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A complete guide to buying the best shorts for hiking, hunting, working, or exploring outdoors.
Breathable, lightweight, flexible, durable — the perfect pair of hiking shorts needs to tick a lot of boxes. But really, the best outdoor shorts are the ones that are right for you and your adventures. Learn what to look for when buying your next pair of hiking, hunting or workwear shorts. I’ve owned enough pairs of hiking shorts at this point to know they can make a big difference to your outdoor adventures. Whether you’re a keen hiker looking to knock off a few trails over summer; a hunter who’s prone to bush bashing in pursuit of wild game; or a tradie putting in overtime on a worksite, you’re going to want a pair of shorts that suit your needs. If you’re new to buying outdoor shorts, or you’re wanting to choose the right pair for you, you’ve come to the right place. Shop Bushbuck Hiking Shorts
The first thing to consider is, what will you be using your hiking shorts for? This will help you determine which features to prioritise. Hiking (Moderate): If you’re looking for shorts for moderate day hikes or overnight hikes, you can prioritise comfort and flexibility over durability. You want shorts that feel good and flex naturally, but they don’t need to be bombproof. Check out the Bushbuck Glide Shorts for an example Hiking (Hardcore): If you’re planning multi-day hiking missions in rugged backcountry, you’re going to want shorts that have it all — durability, flexibility, breathability, moisture-wicking, and all-day comfort. Weight becomes more of a factor on multi-day trips, so you may want to consider lightweight hiking shorts. Check out the Bushbuck Trek 2.0 or Glide Shorts as examples Hunting: Durability and abrasion resistance are the main features to look for in hunting shorts. You’ll likely be bush bashing, crawling over loose rocks, and sitting in rugged terrain glassing for animals so you need shorts that can take a beating. However, you’ll also want them to be flexible, breathable, and comfortable. Check out the Bushbuck Dri-Seat Shorts as an example Working: If you’re after workwear shorts to use at work or on the farm, you’ll be wanting to prioritise durability and comfort. You may not need all the high-performance features (although they could be nice to have), but they need to be tough and comfortable enough for those long hours on the grind. Check out the Bushbuck Trek 2.0 or Glide Shorts as examples
I’m an advocate for wearing shorts in all seasons, but if you’re tossing up between hiking shorts and hiking pants, here are some things to consider. Insulation: Pants provide more warmth in cold conditions than shorts. However, this is a negative if you’re adventuring in the summer heat. So, go with shorts in warm weather, pants in cool weather. Protection: Pants provide more protection from scrub, rocks, sun, and snakes. But if the sun’s out, you’ll be more inclined to overheat in pants. So, consider the terrain you’re planning to explore and how much protection you’d like for your pins. If you’re wanting to prioritise protection, the lightweight Bushbuck Venture Pants 2.0 are a good alternative to shorts. Comfort: Shorts provide much more freedom of movement than pants (unless you’re wearing the Bushbuck Alpine Pants). Weight: Shorts typically weigh less than pants and take up less space in your pack, which comes in handy on multi-day missions.
Compromise: If you want the best of both worlds, you could get hiking pants that have zip off legs and transform into shorts. Or you could wear insulating leggings or long johns under your shorts to provide extra warmth without sacrificing flexibility.
A good pair of hiking shorts will be quite different to casual shorts, gym shorts, or running shorts. They tend to have high-performance features designed for the rigours of the outdoors. Here are some of the key features to consider when choosing a pair of hiking shorts.
Most hiking and hunting shorts will be made from synthetic fabrics as they tend to perform better outdoors than natural materials. Fabrics such as polyester and nylon are most common and these may be blended with flexible materials such as spandex or elastane. Cotton is also a popular choice for outdoor shorts, but as you’ll learn below, it’s lacking some of the benefits of synthetic alternatives. Cotton canvas is another fabric you may come across. It’s known for its toughness, but can be unforgiving and is more commonly used for workwear shorts than outdoor shorts. While you can get hiking shorts that contain natural fabrics, such as merino wool, they’re almost always blended with synthetic materials.
Durability is the number one thing that sets hiking and hunting shorts apart from other shorts. Outdoor shorts need to be able to handle plenty of punishment, such as grating against rocks, snagging on scrub, shuffling across rough surfaces. This is the main reason why outdoor brands prefer synthetic fabrics for hiking shorts, as they can provide the durability needed without being too heavy or restrictive. It’s also the reason why regular gym shorts or running shorts may not cut it for hiking or hunting. Here are some common hiking shorts fabrics that are known for their durability: Nylon, ripstop nylon, polyester, polyester micro yarn, cotton, canvas, cotton canvas, nylon canvas, polyester canvas.
Breathability refers to how well fabrics “breathe” — meaning how much air and moisture vapour can flow through them. Breathable fabrics keep your body cooler and reduce sweat, which contributes to overall comfort. If you’ve spent any time hiking, you’ll know how much heat and sweat can be generated in your crotch area. Don’t ask me why, it just happens. This is why it’s so important to choose breathable hiking shorts. Fabrics “breathe” via small holes or gaps in the weave. As a general rule, the tighter the weave, the less breathable a fabric will be. Therefore, more durable fabrics tend to have lower breathability. You have to decide whether you want maximum durability, maximum breathability, or something in the middle. Most hiking shorts will sit somewhere in the middle.
