With summer approaching and warm weather just around the corner, it might be time to pack up your full-coverage hiking pants in favor of something cooler and comfier, with all the must-have pockets and quick-dry materials you’d expect from tried-and-tested outdoor gear.
Like your favorite pair of trail trousers, a solid pair of hiking shorts can help shield against weather, protect your skin from abrasions, wick away moisture and stow all your must-have pocket-size hiking gear (like a map, lip balm, keys and GPS device) for easy access when you’re in the wilderness.
What to look for in hiking shorts
Similar to hiking pants, you’ll want to select a pair of trekking shorts based on fabric, fit and pockets. It’s also a great idea to try them on in person, if possible, buckle your pack’s hip belt and walk around the gear store to double-check that there’s no unexpected rubbing.
If you’re the type who likes to crush big miles on rugged terrain or enjoys backpacking through warm climates, a more traditional shorts profile, with belt loops and zippered, jeans-style pockets, might be worth the extra weight for the features offered. Likewise, if you know you’ll only be out for a quick jaunt or a one-hour trail run, a slimmer-profile, legging-style short with minimal pockets and enough length to prevent chafing may suffice (hot pants not recommended).
Lastly, the fabric you choose matters, and a higher-denier weave means that a product is less likely to scuff or get abrasions when you’re scrambling around on Joshua Tree’s boulders or pushing through brush on an unmaintained trail. Contrarily, an ultra-lightweight synthetic fabric will dry quicker after water sports and river crossings.
But, enough with the science. We asked our favorite outdoor writers and adventurers what shorts they grab first when they’re hitting the trail.
Here are the best expert-backed hiking shorts for your next warm weather journey.
Best men’s hiking shorts
Welcome to your new favorite pair of shorts. An offshoot of its bestselling Zion pant line, Prana has done it again with this sustainably made cargo short that’s rated UPF 50+ to protect your skin from the sun’s harmful rays. “The fabric is robust and durable yet lightweight and stretchy in all the right places,” says photographer Steven Rimlinger. “The 10-inch length sits perfectly on my body, and I appreciate the flap on the right rear to prevent my phone from falling out.”
Anyone who’s tried Outdoor Research’s iconic Ferrosi fabric knows that it is a best-in-class lightweight softshell weave, made with 46% recycled materials. On the trail, that means these shorts are stretchy and quick-drying, and they shed light weather (like a quick afternoon thunderstorm) with ease. Even better? This item is backed by OR’s lifetime guarantee.
Sometimes a mellow hike or an extra-sweltering day requires a simple, lightweight short, which is why Emmy-nominated makeup artist and lifestyle writer Karim Orange turns to Eddie Bauer’s Resonance Lite Training Shorts. She often prefers men’s shorts designs for their superior pocket options, noting that she loved wearing this pair during her land and sea explorations in the Galápagos Islands. “That was the type of trip where you sometimes get wet before the hike, and I found they dried very quickly,” she says.
On truly scorching days, it’s OK to skip the synthetic fabrics for a classic cotton/poly blend, and travel writer Keith Langston loves Buck Mason’s Deck Shorts for their four-way stretch and quick-dry finish. “They look great with a tank top for the beach, or a button-up for a restaurant,” he says, adding, “I love multitasking clothes because it means less to pack, so these shorts always go on every trip with me.”
As leaders in the industry when it comes to sustainability, conservation and forward-thinking design, it’s no surprise that Patagonia’s Quandary Shorts are such a fan favorite, earning 4.5 stars after hundreds of tested reviews. With their street-friendly style, front zippered pocket for stowing valuables and stretchy UPF 50+ fabric (composed with recycled nylon), these shorts should be a staple in any warm weather hiker’s closet.
This is the ultimate amphibian short for all you water-loving hikers out there. Made with a Bluesign-approved and Fair Trade Certified ultralight polyester blend, these babies boast a secret inner drawstring, key loop and flap-protected back pockets. “The build is solid yet flexible and light,” says Rimlinger. “I have hiked and danced on the beach with them, and they feel great.”
Lululemon has been on a fashion-forward tear recently, using traditional outdoor gear fabrics to create thoughtful, street-styled gear that seamlessly transitions from trail to town. The License to Train Linerless Short is a fabulous example of this, boasting three zippered pockets and coming in loads of fun colors. “The material is thicker than Lulu's other shorts, so you don’t feel like you're traveling around in nothing but tissue paper,” says Langston. “Plus, the fabric is sweat-wicking and quick-drying, so you can wear them all day long, whether it’s on a hiking trail or exploring the Upper East Side.”
As purveyors of some of the finest-quality alpine climbing clothing in the business, it’s impressive to see that Arc’teryx also delivers in the summer shorts department. Just as their name implies, the Gamma Shorts are made with quick-dry TerraTex nylon that’s super wind-resistant and has got just the right amount of stretch. Five secure, zippered pockets stash your favorite small gear safely, whether you’re scaling a 14er or learning to climb at your local crag.
