When the sun’s out and adventure’s on the menu, high-quality shorts are an absolute must. Even when clouds are in the forecast, shorts are often our go-to move. After all, what’s the point of hiking if you’re not going to show off your chiseled calves? All jokes aside, the Active Junky crew has been testing shorts for years, from backpacking in Colorado to surfing in Indonesia. Below, you’ll find four of our favorite shorts from Mammut, Patagonia, Backcountry, and Cotopaxi. Whether you’re looking for the best hiking shorts, quick-drying boardshorts, casual cargo shorts, or stretchy athletic shorts, we’ve got you covered.
If we had to pick one pair of shorts to wear every single day, Mammut’s Runbold Shorts would be in the running. Mammut managed to equip the Runbold Shorts with no less than four zippered pockets (one back, two front, and one thigh), and you’d have to be a hoarder to make the most of all that storage. From afar, the Runbolds appear to be classic cotton cargo shorts, but that’s just camouflage—they’re actually stretchy hiking shorts built from an ultra-thin, ultra-light, abrasion-resistant nylon and spandex blend. This lightweight, breathable fabric is remarkably packable, making the Runbolds a top choice for backpackers, vanlifers, and international travelers. PSA: the fit is on the slim side, so if you’ve got bobsledder quads or powerlifter glutes, we suggest you look elsewhere.
Tester Quote: “There was a horrible moment when I thought I lost these shorts. I was devastated. But then I found them at the bottom of my backpack—they’re just so packable that they’re nearly invisible if you scrunch them up. Anyways, I’ve worn them hiking, camping, road-tripping, rafting, you name it. Hands down the best hiking shorts I’ve ever worn—so glad I didn’t lose ‘em!”
Best for: Hiking, backpacking, and international travel
Maybe you’re getting barreled in the tropics, cliff-jumping at your local swimming hole, or just riding a flamingo pool float into the weekend. Whatever you’re up to, chances are that if you’re rocking Patagonia’s Stretch Planing Boardshorts, you’re going to be having a good day. You can feel good about your good day, too—Patagonia’s Stretch Planing Boardies are Fair Trade Certified and made from a stretchy recycled polyester blend. Incredibly lightweight and stretchier than a yoga teacher after a Bikram binge, these quick-drying, durable board shorts are built for surf strike missions. A fused waistband and forward inseam boost comfort and minimize chafing, while the zippered hip pocket will keep your car key locked down even if you go over the falls. We’ve tested these from the Maldives to Mexico, and can’t recommend them highly enough.
Tester Quote: “I’ve surfed in these, climbed in these, hiked in these, fished in these, and even slept in these. Patagonia’s boardies are some of my favorites—they’re unbelievably comfortable and manufactured responsibly and ethically.”
Best for: Surf trips and beach life
Vamos means “Let’s go” in Spanish, and Cotopaxi couldn’t have picked a better moniker for this versatile style. If these shorts could talk, “Let’s go” is basically what they’d scream at you every time you open up your shorts drawer before an adventure. The fabric blend (85% nylon, 15% spandex) is stretchy, lightweight, and dries quickly, optimizing the Vamos for athletic pursuits both in and out of the water. A wide, comfortable waistband hides an elastic drawcord, which keeps the fit dialed no matter the intensity of your trail run or workout. Three pockets—two regular drop-in hand pockets and a zippered back pocket—help the Vamos transition from the trail back to everyday life.
Tester Quote: “I love wading in these shorts when I’m fly fishing—they’re super comfortable to hike in, water drains from the pockets, and they’re as far from dorky as one can get. Plus, the zippered pocket is perfect for securing my car key.”
Best For: Hitting the gym, trail-running, hiking, watersports, and all sorts of amphibious adventures
Even the most dedicated of athletes need a pair of casual, comfortable shorts like these Stretch Cargo Shorts from Backcountry. The thick, durable cotton fabric is blended with a touch of spandex, adding a stretch factor that climbers will appreciate. Plus, they’re DWR coated—while these shorts are far from waterproof, the treatment does help to keep dirt from penetrating the fabric. Regardless of whether you’re bouldering or bar-hopping, this Backcountry style is on-point—the double-stitched front pockets and copper button add a little idiosyncratic twist to a classic cargo style. We’ve been rocking these at coffee shops, crags, and casual social gatherings all summer long, and the verdict is in: pair the Stretch Cargo Short with a short sleeve button down and you’re guaranteed to reel in a compliment or two. Bonus: This style is currently on sale! Snag one before they’re gone.
Tester Quote: “When I first got these shorts, I was a little put off by how stiff they were. But they’ve worn in, like a new baseball glove or a pair of climbing shoes, and now I’m a big fan. Plus, that stiffness helps keep these casual shorts looking brand new, no matter what I put this fabric through.”
Best for: Casual, everyday use around town