Moisture-wicking refers to a fabric’s ability to transfer moisture (sweat) from your body to the surface of the garment where it can dry faster. This prevents the fabric from getting damp and keeps your body dry. As I mentioned, the crotch area tends to get pretty sweaty in the outdoors so moisture-wicking shorts are a must. This is where cotton and heavy-duty canvas hiking shorts fall short as the fabrics tend to trap and absorb moisture and can be soaking wet after a long day of hiking or working outdoors. Synthetic fabrics, like nylon and polyester, have much better moisture-wicking properties, helping to keep you dry and comfortable. Moisture wicking isn’t only important when it’s hot. Even when it’s freezing cold, you’re likely to work up a sweat on hard hikes. If your clothes end up wet with sweat in winter conditions, it can get really uncomfortable — and even dangerous — really fast.
Breathable and moisture-wicking fabrics also tend to dry faster. Quick-dry hiking shorts make life in the outdoors much more comfortable. You should be able to hang them up at a hut or campsite overnight, and have nice, dry shorts in the morning. Or you may even find they dry nicely during a lunch break on a hot day. Quick-dry hiking shorts are made from more porous fabrics that allow air and moisture to flow freely, which leads to faster drying times.
Freedom of movement is essential when you’re hiking, hunting, or working outdoors. That’s why it’s important to choose flexible hiking shorts. When you’re ascending hills, climbing over rocks, or crawling through tussocks, you need your shorts to flex with your natural body movement. In my opinion, heavy-duty, ultra-durable fabrics can’t deliver the flex you need for outdoor activities. You need to dial down the durability just a tad to achieve the optimal amount of flex. Flexibility is typically achieved by including a small amount of a stretchy material, such as elastane, lycra or spandex. Flexible hiking shorts are sometimes labelled as “two-way stretch” or “four-way stretch”.
Water-resistant hiking shorts are more common than waterproof hiking shorts. Synthetic fabrics like nylon and polyester have water-resistant properties. You may notice that even gym shorts are more water-resistant than cotton shorts. However, water-resistant hiking shorts are typically treated with Durable Water Repellency (DWR), which causes water to bead and roll off the fabric. At Bushbuck, we use DWR on our hiking and hunting shorts. However, we’ve also developed a feature known as Dri-Seat, which is a waterproof, breathable barrier we’ve used for the bum area. The Dri-Seat Shorts were designed for hunters who can spend a lot of time sitting on dewy, damp hillsides glassing for animals. But they’re also a great option for hikers. If you need to stop for a snack break, you can plonk yourself down on wet grass or a mossy mound and not worry about getting your bum wet. Farmers who are riding on wet quad bikes or UTVs also find the Dri-Seat Shorts handy.
If you’re specifically looking for hunting shorts, you may be wanting camouflage shorts to round out your concealment system. Our Dri-Seat and Trek 2.0 shorts are both available in camo to suit most environments.
Women’s hiking shorts are usually designed to suit women’s bodies and style preferences. They may be more fitted with a higher waist. However, the fabrics and features will be the same as — or similar to — men’s hiking shorts. Many women choose to wear men’s hiking shorts, especially if they prefer a more traditional, looser fit. Whether you’re a man or a woman, the factors to consider when buying hiking shorts are the same.
People often ask me if they can use gym shorts for hiking. Gym shorts are usually made from synthetic fabrics that are lightweight, breathable, flexible, and sometimes moisture-wicking. So while you can wear gym shorts on your outdoor adventures, they do lack some of the performance features of hiking shorts. The main one is durability. Gym shorts aren’t designed for the ruggedness of the outdoors. Gym shorts usually won’t be treated with DWR for water-resistance and they’re often no cheaper than good quality hiking shorts. My verdict is: If gym shorts are all you’ve got, then go for it. But otherwise, invest in a good pair of hiking shorts. The Bushbuck Glide Shorts were designed to be a hybrid of hiking shorts and gym shorts so they're a great option if you're looking for the best of both worlds.
Choosing the right hiking shorts is a personal journey that can greatly enhance your outdoor experience. Whether you're an avid hiker, hunter, or a hard-working tradie, the perfect pair of shorts is out there waiting for you. Your outdoor adventures are unique to you, and your gear should reflect that.
By considering the factors discussed in this guide, you are well-equipped to make an informed decision. Don't be afraid to try different styles until you find the pair that feels like a natural extension of your adventurous spirit.
Jonathan Carson is a Content Writer and Copywriter at Bushbuck. He's a wordsmith who handles most of Bushbuck's website, marketing copy and oversees our blog, The Campfire.
Outside of work, he's big on hiking and dabbles in surfing and bouldering. His favourite wilderness area in New Zealand is Nelson Lakes National Park, particularly the Blue Lake, home to the clearest known freshwater in the world.