These cargo shorts don’t look like your old ones

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Like a pair of airy and comfortable sandals, shorts are a spring and summer must-have. And yes, that includes cargo shorts. Although born out of a utilitarian need during World War II, today’s breed is either tastefully relaxed or sleek and tapered, and in either case a far cry from the overly baggy style of the late ’90s and of the early 2000s.

What to look for

Cargo shorts, as the name suggests, are designed for cargo – they’re shorts equipped with gusseted pockets on the sides of the legs that can hold any extra goodies you might want close by. However, these side pockets can make or break cargo shorts. When shopping for a pair, note how bulky and bloated these pockets can appear when empty. If you don’t like their unoccupied appearance, you’re probably not a fan of how chunky they look on your body.

If you’ve given up on cargo shorts since middle school, good news: Today’s brands are more tapered and sleeker than the pairs your dad may still prefer. However, you will be hard pressed to find a pair with a shorter inseam length, as most cargo shorts always start at around 8 inches inseam, reaching just above the knee and up an inch or two below. If you want to slim down that silhouette, switch to outdoor mode and pull them up, tucking your t-shirt in at the waist.

Putting on cargo shorts sends out a very different signal than putting on chinos or swim shorts – they can provide a more rugged look, giving your outfit a utilitarian edge. Looking for versatile cargo shorts? Go for ones that adapt well from trail to street. If you need something more technical, pick them up in a water-resistant polyester or nylon to protect some elements. Many modern cargo shorts are made with ripstop fabric, which reinforces the material with nylon using a crosshatch pattern, making it more durable and tear-resistant.

Are cargo shorts out of fashion?

They were surely considered tasteless in the past, but today you will find more contemporary cuts and flavors. So no, they are not old fashioned. They got better. Modern iterations may recall streetwear trends from decades past and not so much early fratty Woodstock lovers (or mid-2000s dads) – they’re still practical and offer plenty of pocket space, but slimmer , tapered and less clunky. Yet even today’s baggiest cargo shorts look as intentional as your typical relaxed, baggy style.


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The Best Overall Cargo Shorts

Nike ACG Cargo Shorts

Get into hiker mode with these fashion-forward shorts from Nike’s outdoor line, Nike ACG. These loose, casual shorts replace the typical Velcro pocket with zippers and have more than enough storage space, as well as a built-in carabiner for your keys. They’re also made from a blend of polyester and nylon, making them great for wicking away moisture.

The Best Improved Cargo Shorts

Earth Studies MP-104 Field Short

These asymmetrical cargo shorts are the only ones on this list that have an inseam length that hits just above the knee, making them perfect for those who like to show off a little thigh. It is also the only one to be made entirely from unused fabrics from production leftovers. Made in Los Angeles, it has five pockets in total, including one at the back with snap closure and one that closes with an elastic cord.

The Best Affordable Cargo Shorts

Cookman USA Chef Cargo Shorts

Cookman USA wants you to know that chef clothing isn’t exclusive to chefs, and I want you to know that not all baggy shorts are bad. Made with a ripstop fabric and available in solid colors and patterns – like zebra, Bandaged and tiger camo — these loose fit unisex waist shorts have plenty of pockets, a string loop for your keys and an oversized silhouette for maximum airflow.

Patagonia Iron Forge Hemp Canvas Cargo Shorts

Made from organic materials, these cargo shorts are said to be 25% stronger than conventional duck canvas. They’re also long, with 11-inch inseams. Pick them up and hit the trail in these earthy shorts, available in Dark Ash and Cilantro Brown.

Gramicci x Alpha Jungle Cargo Shorts

This collaborative pair from Alpha Industries and Gramicci is as functional as it is interesting. Despite its equally roomy side pockets, it features a flattering fit, a gusseted crotch for maneuverability and, in typical Gramicci fashion, an integrated waistband to show off that branding around your waist. Grab a pair in red, khaki or black.

Dickies Millerville Cargo Shorts

These military-inspired shorts have pockets that stay close to the leg instead of sticking out, giving them a sleek silhouette. Made from hardwearing ripstop cotton, they’re tough enough for the trail but laid back enough for the city.

Prana Stretch Zion Short II

These recycled nylon blend shorts feature a concealed zipped coin pocket, dual entry zipped cargo pocket and vented gussets along the crotch for breathability. Get it in eight colors and three inseam lengths, and stay protected from the sun with its UPF 50+ rating.

Lululemon 9″ Utility Cargo Shorts

Leave it to Lululemon to create chino shorts designed for a wide range of movement. Made from 2-way stretch recycled polyester, this pointed option stays close to the leg and tapers at the knee. Its 9-inch inseam means it’ll likely top that, but the slim legs ensure a modern, not frumpy fit. Take it in olive or dark khaki.

Adidas 3 Stripe Cargo Shorts

Not all cargo shorts have to look like military clothing. This one from Adidas features side pockets on a lounge-ready cotton shorts, with an elasticated waistband and drawstrings. Mix them up for a quick run to the grocery store or a lazy Sunday at home.

Birdwell Beach Tac Short 2.0 Bib Shorts

Reduce those two side pockets to one with this piece from Birdwell. Made primarily of spandex, these stretchy cargo shorts are available in four colors and dry quickly when wet. Plus, they have adjustable side tabs that customize the fit.

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