This is a review of Free Soldier Cargo Shorts. If you are not yet familiar with Free Soldier, they are crafting versatile tactical clothing and footwear designed for a wide range of activities, from outdoor adventures to working outdoors or in workshops. Most of their products are not only budget-friendly but also versatile and reliable.
Advertised as lightweight, water-resistant, and quick-dry cargo shorts, we tested these shorts in various outdoor scenarios to assess their performance. Below, you will find our findings on the design, features, characteristics, pros, cons, and ideal use of these Free Soldier cargo shorts.
Table of Contents
Quick specs: Free Soldier Cargo Shorts
Weight: 364 g (12.84 oz) with the integrated belt for the reviewed size: size 38, inseam 12 or W38-L12; weight without the integrated belt is 334 g (11.78 oz); size 36, inseam 12 W36-L12 weighs 352 g (12.42 oz) with the belt and 322 g (11.36 oz) without the belt
Inseam: 10, 12
Material: 89% Nylon, 11% spandex
Where to get them: Amazon
- Fast-drying 4-way stretch fabric with DWR finish for added water repellency and UPF 50+ sun protection.
- Nice pocket configuration with multiple pockets deep enough to accommodate necessities.
- Partially elastic waist and an integrated belt for a more comfortable and secure fit.
- A very good balance between price and quality. This garment has no doubt one of the highest price:quality ratios on the market of hiking shorts. With a utilitarian style, they offer a comparable level of functionality and durability as other similar shorts on the market, but at a fraction of the cost.
- Lightweight and breathable, yet tough fabric ready to meet all the challenges of activewear situations. The nylon-spandex material seems to be durable and delivers premium sun protection (UPF 50+). It regulates temperature well and has excellent quick-drying abilities. DWR finish for added rain and wind protection.
- The freedom of movement they provide ensures versatile use for all your outdoor activities. However, a bit more stretch in the fabric would be beneficial for maximum mobility.
- The six pockets (two mesh hand pockets, two zippered cargo pockets, and two mesh back pockets with a hook-and-loop closure) are placed strategically so that you can really use them. The pockets are good-sized so the storage space is just enough for most days on and off the trail.
- Come in a variegated color palette that offers something for every taste. With a range of colors to choose from, you’re sure to find a pair that fits your personal style and preferences.
- While the integrated belt on these hiking shorts may seem like a good idea, the execution leaves something to be desired. The belt is narrow (2.54 cm or 1 inch) and doesn’t look like it is particularly durable. However, it is removable so you can ditch it and replace it with a sturdier alternative. Another problem is that you’d need a belt no wider than 1.25″-1.3″ (up to 3.2-3.3 cm).
- We find these shorts to be a bit noisy while walking, due to the material swishing as you move. This can be somewhat annoying.
- The lack of a waist that follows the natural contour of the human body for a better fit and a peached waistband to absorb moisture and add extra comfort in both cooler and warmer weather is one of the biggest deficiencies of these cargo shorts. The addition of such feature(s) would make the shorts even better.
These cargo shorts have been used extensively for around three and a half months so we’ve had plenty of opportunities to test them and see how they behave in certain situations.
Our first impression was that the Free Soldier Cargo shorts were solid and of high quality. It turned out that, no doubt, it is 100 percent true as the positives are much more than the negatives. These shorts are great for hiking and a wide range of outdoor activities. They are not exactly lightweight, but they are durable, functional, and comfortable, and behave reasonably well in different conditions and over a variety of terrains. They also have a nice set of pockets that can actually be used. In short, we believe that these shorts offer versatility that extends beyond budget-conscious outdoor enthusiasts.
We discuss the strengths and weaknesses of these cargo shorts in more detail in the full review below.
Material, construction, and durability
The Free Soldier Cargo Shorts are built with careful attention to both material selection and construction, resulting in a well-rounded outdoor garment.
These shorts are predominantly made from a blend of 89% nylon and 11% spandex fabric. This blend strikes a perfect balance between flexibility and durability, making them ideal for various outdoor activities.
The fabric’s 4-way stretch design ensures you have the freedom to move comfortably when you’re out exploring. Even with this flexibility, the material retains a robust and wrinkle-free feel. To further enhance their functionality, the fabric is treated with a durable water-repellent (DWR) finish. This finish adds an extra layer of protection against wind and water, making the shorts water-resistant and dependable during unexpected rain showers. Moreover, it also facilitates easier cleanup.
