Warm weather is finally around the corner and you are ready to enjoy some beautiful spring and summer hikes. However, picking the best hiking shorts that are durable, lightweight and comfortable for long and humid treks is not always easy. If you want to have the best experience outdoors, comfort and quality are two non-negotiable factors.
However, not all shorts are created equally. Plus, much of the outdoor industry revolves around petite and extremely lean models. Therefore, this adds another level of difficulty to decide which shorts are the right ones for you.
In this article, we’re going to dive deep into information about the brand and then the quality, price, any tech or features, how they wear (and whether they prevent infamous thigh chafing), and any other important facts surrounding the shorts.
Important considerations for picking hiking shorts
Length: It is so important to know your body when buying shorts, especially online. Shorts will have their length (sometimes referred to as inseam) listed somewhere whether in the title, sizing section, or features/specs section. If you have a pair of shorts you love, figure out what the length is, and try to buy shorts around that size. For me (5 foot 4 inches), 4-6 inches tends to be perfect to prevent any unwanted thigh rub while still being short enough to function as casual shorts for everyday wear.
Fit: Everyone’s body is made differently, and we have preferences for where our pants sit. Make sure that you stay consistent with what you typically prefer. Whether that is low-, mid-, or high-rise, if you prefer a cut for your everyday pants, you’ll likely prefer that for your hiking pants.
Fabric: Whether the temperature is extremely humid, a thunderstorm strikes mid-hike, or you decide to take a jump in a river or lake post-hike, you want your shorts to stay cool and dry all day long. Because of that, material matters! I recommend always leaning towards materials such as nylon, spandex, elastane, and staying away from a solely cotton short.
Pockets: During any hike, having the essentials in an easy to grab pocket is critical. Therefore, having big, functional drop-in pockets and zipper pockets are necessary for any hiking short.
I put each of these shorts to the test on Colorado’s 14,000-foot mountains, alpine lakes and various other exhaustive hikes to truly see how they performed under stress. For your reference, I will include my sizes in each of these shorts. My measurements are waist: 30.5 in, hips (widest part) 42.5 in, and 24 in at 5″ inseam.
Patagonia Women’s Quandary Shorts Review: Best for Long Days with Versatile Hiking Terrain
|Feature||Patagonia Women’s Quandary Shorts|
|Material||95% nylon (65% recycled), 5% spandex with fluorinated durable water repellant finish|
|Pockets||4 – two front drop-ins, two back drop-ins (right back pocket has a zipper closure)|
|Inseam Length and Fit||5″, mid-rise with elastic cord in the waistband to tighten as needed|
|Other Notes||Patagonia is the first official brand bluesign® system partner: these shorts were made with optimal consumer safety and reduced environmental impact|
About the Brand
Patagonia is a revered brand for their sustainable practices, lobbying for environmental causes, and education of injustices across the globe, not to mention their extremely high-quality products. To date, they have donated over $89 million to grassroots environmental groups both internationally and domestically. Read more about Patagonia’s various activism ventures here.
About the Shorts
Sizing: Most reviewers claim these shorts are true to size and my experience is the same. My measurements fell between a 6 and an 8, so I went with an 8. The waist is slightly looser than I typically prefer but it fits my butt and more athletic thighs perfectly. Whenever these shorts begin to have significant wear and tear (I don’t expect this for many years), I plan to purchase a size 6 instead.
Hiking Performance: These performed excellently throughout my hikes. I typically begin with an outer layer of long pants during sunrise hikes and then take them off as the temperature heats up. These shorts felt very comfortable both under my sweatpants and when I took them off. The nylon, spandex and water repellent finish function together to create a lightweight and cool feel that does a great job of not riding up during the hike. In addition, they have a great stretch to them and do not limit your range of motion at all. Small splashes of water are repelled well with these shorts as well.
Casual Wear: The 5″ length allows these shorts to be short enough that they look great for walking around town without appearing like standard bulky unattractive hiking shorts. They are very similar to the last pair I will be reviewing, the Eddie Bauer Sightscape Horizon Cargo Shorts. However, I would say these shorts are more flattering for a straighter body type and the Eddie Bauer shorts are more flattering for a curvy body type (though these Patagonia Quandary shorts are flattering on my curvy body type too, just less so).
