Hiking in Pants vs. Shorts: The Great Debate

Gearing up for a hiking trip but not sure whether to pack the shorts or the pants? You're not alone! Read this guide to decide what the best option is for you!

Four people hike. Some in shorts and some in pants. There are peaks in the background.

Photo by Kristjan Kotar

As temperatures begin to rise and layers of down and fleece are shoved to the back of the closet, you may be wondering what you should wear on your next hiking or backpacking adventure: pants, shorts, or maybe both? There are many factors to consider when selecting an outfit, whether you are planning a day hike in your local state park or a week-long backpacking trip through remote wilderness areas.

The type of clothing you choose can affect the entire trajectory of your trip. Weather, climate, trip length, and personal preference all play a factor in whether to choose pants or shorts. In this article, we are going to review the benefits and downfalls to both, and when they are best suited on the trail.

Hiking in Pants

With so many different types of pants and leggings to choose from, hiking in pants can definitely have its benefits, no matter the season. Even in warmer weather, pants can provide protection against the sun, mosquitos, and other insects, as well as brush, poison ivy, other unsavory plants, and cool night air.

Sometimes it feels nice to have the extra support of pants, and oftentimes they are more practical, made of sturdier materials, and have better pockets than many shorts.

On the downside, pants can feel quite cumbersome on a long, hot hike. They are generally heavier than shorts and can be more restricting of movement. Many hikers turn to leggings to solve this issue, as they are lightweight and extremely comfortable.

For a day hike, leggings are an understandable option, but for overnighters and backpacking adventures, leggings may not be the smartest choice. Most leggings are made out of synthetic materials, like spandex, which tend to hold onto odors. After a day of sweating and getting dirty, they can begin to smell pretty ripe. Because they lack breathability, they could even give you an infection if worn for too long. If you want to hike in leggings, try natural fabrics, like merino wool.

Let’s recap some pros and cons of hiking in pants:

Pros

  • Protect against the elements
  • Protect against brush and rocks if you have to do any scrambling
  • Practical and durable

Cons

  • Can restrict movement
  • Can make you too hot

Depending on where and when you are hiking, pants are definitely a solid choice. Here are a few of my favorite pants to hike in.

PrAna Women’s Halle Straight Pants

The Prana Women's Halle Straight Pant.

These stretchy pants made from a combination of nylon and spandex are great for hiking, backpacking, or wearing around town. They are water and wrinkle resistant and have UPF 50 protection. The mid-rise waist is secure and comfortable for long days on the trail. You can even roll up the cuffs of these pants and button them into place on warmer days. Though form-fitting, the Halle pant doesn’t feel restrictive, though they are not as breathable as some other options on the market. Overall, these pants are a great combination of comfort and functionality. Try the prAna Men’s Brion Pants for a similar style with a looser fit.

Outdoor Research Women’s Ferrosi Pants

The Outdoor Research Women's Ferrosi Pant.

These breathable and stretchy nylon-blend softshell pants are super durable and comfortable, making them ideal for a variety of outdoor activities. Whether you are hiking, backpacking, climbing, or camping, these pants will not disappoint. They’re water repellent and quick drying in the event that they get wet.

When the weather gets warm, use the drawstring on the pant legs to shorten them up. For colder weather, these pants are a great layering option and are stretchy enough to comfortably fit a baselayer under. The Ferrosi Pants are a solid all-arounder that will last you many seasons outdoors. You can also check out the Outdoor Research Men’s Ferrosi Pants.

Craghoppers Men’s Nosilife Convertible Pants

The Craghoppers Men’s Nosilife Convertible Pants.

These lightweight polyamide pants are water and bug resistant and offer plenty of ventilation. Zip-off the bottoms on warmer days or for high creek crossings, or throw on a baselayer underneath on chilly days. These pants have an anti-odor fabric, making them ideal for long, sweaty hikes. With pockets in all the right places, you’ll never misplace your phone or GPS again. Check out the Craghoppers Women’s Nosilife Convertible pants for a more streamlined fit.

Outdoor Voices Women’s Rectrek Zip-Off Pants

The Outdoor Voices Women’s Rectrek Zip-Off Pant.

Not only do I love these pants for their comfort and function, but also for the fun array of colors they come in. I mean, why sacrifice style when you don’t have to? These TerraStretch pants are very breathable and feature plenty of large pockets to store your phone or trail snacks in while hiking or climbing.