Sun protection is essential in the great outdoors, and these cargo shorts have it covered. The nylon-spandex blend comes with a UPF 50+ rating, guaranteeing superior sun protection ensuring superior sun protection during scorching days on and off the trail. Whether you’re hiking in the mountains or walking in town, these shorts have you covered.
The construction is solid, durable, and holds up well under most conditions. The synthetic material is tough and remarkably abrasion-resistant. The double-stitched seams contribute to the durability. These cargo shorts have been worn on numerous outings and we’ve had no issues regarding their durability. We are happy to report that these are obviously designed for long-term performance in the great outdoors.
Weight is a significant factor for both hiking pants and shorts, especially for hikers and outdoor enthusiasts who like traveling light. Here’s an overview of their weight and how it compares to other options:
- As we bought two sizes, we have first-hand information for the weight of size 36 and size 38. Size 36, inseam 12 (W36-L12) weighs in at 352 g (12.42 oz) with the belt and 322 g (11.36 oz) without the belt. Meanwhile, size 38, inseam 12 (W38-L12) registers at 364 g (12.84 oz) with the integrated belt, while shedding a bit of weight without it, coming in at 334 g (11.78 oz). The integrated nylon belt is lightweight and clearly weighs around 30 g (1.06 oz), which is roughly 10% of the overall weight.
- It’s worth noting that the weight of hiking shorts can vary significantly across different models. Lighter options, like the Marmot Arch Rock Shorts at 181 g (6.4 oz) and the Patagonia Quandary at around 204 g (7.2 oz), weigh considerably less and are suitable for those prioritizing weight savings.
- The Free Soldier Cargo Shorts fall into the mid to heavier weight range when compared to typical hiking short models with or without integrated belts. This won’t work great for those who like to travel light. Typically, sturdier and more durable shorts tend to be on the heavier side. Take our top choice for men’s hiking shorts, the KUHL Renegade Cargo Shorts. These can be even a bit heavier.
- These shorts, while reasonably packable, should be considered in the context of all-around cargo shorts. They don’t match the compactness and compressibility of trail shorts designed for high-intensity sports and activities, such as the Patagonia Multi Trail Shorts. However, their weight is comparable to other excellent hiking and backpacking models like the Fjallraven Abisko and Helly Hansen Vandre Cargo, making them a solid choice for those who prioritize durability over minimalism.
Fit and comfort
The author of this post, standing at 186 cm (6’1″) and weighing around 97-98 kg (214-216 lbs), found the size W38-L12 to be an ideal fit. These cargo shorts appear to be true to size, offering a comfortable fit. The length of the shorts, extending just past the kneecaps, is well-suited for most preferences. The leg opening feels all right around the thigh and is not tight or loose at all – an issue seen with other models.
While a 12-inch length is slightly longer than our preferred length for non-cargo shorts (we’d usually like it to be 1-2 inches or 2-5 cm shorter), it aligns perfectly with the overall style and functionality of cargo shorts. The 10-inch version is also available for those who prefer a shorter length. Keep in mind that the majority of options on the market come in the range of 9-12 inches so the 10-12” is pretty much the standard length of most hiking shorts. Generally, for taller people, the 12-inch version is a better choice, whereas for shorter people, the 10-inch can be a more reasonable choice as it should fit them better.
The color shown is ‘Black’. Nothing fancy, it’s a classic black color that offers a versatile look and we like it this way. They are offered in several other colors including ‘Khaki’, ‘Mud’, and ‘Gray’, typical for outdoor tactical pants and shorts. The color palette is rich as there are options for every taste from dark and neutral tones to cool and warm shades.
Thanks to the nylon-spandex blend, these shorts offer a degree of stretchiness that contributes to a good fit. Despite the relatively high spandex content (11%), we found that they aren’t as stretchy as one could think though. We deem this good news. The blend of synthetics, coupled with the appropriate length and non-restrictive cut make sure that these cargo shorts deliver great comfort without restrictions during all-day hiking trips in warm or changing weather.
The freedom of movement they provide ensures versatile use for a range of outdoor pursuits beyond hiking and backpacking. They can adapt to a wide range of activities making them suitable for fishing, travel, work, and even gym.
