There is no set standard for hiking attire, and nowadays, hikers will be seen wearing everything from running shorts to clothes that are water-resistant and quick to dry. One of those might even be your best choice depending on the circumstances and the day’s goal. However, there are also a variety of shorts designed specifically for hiking, boasting attributes like tough and breathable materials, useful storage, waistbelts that fit snugly and ride comfortably under a backpack hipbelt, and more. Hiking shorts are a great place to start if you’re looking for a tool that will perform the best and last the longest for the job. The good news is that there are many different products available on the market, ranging from technical, performance-ready options to more laid-back styles that look just as good in the city as they do on the trail.
Wearing Running Shorts for Hiking
We’ll be honest: We frequently hike in running shorts. In terms of advantages, they’re light, provide excellent comfort and range of motion, and dry quickly—they’re especially great on unusually warm days or when incorporating some running into your hike. There are, however, a number of obvious drawbacks. Lack of storage is one example. While some pairs of running shorts have no pockets, others only have one or two tiny pouches big enough to hold a set of keys or a pair of earbuds.
Running shorts won’t hold up well to trail abuse because of their thinner constructions, and hiking shorts will undoubtedly offer much more value over time when compared on a dollar-for-dollar basis. Finally, running shorts provide very little protection from the sun, wind, and cold, annoying bugs, and sharp branches due to their short inseams and thin fabric. We do, however, appreciate the comfort they offer and believe that, in terms of simple yet supportive waistbands and free-flowing designs, hiking shorts could learn a thing or two from running shorts.
Things To Consider When Choosing Hiking Shorts
Hiking Shorts Materials
The majority of hiking shorts are made of nylon or polyester, just like hiking pants. Due to their lightweight construction, these materials offer excellent freedom of movement and are comparatively durable, breathable, and moisture-wicking. Elastane or spandex is frequently used in designs to give them more stretch, which is great for everything from high-stepping over logs to pitching a tent. The increased thickness also increases the shorts’ toughness, making them ideal for sitting on uneven surfaces, brushing up against rocks and branches, and withstanding the strain of a heavy backpack.
Comfort and Mobility
When it comes to selecting the ideal pair of shorts, this is one factor that is a deal-breaker. If a pair of shorts isn’t comfortable, it won’t matter how fancy the features are—it will still end up at the bottom of the drawer of clothes.
The main consideration for comfort is the material’s degree of stretch, which is why elastane is frequently woven into shorts from high-end brands.
A good rule of thumb when selecting a pair of hiking shorts is to flex your thigh muscle and lift your knee as high as it will go. If the material feels tight at the top of the thigh, the shorts are too small, and you should either order the next size up or choose a different shorts style. Squatting as low as you can is a different wee test. The waistband shouldn’t feel like it’s being pulled down, and the crotch shouldn’t pull into your nether regions.
Shorts will naturally allow for a lot of airflow around your legs, but that doesn’t guarantee that the areas higher up won’t get too hot. Choose polyester shorts with a breathable weave if breathability is high on your list of must-have qualities. (Holding the fabric up so that light can shine through will allow you to assess the weave’s density.)
Air vents are frequently found on the legs or inside the pockets of high-end brands, whether they are open mesh panels on the sides or mesh material inside the pockets. Personally, I wouldn’t purchase shorts with exposed mesh panels because they are a weak spot in the fabric and can let rainwater seep in and thus soaking your underwear.
A better choice is to use zipped mesh pockets because air can flow through them and they can be zipped back up when not in use. But you can’t store anything in them when using them this way, which is why I advise wearing cargo pants with extra thigh pockets on each leg.
Thickness and Durability
Durability is one of a hiking short’s standout qualities, especially when compared to casual or running-specific models. Hiking shorts are designed to withstand wear and tear on the trail and in camp, and they should ideally last you several seasons of use. The category still exhibits a great deal of variation, though. As was already mentioned, nylon and polyester shorts are typically more durable than cotton varieties, and thicker styles are typically more abrasion-resistant. Furthermore, we’ve discovered that a little bit of added stretch—but not too much—can boost durability by allowing a fabric to give instead of tear under pressure.
Quick-Drying Hiking Shorts
Nothing beats a cool swim in a trailside lake or stream when hiking in the sweltering summer heat. In warm, sunny weather, the majority of the hiking shorts will dry out fairly quickly, but the fastest drying are those made of thin, nylon material. Conversely, heavier synthetic materials and those with more added stretch have a tendency to absorb more liquid, with cotton being the worst offender.
To prevent water from penetrating the fabric, many shorts will also add a long-lasting water-repellent finish. However, keep in mind that this can deteriorate over time (you can always revive it by applying a new treatment like Nikwax’s TX.Direct Spray-On). In the end, a thin nylon design with a relatively short inseam, mesh pockets, and not a lot of extra bulk at the waist is your best bet when it comes to quick drying options.
