One of the best things about hiking — aside from getting to spend time in nature, seeing some of the most beautiful places on the planet, and the fantastic health benefits — is that you can do it year-round. Though brands tend to introduce their new hiking clothing in spring, in many parts of the country, winter is the best time for hiking. So if you buy hiking shorts before new gear launches, you can often find it on a screaming deal.
But you can’t just buy any pair of women’s hiking shorts off the internet. Wearing the wrong shorts or pants while hiking can lead to everything from sunburn and rubbing to big bites, and sweaty legs, or even a cold evening, if you happen to get soaked while wearing pants that don’t dry very quickly. Just like having the wrong shoes can give you blisters, the wrong shorts can lead to chaffing around the waist or thighs (ouch).
Fortunately, I do a ton of hiking, and was able to get my hands on some of the best under-the-radar women’s hiking shorts available on the market. I tested them through a hiking trip to Alaska, on 90-degree hikes around Vancouver, and while hiking in remote parts of British Columbia in late fall. And after testing a handful of pairs, I can confidently say these are the four best women’s hiking shorts and pants for most women looking to hit the trails in the coming months — and they’re all currently under $50.
We hope you love the items we recommend below! Just so you know, Matador may collect a small commission from the links on this page if you decide to make a purchase. Listed prices are accurate as of the time of publication.
- The best for comfort
- The best for distance hiking
- The best quick-drying (and best for curves)
- The best multi-sport short
- What to look for in a hiking short
- Hiking shorts vs. hiking pants
The best for maximum comfort: FreeFly Apparel Breeze Short
- Pros: Incredibly soft, dries quickly, built-in underwear, stretch fabric is flattering on everyone
- Cons: No side pockets, not very warm
- My two cents on sizing: Standard to slightly big — they have a straight, non-fitted cut. But a lot of stretch.
My favorite thing about the FreeFly Breeze Shorts is that you can hike in them or lay down for a quick nine hours of sleep and be supremely comfortable either way.
I’ve been a fan of FreeFly for a long time, primarily for their aesthetics (straight lines, solid colors, very classic styles) and the fact that all their clothing (women’s hiking shorts included) have UPF properties to protect your skin. But I recently tried the Breeze Short and they’ve become my go-to pair of shorts not just for outdoor activities, but also for running errands or just hanging out around the house.
The brand’s much-touted bamboo fabric is probably the most comfortably fabric I’ve ever worn, but it still has the properties you want in a hiking short: it’s quick drying, breathable, stretchy, and weighs nearly nothing. The trade-off then is that the fabric is pretty thin, so I wouldn’t wear it on hikes where I’m likely to be sitting on rough rocks for extended periods of time. But as a super versatile, throw-on-and-go hiking short, I’ve yet to find better.
There are only two things I would change. I’d like side pockets, but since the Breeze is more of a running short, it’s understandable that it doesn’t have them (however, the Pull-on Breeze Short does). And it may be nice if there was a drawstring around the waist, especially if they start stretching out because you haven’t washed them after a few hikes (or is that just me?)
Best for rugged or long-distance hikes: Sierra Design Fredonyer Stretch Short
- Pros: Durable, useful pockets, doesn’t show signs of wear, great price, comes in a pant
- Cons: Inseam may be a little long for some buyers
- My two cents on sizing: Fredonyer Stretch Short is standard sizing, Fredonyer Pant runs a little slim in the thighs (but stretches)
I generally like being light and breezy while hiking and could probably borderline be considered a minimalist hiker — I hiked from the US into Canada in Chacos hiking sandals, after all. But for all-day hikes or more rugged hikes where I know I’ll be going through tight brush, taking breaks on logs, or carrying a more substantial hiking pack with a hip belt, I do prefer a thicker.
Fortunately, the Sierra Designs Fredonyer Short seems to be just that, but it doesn’t have a bulky, boxy look — and it’s very comfortable. Sierra Designs doesn’t make a ton of items — primarily lightweight sleeping bags and backpacking tents, plus a good lightweight rain jacket — but what it does make it makes well, and sells at a decent price, too. So it shouldn’t have surprised me that its hiking gear would be equally useful.
The Fredonyer Short is loaded with features, including pockets big enough for a cell phone, a built-in adjustable belt, a zippered back pocket, and ventilated fabric inside the legs to reduce sweat. Better still, they also have an SPF 50 rating and seem very durable. I wore them while bushwhacking through a forest fire burn zone in an area full of low brush and broken twigs and sticks and they didn’t snag on anything — nor do they even look like they’ve been worn, really. I tested them on a 12-mile hike and didn’t have any damage to the shorts (or rubbing against my skin) at the end of the day.