The Free Soldier Cargo are no doubt very functional shorts capable of delivering a robust performance tailored for various outdoor pursuits. The construction is top-notch so we think that these could hold up over time without losing their functionality or comfort. Here’s an in-depth look at their most important technical features and functionality:
The pocket configuration of these shorts is well thought out, with a total of six pockets. Four of them are mesh-lined for added ventilation. The guys from Free Soldier utilize Coolmax, modified polyester, for the mesh lining. The two non-mesh-lined pockets are deep thigh pockets, which provide ample space for secure storage. These thigh pockets are also flat in design, giving the shorts a sleek appearance while maintaining functionality. They are zippered for safe storage of small accessories and essentials. Additionally, there are two hand pockets and two back pockets with hook-and-loop closures.
What we like about the pockets is that they are actually usable. They are deep and spacious enough to accommodate essentials like a phone, wallet, keys, and snacks. However, the hook-and-loop closure on the back pockets could be improved, and we find the zipper pulls on the cargo pockets a bit smaller than ideal. Thankfully, these are minor issues.
The shorts feature a common method for securing hiking shorts – a button and buttonhole system. The waistband is partially elastic for a more comfortable, secure, and individualized fit. There is also a low-profile integrated nylon belt, which is one of the weaker aspects of the construction. The belt is narrow, measuring one inch, and doesn’t appear particularly durable. It comes with a plastic snap-fit buckle that fastens well most of the time but may occasionally slip a bit while walking. It’s adjustable, but who’d like to make continued re-adjustments on the go… Thankfully, the belt is removable so you can ditch it and replace it with a more robust alternative.
The belt loops are non-standard for hiking shorts (don’t forget that Free Soldier makes primarily tactical clothing and gear), with two on either side of the center front and a large loop along the back. Just below the right front belt loop, there’s a plastic D-ring for attaching carabiners or other accessories.
As you can imagine, once the belt is taken off, fitting through the belt loops isn’t fun. It isn’t that difficult either. We’ve done it numerous times and can say that it isn’t a daunting task but it takes some practice. If you decide to replace the integrated belt, make sure that the new one isn’t wider than 1.25”-1.3”. Of course, you can wear these cargo shorts with or without a belt but while the waist is comfortable, we’d still recommend wearing a belt.
These cargo shorts feature a straight cut with a gusseted crotch to enhance mobility and freedom of movement. The slightly elongated back seen in some pants and shorts provides flexibility and comfort and makes them much more versatile options for both warmer and colder weather. Generally, it absorbs moisture in warmer conditions and keeps your waist warm in cooler temps. Unfortunately, these cargo shorts by Free Soldier lack such a feature.
The durable water-repellent finish is a valuable feature, making these shorts water-resistant. The added rain and wind protection is a great feature, making these shorts suitable for changing weather conditions, allowing you to focus on your outdoor activities regardless of the elements. Thanks to the reliable coating, these shorts effectively repel water so you don’t have to worry too much about varying weather conditions.
UPF 50+ fabric
The UPF 50+ fabric provides a higher degree of protection (than the regular fabrics) against the sun’s ultraviolet rays. This level of protection is especially important in high-temperature and high-elevation environments, where direct sunlight can be both uncomfortable and potentially harmful.
These shorts, while highly functional, do produce a swishing sound while walking. Although not particularly annoying, it’s worth noting if you intend to use them for activities that require silent movement, such as hunting.
Breathability and ventilation
Breathability is paramount for comfort during outdoor activities, and the Free Soldier Cargo Shorts deliver on this front. The venting capabilities of a pair of shorts depend on factors like material, fabric weight, and weave density. For example, shorts with shorter inseams and looser weaves would be among the most reasonable choices for hot-weather activities including hiking.
Despite the inseam not being 8 inches and the fabric having a slightly stiffer feel than our preference, these cargo shorts maintain good air permeability, making them suitable for hiking in temperatures around 30°C and various environments and conditions.
The air permeability of these cargo shorts is good for most environments and conditions. Despite the inseam not being 8 inches and the fabric having a slightly stiffer feel than our preference, the material breathes well for hiking in temps around 30°C (86°F). In our opinion, these work best in temperature range between 15°C and 30°C (59°F to 86°F). In really hot weather, we’d prefer shorts with a shorter inseam as they will be more comfortable.
