When you think about everything hiking entails, you’d be forgiven for thinking that pants are a requirement. After all, sliding down craggy rock faces, wading through cold mountain streams, getting devoured by nature’s flying monstrosities….these things don’t particularly resonate with most people’s “Things I Want To Deal With” list, and especially not without the proper protection. However, there are plenty of scenarios where wearing shorts on a hike truly is the best course of action. Shorts are typically worn primarily for ventilation reasons, especially when hiking in dry, hot environments.
These usually have even less moving parts than pants have, making them very minimal and reliable, provided you choose the right pair. In this guide, we’ll be covering the very best hiking shorts from across the industry using reviews and other sources of information.
The Top Rated Shorts For Hiking
Prana Stretch Zion Convertible Pants
Versatile convertible pants
Great fit and comfort
High-quality zipper pockets
Convertible pants are not for everyone
A bit less breathable than we’d like
The Prana Stretch Zion is one of the highest-praised convertible pants around. While this list focuses on shorts, and we recognize that convertible options aren’t for everyone, we felt that these pants worked so well as shorts, we had to include them here. The cuffed seam does a fantastic job of hiding the high-quality zipper, so if you want to, these can be worn as shorts virtually all of the time. When the weather gets cooler, though, adding some extra warmth is as simple as sliding the extensions on and zipping them up. The pants feature four front pockets and two back ones, even in shorts mode, so you’ll never find yourself without adequate storage options. (We found that these pockets were deep enough to comfortably fit all sorts of gadgets and essentials.)
The pants come with a handy tightening waist strap, which we found to be a welcome and easy-to-use addition. Three color choices are on offer; dark khaki (pictured above), charcoal, and mud. We would have liked perhaps a few more color options, but these do the job fairly well.
These pants really impressed with the breathability of the materials used throughout. There are a number of “breathing holes” in the crotch area that do a fair amount to keep things cool, but ultimately, this material is still heavy enough to get toasty on a particularly warm day. Luckily, it’s during these moments that you can simply convert the pants to shorts, giving you the best of both worlds in virtually any situation. There are certainly more breathable options out there, such as the Triple Aught Design Force 10 AC’s below, but overall we felt that the Stretch Zions breathed well in a variety of situations.
These are the most comfortable pants in this guide, full stop. In fact, the comfort of these pants is a large part of why we awarded them our top pick; they really are that great. If there was one element that we found a bit annoying, it’d have to be the seam along the zipper line. While the zipper itself (thankfully) doesn’t touch you, the seam has a bit of a bulge that tends to rub against the thigh/knee area a bit during extended usage. This is by no means annoying enough to be a deal-breaker, but we found it to be enough of a bother to mention. Other than that relatively minor complaint, though, these pants feel absolutely great to wear, with our without the extensions.
The heavy duty fabric in use here really stands on its own, and we found no serious issues with the pants longevity during our research. That being said, it’s worth mentioning that some reviewers have noted a few stitching issues, particularly after prolonged periods of heavy use. Some have even noted stitching issues or loose threads being present out of the box, but these cases seem to be few and far between.
Triple Aught Design Force 10 AC
A bevy of useful features
Great looking design and fit
Clever pocket design
Great breathability considering the material
A bit heavy for some users
These are some serious shorts, and one look at the breadth of features included will confirm that for you in an instant. Perhaps the most noticeable standout on these shorts are the pockets. Pockets, pockets, pockets, and then some. There are 8 in total, each pair lending themselves to a certain type of storage. There’s the two hidden passport pockets, which do a fantastic job at holding personal documents and other valuables. Then there’s the front welt pockets, which are spacious enough to hold a variety of objects securely, thanks to the two drop down D-rings that support larger objects.
The thigh pockets are next, and these are the real heavy hitters. Each pocket has a small opening in the top to accommodate larger & longer tools, and both can be secured by the hidden buttons, secured underneath a flap to prevent catching of any sort. Finally, the two back pockets utilize the same button style present in the thighs, making this a well-rounded set of storage options, no matter what your loadout for the day is.
These are some of the most intuitively designed hiking shorts we’ve come across, and for those looking for adaptability who don’t mind a little extra heft, these would be a fantastic addition to your wardrobe.
The Ripstop Nylon Cotton in used with these shorts has some impressive breathability, which is impressive considering that many products that use the same material tend to be too warm during heavy use. With virtually no complaints about heat buildup to speak of, these shorts are truly an impressive combination of comfort and functionality. Even during arduous treks, the Design Force 10 AC’s should do a great job of keeping you cool and comfortable.
These shorts are sure to impress in the comfort department, especially if you’re used to heavy duty pants feeling overly “hard” on the skin. That being said, with a full load, even these tend to feel a bit overloaded at times. The material is heavier than many different types of hiking shorts, despite how comfortable they are overall. This becomes very apparent after loading all of your gear up, and for those looking for the ultimate comfort experience on a longer jaunt, these might not be for you. All the same, we found that compared to many of the other options out there that deliver this much functionality, the Design Force AC 10’s provide a comfortable experience that is sure to delight.
