Having spent a good portion of my life out on the hiking trail, I can tell you that no two hikes are ever going to be quite the same. The trail that was a mere stroll last summer might be an arduous slog on a snowy winter day. That logic is also how I justify owning so many pairs of hiking shorts. And trail shoes. And packs. Hiking shorts may not be the height of style, but they are a critical garment for protecting against scuffs and scrapes, giving added storage capacity, and protecting a critical portion of your lower half against the sun. Here are my favorite hiking shorts for any situation.
If I’m not sure what the conditions will be out on the trail, but I know it’s going to be warm enough for shorts, I wear my Colemans. They’re light enough for hotter days but tough enough to resist tears or punctures caused by thorns or brambles, and their UPF 50+ fabric blocks more than 99 percent of the sun’s UV light. The shorts have no fewer than eight pockets, with cargo pockets that stay flat to the pants until expanded as needed. And while the elastic waistband provides only a bit of hold, the included fabric belt is durable and holds fast, even after hours underway.
I’m on my third pair of Columbia Sportswear convertible pants now, having gotten my first before an eight-week backpacking trip around Europe when I was 18. Considering that 17 years have elapsed since then, I’d say that’s a pretty well-made garment to only require replacing twice. As full-length pants, they’re warm enough with base layers and offer decent rain protection, so long as you’re not in a jungle downpour. (Which I have indeed experienced.) As shorts, they’re airy and flexible while still remaining durable. And perhaps best of all, in the shorts configuration, they don’t look like convertible pants.
If I’m going out for a trail run, I usually wear a pair of Columbia Titan Ultra shorts, which I love for their built-in liner, short inseam, and snug fit, but for ordinary hikes, I prefer the looser fit of these Starter Running Shorts. The brand’s proprietary Dri-Star fabric wicks away sweat, and they’re light and highly breathable, too. The built-in brief liner means there’s no need for a separate layer of underwear, which also helps reduce heat. And while I rarely store anything in side pockets while on the move, it’s still good to have them just in case.
Some of the best moments I’ve ever enjoyed out on the trail have been plunges into cool, refreshing water: at waterfalls, beaches, streams, and even alpine lakes. But before you go diving into water, you have to decide whether to strip off your outerwear or leave it on and deal with wet, clingy clothes for the next few miles. That is, unless you’re wearing the North Face Rolling Sun Hybrid Shorts. They look just like regular outdoorsy shorts, but are in fact made of the same material as board shorts, so they dry out fantastically quickly, even after full submersion.
A few years back, I spent four or five hours of the down-climb off the Grand Teton with half of the seat of my pants hanging wide open, my inferior hiking pants having torn as I slid down off a large boulder. Fortunately, I was so fatigued, I hardly cared that I was giving every climber we passed a half-moon. With a pair of Mountain Khakis Alpine Utility Shorts on, I’m confident that’s never going to happen again. These rugged and ready shorts feature a reinforced seat and two-ply cotton-canvas construction. There are six pockets, two of which have Velcro closures, and triple-stitched seams that aren’t going to tear no matter in what conditions you wear these shorts, and no matter how badly you mistreat them.
If you’re looking for a different style of hiking short, here are some highly reviewed options from Amazon, according to hyperenthusiastic hikers.
“I bought these shorts because I was on a quest to find quality clothing items at a reasonable cost. These shorts certainly deliver. The material is lightweight, stretches, and dries quickly. Zippers are durable and operate smoothly and will keep important items like keys and money right where they need to be. These are perfect for hiking or any outdoor activity. Compared to Columbia, Mountain Hardware, etc., I think these stand up well in terms of performance. They may not carry the same brand recognition but at a quarter of the cost, I think they are a better option for someone on a budget.”
“Why are most men’s shorts so long while women’s are barely there at all? I got tired of the currently typical man’s shorts that rub the back of the knees (annoying for long walks or any prolonged activity). The Columbia Permit II at mid-thigh are the length shorts used to be, and in a light fabric that adds to the comfort.”
“Six-hour hike in Hawaii, these shorts were more than I expected, or thought they would be. They handled the elements — which ran from steamy hot, pouring rain, falling in rivers, climbing up waterfalls, and cutting through brush — far better than any piece of clothing I’ve ever had. If you’re going on a mild hike, they will be perfect. If you’re doing a serious hike, like the one I went on, they’re perfect. If you go on a super-serious days-long trek, these would be what I’d recommend. Super awesome. They wicked me, they kept me warm, they kept my upper legs free of nicks and bruises.”
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