The mesh-lined hand and back pockets certainly improve breathability. Some people would not be happy because mesh-lined pockets are notoriously unreliable for carrying keys and other sharp objects. We’ve extensively used the Free Soldier Cargo shorts and haven’t encountered any issues with the mesh-lined pockets. Based on our experience, these pockets’ mesh lining is reliable. Note that our experience with mesh-lined pockets shows that they are a nice addition, but they don’t play a key role in the overall breathability of a pair of pants or shorts.
Despite excelling in higher temperatures, these shorts are also suitable for lower-temperature environments. It’s worth noting that they perform well not just in still weather. The DWR coating works well in less-than-ideal conditions as it repels water and can block low winds, specifically light to gentle breezes. In windy weather, though, you will definitely need a suitable layer to block wind gusts.
Moisture management and drying speed
Effective moisture management is key for comfort during outdoor activities. Thanks in part to the DWR finish, these shorts have very good moisture management properties. The DWR finish significantly enhances moisture management, ensuring that moisture is quickly repelled.
The shorts feel clammy when damp but this is valid for nearly all types of synthetic materials used for hiking or tactical pants and shorts. The good news is that these dry really fast so you won’t stay damp for hours unless you’re facing exceptionally wet weather conditions. The fast drying speed can be attributed to several factors, including the design of the cargo shorts and the nylon blend in the fabric.
Wash following the manufacturer’s instructions on the care labels. Based on first-hand experience, it’s recommended to remove the integrated belt before washing. The belt typically doesn’t require washing, and removing it will not only keep the belt in a better shape in the long term but will facilitate the drying process.
After washing, air-drying for approximately one hour is usually enough in mild weather. This approach not only reduces your environmental impact but also extends the life of the material.
The affordability of the Free Soldier Cargo Shorts is a standout feature. These shorts are priced at $33, and they can often be found for even less during sales – usually in the $25-30 range. The price is very competitive compared to other cargo shorts of high quality and with similar features. Considering the excellent price-to-quality ratio, the Free Soldier Cargo Shorts top our list of budget-friendly hiking shorts for good reason.
To give you an idea of how it compares to other cargo shorts in the market, consider some of the best models today:
Columbia Silver Ridge Cargo shorts are among the most affordable options. Priced at $50, they are often available for $30-$40 during sales. Classic cargo shorts with a streamlined design offering regular fit; these are made with Omni-Shade from 100% nylon Silver Ridge ripstop material, and Omni-Wick mesh panels. They are suitable for a wide range of activities from hiking to working outdoors to casually walking around town.
KUHL Renegade Cargo shorts are arguably the best cargo shorts on the market today. They feature high-quality material, comfort, style, and a range of features including water-resistant stretch fabric with UPF 50+ sun protection, a chamois-lined waist for added comfort, and a gusseted crotch for mobility. Work great on the trail as well as everyday wear. Come with nine pockets that can hold plenty of stuff. A great option for all your outdoor activities, these cost around $90.
REI Co-op Sahara Cargo shorts, priced at $60, are lightweight and ideal for hot weather activities. Weighing 224 g (7.9 oz), these are much closer to lightweight hiking shorts rather than cargo shorts loaded with six pockets. They are made from bluesign-approved and recycled materials, offering both style and environmental consciousness. Not a very rich color palette (yet beautiful colors), but a large variety of sizes is available.
Helly Hansen Vandre Cargo shorts, are typically priced around $80 but can be found on sale for $50-$60. Combining the classic cargo look with a modern twist, these are among the shorts worth checking. Softshell panels with 4-way stretch, reinforced seat, gusseted crotch, environmentally-friendly fabric, UPF 40+ sun protection, PFC-free water-repellent treatment, and excellent workmanship are some of the main features and characteristics of these cargo shorts for hiking.
The Free Soldier Cargo Shorts exceeded our expectations and will probably exceed yours too. They are high-quality shorts that combine streamlined design and solid construction capable of withstanding some rough wear in a variety of conditions and environments.
They provide a comfortable and accommodating fit, whether you opt for the 10 or 12-inch length. With a selection of colors to suit individual preferences and the right blend of materials for stretch and comfort, these cargo shorts are designed to be adaptable for diverse outdoor adventures and beyond.
They can easily become your go-to choice not only for outdoor adventures but also for everyday wear. We highly recommend them to everyone who wants a budget-friendly yet reliable and versatile pair of shorts for their adventures on the trail and in town.
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