20 Year Long Term Review: Discount Store Running Shorts

My hiking uniform since moving out West in 1999 has hardly changed in twenty years.

I’d wear my trusty boonie hat, a long sleeve polycotton shirt, a light sock, trail runners, and running shorts.

On the Continental Divide Trail in Glacier National Park.

Oh, the specific items might change. The socks wear out, I’ll go through different shoes, I (sadly) had to replace my boonie once in 2011,  and eventually, I’ll replace my shirt. But this basic clothing kit stays remarkably consistent.  I’ll wear short sleeve button downs for day hikes, and I’ve switched to long pants for most of my backpacking trips. But otherwise, I have no reason to change this utilitarian clothing that has worked so well.

But for day hikes and on-trail backpacking trips, I still prefer the discount store running shorts.

Why a review on running shorts now? Because I’ve seen a spate of “What shorts should I get for hiking?” and I think the conversation gets needlessly complicated.

It’s walking.

I advocate running shorts as they are light, dry quickly, and may even have two pockets up front. Just enough for your hiking wallet, a car key, and a phone. My current discount store ones are slightly fancy and have a small zipper pocket, too.

I’ve used so-called hiking shorts, and I tend always to remember why I go back to simple running shorts. Meaning hiking shorts are usually too bulky, take longer to dry, and aren’t as comfortable.

And I get the same type every time. Meaning, discount store shorts. Sub-$20.  Usually C9 brand, but not always. Because it doesn’t matter. Available at any Wallyworld, Target, or even online.

I like mine slightly baggy, just above the knee, and without a liner for ventilation.  YMMV.

But Paul, You get what you pay for!

Well, I discussed that trope before. Spend the $55 for running shorts if you want. Maybe they are better for you and your hiking. Perhaps not. I just know the Tar-zhey shorts worked for multi-month and multi-week thru-hikes and I still wore them after.  They are black. They dry quickly. They work. They seem to last well enough. But the label is admittedly different…

But Paul, these running shorts aren’t as durable as hiking shorts.

That might also be true. But I also hike in long pants for terrain that gets rough. The last time I stupidly clung to shorts in rough terrain, my legs ended up being all scraped and scratched up. I’ve been committed to long pants ever since for backpacking.  The one time I wished I wore shorts instead of pants for backpacking? Early September on The Collegiate Loop – a well-maintained route with mild weather.

But otherwise, the humble discount store running shorts have served me well for day hikes and on-trail backpacks over the years. Inexpensive, found in any store, and effective.  I wore them today. And I suspect I’ll wear them again. And for a few years to come.


9 Replies to “20 Year Long Term Review: Discount Store Running Shorts”

  1. Truth be told, I’m a bit of a gear junkie. I’m fortunate enough to have worked in the outdoor industry for over 20 years, which often provides substantial discounts. As a result I have tried a lot of different gear at little cost to myself by trying items and passing on the savings to someone else on often times slightly used gear.
    My experience parallels yours, more often than not I have chosen a less expensive simpler item to rely on season after season.
    The $20 100 weight fleece covers 90+% of the bases that a $150 fleece does; thereby increasing the “value” it represents.
    I have spent a lot of time, and trial and plenty of error finding the sweet spot for best bang for your buck solutions to affordable lightweight functional systems that work for my 3 season applications.
    The rising popularity of vlogging thru hikes and gear lists seems to drive people towards a few select items that make most top 10 lists and often carry a premium price tag.
    If one looks beyond the list it is easy to find 90% of the functionality at a 10-15% weight penalty, with a 50% savings.
    To your point, why pay the 50% premium to get a nominal improvement.

    But then again it looks good on lighterpacks…..

  2. Running shorts that have both 1) a liner and 2) pockets are the magic unicorn of the hiking world. Tough to find but oh so lovely. TJ Maxx is where I’ve had the best luck.

      1. The last time I bought a pair of Darn Tough factory seconds, they were two different sizes! I’d really like to know who got the other pair just like them – maybe they needed the small ones, or at least one of us could get a wearable pair?

        Of course this was in Northfield. Maybe TJ Maxx’s ‘seconds’ are a grade above this.

        Love me some Darn Toughs, though!

  3. I still use nylon convertible hiking pants. With my hiking style tending toward shorter trips on rougher trails or routes (and I hike in the East, not in the desert), I find that maybe 80% of the time, I’m wearing the trouser legs. When it’s hot and I’m on a clear trail, I can zip them off and that’s less weight overall than carrying a separate pair of shorts.

    But I just love C9 unmentionables. Light, cheap, do the job. Cheap enough to toss when they get stinky beyond the power of a machine wash and a vinegar rinse to clear.

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