It can be difficult to find hiking shorts that fit properly, but the good news is that there are many different waistband designs available for customizing fit. Standard button-and-fly closures with belt loops are at the entry level of the spectrum; other options including elastic waistbands, integrated belts, and/or drawstrings. Each style has it’s inherent advantages and disadvantages, so the choice you make will ultimately depend on your preferences and the uses you have in mind.
As previously mentioned, belt loops are frequently included in designs with traditional button-and-fly closures. Although the belt must be supplied separately, getting a tailored fit should be relatively simple. On the other hand, some shorts have built-in belts or drawstrings that allow you to customize the fit right out of the box.
There isn’t a perfect solution, so you should do what feels right to you and works for you: Some people prefer the sleekness of belt-free waistbands, while others are more concerned with fit customization.
For many hikers, practical storage is a top priority (ourselves included). A pair of shorts should ideally be able to accommodate a smartphone in at least one of its pockets and safely store objects like a key or lip balm in a different zippered pocket. Unfortunately, these features aren’t always available, so you’ll need to shop carefully if storage is important to you.
UPF and Sun Ratings
Because hiking requires spending the majority of the day outdoors, it is inevitable that you will be exposed to harmful UV rays. This is why, when wearing shorts, you must cover your exposed legs with sun protection. Although it may seem unimaginable, it is very possible to get sunburned through clothing, especially with thin clothing with a light weave.
The majority of the top brands, including KUHL, Berghaus, North Face, and others, have some level of UV protection built in as standard. However, budget clothing brands hardly ever advertise their clothes as having built-in sun resistance. Typically, this protection is designated as UPF 30 or UPF 50. The term “30/50” refers to the amount of UV that can penetrate a material, either one-thirtieth (3.3%) or one-fiftieth (2%).
Hiking shorts have followed the rapid increase in environmentally friendly practices and products in the outdoor sector. Common precautions in this situation include using recycled fabrics and materials that have received the bluesign certification, (which proves that they are safe for the environment, workers, and customers). Finally, some shorts omit the use of dangerous perfluorocarbons by using PFC-free DWR coatings.
I don’t think you need to spend a fortune to get a pair of highly practical and cozy hiking shorts for the trail. Of course, hiking shorts can cost a lot of money, but as with all hiking equipment, there is a lower and upper range.
I believe that spending between $60 and $80 will get you a really good and practical pair of brand-name hiking shorts. In general, the more features your shorts have, the more expensive they will be.
Remember that brand name can also have a significant impact on price. Like most people, I do prefer some brands over others in general, but there are times when you don’t get much more in terms of functionality and capability for the extra money you’ll shell out for a name.
Care and Maintenance
This could have been included in the material section above, but it deserves to be mentioned separately to draw attention to it. Almost all good hiking shorts ought to be fairly simple to maintain. So washing and drip drying should to be pretty simple.
Before making a purchase, it is worthwhile to investigate this matter. If your hiking shorts are made of a very specific material construction, you may need to care for them in a more specialized manner. For example, by using special detergents. This idea bothers me; I prefer to be able to wash my hiking shorts quickly and easily, along with other muddy sports equipment. I have my rain pants, which require extra care and attention (reproofing them occasionally, etc.), and that is enough for me.
Having hiking shorts that can be hand-washed is also a good idea. Even giving them a quick rinse in a bathtub or bucket with detergent can be helpful if you are on a long trek and can’t get to a proper washing machine facility. Most hiking shorts’ material composition makes this possible, but still, it’s something to keep in mind when thinking about care and attention.
When is it appropriate to wear hiking shorts?
Hiking shorts are appropriate for summer and spring hikes.
Are hiking shorts appropriate to wear in winter?
Since hiking shorts are made for use in the summer and can be uncomfortable when it’s cold outside, they are typically not worn in the winter. They might also increase your risk of getting a cold if you are not wearing the appropriate layers.
What colors do best-hiking shorts come in?
Although there are many different colors for hiking shorts, keep in mind that light colors reflect heat while dark colors absorb it. As a result, nearly all light summer hiking pants will be beige, cream, or other neutral colors.
A darker pair of hiking shorts can also help to absorb heat from the sun and keep you warmer if you’re hiking in the winter. Although it might seem like overkill, it has an effect.
Are hiking shorts made of cotton?
For increased durability, flexibility, and mobility during hikes and other outdoor activities, hiking shorts are typically made of a combination of nylon and spandex or some other material. Depending on the style, they can also be made of a variety of other materials.
How do I clean my hiking shorts?
Depending on the fabric used to make them, hiking shorts can either be hand-washed or washed in a washing machine before being hung up to air dry naturally.
How do I care for my hiking shorts?
Since hiking shorts are made with comfort and durability in mind, they shouldn’t require any extra special care. You can always spot clean your hiking shorts, though, to keep them looking as clean and new as possible.
Are hiking shorts waterproof?
Your best hiking shorts may be waterproof depending on the style, but most are not because they are made to be worn in the summer when it is more likely that you will get wet from sweat or other environmental factors.