These women’s hiking shorts also come in a hiking pant version with similar features (like a ventilated inseam). I found that the pants were a little lower rise than I would normally prefer, but I have rather short legs and a long torso. If your legs are a little shorter and thicker like me, size up so they’re comfortable right out of the box. But they do stretch out after a few hours of wear.
- Current price: $49.95 for the shorts (pants are $70)
The best quick-drying: Title Nine Switchback Short
- Pros: Big pockets, drawstring waist, curve-friendly, quick drying
- Cons: Boxy cut, pockets closer to inseam than normal
- My two cents on sizing: Seems to be relatively roomy; size down if you like a slimmer cut
Pretty much every hiking short on the planet is quick-drying, so it’s pretty noteworthy when a pair stands out on top of that. But credit where credit is due to Title Nine’s Women’s Switchback hiking short.
I wore this comfortable, pull-on short while hiking to a waterfall. I didn’t realize you could swim in said falls until I got there, and since I didn’t have a swimsuit, I went in wearing the Switchback shorts. I figured I’d change into a different pair to hike back, but before I could get far enough away from the falls to change in privacy, the Switchback shorts were nearly dry. Considering they were completely submerged, I’d have no hesitations about wearing them on a hike where there was a chance of rain or the potential for a deep stream crossing.
I also really liked that these shorts aren’t over-engineered — a drawstring waist, two front pockets, and a zippered back pocket. So they’ll lend themselves well to just about any active adventure, or just wearing with a white tee and nicer sandals for an al fresco dinner. They’re fairly roomy around the hips and waist in my normal size, so I would size down if I was buying them again. But that means they’d be great for curvier hikers who find other women’s hiking shorts to be a bit too narrow around the butt or thighs.
Also note that the pockets sit directly on the front of your thighs, rather than the sides. It means you’re less likely to drop something when you sit, but it’s different placement from most hiking shorts.
Current price: $29
The best for multiple sports: Patagonia Baggies
- Pros: Flattering cut, tons of colors and sizes, anti-wrinkle,
- Cons: Fabric could be softer, high waist only available with a longer inseam
- My two cents on sizing: Exactly as expected
Okay, Patagonia is not exactly an under-the-radar brand. But don’t let that stop you from buying your next pair of women’s hiking shorts from the brand, because it does quite a lot to be sustainable and eco-friendly. That includes offering gear repairs, uses recycled materials, runs a gear buy-back and resale program, and even donates 100 percent of its profits to eco-friendly charities.
I’ve worn several pairs of baggies and prefer the classic style: a higher rise with a five-inch inseam. But they come in a version called “Barely Baggies” with a shorter inseam and lower rise, too. But baggies come in all shapes and sizes, and Matador covered them in-depth earlier this year. Long story short: there’s a reason they’ve been around since the 1980s and are still one of the brand’s most-popular products.
- Current price: $21 for the classic baggies in hemp (or $28 for standard; pre-owned starting at $19)
Women’s hiking shorts: what to look for
Technically, yes, you can hike in just about any pair of shorts or pants. But for the best hiking experience, you’ll want a pair of women’s hiking shorts designed for wear on the trails. They’re typically made from lightweight, breathable materials such as nylon or polyester, and are designed to be comfortable and functional in a variety of outdoor environments. They’re often a bit longer than non-active shorts to ensure against chaffing or inseam bunching, and may have a variety of features to enhance their performance.
That includes mesh materials or air holes in in high-use area, reinforced stitching or fabrics to protect from abrasion, and larger pockets for safely carrying items like phones or snack bars. They may also be treated with water-resistant or water-repellent coatings to help keep the wearer dry in wet conditions, and could have SPF properties to protect your skin without the need for chemical sunscreen.
Hiking shorts vs. hiking pants
There are a few situations when you might prefer to wear hiking pants instead of shorts, and they’re not all related to temperature.
- Rough terrain: If you’ll be hiking on trails that aren’t well-maintained, doing some scrambling, or blazing your own trail, you may want to wear hiking pants to protect your legs from scrapes and cuts. Hiking pants are usually made from durable, abrasion-resistant materials that can withstand rough terrain. They’re also useful in areas with plants that may leave burrs or pointy thorns on your socks. Some pants, including the Fredonyer Stretch Pant listed above, are convertible, allowing you to roll up the hem when you want something closer to shorts.
- Bugs: If you’ll be hiking in an area with a lot of bugs, opt for a full-length pant. They may be a little warmer, but they’re far more effective than bug spray.
- Sun protection: If you’ll be hiking in an area with strong sun exposure and minimal shade, you may want to wear hiking pants to protect your legs from the sun’s harmful UV rays. Some hiking pants have built-in UPF (ultraviolet protection factor) ratings to block harmful UV rays.