The 10 Best Hiking Shorts for Women of 2023
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Outdoor experts love these flexible and resilient shorts for comfort on the trail.
Hiking shorts are a key item in your outdoor apparel collection, and there’s a pair suited for every type of trail. Some hikers prefer cargo-style shorts for sun protection and abrasion resistance that’s perfect for rocky scrambles. Meanwhile, women who combine hiking and trail running might look for the most lightweight shorts for extra breathability and agility.
When you’re shopping for hiking shorts, comfort and freedom of movement are key. Features like pocket placement, water-resistant fabric, and liners provide finishing touches that may be crucial based on your hiking needs. We narrowed the field to find the best pairs of hiking shorts that won’t ride up (or slide down) and will wick sweat while providing longterm, chafe-free comfort for treks of all lengths in variable conditions. Whether you’re hitting the trail for an hour or multiple days in the desert or above treelines, our picks for women’s hiking shorts have you covered.
Smartwool Women's Intraknit Active Lined Short
Why We Love It: The sweat-wicking, chafe-preventing liner doesn’t ride up.
What to Consider: It would be nice to see a wider size range.
Smartwool’s Intraknit Active Lined Short took top prize for their cutting-edge knitting technology, flattering design, and comfort for all-day wear. We’ve long appreciated the brand’s use of merino liners under lightweight, quick-drying shorts. They upped the game for this pair by extending the standard merino liner briefs into a seamless compression short for extra chafe prevention.
These feature a high, wide waistband and lightweight polyester running shorts, but it’s the bike-style liner that sets them apart. The soft wicking liner is designed with a seamless merino and Tencel blend, making these super comfortable and chafe-free as well as one of the most odor-resistant shorts we’ve tried out. Intraknit is one of Smartwool’s innovative construction methods, made via a 3D knitting machine that creates nearly seamless garments with integrated body mapping as opposed to the traditional cut-and-sew, which limits insulation-versus-venting zones and creates more scraps. This results in shorts that allow greater freedom of movement, fewer seams, and a dedicated body-mapped design.
Price at time of publish: $95
Sizes: XS-XL | Inseam length: 5 inches | Materials: 86 percent polyester, 14 percent elastane (outer); 33 percent merino, 33 percent Tencel, 26 percent nylon, 8 percent elastane (liner) | Weight: Not listed
Patagonia Women’s Baggies Shorts
Why We Love It: The wide array of colors and patterns make these even more of a fan favorite.
What to Consider: The updated fit can feel tighter than previous iterations.
A classic that somehow never goes out of style, these retro-cool shorts come in a wild variety of colors and patterns so you can make a splash on the trail … and in the water. These shorts dry quickly and are treated with a durable water repellent (DWR) finish to shed light moisture. As a bonus, Patagonia has doubled down on their sustainability focus with these shorts, which are now made from 100 percent recycled nylon from fishing nets. Plus, the DWR finish is PFC-free, something we’re happy to see more of these days.
Baggies are trail famous for holding up season after season, fading to a sun-bleached look that shows off just how long these shorts last no matter where your outdoor adventures take you. They aren’t the softest material, and some people might find the ruched waistband a bit constricting — especially compared to the yoga-style waistband of running-oriented shorts — but for durability, sustainability, and a look that takes you from town to trail to the beach, these can’t be beat.
Price at time of publish: $59
Sizes: XS-XXL | Inseam length: 5 inches | Materials: Recycled nylon | Weight: 5 ounces
Baleaf Women's 5" Running Shorts
Why We Love It: The wide, stable waistband holds your phone in a convenient back pocket.
What to Consider: Its liner isn’t as breathable as other options.
From sunshirts to hiking pants to general outdoor garments, Baleaf makes well-designed gear that holds up in style and materials to pricier brands and lasts hundreds of trail miles. These shorts are lightweight and versatile with consistent sizing and a wide, comfortable waistband that doesn’t pinch or slide down.
