Can I Wear Running Shorts for Hiking?

My friends and I decided to hike a nearby mountain on a hot summer day. I was wearing hiking pants thinking it was the best thing to wear for hiking. Halfway through the trail, it started to feel hot and uncomfortable (I’m living in a tropical country). So I asked myself, can I wear running shorts for hiking instead?

I started wearing running shorts more often on our next hikes and here’s what I observed:

Yes, you can wear running shorts for hiking, especially in hot places. They’re extremely breathable, comfortable, and offer more range of motion. However, they do not offer protection from abrasion the way hiking pants do. 

Ahead, we will compare hiking with hiking pants/shorts vs running shorts and see whether or not hiking in running shorts is for you. 

Hiking shorts/pants vs Running shorts: What’s the difference?

Hiking shorts/pants are quick-drying, stretchable, and relatively lightweight pants that are usually made out of nylon. They usually come with lots of pockets in the form of cargo pants. Hiking shorts/pants are the preferred clothing for hiking for the following reasons:

  • They offer protection from abrasion
  • They dry fast
  • They have lots of pockets to keep your hiking gears
  • They look cool
  • Hiking pants offer sun protection
  • They keep you warm 

Running shorts, on the other hand, are the lightest type of shorts. Plus, they offer incredible range and breathability. The use of running shorts is already popular for trail runners – those who run up and down mountains instead of hiking. 

They are made with stretchable and quick-drying fabric such as polyester and nylon. Most of them also have a built-in liner that wicks away moisture to help you feel fresh and prevent chafing. 

Running shorts are popular for trail runners for the following reasons:

  • They are incredibly light
  • Maximum comfort
  • Prevents chafing
  • Incredible range of motion
  • Very breathable

Which one is better?

In my personal experience, both of them offer something unique. Choosing which one is better depends on your situation. 

Hiking pants/shorts are better at protecting your legs from abrasion (you usually get scratches from branches when you hike). They also give you more storage for your gears. However, hiking pants are undbreathable and relatively heavy compared to running shorts. 

I usually use them when I’m hiking for more than a day (usually when we’re camping) because it’s usually colder at night. I also find the side pockets and belt loops very useful for storing your gears (like a swiss knife, etc.) and giving you easy access to them.

For a day hike, I prefer wearing running shorts because I usually cover long distances in a shorter amount of time. That means I have to move faster and even run at times. Wearing running shorts allows me to get more range of motion and speed. They are also so much lighter and comfortable than hiking shorts.

This is a photo of me hiking the Philippines’ tallest mountain in a day. I’m wearing 4-inch running shorts to help me move faster and maximize comfort.

Plus, it’s usually hot in our country which makes hiking with running shorts so much better. 

I summarized and compared their features in the table below. 

FeaturesHiking shorts/pantsRunning shorts
Breathability LessMore
Range of motionLessMore
Provides warmthMoreLess

To help you decide on what to wear during your hike, I made a table recommending what you should wear in different situations.

SituationRecommended clothing
Hiking in deep forestsHiking pants
Trail running Running shorts
On cold weatherHiking pants
Deep forest on hot weatherHiking shorts
Lots of river crossingRunning shorts
CampingHiking shorts/pants
High humidityRunning shorts
Short hikesRunning shorts
Short technical trails (with lots of climbing)Running shorts
River trekkingRunning shorts
SummerHiking shorts/Running shorts

What to look for in running shorts to use for hiking

Technically, you can use any type of running shorts for hiking. However, certain features make them a better option for hiking. 

Mid/long length shorts. Mid to long-length running shorts give you range, breathability, and a little bit more protection from abrasion. I recommend going for 5-7 inches. 

Related: Why are Running Shorts so Short? A Guide to Running Short Lengths

Short-length shorts offer very little protection that you might end up getting lots of little scratches from plants and insect bites. Especially when you’re hiking in a mossy forest. 

Shorts with liner. The liner gives you an extra layer of protection. Plus, it’s great for preventing chafing. 

Moisture-wicking. Moisture-wicking shorts also helps in preventing chafing. Plus, it also prevents bacterial buildup that usually occurs in moist areas. This is common with using cotton shorts and underwear. 

I recommend getting running shorts made out of synthetic materials such as polyester, nylon, and spandex 

Zippered pockets. Having secure storage for energy gels and your valuables in the shorts is ideal. Look for running shorts with zippered pockets to make sure your things don’t fall out. Also, pockets situated near the center of your body are ideal to prevent it from swaying when you’re hiking. 

The Lixada 2-in-1 shorts has a zippered pocket at the back. It keeps your valuables from swaying and falling when moving.

I recommend the Lixada 2-in-1 running shorts. I’ve used them for most of my hikes and trail runs and I find them really good. The best part is they’re cheap. You can buy them on Amazon. 

Final thoughts

Running shorts are great not just for running but also for hiking. You shouldn’t limit your running shorts for running alone. Start using them for different activities. You’re going to benefit from the lightness, comfort, and range it offers.  

I also made an article on how running shorts perform in the gym. Check it out.

Nicho Mauricio

Running wasn't always my favorite sport. I was a CrossFit athlete and I loved every bit of it. But since the pandemic began, I was forced to stay away from the gym and train at home instead. Things got boring. That's when I decided to trail run with my friends. I instantly got hooked. So I started training and researching all things running. As a beginner, I want to buy only the best running gear and do only the best practices. This blog is where I share what I've learned in my journey and my experiences as a runner.

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