Are Running Shorts Good for Hiking? (Finding the Best Hiking Shorts)

Hiking is a great way to get your workout in while spending quality time outdoors – plus you can do it with friends! The sunshine, exercise, and social time are all great for your mental health and well-being, but nothing can pile stress on your stress-free day like wearing the wrong outfit. Are running shorts good for hiking?

Running shorts are good for hiking, particularly on hot days, because they’re already meant to be lightweight, breathable, and not restrict your movement – all important qualities in hiking shorts. However, running shorts do not offer much in the way of protection and you may find yourself unprotected against falls and other environmental hazards.

Keep reading to learn whether or not you should wear running shorts while hiking, and what other options may be available.

Can you wear running shorts for hiking?

Hiking is one of my favorite ways to enjoy the great outdoors, but it’s not always as easy as grabbing my boots and a comfy pair of jeans. Especially in the heat of the summer, I’m often tempted to pick running shorts instead of the trusty old cargo shorts, but is that actually a good idea?

Running shorts can be a good option when going on hikes where you will be making long strides. They are also ideal if you are planning on walking at a brisk pace or trail running, although you may want to consider a longer pair of running shorts to protect your legs. More challenging hikes, however, may necessitate more substantial covering.

Choose longer running shorts if you'll be running throughout your hike.
Choose longer running shorts if you’ll be running throughout your hike.

Running shorts are already meant to wick sweat away from your body and allow for a free range of motion – both of which are practically indispensable on anything more than a casual hike.

Running shorts are good for hiking because they help regulate your body temperature during the extreme heat and oftentimes intense exertion of a good hike.

The last thing you should wear on a hike is clothing restricting your movement because you never know what types of altitudes and environmental hazards you’ll encounter.

Running shorts are a popular option among many hiking enthusiasts because they’re comfortable and practical. Additionally, many people like to run on their hikes to amp up their exercise routine.

However, for all the advantages of hiking in your running shorts, there are a few things to consider, most of which revolve around the length. Depending on which pair of running shorts you’re wearing on the mountain, passersby may get an unwelcome eyeful of your, ahem, well-ventilated areas.

Have you ever been curious about why running shorts are so short?

There’s also basic safety to consider: while long pants of even weightier shorts may be less comfortable, they offer more protection against mosquitos, branches, and potential falls during your excursion. Hiking in shorts vs pants makes a big difference in these environments!

Should you wear running shorts for hiking?

With all the factors laid out, you’re probably wondering if wearing running shorts for hiking is actually a good idea. The answer is…sort of.

You should wear running shorts for hiking if you’re going to be running the trail, if it’s especially hot, or if it’s not a particularly dangerous or challenging path. Choose a heavier garment if it’s chilly out, if the hike is more of a wander, or if you’d simply rather wear something else.

If it’s going to be a hot day, wearing running shorts, especially ultralight running shorts, will help you keep cool. No one wants to get to the top and overheat!

That being said, no matter how intense the hike, you want to avoid wearing shorts if it’s going to be cold during your hike. Once you start sweating, the cold air is likely to cool you too much, which can lead to sluggish muscles and dangerous falls.

While running shorts may be good during the summer, wear long pants and layers if hiking in cooler weather to avoid injury.
While running shorts may be good during the summer, wear long pants and layers if hiking in cooler weather to avoid injury.

You may also want to avoid wearing running shorts if you’ll be hiking in an area where you’re likely to run into pervasive foliage or unwelcome insect life. What’s the mean? Wear long pants if you’re going to spend the day scratching up your legs and fighting off mosquitos.

Is it better to wear running shorts or leggings when hiking?

All things considered, the right pair of running shorts can be the perfect choice for hiking on a hot day, but what if it’s not so hot? Are leggings good for cooler days?

You can wear leggings while hiking if they are moisture-wicking and adequately stretchy. Anything that restricts your movement isn’t worth the trouble, no matter how comfortable they may be.

During the fall, leggings can help keep you warm and provide some protection from environmental hazards, including those pesky mosquitos and poison ivy.

Wearing leggings on warmer hikes isn’t recommended as they may cause you to overheat.

Are running shorts better for hiking than other types of shorts?

Even though running shorts are a fantastic option for hiking, there are other options that may be worth considering.

If you’re not sold on hiking in running shorts yet, you may want to consider:

  • Cargo shorts
  • Compression shorts
  • Athletic shorts

If you think that shorts are shorts, keep reading and learn the differences between each of these options and which one’s better for hiking!

Running shorts vs. cargo shorts for hiking

Cargo pants are a staple of hard-working guys and are often seen on everything from military personnel to painters to construction workers. Cargo shorts, though, are a staple of weekend-loving guys everywhere.

Cargo shorts are good for short hikes or less intense paths. They are loose enough to be comfortable, but the extra fabric can restrict long strides or quick movement. The pockets can come in handy for carrying your essentials.

Cargo shorts are a good choice if you know the hike isn’t going to be too much trouble. They have the added benefit of allowing you to carry some essential hiking materials with you without needing a weighty backpack. You could consider running shorts for backpacking if you want to carry a pack.

However, cargo shorts are unsuitable for flexibility, comfort, or intense exercise. Running shorts are a better choice for hikes that require more athletic ability. 

Running shorts vs. compression shorts for hiking

Let’s be clear, when I say running shorts, I mean the loose, typically short shorts that stay out of your way while running but do little else. You can, of course, run in other shorts, and compression shorts are a popular alternative to traditional running shorts.

Compression shorts are popular among hikers because they support blood flow and can aid in recovery and performance. Despite how tight they are, they don’t restrict movement, and, as a bonus, they cover more skin than running shorts.

Compression shorts can be beneficial for hikers because they support blood flow and can increase performance.
Compression shorts can be beneficial for hikers because they support blood flow and can increase performance.

Compression shorts apply pressure to your legs, encouraging blood flow. This means that blood gets back to your heart faster, is oxygenated, and returns to your muscles more quickly than it would be otherwise. All this means that your muscles will perform better during the exercise and recover better afterward.

You may not want to wear compression shorts during your hike if they make you uncomfortable. Many people choose to wear running shorts over longer compression shorts to retain a sense of modesty or discretion.

A casual or low-impact hike doesn’t require recovery-oriented clothing, so you may want to save these for another day if your hike is more for pleasure than exercise.

Running shorts vs. athletic shorts for hiking

Hikers who are looking for a happy medium between the loose fit of running shorts and the length of compression or cargo shorts may look to athletic shorts, and for good reason.

Athletic shorts can be used for low- to medium-intensity hikes as long as you choose a pair that is made of sweat-wicking materials and fits comfortably. They are not a good option for high-intensity hikes or trail running.

Overall, running shorts are probably a better option for most hikes because they won’t restrict your range of motion.

Running shorts are okay for low-impact hikes, but don't expect to go trail running in them.
Running shorts are okay for low-impact hikes, but don’t expect to go trail running in them.

Even though running shorts are a slightly better option than regular athletic shorts, you might feel more comfortable and athletic shorts. Running shorts are much shorter than many people are used to wearing,  but athletic shorts hover a few inches above the knee.

Unless there’s a significant safety reason to sway your choice, always go with the shorts that make you feel more comfortable on your hike.

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