The Ripstop Nylon Cotton material really shines here, delivering some exceptional durability and protection from the elements. The entire surface of the fabric is treated with DWR, (Durable Water Repellent) and these shorts really show their value during moments when you can’t help but get wet. The material wicks water away in an instant, and for those moments when you have to get soaked, we found them to be fast drying and functional, even when waterlogged. Additionally, all of the buttons and other features feel solid, well constructed and secure. There aren’t many complaints from other reviewers about hardware breaking, or seams coming apart during usage.
Zoic Ether Cycling Shorts
Lightweight and versatile design
Included liner is a great, removable addition
Comfortable fit and materials
Not ideal for serious hiking scenarios
While the Zoic Ether shorts aren’t specifically made for hiking, they are some of the lightest and most breathable pants around, and many cyclists swear by these shorts for outdoor activities of all kinds. That being said, if you’re looking for something hyper-functional and heavy duty, this won’t be for you. These shorts are designed from the ground up to be minimalistic to the max, and that design philosophy informs all of the features the Ether does sport. There is a removable liner included with the shorts, as well as adjustable waist straps on either side of the top seam. Two deep front pockets are present, as well as two more down towards the bottom seam. These pockets have high-quality zippers on them, and reviewers have noted that these never catch or malfunction. Truthfully, everything about these shorts is sleek, minimal and functional.
Breathability seems to be one of Zoic’s strong points, and dozens of reviews from all over the net have talked about how well-ventilated these pants are. That being said, while using the included liner, some have noted that things get a bit hotter pretty quickly, which is slightly disappointing when compared to many of the fantastic, ultra-breathable liners out there on the market today. All told, these shorts are lightweight enough to accompany you through just about any trek, especially without the liner in place.
These shorts have a polyesters/spandex construction which feels light and comfortable on the skin, even during longer hikes or during wet conditions. We found that the material never really got too uncomfortable, but several users did note some chaffing, especially after the 15-mile mark or so. That can almost be forgiven, though, because again, these aren’t designed to be dedicated hiking shorts. Ideally, these would be your go-to pair for a casual jaunt, or a bike ride with a shorter hike to the summit. These shorts are versatile, and for what they are, they’re a very impressive bit of kit.
The dura flex stretch fabric in use here seems to really hold up to wear and tear well, and we couldn’t find any major issues present with these shorts. All of the zipper hardware seems to be of high-quality construction, and the zips themselves don’t show any signs of snagging or catching. Importantly, it looks like the waist adjustment straps are also very high quality, reducing the likelihood that one of these will fail during periods of heavy use. We’ve seen this happen with several other products, so it’s a welcome change to see such attention to detail here with the Ether.
The North Face Paramount Peak II Convertible
Great set of features included
Plenty of storage space
Durable, quality construction
Slightly too heavy for fast paced use
A bit too warm
These pants feature some of the most well-rounded features in this guide, including a number of conveniences such as the vertical-zip extensions (making it so that you can remove the leg extensions without removing your footwear), the two deep, main front pockets, and the enclosed adjustment belt around the waist. There are also two velcro-secured pockets on the lower thigh area, two on the rear, and one additional zipper pocket on the front. This means that these pants have more than enough storage to cover you on a short packless day hike, if you’re looking for that sort of thing. The removable lower legs are color coded, which is a small but very convenient touch when trying to get them on and off in the middle of the trail. Overall, there’s a number of conveniences here that really begin to come into their own once you use the pants yourself, and we were pleased with the variety and value of the included features.
Being a bit heavier in terms of material, the Paramount Peak II’s don’t fair quite as well in comparison to something like the Prana Stretch Zion pants, though they certainly aren’t terrible. We simply feel that these pants are best-suited to moderately cold environments, where the extra heft can really show its worth. Alternatively, you can do what many reviewers seemed keen to do, which is to wear these primarily as shorts, especially if you plan to be exploring in a warmer climate for a long period of time. The heavier material on display here will still be no match for a lighter alternative in blistering conditions, but overall, we don’t feel the added heft is enough to put us off completely.
These pants come in six different waist sizes and three different lengths, so there are quite a few options to choose from to cater to just about every body shape and size. The pants themselves fit a bit on the baggier side, making them less attractive for extreme sports use, but for backpacking and even general travel needs, these pants feel great and natural in use. Admittedly, the 100% Nylon materials used here can’t compete with the stretchier materials used in some of the other choices in this guide, such as the Prana Stretch Zion. All the same, though, these pants still feel great and are an excellent choice for general use.
Because the materials in these pants are a bit heavier and thicker than many of the others in this guide, it really is apparent that The North Face has built them to stand the test of time. They have long been known for their no-nonsense lifetime warranty against defects, as well as their affordable options for various repairs and restorations. Really, though, you might not ever even need to worry about repairs if you don’t plan on really putting these pants to the test, because the materials and construction quality are second to none. The only thing that some reviewers have noted is that the velcro fastenings on pants like this tend to fall off after a period of time, but this issue wasn’t nearly prevalent enough to be a major concern. Overall, these are excellently priced pants that will serve you well for years to come.
