When the birds start chirping and the days start getting longer, that’s our cue to break out our hiking gear, lace up our trusty hiking boots, and hit the trails. But as the weather continues to heat up, you may want to ditch your hiking pants or leggings for a pair of hiking shorts to stay cool. (Just be sure to pack the sunscreen and follow these tips to avoid ticks!)
What to look for in hiking shorts
After five years of working as a backpacking guide, I’ve tested out dozens of hiking shorts, racking up hundreds of trail miles. I’ve hiked in the dry deserts of the Southwest, the humid rainforests of Washington, and the high alpines of the Sierras. Here are all the factors I keep in mind when shopping for hiking shorts.
First, the fit is the most important element. If the shorts don’t feel good on your body when you try them on, they certainly won’t feel good when you’re hiking up a steep hill or navigating rocks. They should allow freedom of motion at your hips and shouldn’t feel restrictive around your thighs or waist. You can look out for pairs with spandex for added stretch, or options with an integrated belt for a more customized fit. Plus, if you’re not able to try them on, just looking at the shape of the shorts can give you a better idea of how they’ll fit. Some hiking shorts have a straight design from the waist through the hips, while others have a reverse-tapered fit that is smaller at the waist but roomier in the hips and thighs.
You should also take your plans into consideration when picking out hiking shorts. If you intend to backpack in these shorts, you may want to look for ones with a low-profile waistband that doesn’t have bulky buttons or a belt you can’t remove, because any hardware can create points of discomfort under the backpack’s hip belt. If you’re trekking in the heat, prioritize a pair made with lightweight, breathable fabric that’ll wick moisture and sweat away. And if you’re going to pass a body of water, and there’s a chance you’ll want to take a dip, look for quick-drying hiking shorts or ones made with a durable water-repellent (DWR) finish, so you won’t have to wear soggy shorts on your hike back to the trailhead. Overall, just keep your personal preferences and itinerary in mind while you shop—that’s the best way to find the right pair of shorts for you.
The best hiking shorts
With these design elements in mind, we’ve curated a selection of top-rated and personally loved hiking shorts from brands like REI Co-op, Topo Designs, Patagonia, and Nike. Read on to find the best hiking shorts for your spring and summer outdoor activities.
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