They also zip off mid-thigh, making them a great choice for backpacking or those days you need to get an alpine start. These pants offer plenty of thoughtful details, from drawstring ankle cuffs to a removable belt. If you aren't a fan of the nylon belt, the belt loops are wide enough for other options. Alternatively, check out the Men’s Rectrek Zip-Off Pants.

Hiking in Shorts

Staying cool is only one of the many benefits of hiking in shorts, but it is definitely an important one. Long, strenuous hikes or backpacking trips can be a lot more comfortable with the right pair of shorts. Generally, shorts are more breathable than pants and super easy to get on and off.

For ultralight backpackers looking to cut ounces, shorts offer a lightweight solution to lengthy trail days. Running shorts are very popular with hikers and backpackers due to their airy ventilation, as well as the built-in underwear.

While shorts may be ideal for sunny day hikes, many backpackers who wear shorts will also bring a pair of pants for cold nights or rainy days. If you are starting in the wee morning hours, you may want to wear a pair of pants over your shorts and then take them off mid-day.

So, while shorts are a no-brainer in hot weather, they aren’t all that useful any other time. They also offer much less protection against UV rays, bugs, and brush on the trail, as well as no protection for sensitive knees while scrambling over rocky terrain.

Though shorts leave you more susceptible overall to bug bites, I find that I can quickly identify when there are ticks or other insects crawling on me, much more quickly compared to when wearing pants.

Let’s recap the pros and cons of hiking in shorts:

Pros

  • Keep you cool and comfortable
  • Breathable and lightweight
  • Some shorts have built-in underwear

Cons

  • Not a good option for cold weather
  • Little protection against the elements

Depending on the climate you are hiking in, shorts can be a perfect choice. Here are some of my favorite shorts to hike in:

PrAna Arch Women’s Shorts

The PrAna Arch Women’s Shorts.

These light and breathable nylon-blend shorts are perfect for days spent in the backcountry or days spent on the couch. They are extremely comfortable and durable, made out of eco-friendly fabrics. The elastic waist makes them easy to get on and off, and the drawstring makes it easy to adjust them. With a UPF rating of 50+ and two roomy pockets, these functional shorts are a great addition to any hiking wardrobe.

The North Face Class V Belted Shorts

The North Face Class V Belted Short.

These durable, water-repellent shorts are perfect for summer hiking, backpacking, or paddlesports. They are quick-drying and offer UV protection. An elastic waistband and adjustable belt ensure you get the best fit every time.

Made out of recycled nylon, these shorts will hold up against whatever you encounter. They come in both a shorter mid-thigh and a longer option. For an alternative fit, check out the Women’s Class V Belted Short.

Rab Momentum Shorts

The Rab Momentum Shorts.

These super-stretchy and lightweight shorts are ideal for hiking, backpacking, trail running, running, climbing, and casual everyday use. They are extremely versatile and functional, with quick-drying, water- and sweat-resistant wool fabric.

The wide elastic waistband sits comfortably above the hips, without feeling too tight. The simple, streamlined design makes these no-frills shorts an easy-to-pack option for your next trip.

Mammut Women’s Hiking Shorts

The Mammut Women’s Hiking Shorts.

For a more durable and traditionally cut hiking short, turn to the moisture-wicking, odor-resistant, water-resistant Mammut hiking shorts. With UV protection, these shorts provide plenty of protection against the elements, while maintaining comfort and breathability.

The athletic fit and abrasion-resistant polyamide fabric make these a great choice for hiking, backpacking, climbing, and camping. Large but discreet pockets, including a side zipper pocket, make these even more functional and trail-ready. Check out these Mammut Men’s Hiking shorts as well.

The Bottom(s) Line

With so many high-quality pants and shorts to choose from, you should have no trouble gearing up for all of your upcoming adventures. Whether camping in the desert or backpacking through the Northeast, there are pants or shorts options to suit your needs.

You may still be wondering which is better: hiking in pants or shorts? In my opinion, it's a tie. They both have their time and place and moment to shine. I know this summer I’m going to be practically living in shorts, but as soon as I feel a hint of chill in the air, the pants are going back on. If you have questions about which pants or shorts may be right for you, reach out to a Camping & Hiking Expert here at Curated. We love chatting about new gear and apparel and look forward to helping you find the best hiking shorts or pants. Happy hiking!

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Written By
Jessica LaPolla
Jessica LaPolla
Camping & Hiking Expert
Hi there! I have always had a deep love for the outdoors, having grown up on my family's horse farm in New Jersey. I began hiking and camping at a young age and started backpacking as a young adult. I now enjoy taking weekend backpacking trips with my dogs and rock climbing with my partner. This yea...
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