Columbia Silver Ridge Cargo Shorts
Lightweight and breathable to the max
Not as durable as many other options
Comfort leaves something to be desired
No standout features or benefits
The Columbia Silver Ridge Cargo Shorts deliver some handy features, to be sure, but nothing about these pants particularly stand out as a killer value. That’s not to say that these aren’t a quality option for hiking and backpacking; they are. Unfortunately, though, there isn’t anything here that makes these shorts a more attractive option than many of the leading options above, like the Triple Aught Design Force 10 AC. For instance, the shorts feature all-velcro fastenings for all of the pockets, which is something we generally don’t love.
Zippers are usually more effective and resilient, as velcro tends to fail over time and under periods of heavy use. There are two front pockets, two cargo pockets on each side, and two back pockets, which is pretty standard fare for the most part. There is a belt system with a plastic buckle for adjusting the tightness of the fit, but many reviews have noted that these pants tend to run slim, and as such, this feature isn’t entirely needed. Still, it’s nice to have, even if the execution could have been a bit more eloquent.
These pants are among the lightest that we’ve reviewed in this list, and based on feedback from around the community, this is both the pairs biggest strength and biggest weakness, simultaneously. On the one hand, these pants are able to breathe better than most of the other products in this guide. The lightweight fabric really lends itself to warmer environments, and these pants easily outdid most of the competition in this regard. In the end, you’ll need to decide if the breathability is enough to justify the slightly disappointing feature set and durability that also comes with the Silver Ridge cargo shorts. For many in warm climates, though, the answer might just be a yes.
The 100% nylon materials in use again can’t compete with comfier options available elsewhere, and it shows with the Silver Ridge shorts. The cut is a bit thin, and many reviewers have mentioned that this restricts movement quite a bit on steep inclines. Many have advised for buyers to size up when purchasing, and we agree with this advice. One good thing about these pants is that they come in 11 different sizes, allowing for a wide range of body shapes to find a pair that fits properly. These are still comfortable pants, all told, but compared to what’s available out there, the Columbia shorts simply can’t compete in the same league.
The thin nylon material used in these shorts comes to a head here. These shorts are certainly not fragile, and there are plenty of similar products that are even flimsier. Having said that, we really do not recommend these for activities that might involve any scraping or poking of rocks, trees or brush against the materials. The material also seems to become wrinkled quickly according to some reviewers, which can be a real annoyance when traveling for extended periods of time without daily access to luxuries such as an iron.
What to look for in the best shorts for hiking
When it comes to taking to the trails, having comfortable shorts has some obvious advantages. We look closely at what consumers have to say about a product’s comfort level when determining our scores, because we feel that comfort is one of the most common factors buyers weigh into their perception of a product. In fact, it might even be the most important metric for many. Think about it this way; if you aren’t comfortable in a piece of clothing, how likely will you be to enjoy many of the features of that product? Staying comfortable in your gear is an essential part of the hiking and general outdoors experience, so it stands to reason that it’d be one of the most important factors in our review.
For hiking shorts specifically, this isn’t quite as much of an issue, but nonetheless, breathability remains an important factor for thousands of readers in warmer climates. We all know how arduous it can be to deal with overheating issues on the trail, so having a breathable pair of shorts with us can do a tremendous amount for our comfortability and endurance. Since shorts are inherently more breathable than many of the other product types we review here at Gear We Are, we didn’t place a huge amount of weight on this factor. All the same, this remains a vital piece of the puzzle when formulating our buying guides and reviews.
When looking at the features for a particular pair of hiking shorts, we’re really trying to drill down exactly what features might separate a certain product from the “pack”; features that give the shorts a unique identity that readers will find genuinely useful and be enriching for their daily lives. We look for things like pocket size and amount, security features such as hidden pockets, adjustable belts and drawstrings, and more in order to determine how functional and useful the shorts will be to hikers. We’ve found that our readers love to know how products work in action, not just from a review standpoint, so we always try and frame the feature set in a way that illustrates the real-world benefits of the product in question.
When it comes to hiking gear, having products that last is essential to most folks. After all, this isn’t the cheapest hobby in the world, and many of us are just a little bit addicted to having the latest gear at our disposal at all times. That means that the price of admission for many outdoor addicts is quite high, especially when you factor in the wide variety of gear that most of us own. (and love!) Because of this, we place special emphasis on the quality of construction for all of our various clothes, hiking shorts not least of all. With shorts specifically, we take a look at things like seam and pocket construction, overall materials and fabrics being used, and things like DWR coating and other weatherproofing functionalities.
Other important factors to consider
There are many other small factors that go into reviewing hiking shorts. We like to look at sizing and style options, as these are two areas we’ve found that readers care quite a bit about. We also like to look for products that have some sort of following online, either in outdoor enthusiast circles and forums like Reddit, or consumer-facing sites such as Amazon.com.
These conversations sparked by fans around the world give us incredible insight into “real-world” experiences with the products we review, and we feel it’s only right to include these experiences into our decision-making process with our various buying guides and reviews.