When you’re out on the trail, few things are more important than having clothing that’s comfortable and weather-ready. If you’re goin to hike in hot weather, plan to wear a pair of lightweight breathable hiking shorts. Paired with a moisture-wicking shirt, they’ll keep you cool and comfortable. (And will dry quickly if you’re caught in the rain!)
Read on to learn about the best hiking shorts for the whole family—and how to choose the right ones for you.
How to Choose the Best Hiking Shorts
Not all hikes—or hikers—are the same, so it makes sense that hiking gear and clothing aren’t one-style-works-for-all. Although you could probably grab a pair of hiking shorts off the rack and be reasonably happy, if you’re serious about hiking or want shorts that will last you for many adventures, it makes sense to shop smart.
When shopping for hiking shorts—for yourself or for your family—here are some of the factors you’ll want to consider.
Avoid denim, stretchy jersey fabrics, and any shorts that are pure cotton. Denim is too heavy for hiking, it doesn’t stretch or allow for movement, and it isn’t breathable. (“Breathable” fabric allows perspiration to evaporate through it, helping to keep you cool.)
Stretchy jersey fabric (think bike shorts or yoga pants) can easily snag or tear on the trail. And cotton, while breathable, takes a long time to dry. (So once it gets sweaty, it stays sweaty.)
Instead, choose shorts that are made from synthetic fabrics like polyester, nylon, or rayon. These fabrics tend to wick away moisture from skin, dry quickly, and are lightweight. They’re also machine-washable and easy to take care of. (You can always expect hiking clothes to get dirty!)
It goes without saying that you need hiking shorts that fit, but what does that mean exactly? The first thing you should pay attention to is the waistband. No matter what type of hiking you do, you’ll want shorts that move with you and don’t restrict your movement in any way.
Look for shorts with features like partial elastic waistbands and built-in belts. You might also want to choose shorts that are made from a nylon/spandex blend so the fabric has just a bit of stretch.
The second most important thing to pay attention to is inseam length. Some people prefer shorter shorts while others feel more comfortable in longer styles. When shopping for hiking shorts, pay attention to the shorts’ inseam measurement and get to know the length that you prefer.
3. Sun Protection
You should slather on the sunscreen whenever you’re outdoors, but that’s not the only type of sun protection. Many types of fabrics offer natural protection from the sun’s UV rays.
Outdoor clothing items, like hiking shorts, are often labeled with their UPF rating, or ultraviolet protection factor. (It’s like an SPF rating but for clothing.) In particular, polyester and nylon are known for offering high levels of sun protection.
Think about the type of hiking you plan to do and whether or not you’ll be bringing a hiking daypack or other backpack. If you won’t have a pack, it can be helpful to wear cargo-style hiking shorts that have several pockets. It’ll give you a place to store your keys and a maybe a snack for the trail.
If you take shorter hikes or will carry a pack, you might prefer hiking shorts that are minimalist and have fewer pockets (if any). It’s also worth considering if you’ll plan to encounter water (like rain or swimming holes) on your hikes. Some hiking shorts are so quick-drying they can also be used as swimwear if you plan to take a dip to cool off.
Best Hiking Shorts for Women
Women’s hiking shorts come in a variety of styles. The overall shape, length, waistband style, and number of pockets are usually just a matter of personal preference. No matter the style however, look for a pair of shorts made from a synthetic breathable fabric to wick away moisture and keep you cool. It’s also good to have a pocket or four.
The North Face Aphrodite Motion Shorts for Women
This simple style with subtle herringbone fabric looks great both on and off the trail. These are the shorts for you if you prefer your shorts to be on the shorter side. They have a comfortable drawstring waistband and a looser silhouette that allows for more freedom of movement. There are also two handy pockets.Columbia Sandy River Cargo Shorts for Women
These slim-profile cargo shorts from Columbia are made from the brand’s signature UPF 30 fabric to offer sun protection. They also have two side pockets and a small, zippered security pocket to stow small items like keys. The partial elastic waistband and belt ensure a secure fit no matter how adventurous your hike turns out to be.
REI Co-op Sahara Shorts for Women
The Sahara Shorts from REI are a good choice for hikers who prefer longer shorts. These Bermuda-style shorts have a generous 9-inch inseam and several cargo-style pockets. They’re also made from quick-drying synthetic fabric that offers UPF 50+ sun protection.
