisingly sharp and sometimes rub 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. For those who prioritize practicality and price, these shorts are a great option.
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 that we want when we are on the move all day. Elastic in the waist and a drawstring keep these shorts in place. The liner is finished with an odor control treatment, which is especially useful if wearing again and again and again without the opportunity (or energy) to wash them.
They are great for all kinds of hiking and other physical activity, but the style limits their versatility. They look like a classic pair of running shorts, so we wouldn't go from the trail into town with them. We love this pair, and grab them on our warm-weather endurance adventures.
The Arc'teryx Palisade is one of our favorites for its feature set. This model has a soft, felt-lined waistband and a sleek integrated belt. We love that every single pocket has a zipper on it, and even though there are five of them, they still manage to blend pretty seamlessly into the rest of the short without that strong cargo shorts look. The hems around the legs are also sealed in such a way that they are almost invisible, and the cut is a good balance between form and function.
For a pair that otherwise has carefully considered features, we're unsure about the fly. It is short and impractical. They are also by far the most expensive model that we tested. We know we want them, but the price tag is enough to make us think twice about how much we need them. Dollars and cents aside, if you appreciate good design and quality construction, these shorts are for you.
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).
After researching over 50 models of hiking shorts during three years of formal testing (and much more in personal experience), we chose the most promising to test hands-on. From there, 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, as well as 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 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 their products.. Below, we discuss standouts in each of our scoring metrics: 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 what you spend translates to what you get. Some items might be incredibly expensive, but have the quality to back it 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 that 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 also 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 pair an integrated belt with a stretch fabric blend and slightly looser fit. The Patagonia Quandary and Outdoor Research Ferrosi sort of split the difference between the first two variations; 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 Columbia Silver Ridge II Stretch, and Prana Brion both include some comfort elements but we wanted a slightly longer inseam and better-fitting waist.
When you close your eyes and think of a pair of shorts, there are a few key components that 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, as well as waist tightening systems, with integrated belts, drawstrings, or traditional belt loops being the most common. Fly and fly zipper length and ease of use are also variables that we note.
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 Arc'teryx Palisade. It showcases an excellent array of pockets that all include zipper closures, which are great for peace of mind whether you are in the front or backcountry. The integrated belt is simple and sleek and the snap is easy to use. 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 you are moving quickly.
The Fjallraven Abisko is an honorable mention here as well. Overall, we aren't convinced that 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 a variety of activities. We took each pair on hikes, of course, both shorter day-long adventures as well as 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 not only on function but on the way something looks as well. 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 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. They edge out the Arc'teryx Palisade, which also earns high marks. With its cargo pockets and more rugged-feeling material, it leans more towards the practical while still maintaining a minimalist aesthetic.
A pleasant surprise in this metric 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 a lot of folks seek), but we love these shorts for their style. If you live in a drier climate and just want a good-looking pair, this is it. 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, REI Co-Op Active Pursuits, and Columbia Silver Ridge II also perform admirably for each leveraging different combinations of versatility.
Venting and Breathability
We think about venting as the design elements that facilitate the escape of heat from the body and the rate of sweat evaporation. For shorts, this is 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.
In terms of 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, as well as 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). With the exception of the Columbia Silver Ridge, all of the other shorts in this category have notably thicker fabric than the top contenders in the metric.
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 that 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 cmay use the same DWR (durable water repellent) coating, but 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 a pair that is more heavily coated but takes longer to dry. An interesting phenomenon that we encountered during testing is that 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 and Columbia Silver Ridge II Stretch (both lightweight and moderately resistant), and the Arc'teryx Palisade (thicker and very water-resistant) all follow 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 with the REI Active Pursuits. This model comes with an interior liner that is significantly thinner and more breathable than wearing underwear. The shorts themselves also have a high inseam and thin fabric. They aren't water-resistant at all, but they dry fast. The Patagonia Nine Trails is similar, but the interior liner is longer (more like compression shorts) and takes slightly more time to dry.
It's easy to get caught up in the technical details of materials and design and sometimes that stuff matters. However, with shorts, you need a pair you can turn to again and again without thinking about it. After hours of research and hundreds of trail miles, we are confident we found the best of the best. From best overall to best bang for the buck and a couple of specialty pairs, our experts put hundreds of miles into these models to be able to speak to their advantages and their 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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