Professional triathlete Nicole DeBoom wanted a functional garment that could help her compete without sacrificing style. It was 2003—the height of the pink-it-and-shrink-it era—and she was tired of sacrificing femininity to work out and race in men’s clothing. “I saw the power [skirts] gave to athletes like Venus and Serena Williams on the courts,” she says, “I was like, that’s what I want. I want something that’s going to make me feel good, and by feeling good, I’m going to have more confidence.”
DeBoom took matters into her own hands. She began working with the wicking, quick-drying, silky fabrics she knew well from her years of triathlon training and collaborated with a designer and production facility to create a “race-belt skirt” prototype to wear to the 2004 Ironman Wisconsin. “It felt a little bit like a loincloth,” she says, “but the truth is I just wanted something to cover my butt, and this did the trick.” DeBoom won and invested the $5,000 race purse into what would become Skirt Sports, the first running-specific skirt company.
At the Austin Marathon in 2005, DeBoom showcased two styles with built-in compression shorts that had pockets on the thighs and were specifically designed to not ride up. Race attendees crowded her booth. Within a year, Skirt Sports had created five styles and sold thousands of units. Not long after, a handful of larger brands, like Nike and New Balance, started adding running-specific skirts to their product lines.
Eight years later, one hiker had her own skirt awakening. Long-distance athlete Mandy Bland wanted a skirt without liner shorts, something she could wear for months on the trail. So she took to her sewing machine, hacking together prototypes from thrifted hiking pants, and eventually started selling them from her home in Oregon under the brand name Purple Rain.
Over the past decade, active skirts have worked their way into the mainstream. Aesthetics aside, skirts have many practical benefits in the outdoors. Former Appalachian Trail unsupported speed-record holder Liz “Snorkel” Thomas appreciates the modesty and efficiency skirts offer. Changing long underwear, especially around other people, is much more convenient with a skirt versus hiking shorts. More important is the storage. Thomas remembers hiking with maps and guidebooks stuffed in her bra. “With skirts it was like, oh my god, someone’s finally made something that has plenty of pockets that can fit a map or a small guidebook,” she says. “That was a total game changer for me.” Triple Crown hiker Tyler “Prodigy” Lau has been hiking in skirts since 2019 and points out another important benefit: hygiene. “The ventilation just keeps those areas clean and aired out.”
From skirts to skorts to kilts, there are more options than ever before. (“Skort” technically refers to a skirt with shorts built in, though many products with integrated shorts are labeled as skirts. “Kilt” is presented across the industry as a more gender-neutral term. The number of choices is overwhelming, so we combined the advice of product designers, hikers, and runners with a series of field tests to find the best-performing skirts for a variety of activities.
Best Everyday Running Skirt
Blyss Running Blyss Skirt II ($81)
A high-waisted fit, secure pockets, sweat-wicking spandex, and a flattering cut made the Blyss Skirt II the one we returned to again and again. (An alternate accolade for this skirt: “best twirl.”) On a high-alpine jaunt outside Bishop, California, we tucked a phone into one of the thigh pockets, snacks into the other one, and secured our car keys into the back zippered pouch. Elastic sewn around the thigh openings means the five-inch compression shorts didn’t ride up and everything we carried stayed firmly in place.
Best Ultrarunning Skirt
Ultimate Direction Hydrolight Skirt ($85)
When training miles ramp up or temperatures rise, the Hydrolight Skirt delivers efficiency and comfort. Two included 300-milliliter water bottles tuck into pockets on the back of the hips. They’re made from compressive stretch mesh that holds the bottles in place with no bouncing or slipping. An expandable unzippered pocket at the small of the back allows you to tuck in a phone, snacks, and even a light jacket. Five-inch compression shorts and über-light materials kept chafing at bay and prevented us from getting too sweaty on an 80-degree long run in Boulder, Colorado.
Best Day-Hiking Skirt
Eddie Bauer Sightscape Horizon Pull-On Skort ($60)
Simplicity reigns with this DWR-treated, UPF 50 skort. Two zippered pockets easily fit phones yet all but disappear when empty, and the 3.5-inch liner shorts are soft and formfitting but not compressive. A curved cut allows plenty of room for movement without causing the skirt to ride up or otherwise compromise modesty. We wore it up Golden, Colorado’s Lookout Mountain, followed by post-hike drinks at a local brewery, where we fit right in with the after-work crowd.
Best Thru-Hiking Skirt
Purple Rain Adventure Skirt ($72)
There’s a reason why the Purple Rain Adventure Skirt is a favorite among seasoned thru-hikers of all sizes and genders. The large cargo pockets fit everything from phones and trail maps to small guidebooks and plenty of snacks, while the seamless four-inch yoga-style waistband is soft and stretchy. This design adapts to the weight fluctuations common during long hikes and does so more comfortably than skirts with elastic drawstrings or rigid seams. Its hem is 19 to 22 inches, depending on size, and is designed to reach the knees. A DWR finish fends off both precipitation and camp food spills. The best part: Purple Rain made its skirt without integrated liners, so hikers can choose their own layering system or embrace the ventilation benefits of going sans shorts altogether.
Best Multisport Skort
Maloja Germerm ($99)
This asymmetrical skort calls back to ’90s playgrounds with a front that looks like a skirt and a back that passes as shorts. The design adds a feminine flair while remaining functional for activities like biking, hiking, and scrambling. Those who eschew the look or feel of compression bottoms will appreciate the Germerm’s lightweight seven-inch shorts, which hang loosely from your waist. And while the the sole pocket (sewn into the skirt flap atop the right thigh) isn’t quite big enough for large smartphones, there’s enough room under the garment to fit a cycling chamois when heading out on a longer ride.
Best Rain Skirt
ULA Rain Kilt Skirt ($35)
Rain skirts deliver the same protection as rain pants, but you don’t have to pull them over your shoes. Instead, wrap this ankle- or calf-length waterproof number around your waist. It Velcros shut along the side and has an adjustable elastic tensioner to dial in the fit around the waist, which can expand from 24 to 54 inches. The design compared to rain pants, without constricting movement. It also weighs less than four ounces and stuffs down to the size of a breakfast burrito.
Best Camping Skirt
Montbell Superior Down Trail Skirt ($79)
This down skirt came with us on camping weekends, road trips, and alpine starts in the mountains. On a bouldering mission in Bishop, California, its 800-fill down insulation and side panels made of stretchy, wicking fleece allowed us to boost our core temp while warming up for the day or winding down at night.
Best Plus-Sized Hiking Skirt
Skirt Sports Happy Girl Skirt ($74)
From the gym to the trails, the Happy Girl Skirt balances coverage, mobility, and convenience. Loved by ultrarunners like Mirna Valerio, this skirt uses a proportional fit model for the upper end of the size range. In other words, designers didn’t just take their size small and scale it up. Instead, Skirt Sports’ 1X, 2X, and 3X offerings are made with feedback gleaned from a yearlong focus group with people of wide-ranging body types. Seven-inch compression shorts feature phone-sized pockets on the outside of each thigh, plus an eyelet for threading corded headphones and a zippered back pocket. The UV 50+ finish is an added bonus.
Best Skort for Men
Purple Rain Adventure Kilt ($77)
Purple Rain’s Adventure Kilt is designed for all types of bodies. In the front, two overlapping layers of fabric maximize coverage while allowing the range of motion necessary for people with long legs. A two-inch yoga-style waistband delivers comfort, and the two cargo pockets are large enough to stash both food and navigation accessories. Perhaps the coolest feature: two snaps at the hem convert the kilt into shorts, which some male-identifying hikers found helpful while hitchhiking for supply runs or traveling through more conservative locales.