Athleta Trekkie North Shorts for Women
Athleta’s Trekkie North Shorts have a surprising number of features hidden in their simple design. The wide waistband creates a smooth look and it conceals a drawstring for a secure fit. There are also four pockets and the nylon fabric has two-way stretch. Available in five colors.Eddie Bauer Women's Guide Pro Shorts
The Guide Pro Shorts from Eddie Bauer were designed for life on the trail with stretchy nylon fabric, sun protection, zippered cargo pockets, and a water-resistant finish. Although the style is fitted, it’s a curvy cut that allows extra room in the hips and thighs. Available in 7 colors including a camo print.
Best Hiking Shorts for Men
When it comes to men’s hiking shorts, the styles are a bit more limited. The two main looks you’ll see are cargo-style shorts with several pockets and streamlined shorts with fewer (or hidden) pockets.
Columbia Silver Ridge Cargo Shorts for Men
The Silver Ridge Cargo Shorts from Columbia are as rugged as they are comfortable. With lightweight ripstop nylon fabric, they’ll wick away moisture and stand up to any rough treatment on the trail. The elastic waist and integrated belt work together for the ideal fit.The North Face Men's Sprag Hiking Shorts
If you prefer a slimmer, cleaner style, the Sprag Hiking Shorts from The North Face are a good choice. These classic-fit shorts have five pockets (including a small zippered stash pocket) but they’re well-concealed within the shorts themselves. The shorts’ stretch nylon fabric is moisture-wicking but has a natural cotton feel to the finish.
prAna Stretch Zion Shorts for Men
The Stretch Zion Shorts from prAna combine a minimalist look with the utility of cargo shorts. Their combination nylon/spandex fabric allows for freedom of movement plus it’s abrasion-resistant and provides UPF 50+ protection. The shorts have standard side and back pockets but also include a cargo-style pocket and zippered security pocket for extra storage.Wrangler Authentics Cargo Shorts for Men
These relaxed-fit shorts from Wrangler are designed for movement with spandex/nylon fabric and a comfort waistband. They have the traditional side and back pockets but they also have a bonus zippered utility pocket in the front. The quick-drying, moisture-wicking fabric will keep you cool and dry no matter the weather.The North Face Men's Paramount Trail Shorts
If slim-fit is more your style, try the Paramount Trail Shorts from The North Face. They’re slimmer than traditional cargo shorts but are still relaxed enough to not restrict movement. Their ripstop nylon fabric is water-repellent and offers UPF 50+ sun protection. Zippered pockets will help secure your gear. Available in six colors.
Best Hiking Shorts for Kids
If you want happy little hikers, it starts with comfortable clothing. Standard kids running shorts and other types of athletic shorts can work for hiking, too. Here are some of our favorites:Columbia Girls' Silver Ridge IV Shorts
These Columbia shorts are the girls’ version of the popular Silver Ridge cargo shorts for adults. Just like the adult style, they’re made from Columbia’s signature Omni-shade (for UV protection) and Omni-wick (for moisture-wicking) fabric. This ripstop nylon is durable enough to last through many miles of outdoor treks. The partial elastic waistband is great for a comfortable fit as young hikers grow.Columbia Girls' Backcast Shorts
These simple shorts from Columbia are great if you’re looking for a style without a lot of bells and whistles. The minimalist silhouette conceals two side pockets and an elastic waist for a comfortable fit. The quick-drying fabric also provides UPF 50 sun protection, wet or dry. Available in 8 colors.
Athleta Girl Explore More Shorts
The Explore More Shorts from Athleta Girl are at home on the trail…or on the field or in the gym. Made from spandex and recycled polyester, these shorts are both comfortable and breathable. They have an elastic drawstring waistband to adapt to all shapes and sizes and roomy front pockets to stash any trail essentials.Under Armour Girls' Play Up Solid Shorts
These girls’ athletic shorts from Under Armour are great for any outdoor activity, including hiking. Although they don’t have pockets, they’re made from soft, lightweight polyester and have a drawstring for a comfortable fit. Perfect for a girl on the go.