Overall Thoughts: These shorts truly are fantastic, as is the company they come from. The quality and durability of these shorts are evident on the first use. They will last you for years to come for both your outdoor adventures and everyday use. They are flattering on both curvy and non-curvy straight body types. I truly can’t think of anything negative about these shorts. I believe they are the best for versatile trails (hiking, climbing, river crossings, etc.) because they have various components that allow them to excel in different terrains.
Cotopaxi Women’s Vamos Short Review: Best in Range of Motion
|Feature||Cotopaxi Women’s Vamos Short|
|Material||85% nylon, 15% spandex – quick-dry and very flexible for optimal range of motion. Material is not see-through|
|Pockets||3 – two front drop-ins, one back with zipper closure|
|Inseam Length and Fit||4.5″, mid-rise with concealed elastic cord in the waistband to tighten as needed|
|Other Notes||Cotopaxi donates 1% of it’s annual revenues to their Cotopaxi Foundation which donates to non-profits that combat global poverty, as well as allowing Cotopaxi to remain a B Corp. The factories that made these shorts notably prioritize sustainable practices.|
About the Brand
Cotopaxi was launched in 2014 starting with several backpacks and six months later, apparel. Cotopaxi is a B Corporation meaning they strive to have the highest standards for their workers, the community, the environment, and the overall governance of the company. Cotopaxi also commits 1% of their yearly revenue towards combatting poverty and supporting communities across the globe. They utilize a grant system, where they have given 42 grants to six different countries. Read more about the Cotopaxi Foundation here! The brand documents and reports specific achievements it has in aiding communities, which can be found here. Beyond helping communities across the globe, another key priority of Cotopaxi is reducing waste and increasing sustainability. Several products within the line are created through extra fabrics and materials from factories to reduce waste.
About the Shorts
Sizing: Most reviewers claim these shorts run true-to-size or large. I felt that these shorts did run a little large, as I sized down (purchased a small) and they fit me perfectly.
Hiking Performance: These shorts were excellent on my hikes, and they excelled when I would have to climb boulders or other high-stepping/climbing sections. I did not feel constrained at all, likely due to the higher spandex content. These shorts also resisted tears during some butt-scooting, extremely steep sections, demonstrating a high-quality material design. In addition, the inseam length was perfect to prevent chafing for me. Because of the interesting material on these shorts (stretchy like spandex but soft and cloth-like similar to nylon), they did not budge while hiking.
Casual Wear: The 4.5″ inseam length is extremely flattering and makes these shorts look like any other casual shorts. In fact, for me, these shorts are my favorite length. The company cycles through different colors, but they are still fashionable and actually make quite the fashion statement. Even their lightest color is not see-through so you don’t have to worry about some unwanted views showing through!
Overall Thoughts: These shorts really surprised me with how lightweight and stretchy they are. They prevented any unwanted chafing while staying on the shorter, more fashionable side of hiking shorts. While they may not give the look of your standard hiking shorts, these Vamos shorts functioned excellently and were superior to traditional hiking shorts in areas where high ranges of motion were necessary.
Coalatree Women’s Trailhead Shorts Review: Best for Wet Hikes and Backpacking
|Feature||Coalatree Women’s Trailhead Shorts|
|Material||Bluesign® 88% nylon, 12% spandex with an eco-friendly vapor-applied durable water repellent finish|
|Pockets||4- two drop-in pockets in the front and two pockets in the back (one with velcro)|
|Inseam Length and Fit||4″, mid-rise with an elastic waist and a drawstring to tighten the waist|
|Other Notes||These shorts are made from recycled materials. They are also tear-resistant, antimicrobial, and easily packable within a case located in the front right pocket. They are also made up of patent-pending 4-way stretch material to ensure maximal range of motion.|
About the Brand
Coalatree was founded in 2010 and began as a self-sustaining organic farm in Colorado where they initially aimed at creating sustainable workwear. They then shifted to outdoor gear where they retained their strong ties to sustainability. The company is also passionate about giving back to the community. For example, they use excess fabric from their clothing to create blankets that they give to homeless individuals in Salt Lake City. More information detailing the brand’s charitable projects can be found here.