Best women’s hiking shorts
With a cute, no-chafe design and an impressive number of pockets to boot, Eddie Bauer’s Guide Pro Shorts are a no-brainer for warm adventure days. “They're treated with a water-repellent finish and are easily packable for multi-day trips in the dirt,” says Orange, who once worked as a concierge in the adventure mecca of Moab. “This was my go-to short while exploring the national parks in Utah. They allowed me to be very comfortable while hiking in 107-degree weather”
Bike shorts are, like, so hot right now, and Stio recently launched a new, hiker-friendly design for when you want to wear your comfy, body-hugging leggings but don’t want to overheat in the sun. The Glide Tech 9-Inch Short is made of a super-stretchy nylon and spandex blend and is treated with an antimicrobial finish to help avoid any funky smells in the wild. Two stash hip pockets and a small, secret waist pocket combine to make these a lightweight, form-fitting design for day hikes, dog walks and trips around town.
Like Lululemon, Vuori is really making waves with its cute, fashion-forward athletic wear, and the Clementine Short 2.0 is a wonderful example of an ultralight, breezy short that’s as at home on the beach boardwalk as it is on a scorching day hike (just don’t forget the sunscreen). Adventure photographer and climber Paulina Dao loves the diverse array of bright colors that this design comes in, adding that they are “super flattering for those who carry their weight in their midsection, because the waistband is ultra soft and wide and doesn't give muffin top.”
Patagonia has mastered the art of the no-chafe shortie with this not-too-short, not-so-long-they’re-nerdy design. The women’s Quandary 5-inch Shorts are made with stretch-woven nylon (62% of which is recycled) and spandex, with a durable water-repellant finish to shed weather during those summer afternoon downpours. The front pockets are stylish and unzippered like your favorite pair of jeans, while one of the back pockets offers a security zipper to stash valuables.
Similar to the Stio shorts that made our list, Arc’teryx has launched a fab take on the bike-shorts-as-fashion trend with this tummy-tucking high-rise stunner, made with Bluesign-approved stretch nylon interlock. This design also boasts a snug side pocket, but it is significantly shorter than Stio’s Glide Tech, with an inseam of just 5 inches for when you want to show a little skin on the dirt singletrack.
If you’re looking for something extra light and you don’t want a crotch-hugging liner, get Vuori’s Dash Short, says Dao. “The inseam is slightly longer than the shortest Clementine, and it has awesome pockets,” she says. Tack on this model’s perforated panels for all-day breathability, and you’ve got yourself a match made in hot hike heaven.
Made with a Fair Trade Certified recycled polyester and spandex blend, Patagonia’s Nine Trails Shorts are as breathable as they are comfortable. That’s why CNN Underscored contributor and founder of WildKind, Heather Balough Rockfort, turns to them when the weather is at its hottest. “They're lightweight and comfortable, so they don't feel heavy or hot, and they move well on steep sections with big steps,” she says.
Designed with spring and summer multi-sport adventures in mind (check out the lineup of fresh, new colors), Outdoor Research’s Women’s Ferrosi Shorts are every bit as awesome as the men’s design. Made with improved, 46% recycled quick-dry softshell fabric, this pair comes with a thin waist belt and ample pocket space for your phone, keys and wallet. “If you're looking for something a little more traditionally outdoorsy, I think that the Outdoor Research Ferrosi shorts are really solid,” says Dao.
Offering street-smart colors like Psychic, Laurel Green and Pink Clay, Lululemon has once again proven that you can dress smartly on the trail, no matter the season. These multi-pocket cargo shorts feature abrasion-resistant fabric and extra-deep pockets so that your phone won’t fly out when you’re forest bathing in the sequoias. “They're light yet sturdy, and have pockets and loops to make you feel ready for anything,” says Megan Spurrell, senior editor at Condé Nast Traveler. “My only advice is to consider sizing up — that wide elastic waistband is a little snugger than expected.”
Of course, when you’re just going out for an easy stroll or to walk your dog around the neighborhood, sometimes simple is the best solution, which is why Spurrell also recommended Free People’s Good Karma Running Shorts. “When it's hot out, I want something fitted and with a slightly longer inseam (who wants to chafe on a long summer hike?),” she says. “These are a basic that transitions from trail to city run to dinner. They're simple and comfy as can be.”
These durable, lightweight softshell shorts are the ultimate in technical, warm weather hiking gear. Wind- and rain-resistant, the Gamma Short is lightweight and quick-drying, and it boasts three zippered pockets to ensure that your favorite small accessories don’t fall off a craggy cliff face. Plus, it’s made with Bluesign-approved materials, so you can rest assured that your purchase is good for factory workers and the environment.
The next time you want to look flirty and fashionable on the trail (or maybe grab a cocktail In town right afterward), reach for Athleta’s Trekkie North Short, which not only comes in funky fresh patterns and colors but also offers a majority of the technical features hard-hitting hikers require when they’re out all day. Two deep, front zippered pockets easily stow a phone and your keys or a map, plus the stretchy waistband is comfortable and forgiving for those of us who still have a few Covid pounds. Lastly, the brand is committed to sustainability, using high-performance recycled nylon in this design.
One of my favorite hiking shorts designs to come out in the last few years, Livsn has really outdone itself with its Ecotrek Trail Shorts. The 4-inch inseam is long enough to avoid chafing but short enough to look cute in town, and deep front pockets ensure that your phone and wallet are always close at hand. Zippered back and hip pockets add extra security and storage options, plus Livsn uses 70% Blue Ocean fabric (made from discarded recycled plastic bottles) in its proprietary textile blend.