These are a popular version with a 5-inch inseam, which is long enough to offer sun protection while still allowing you a full range of motion. The zippered back pocket holds most standard smartphones plus a credit card, and these tend to stay up really well even during bouncy descents or sections of running, even if you have a phone in the back pocket. Note that site images show a mesh liner, but the shorts actually have more of a solid polyester liner, which is still odor-resistant but isn’t as breathable as some of the pricier hiking and running shorts on the market.
Price at time of publish: $29
Sizes: XS-3XL | Inseam length: 5 inches | Materials: 95 percent polyester, 5 percent spandex | Weight: Not listed
Brooks Chaser 5” Short
Why We Love It: They have four-way stretch for movement and an updated waistband for more comfort.
What to Consider: The size range is limited.
With loads of airflow thanks to the back venting under the waistband, these lightweight shorts promote sweat release and staying cool. Think of these as your sunny day shorts, your high-humidity shorts, and your midsummer hit-the-trail shorts.
The four-way stretch makes these shorts feel even lighter, with a slightly flared leg opening for maximum range of motion on technical trails or steep ascents and descents. Brooks recently updated the waistband with a wider, flat-lying design to ease pressure on your stomach, and it comes with an internal drawcord to cinch tight and avoid sliding down. These are highly wicking with an antimicrobial liner — all things we look for in our lightest warm-weather hiking gear. As a bonus, they come with two convenient front pockets and a larger back pocket to stash a phone and keys.
Price at time of publish: $60
Sizes: XS-XL | Inseam length: 5 inches | Materials: 92 percent polyester, 8 percent spandex | Weight: Not listed
Related:The 11 Best Hiking Pants for Women of 2023
Kühl Freeflex Cargo Shorts
Why We Love It: They’re abrasion resistant with six pockets for all your belongings.
What to Consider: The long cargo style means less freedom of movement.
Sure, these are cargo shorts, but they’re not your uncle’s cargo shorts. This updated and cooler pair from Kühl is made with a stretchy, breathable polyester that is highly abrasion resistant and more flexible than other long-inseam shorts. We love the six conveniently placed pockets, including two classic cargo pockets on the sides, snap-closure pockets on the back, and two hip pockets.
These shorts are a solid choice for hiking-based travel where you’ll be in town but also hitting the trails and will hold up to plenty of wear and tear. They are UPF 50 and moderately sweat-wicking, so while they aren’t as light as a pair of running-oriented shorts, the protection and durability make cargo shorts cool again. (Okay, we’re done.)
Price at time of publish: $89
Sizes: 0-22 | Inseam length: 10 inches | Materials: Polyester | Weight: 8.5 ounces
Prana Halle Shorts II
Best Size Range
Why We Love It: These eco-friendly shorts come in dedicated plus sizes.
What to Consider: The snap-closure waistband can feel constricting.
Prana’s Halle shorts have been around for years in various iterations, and this latest version adds a sustainability checkmark to the manufacturing process using Prana’s “ReZion” recycled nylon. The material has a UPF 50 rating, is highly abrasion resistant, and is treated with a PFC-free DWR finish. These shorts look great in town, but the fabric is technical enough for the trail thanks to the nylon’s wicking properties. The shorts have a 9-inch rise for maximum coverage, with the choice of a 5-inch or 7-inch inseam. We love the snap-closure back pockets and the vents along the side pockets for even more airflow on hot days.
The plus-size version of the Halle Shorts are built with different body types in mind, not simply extensions of the standard sizing. This means increased fabric space in the front and a more accommodating rise around the hips for a flattering look that feels comfortable for on-trail movement.
Price at time of publish: $69
Sizes: 0-16, 18-22W | Inseam length: 5 or 7 inches | Materials: Recycled nylon | Weight: Not listed
Wondery Isabel Outdoor Shorts
Best Trail to Town
Why We Love It: They have trail-to-town style with fun details and durable-yet-soft fabric.
What to Consider: The fit from waist-to-hip can feel a bit off depending on body type.