The majority of the items sold by this brand are created from recycled and/or repurposed materials such as discarded yarns and plastics that are then melted down and turned into their fibers. The brand also uses a dying method that reduces CO2 emissions and dodges the need for water in the dyeing process. Lastly, the brand is aiming to have zero emissions in their factories. To learn more about the brand’s commitments to the environment, visit this page.
About the Shorts
Sizing: Most reviewers claim these shorts run true-to-size, but my measurements lead me to order a large. While the large fits great, I believe my typical size (a medium) would have been ideal. What this tells me is that the design is great and can still fit comfortably even if you miss your size slightly.
Hiking Performance: These shorts are best for wet hikes and even better for backpacking trips. Their antimicrobial feature clearly works and will help prevent your shorts from smelling even after a long, sweaty day. When put into the pocket bag, these shorts also function wonderfully as a pillow, and a compact carrying case for a multi-day backpacking trip. Because of how water-resistant they are, if you have a hike you know you’re going to be walking through rivers or other deeper sources of water, I would highly recommend these shorts.
The material feels differently than any of the other shorts I have ever worn, but I was pleasantly surprised with no chafing at the end of a long, hot 7+ hour hike. The inseam being 4″ had me reluctant but somehow due to the unique material, they did not rise on my thighs. As a result, I was chafe-free by the end of the day!
Casual Wear: The 4″ inseam length is short enough to look like any standard pair of shorts. Out of all of the shorts on this list, I received the most compliments on these and a pair of shorts I will speak about last. The colors appear to be flattering on any skin tone and are neutral enough to be wearable with many colors.
Overall Thoughts: I am a huge fan of the various sustainable practices that Coalatree has consistently stood by since being founded. The shorts are flattering on a curvy body (I bet they’d be even more flattering had I gotten the optimal size for me). They truly follow their tagline MTN2CTY given they could pass as either great trail or fashionable shorts. Their resistance to smell and ability to be packed up into a perfect lightweight pillow-sized bag (see below) makes them also perfect for backpacking. I also wanted to mention these shorts were incredible for fly fishing because of their water-resistance and how deep the pockets were (great for holding fly boxes, weights, indicators, etc!).
Eddie Bauer – Guide Pro-Flex Shorts Review: Best For Hot & Sunny Days
|Feature||Eddie Bauer Guide Pro-Flex Shorts|
|Material||94% nylon, 6% spandex with StormRepel® Durable Water Repellent, FreeShade® Ultraviolet Protection Factor (UPF) 50+|
|Pockets||4- two front zipper pockets, two drop-in pockets|
|Inseam Length and Fit||4″ (in size 6), mid-rise with elastic waist. Fitted to be moderately curvey throughout the hip and thigh|
|Other Notes||These shorts have moisture-wicking qualities and contain the flexion two-way active stretch for optimal range of motion|
About the Brand
The brand’s founder, Eddie Bauer, was an entrepreneurial outdoorsman, launched his first sports store in 1920 which later became a major site for outdoor retail in Seattle. Throughout his business enterprise, it’s clear that Eddie Bauer was committed to innovation and high-quality gear, as demonstrated through the timeline posted on the Eddie Bauer website. 100-years later, Eddie Bauer remains a well-respected outdoors brand that has been an industry leader in improving outdoor technology, increasing the inclusivity of the industry, and utilizing sustainable practices. Notably, Eddie Bauer has partnered with American Forests to plant over 8.4+ million trees across the United States and Canada.
About the Shorts
Sizing: Most reviewers claim these shorts run true-to-size. Based on the sizing chart, I went with a size 8 (the upper end of what I would usually get pants and shorts in) which fit like a glove!
Hiking Performance: These shorts, like the previous Cotopaxi pair, thrive in climbing and other high range-of-motion situations. They work wonderfully in staying cool and lightweight throughout the entire hike. The water-resistant material functioned excellently in preventing the shorts from becoming wet from sweat or splashes from river crossings. In addition, they are created with a UPF, which functions as an SPF factor for clothing! What the UPF system is and why it matters is explained in detail here.