REI Co-op Girls’ Sahara Shorts
This shorts’ style shares the same name as its adult counterpart but the look is a bit different. Instead of an integrated belt, REI’s girls’ Sahara Shorts have a two-button zip fly and a partial elastic waist. They also have a pair of streamlined, but roomy, pockets and are made from a nylon/spandex blend for two-stretch. Available in two colors.Columbia Boys' Backcast Shorts
This classic pair of athletic shorts from Columbia is ideal for outdoor adventures. They’re made from durable nylon fabric and have two side pockets and an elastic waistband. The Backcast Shorts are also available in a dozen colors from black to bright blue.Wrangler Boys' Straight Fit Outdoor Shorts
Wrangler’s Outdoor Shorts have the perfect combination of style and utility: they’re perfect for camping or the even the classroom. These straight-fit shorts have roomy zippered pockets and an adjust-to-fit waistband with a built-in belt. They’re available in four classic colors.Eddie Bauer Boys' Quick-Dry Performance Shorts
These versatile shorts from Eddie Bauer can easily go from the lake to the trail to the campsite. Their quick-drying fabric means they can double as swim trunks and their zippered pockets keep everything secure. Plus, their UPF 50 fabric will protect skin from harmful UV rays. Available in four colors.Columbia Boys' Half-Moon II Utility Shorts
These cargo-style shorts from Columbia are perfect for young explorers. They’re made from a cotton/elastane blend fabric with a hint of stretch and are designed with plenty of pockets for gear—8 total, including 2 self-draining angler’s pockets. A partial-elastic waistband creates a custom fit. Available in four colors.Under Armour Boys' Board Shorts
Sometimes it makes sense to buy shorts that can do double (or triple) duty. These board shorts from Under Armour can be worn for a variety of outdoor adventures—whether on the trail or in the water. The synthetic fabric is quick-drying (if they’re worn as swim trunks) but also water repellent (for rainy hikes). Available in four colors.
Best Convertible Hiking Pants for the Whole Family
Shorts aren’t your only option for keeping cool on the hiking trail. Depending on the weather and terrain, convertible hiking pants might be a better choice.
Convertible hiking pants are pants that can be turned into shorts simply by unzipping and removing the lower parts of the pant legs. It’s a way to have the convenience of both shorts and pants without having to carry a second set of clothes (or worry about finding a place to change en route).
Here are some of our favorites:
REI Co-op Sahara Convertible Hiking Pants for Women
The Sahara Convertible Hiking Pants from REI Co-op are like classic hiking pants with a couple modern tweaks: a slimmer profile and quick-drying nylon fabric with some stretch. These pants easily convert to shorts by unzipping the legs a few inches above the knee. (The zippers are also color-coded so you’ll know which leg is which when you zip them back on the pants.) Available in three colors.Marmot Women's Lobo's Convertible Pants
These convertible hiking pants from Marmot offer three lengths in one. Wear them as full-length pants. Turn them into capri-length pants by rolling them up and fastening them with button tabs. Or zip off the legs to turn them into shorts! Available in two colors.
Columbia Silver Ridge Convertible Pants for Men
These straight-leg convertible pants are made from Columbia’s signature moisture-wicking, sun-protecting ripstop nylon. Whether worn as pants or as shorts, the partial elastic waist and adjustable exterior waistband guarantee comfort and mobility.prAna Men's Stretch Zion Convertible Pants
These cargo-style pants from prAna easily convert to cargo-style shorts. Plenty of roomy pockets means you’ll always have a place to stash gear and the water-repellent finish will help keep you dry on the trail. Available in three inseam lengths and three colors.
For girls:Columbia Silver Ridge IV Convertible Pants
Convertible hiking pants for girls aren’t easy to find. Fortunately, Columbia is one reliable brand that offers this style for both girls and boys. The Silver Ridge IV convertible pants for girls have a partial elastic waist and a zip-and-button fly. They’re also straight-leg and have two side pockets and a zippered cargo pocket. The zip-off legs can quickly convert these pants to shorts, and back again.
For boys:Mountain Warehouse Active Kids Convertible Hiking Pants
These convertible hiking pants from Mountain Warehouse are made from a durable cotton-poly blend that’s both shrink- and fade-resistant. Even when these cargo-style pants are converted to shorts, they still offer plenty of pockets for any treasures your hiker might find on your adventure with two side pockets, two back security pockets, and two side cargo pockets.
Other Hiking Clothing to Consider
In addition to shorts, here are some more clothing items you might want for your next warm-weather hike:
- Hiking boots or trail running shoes
- Moisture-wicking hiking socks
- Synthetic t-shirt
- Brimmed hat
- Cooling bandana
Once your hiking crew is outfitted for an adventure on the trail, you’re ready to go! But if you’re new to hiking, we have a few things you might want to read first. Check out our complete beginner’s guide to hiking. Then read up on how to choose a hiking boot and how to choose a hiking daypack. See you on the trail!