Best Trail Running Shorts For Hiking 2023
November 17, 2023 – Wearing short inseam length trail running shorts for hiking is the most comfortable and efficient warm weather option. That’s because shorts offer maximum breathability, weigh very little, and don’t impair your stride via friction, bunching, or lack of stretch. Hit the PCT or AT and you’ll see nearly all of the thru-hikers wearing them.
However, not all trail running shorts are created equal, and some are much better for hiking and backpacking than others, primarily due to their pocket configuration. Runners may prefer to store their phone in a center back pocket, rather than a hand pocket, to prevent the contents from bouncing with each stride. Hikers, on the other hand, will have difficulty accessing the center back pocket while wearing a pack, and their strides are shorter and cause less bounce.
Functional Zippered Hand Pockets Are The Most Important Feature
Functionally deep and secure hand pockets are the most important feature to look for when choosing a pair of trail running shorts for hiking purposes, as they give easy access to your phone for snapping pics or looking at GPS. All of our preferred models have zippered hand pockets that can securely and comfortably store a phone.
We love trail running shorts with zippered hand pockets because they guarantee contents will not fall out. This is true even when the pockets are shallow due to short inseam length. Even when the shorts fabric is loose, thin, stretchy, and prone to swaying. And even while contorting the body with large movements, such as climbing over a downed tree, or navigating a scree field. Your phone will never fall out as long as you remember to zip up.
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The 3 Best Trail Running Shorts For Hiking
Popular Models Without Zippered Hand Pockets
Patagonia Multi Trails Shorts
We love the wearing the Patagonia Multi Trails Shorts because they offer the best blend of stretch, comfort, breathability, and zippered pocket security. This is a great all-purpose pair of shorts that’s particularly good for hiking, but also great for running and athleisure use. Read our full-length Patagonia Multi-Trails Shorts Review.
- Weight: 4.0 oz (our measurement)
- Price: $79 M’s | $69 W’s
- Pockets: 2 zippered hand, 1 snap rear
- Material: 90% recycled polyester, 10% Spandex
- Inseam: 8″ M’s | 5″ W’s
- Built-In Liner: Yes
- Waist: Elastic band with internal drawstring
- Average User Review: 4.5 stars
- Pros: Very stretchy. Very breathable. Sustainable. Zippered pockets. Comfiest.
- Cons: Not the most durable. No side thigh pockets. Cut out the liner.
To summarize the big picture build, Patagonia Multi Trails Shorts are medium length inseam running shorts with an elastic waistband + drawstring, zippered hand pockets, and built-in mesh liner. It’s a really nice feature set for hikers. The fabric is extra stretchy and movement-friendly thanks to the 10% spandex blend. However, the more spandex, the slower the fabric is to dry, so it’s always a matter of pros and cons.
Starting from the top, Patagonia Multi Trails Shorts have an elastic waistband that is about as standard as they come. It’s wide enough but not particularly wide. The drawstring too is quite average and is mostly static with a light touch of stretch.
Perhaps their best and most useful feature are the zippered hand pockets. There’s two of them, each more than large enough to store a full size phone or a few smaller items. Interestingly, the zipper pulls are loops of cord rather than tabs or plastic bits. They also have a single rear snap-closure pocket, which isn’t the most useful, but there if you want to stash an empty bar wrapper or maybe a pair of gloves.
Both the men’s and women’s versions of the Patagonia Multi Trails Shorts come with a built-in mesh liner that replaces underwear. The men’s version gets a boxer-brief liner while the women’s has a brief liner. These liners are okay as built-in liners go, they are soft and airy. That said, we do recommend cutting them out and pairing with your preferred underwear.
Thanks to the zippered hand pocket configuration and extremely stretchy/breathable fabric, the Patagonia Multi Trail Shorts are an exceptional pair of all-purpose outdoor shorts. They are best for hiking and athleisure but still great for running too.
Janji Transit Tech Shorts
The Janji Transit Tech Shorts are our favorite trail running/multi-purpose shorts to use for hiking, as well as the author’s current favorite athleisure shorts. Compared to traditional hiking shorts material, they are lighter weight, more stretchy, comfier, more movement-friendly, and more breathable while still having sufficiently sized and secure zipper pocket storage. Learn more in our full-length Janji Transit Tech Shorts Review.
- Weight: 4.8 oz (M) 3.9 (W)
- Price: $74
- Pockets: 2 zippered hand, 1 zippered side-thigh
- Material: 91% recycled polyester, 9% elastane
- Inseam: M’s 7″, W’s 4″
- Built-In Liner: No
- Waist: Elastic band with drawcord tie off
- Average User Review: 4.6 stars
- Pros: Excellent & secure pockets. Comfortable and movement friendly to run or hike in. Stretchy. Secure waistband. Good looking. Breathable. Soft but durable. Sustainable.
- Cons: Runs small, size up if in between. Would benefit from a slightly baggier fit and additional zippered side-thigh pocket.
For starters, these shorts have unexpectedly great pockets for a running design – two trouser cut hand pockets and one side thigh pocket. All three pockets are sufficiently deep enough to hold a phone with room to spare. And all three are zipper-enclosed, ensuring that nothing will fall out so long as you remember to zip up.
We are particularly keen on the zippered side thigh pocket, placed immediately next to, and roughly paralleling, the right trouser cut hand pocket. It runs down and backwards, and is designing to hold a phone securely so as to prevent it from bouncing and swaying as you run. And it is much better at that job than a traditional cargo pocket. We just wish they had one on each side! Nonetheless, it’s wonderful to have an extra zippered pocket for stashing a small sunscreen tube and some lip balm. Notably, they don’t have rear pockets, but that’s okay because we hardly ever use those while hiking anyway.
Janji Transit Tech Shorts have a very simple and comfy elastic waistband. It’s average width, and supplemented by an elasticized internal drawcord, which has stretch of its own. This allows you to further tighten the pants without creating a static, immovable ring around your waist. It’s our preferred sporty waistband!
And while it might not look it, these shorts are sufficiently durable for everyday hikes. We tested the Transit Tech Pants (same fabric) on a hike that involved climbing up, over, under, and through about 50-100 downed trees and there was not a single tear after the fact. That said, we know these aren’t the most durable, however, durability is generally not a priority for hiking shorts (otherwise you would wear pants).
What could be better? Mostly, they run small. The author is normally a size large, and we wish these were more voluminous in the seat, thigh, and crotch. If you are at all in between sizes, definitely size up, not down. This makes them more comfortable to walk/run in, but a bit less comfy to sit in. But the stretchiness and notched leg opening do help with this somewhat. Also, we would have liked to have a second zippered side-thigh pocket on the left side in addition to the right side. I mean, why not?
These are the comfiest and most choice running shorts in our hiking wardrobe. They look great, and the floral print has gotten tons of compliments. They’re versatile, equally at home hiking on the trail, walking around town, running, or lounging. We highly recommend these as an unconventional pair of hiking shorts!
Learn How To Remove Liner Underwear
Check out our complete guide which explains why you should cut built-in liner underwear out, and how exactly to do it.
Conclusion: Trail Running Shorts For Hiking
In summer, we love to wear trail running shorts for hiking because they are the most movement-friendly, breathable option. Comfier and more accomodating to your stride than pants or traditional cargo hiking shorts. Trail runners have different storage needs than hikers, so if you’re shopping for a model that can be used to for hiking, make sure to prioritize zippered hand pockets. If you have any questions or want to suggest a model for us to look at, drop us a line in the comments. Happy hiking!