Good shorts are hard to find. Getting the inseam right is the first challenge: too short, and you reveal more than you intended; too long, and you venture into capri territory. Running and hiking place even more demands on this small, seemingly simple garment. The waistband shouldn’t chafe. The fabric shouldn’t hinder your stride. And is it too much to ask that shorts should also fit and look good?
I don’t think so. But I’ve been testing 20-plus pairs of women’s shorts, designed for a wide range of uses, and found just a few that I’d wholeheartedly recommend. Here they are.
Toad&Co Touchstone 11-Inch Shorts ($69)
Best For: Road Trips
Hitting just above the knee, these shorts feel comfy on long car and plane rides because they keep the seat’s upholstery from irritating my skin. The waistband fits without gapping, the front pockets are big enough for my iPhone, and the fabric (organic cotton with 26 percent Tencel and 2 percent spandex) holds its shape through days of car camping and hiking.
The North Face Women’s Flight Better Than Naked Shorts ($60)
Best For: Running
I can’t stand scrunchy, elastic waistbands on running shorts, because even if they feel fine when I start my run, I inevitably end up with itchy accordion marks on my belly. But these shorts use a completely smooth, yoga-style waistband that’s wonderfully ignorable. Plus, it never shifts around, and the tissue-thin fabric feels weightless.
The North Face Progressor Shorts ($80)
Best For: Hiking and Backpacking
I wouldn’t normally include two products from the same brand in one review—but like the Better Than Naked shorts, the Progressor outperformed virtually everything else in its class. The smooth, chafe-free waistband sat tidily beneath the hipbelt of my pack. I love the just-right five-inch inseam. The fabric (four-way stretch nylon with some spandex) is burly without feeling hot and oppressive, so it’s great for abrasive canyon hikes as well as sweltering Appalachian summers. Even the pockets are practical, thanks to low-bulk zippers that keep stuff safe.
Simms Women’s Guide Skort ($65)
Best For: Fishing and Paddling
I wore this skort while wade-fishing in the Bahamas and loved how quickly the fabric dried (the skirt is made of silky polyester). The inner shorts are comfy—the polyester knit includes a bit of spandex for a compressive fit that stays in place while you’re walking. And even if this skort is wet when you pack it (shoving it, for example, into a duffel that gets baked in a hot parked car), the fabric’s COR3 finish keeps mildew and other nasties from growing.