These flattering high-rise shorts from Wondery are another recently-updated-but-classically-styled pair of shorts for the arsenal. With fun details pulled from more everyday designs yet made for outdoor wear, the Isabel Outdoor Shorts hit that sweet spot for a casual hike in a townie-inspired look. Details include webbing attachments for custom-feeling fit, matte black metal buckle attachments (these replaced the previous plastic buckles), and six pockets on the front, sides, and back for added style and convenience.
These wouldn’t be our first pick for a super technical hike because of the cotton makeup, but they’ll feel equally at home on relaxed trail outings followed by a downtown patio hang.
Price at time of publish: $58
Sizes: XS-3XL | Inseam length: 3.5 inches | Materials: 97 percent cotton, 3 percent spandex | Weight: Not listed
Janji Groundwork Pace Shorts
Best Compression Style
Why We Love It: These stay in place better than most bike-style shorts we’ve run and hiked in.
What to Consider: Compression isn’t for everyone, and the skintight feel can take some getting used to.
The sleek bike-shorts style isn’t just for the spin studio. These silky smooth, techy shorts are ready for whatever hike or trail run the day holds, resisting the roll-and-bunch misery we’ve encountered with other similar styles that don’t hug our legs quite as well. The Groundwork Pace shorts have a generous 7-inch inseam and a barely-there silicone band around the bottom inside of each leg to help hold them in place, and the high rise and wide, flat waistband means these are cemented to your body as the trail miles add up. No shifting under a pack, no bunching, no riding down. They have 32 percent spandex, which offers just enough light compression to stay secure and supportive without feeling constricting, and the side pockets are deep enough to hold a phone or a small headphone case without worrying about them bouncing out. If you aren’t used to hiking or running in this style of shorts, the tightness might take some getting used to, but rest assured they were designed for high levels of movement and still feel comfortable after hours of wear.
Price at time of publish: $64
Sizes: XS-XL | Inseam length: 6 inches | Materials: 68 percent nylon, 32 percent spandex | Weight: 4.3 ounces
Related:The Best Women’s Shorts for Travel
Outdoor Research Ferrosi Shorts
Best Sun Protection
Why We Love It: Quick-drying ability with a UPF 50 rating makes these prime for any weather.
What to Consider: We’d love to see a style update with a slightly more flattering cut.
Outdoor Research has a full lineup of sun-protecting gear, and we love the Ferrosi Shorts for their stretchy-yet-durable fabric and dedicated sun protection for full exposure days from the sunny desert to treks above treeline. These abrasion-resistant shorts are great for off-trail scrambles and hikes that end in an alpine lake (go ahead and jump in — they’ll dry fast!) thanks to an updated fabric that uses 46 percent recycled nylon and has even more stretch than previous models.
They also retain their shape really well, can go several days between washes during multi-day hiking trips, and the zippered back pocket can stash a phone, cash, or keys. As for the all-around look, we know these are a classic, but we’d love to see a slightly higher rise and updated waistband for a more universally flattering cut.
Price at time of publish: $79
Sizes: XS-XXL | Inseam length: 5 inches | Materials: 86 percent nylon, 14 percent spandex | Weight: 6.7 ounces
Nathan Front Runner Shorts
Best for Trail Running
Why We Love It: They’re so lightweight and breathable that you almost forget you’re wearing shorts.
What to Consider: Some stitching on the liner hem started unraveling after we wore them for a full season.
Light-and-airy is the hallmark of a good pair of running shorts, and this pair from a well-established running brand are no exception. The liner shorts are lighter and less compressive than other bike-style liners, and the waistband is so unobtrusive you’ll almost forget you’re wearing shorts. This doesn’t impact how well the shorts stay up though, and the drawstring adds extra security. These shorts have excellent freedom of movement and are prime for all-day wear as they’re supremely comfortable, flattering, and odor-resistant — perfect if you’re hitting the trail on a day bookended by other obligations.
