Is It Better To Wear Shorts Or Pants For Hiking?

Female hiker wearing hiking pants over shorts

If you are a beginner who is just getting into hiking, you are probably wondering what kind of hiking clothes you should be wearing. Is it okay to wear hiking shorts or is it best to stick with pants?

This article is going to explain to you whether or not you should invest in that expensive pair of hiking shorts or not.

In some cases, it is completely fine to hike in shorts but unfortunately that is not the case all of the time. The weather conditions, rugged terrain, off trail, and length of your hike are all things to consider when choosing between hiking pants or shorts for your adventure.

What Should I Wear When Hiking?

There are several clothing options to choose from when you are trying to decide what you should wear when hiking. This will also include the debate on whether you should wear pants or shorts. Make sure you consider some important factors – that we will get into a little later – when deciding which to wear.

It is important to avoid denim and cotton while hiking. Cotton holds on to water and moisture, so it will make you feel extra sweaty in hot temperatures and extra chilly in cold temperatures.

Polyester, nylon, or merino wool are the best materials to wear when you are hiking. They are moisture wicking, so they keep sweat off of you and they are quick drying. It is ideal that your t-shirt, tank top, socks, and any other skin-touching base layer is made of one of these materials.

Avoid thin and unsteady pant materials. This means you should avoid wearing leggings or yoga pants because they can rip and tear easily. If you are wearing pants, you need to wear a pair of hiking pants.

Female hiker wearing hiking pants over shorts

Should I Hike in Shorts?

The deciding factor on what you should have on when hiking is often the type of hike you are going on and where it is going to be. If you are going on a hike that will take up less than a day, the weather conditions are nice and warm, and the hike is easy you can definitely wear hiking shorts.

However, if the hike you are going on will be on a difficult trail, the hike will last more than one day, or the weather will be less than ideal you should avoid wearing shorts. There are actually more conditions where it is not recommended to wear shorts than it is recommended.

The main reason shorts are not recommended is the lack of protection they provide your legs. You could easily cut your leg on a branch, rub against some poison ivy, or get bit by bugs or a snake in the worst case.

Pros of Hiking in Shorts

  • Hiking shorts allows for a wider range of movement and do not restrict you at all.
  • Shorts are much a more comfortable type of clothing to wear in the summer than pants.
  • You don’t need to worry about shorts trapping in any heat and moisture, allowing your legs to stay cooler.
  • Shorts are perfect for short, easy hikes in warm weather.

Cons of Hiking in Shorts

  • Hiking shorts don’t provide protection for your legs which could lead to more cuts and bruises.
  • You won’t have any layers of protection against poison ivy or mosquitos on the trail.
  • Shorts are not suitable for cold weather conditions or difficult trails.

What Type of Shorts Should I Wear?

Not all shorts are considered safe for hiking, so you should avoid throwing on any shorts you can find for your adventure. This includes running shorts. If you plan on going on a hike that is suitable for shorts, it is the best idea to buy a pair that is specifically designed to wear when hiking.

Hiking shorts are usually made from lightweight materials like nylon or canvas instead of cotton. They are typically more comfortable to wear when hiking on trails because they are built to have a free-range of motion.

You will also find that shorts made for hiking have more pockets, making it easier to carry your gear hands-free. Try to look for hiking shorts that have zipper pockets so you can carry valuable gear – such as maps of the trail, cell phones, or compasses.

Hybrid Hiking Shorts

As hiking and outdoor activities rise in popularity, companies that make hiking attire are making their shorts more versatile. This means that you can wear your hiking shorts for any outdoor activity or just hanging around town with your friends.

If you are a frequent hiker looking for a way to lighten your load, hybrid shorts might be exactly what you are looking for on your short, warm hikes. They eliminate the need for an extra pair of shorts in your bag. Hybrid shorts are also a great if you are not a frequent hiker, but enjoy the activity. You can justify buying a pair of hiking shorts if you can wear them regularly, too!

Should I Hike in Pants?

In most cases, you should wear rugged pants when you go hiking. The main reason is the fact that long pants offer extra protection from things like bugs, snakes and spiders, cuts, and poison ivy.

Ticks are a major reason that you should wear pants on your hiking trip. Ticks are known carriers of Lyme Disease and can cause you pain for months. The easiest way to prevent a tick bite is to wear long pants and tuck them into your socks and hiking boots.

Poison ivy is another major concern when you are hiking. Unfortunately, poison ivy grows and thrives in the warmth. You may not want to wear pants in the warmth, but it can protect you from an uncomfortable rash.

You might also come across snakes, spiders, or other things that can cause you harm. Hiking pants offer extra protection if you would run into one of these critters and they try to bite you.

Pants are also a great idea because they work well with your socks and your boots to keep your feet safe from unexpected conditions, too. You can tuck the bottoms of your long pants into your socks and boots, effectively adding protection to your feet. You won’t need to worry about any bugs getting in and biting you.

Factors to Consider

There are a few factors that you should keep in mind when choosing between pants and shorts. Here are a few of them:

Lightweight Material

Denim might seem like a great choice because they are thick and durable, but they are less than ideal. They are hot, heavy, and restrict your movement especially if they get wet. You need a material that is going to be lightweight and easy to move in – like nylon.


It is important that your hiking clothing is quiet. Sometimes you will hear a rubbing noise when you are moving and this is going to ruin a great moment. Are you really going to fully enjoy your hiking experience if you are annoyed with your clothes making noise the whole time?

Quick Drying

Chances are the trail you are hiking is not going to be completely dry the whole time. Hiking trails are unpredictable and you can easily come across a stream, wet vegetation, or it could even rain. If your clothes are wet the entire hike, you will have a miserable experience. Quick drying material is a must when it comes to hiking attire.


You will also need to consider what type of conditions you will experience when you are hiking. Will you need full leg protection and extra sun protection because there aren’t a bunch of shade trees? UV rays can be damaging to your skin if not protected properly. Is the area known to have a ton of bugs, snakes, or spiders? Poison ivy and poison oak are also factors you will need to protect yourself from.

Consider asking someone who has hiked that some questions about how to best protect yourself.

Convertible Pants and Shorts

Convertible hiking pants is a super easy way to quickly turn your pants into shorts. You can put these convertible hiking pants on especially if you are going on a trail you aren’t familiar with. If you find that the trail is suitable for shorts, you just simply zip the legs off the pants and now you have shorts!

Multiple Pockets

You should consider a pair of pants or shorts with a substantial amount of pockets. This would lighten the load of your hiking backpack by allowing you to carry some of your hiking gear in your pockets instead. This will make your hiking experience more enjoyable.


Deciding between hiking attire, pants and shorts can be incredibly confusing, especially for first time hikers. No matter what type of hiking trip you are going on, you should prepare for the conditions you may encounter.

Your clothing is extremely important when it comes to having an enjoyable experience. If you prefer pants, active gear, zip off pants or shorts for hiking there is no right or wrong answer, comes down to personal preference and utility.

It is highly recommended to wear active hiking pants on a trail that might be difficult. Make sure that your cuffs tucked into your boots are fixed which will esure that not even one bug can bite your legs or feet.

You can wear shorts on a hiking trip as long as it is easy and open. You may still encounter some bugs, but you won’t need to worry about getting cut by branches if the pathway is clear.

If you want us to cover more outwear attire like cotton hiking shorts or even the hiking skirt let us know.