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Cargo Shorts vs. Board Shorts

Cargo shorts and boards shorts look exactly the same, but they have their differences. Learn more about these two shorts here.

Men playing volleyball in board shorts.

From a distance, you’d think that board shorts and cargo shorts are exactly the same. And it’s true that they do have a lot in common. A lot of people own both, although both types are more popular with men than with women.

That said, board shorts and cargo shorts have some differences, too. Those differences may inform your personal preference. Are you in the market for a new pair of shorts? Then let’s take a look at your options. 

What are Board Shorts?

Board shorts on white background.

Let’s start with the basics. What exactly are board shorts, and when might you wear them? 

Board shorts, or sometimes “boardshorts,” are a type of swimwear. Specifically, they’re designed for surfers, which is how they got their name. They look a lot like regular swim trunks. And like regular swim trunks, they’re made of nylon and/or polyester, so they can dry quickly after you get out of the water. Board shorts started as men’s swimwear, but they’ve recently become a bigger part of women’s swimwear, too. 

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The difference between board shorts and swim trunks is that board shorts are long, extending below the knee. That’s because surfboard wax has the unfortunate tendency to rip out leg hair, and unless that’s the look you’re going for, an accidental waxing really isn’t worth the pain. And if that is the look you’re going for, I’d recommend a professional salon over a surfboard. In any case, the board shorts are long enough to cover any part of the leg that touches the surfboard, thus preventing any painful leg hair-related incidents. 

What are Cargo Shorts?

Cargo shorts on wooden background.

Cargo shorts are just a cutoff version of cargo pants, and cargo pants started in the military. They’re work pants, made from a tough cotton blend that can withstand a lot of wear and tear. 

The defining factor of cargo pants, as you probably already know, is the pockets. Cargo pants have no shortage of pockets. And most of those pockets have a flap and Velcro, so they’re more secure than other types of pockets. 

Though you might not want to wear them for swimming (they aren’t designed to dry fast), you could still wear cargo shorts to most of the other places you’d find board shorts. You may see people wearing cargo shorts while biking, skating, or working outdoors. 

How are Board Shorts and Cargo Shorts Similar?

Shirtless man in cargo shorts.

Board shorts and cargo shorts have more similarities than differences. They have the same baggy cut, for example. They’re both durable but lightweight. Both options are also highly versatile. You could wear either one in a lot of settings for work and play.

Just keep in mind that neither board shorts nor cargo shorts are appropriate for office settings or anything more formal than that. But if you’re going to the mall and working outside later? Your shorts can work for both. 

Board shorts and cargo shorts have similar prices, too. The average pair will cost between $30 and $40, but you can find more and less expensive styles for both. 

How are Board Shorts and Cargo Shorts Different?

Man putting money on cargo shorts pocket.

As far as differences go, the biggest one is the pockets. While cargo shorts have all the pockets you could want, board shorts will just have front and back pockets. 

They also have different styles. You can find plain board shorts if you look hard enough, but more often than not, board shorts will have bright colors and patterns. Cargo pants, on the other hand, are generally beige. You can also find them in other colors, but those colors will still be understated, like black, brown, and green. 

Finally, cargo shorts are shorter than board shorts. (Try saying that three times fast.) They usually stop at the knee, and sometimes they’re even a little shorter than that. 

Which Should You Choose?

So, should you choose cargo shorts or board shorts next time you go shopping? Well, that depends on a few things. First, do you plan to wear your shorts in the water? In that case, board shorts are the way to go. You’ll be more comfortable that way. 

Do you like bright colors? Then board shorts are still the way to go. 

On the other hand, do you need a lot of pockets for tools and supplies? Are you looking for something in a more understated color? In that case, what you need is a pair of cargo shorts. 

Which one would I choose? To be honest, I’m not a fan of either option for myself. I’m a woman who tends to go for more feminine clothing choices. Cargo shorts and board shorts can be great on other people, they’re just not my personal style. You should wear whatever makes you feel the most comfortable. 

But if I had to choose between one or the other for myself? I’d have to go with cargo shorts. Not for style reasons, though. I’m just really tired of the lack of pockets in women’s pants.