As for chafing, while these shorts did much better than your standard short, after a few hours of intense hiking up a fair bit of incline I began to feel the beginning of inner thigh irritation. However, I experienced this on my bigger athletic legs and advise you to still check these out if 4″ inseams tend to be enough for you, or if you don’t typically experience thigh chafing! I think it may have been due to how soft the fabric is (which is a huge plus, in my opinion!). I will continue to wear these happily on my shorter day hikes and adventures as opposed to longer all-day ventures.
Casual Wear: The 4″ inseam length allows these shorts to look like standard, casual shorts people likely would not recognize as hiking shorts. The green color I purchased would be very flattering on a variety of skin tones and can be worn with a ton of different tops for a great outfit!
Overall Thoughts: These shorts are fantastic for those who don’t have chafing issues or those who can handle a 4″ inseam length. In addition, they are perfect for a hot day summer hike where you may be jumping in the water or be sweating quite a bit. Unrelated to hiking, these shorts were fantastic for days of fly fishing as well. These shorts also have my favorite pockets with two large zipper pockets on the front for easy access and the two large drop-ins in the back.
Eddie Bauer – Sightscape Horizon Cargo Shorts Review: Most Flattering
|Feature||Sightscape Horizon Cargo Shorts|
|Material||96% nylon, 4% spandex with StormRepel® Durable Water Repellent, FreeShade® Ultraviolet Protection Factor (UPF) 50+|
|Pockets||4- 2 drop-in pockets and 2 front snap-close cargo pockets on both legs on the front|
|Inseam Length and Fit||5″ (in size 6 regular), mid-rise with elastic waist. Fitted to be moderately curvey throughout the hip and thigh|
|Other Notes||These shorts are created with a special two-way active stretch for optimal range of motion. The shorts also have two buttons on the waistband. The shorts are also made to be more flattering than other hiking shorts, as they feature a curved back yoke.|
About the Shorts
Sizing: Most reviewers claim these shorts ran small, so I sized up to a size 10 (I tend to run 6-8), and they fit me as if I had them made for me. These shorts are clearly made for the individual with the smaller waist and the larger legs and butt. A big round of applause for the fit of these shorts!
Hiking Performance: These shorts, like the previous Cotopaxi pair, thrive in climbing and other high range-of-motion situations. They work wonderfully in staying cool and lightweight throughout the entire hike. The water-resistant material functioned excellently in preventing the shorts from becoming wet from sweat or splashes from river crossings. In addition to the previous Eddie Bauer shorts, they are created with a UPF of 50.
These shorts functioned great both under sweatpants at the beginning of a hike and on their own. They were the perfect length that even if the shorts rose up a little bit during the hike, they were still adequate to prevent chafing. They have an extremely comfortable stretch to them that is similar to the Patagonia Quandary shorts.
Casual Wear: For having a 5″ inseam, these shorts are the perfect length and are unrecognizable as hiking shorts when dressed up. Having no pockets on the backside of the shorts makes them extremely flattering. In addition, I appreciate the two sets of pockets on the front instead of the sides, so they do not appear to be wider than they are but they are still practical for hiking.
Overall Thoughts: These shorts function extremely well for hiking, and equally as well for daily casual wear. I was reluctant to order these shorts due to the star rating, but these shorts are unbelievably flattering and comfortable for hiking. I think the most important factor is to make sure you size up what you would normally wear for pants. If you’re stuck between the Patagonia Quandary shorts and these, I would say these shorts are more versatile for daily casual wear and moderate incline hikes, while the Quandary shorts are better for more intense hiking that may require some bouldering or climbing. In addition, these are truly the first outdoor pants that I believe were truly made for a curvy figure, which says a lot about the inclusivity of the brand itself.
Vicky Bandera is a Master’s student in Health and Exercise Science at Colorado State University and an ACSM certified Exercise Physiologist. She is passionate about the use of physical activity and nutrition as a source of longevity and overall health. Find her on some adventures with small health-related posts at @viqeeinthewoods on Instagram!