We listed these for running since they’re breathable and wicking with the right combo of loose shorts over longer liners. But! These are also terrific hiking shorts, which makes them our go-to for longer outings where we combine running and hiking. You can’t go wrong with hiking the uphills and running the downhills.
Price at time of publish: $50
Sizes: XS-XL | Inseam length: 6 inches | Materials: 88 percent polyester, 12 percent elastane (outer); 82 percent polyester, 18 percent elastane (liner) | Weight: Not listed
Tips for Buying Hiking Shorts
Consider your preferred waistband style
The waistband style is tied directly to the style of the shorts, with compression shorts or running shorts featuring an elastic band and classic hiking shorts often having a zipper or button closure.
More and more athletic shorts are opting for a wide, yoga-style waistband, which is often made with a softer knit than the body of the shorts and sits high and flat over your waist. This is a flattering cut for many people and has added security of sitting high enough to avoid sliding down. Some people find this style more comfortable than button-closure shorts, which can feel constricting during movement.
Zipper and button flies are the more classic closure, which is less stretchy but can feel more secure and is a hardier type of closure.
Look at both ultralight and more rugged models
This choice comes down to choosing between feathery-light running-style shorts compared to more classic hiking-style shorts. This is both about personal preference as well as considering the types of outings you’ll be taking them on. A speedier hike where you plan to run some of the sections will be better served with running shorts, but more rugged outings with scrambling and rocky sections call for a heftier pair of shorts that can handle more abrasion.
Avid hiker and mountain athlete Dawn Brintnall opts for a flowy pair of lightweight shorts for her hikes.
“I usually look for something lightweight and fast drying with a mesh inner,” says Brintnall. “I like the Vuori Clementine Short — the price point is high, but they last.” She’s such a fan of the shorts that she ended up buying a second pair and a pair for her boyfriend.
Mobility is key
Mobility is the number-one factor Brintnall looks for when choosing a pair of shorts, both for long outings and shorter excursions. “I want to be able to hike with as big a stride as possible without my legs feeling bound up, especially when I’m wearing a pack and don’t want the shorts shifting around.”
Before hitting the trail, try the shorts on to make sure they don’t impede your range of motion. Look for leg openings that don’t feel too tight around your legs and a waistband that doesn’t feel constricting. A good pair of athletic shorts should feel super stretchy, and you should feel as comfortable moving forward as you do moving laterally.
Five inches is a solid inseam length for hiking shorts, hitting the sweet spot between being short enough for range of motion and full mobility, while still being long enough for sun protection and to avoid riding up or chafing.
Frequently Asked Questions
What makes a pair of shorts good for hiking?
A good pair of hiking shorts should feel comfortable for long periods of time and shouldn’t impede your range of motion. Look for a comfortable waistband that sits flat against your skin and doesn’t rub under a pack belt. The inseam should be long enough to feel confident during high steps, but not so long that your legs feel bound up. Five inches is a great place to start. We also look for sun protection, some abrasion resistance, and wicking materials that keep you cool and dry while preventing the dreaded thigh chafe.
When should I wear hiking shorts instead of pants?
This depends on your preference! There are plenty of fantastic women’s hiking pants out there for warm-weather hikes, but many people prefer to wear shorts during the summer. Hiking shorts can offer greater freedom of movement and can feel cooler during warm-weather outings. We like to wear hiking shorts on trails where we won’t be in danger of bushwhacking and scraping our legs and also on less buggy trails where leaving more exposed skin won’t be an issue.
Why Trust Travel + Leisure
Maggie Slepian is an avid hiker, backpacker, and trail runner with more than a decade of professional gear testing experience. She has backpacked thousands of miles, and her hiking and backpacking has taken her from winter peak bagging to coastal backpacking to extended trips in the desert and high alpine. She has personally tested dozens of pairs of hiking shorts in every style imaginable and is active in the outdoor gear community for external input.
Related:The 12 Best Hiking Shoes for Women of 2023
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