There are plenty of “do everything” shorts on the market, but sometimes you want a pair specifically designed for the adventure at hand. In other words, when you’re mountain biking, you want mountain biking shorts; climbing demands climbing shorts, etc. After months of testing, I’ve picked my go-to pairs for each adventure, whether I’m running or just running to catch a plane.
Mammut RunBold ($99)
Best For: Hiking
Don’t let the name fool you: these are hiking shorts through and through. Mammut completely revamped its RunBold short, giving it an athletic cut and a material buildout that includes 15 percent spandex for more stretch than your yoga instructor. The shorts are light and thin—which I appreciate when hiking in the Southern Appalachians—and they have a fifth pocket on the right thigh that I think is key. (I don’t want a full cargo short, but I need that extra pocket on the thigh for my phone or maybe a map.) The hand pockets also zip shut. The RunBold has a really tight fit, though, so size up if you’re modest.
Kitsbow Origin ($155)
Best For: Mountain Biking
California-based Kitsbow makes some of the best-looking mountain bike apparel out there, and I’m always psyched to put on any of its shorts, but the Origin is my favorite. The 11.5-inch inseam provides coverage down to my knees with a tailored fit, so there’s nothing baggy to catch on my bike. All of the pockets zip shut, so my phone doesn’t fall out mid-ride (as it might with Velcro-closure pouches), and the back pockets are placed on the side of the hip so you can stash snacks or a tool without sitting on them. The adjustable waist band eliminates the need for a belt, which can bind when you’re bent over the bike for hours on end.
Janji AdventureVent Middle ($60)
Best For: Running
If I could, I would run naked, but my neighborhood association says I can’t. Instead, I wear Janji’s AdventureVent Middle Short, which has a decent amount of coverage with a 5-inch inseam. I dig the soft poly-spandex blend mesh that breathes like a ventilator. They also dry as fast as any bathing suit I own, which is key since I tend to wear them for multiple runs in a row. I also like the small zipper pocket on the back waistband, which lets me carry my keys without any jangling.
Icebreaker Connection Commuter ($140)
Best For: Everyday wear
I have plenty of merino wool base layers that I cherish, but this is the first pair of merino-based shorts I’ve owned. And after testing the Connection Commuter, I want more. Icebreaker pairs a nylon face with a merino inner, so you get the durability of nylon against the elements, but the softness of merino next to skin. A touch of spandex gives the shorts a bit of stretch, and they breathe better than some of the poly-based “do everything” shorts that are on the market right now, too. The Connection Commuter has become my everyday pair of shorts, whether I’m riding my bike to the store or catching a flight across the country. My only complaint? Deeper pockets, please.
Free Fly Utility ($65)
Best For: Boating
You won’t want to swim laps in the Utility, but if you’re on the water—say fishing from a boat—these shorts are your jam. The two-way stretch poly and nylon shell is DWR-treated to shed spray, while blended-in bamboo lends breathability and gives them a soft-against-the-skin feel. I wore these paddling the mellow French Broad River that runs through my hometown; they dried fast and kept my wallet secure in a hidden zippered pocket, but they also looked good at the bar when I stepped off the river.
Black Diamond Credo ($79)
Best For: Climbing
This is the short version of Black Diamond’s classic Credo pants, made from mostly organic cotton with a bit of elastane. The cotton build can collect moisture if you’re climbing on a hot day in the full sun, but I like them for gym days because of their relaxed fit. The 13.5-inch inseam drops just above my knees, but they’re slim, so they don’t balloon and sag under a harness. The brush slot in the rear pocket is handy for bouldering sessions.