Scarce indeed are the comfy yet rugged shorts you need for extended hiking and backpacking.
Scarce indeed are the comfy yet rugged shorts you need for extended hiking and backpacking. (Seth Langbauer)

The Best Backpacking Shorts

Like running shorts, but tough as nails, these bottoms are made for hard hiking

Scarce indeed are the comfy-yet-rugged shorts you need for extended hiking and backpacking.

There are a lot of good running shorts; when I thru-hiked the Appalachian Trail, I often saw people wearing them—for about a week, by which time abrasion from the pack’s hipbelt had eaten away the fabric. And there are lots of great cute shorts (thanks, athleisure!); but there are very few of the comfy yet rugged shorts needed for backpacking.

That’s why I was intrigued by these women’s Backcountry shorts ($52) from Roscoe Outdoor. This tiny Montana-based company makes pants and shorts for hiking and climbing, and its Backcountry shorts are a stroke of genius.

Like running shorts, the Backcountry shorts are simple and light, with a wide elastic waist and no fly. But the fabric isn’t gauzy: it’s a durable nylon-poly ripstop with two-way stretch. (It has some give without using Spandex, which is slow to dry.) It’s bomber stuff. I’ve dragged these shorts across canyon sandstone and Colorado granite and have yet to rough them up. I’ve worn them beneath a 50-pound backpack (these days, I’m often overloaded with kids’ gear rather than expedition provisions), and they’ve emerged no worse for wear. And the smooth, uncluttered waistband feels comfortable beneath a hipbelt. There’s no chafing or pinching, because there aren’t enough seams and details in that zone to get in the way.

I’ve even worn them on the water in lieu of boardshorts and loved them for their accommodating stretch. Want to cool off in a backcountry lake? These shorts dry in a few minutes. 

There are some imperfections. They’re not split-leg shorts (like many running styles), so they don’t offer quite the same freedom of movement. And they sometimes bind when I’m scrambling up steep slopes. The seam on the back of the waistband sits right on my spine; while it didn’t cause an issue with most of my packs, the seam did chafe under one that put excessive pressure on that spot. And although there are two hand pockets, I can’t store more than a lip balm there. My phone fits fine but feels bulky and uncomfortable in that joint between my hip and leg. 

That said, if I want cargo pockets, I have plenty of pocket-laden pants to choose from. For the other days, these are the shorts I’m reaching for first.

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