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Cargo Shorts vs Carpenter Shorts

Cargo shorts vs. carpenter shorts is a close call, and not just because of fabric proportions. Both men's and women's shorts are among the most classic styles available. It would be a full wardrobe if I only had either type of short in my closet. Cargo shorts and carpenter shorts can be worn with almost anything, but cargo shorts are best reserved for the most informal Spring and Summer events. Find out more about these timeless shorts essentials.

A hiker wearing cargo shorts and a carpenter wearing carpenter shorts with his son.

The battle of cargo shorts versus carpenter shorts is a tight one, and not by fabric dimensions either. Both kinds of shorts, for men and for women, are among the most timeless looks you can find in a short.

If I had nothing but either kind of short in my closet, it’s a complete wardrobe. Both cargo shorts and carpenter shorts can go with anything, but cargo shorts are better kept for the most casual events of the Spring and Summer. Learn more about these classic shorts staples here.

What are cargo shorts?

Cargo shorts are a kind of short that have the foundation of a standard or basic short, with the addition of multiple pockets on the top of the short. There is usually one pocket on either side of the leg, and sometimes an extra front pocket underneath the main front pocket.

The cargo short was first the cargo pant and made for the United States Air Force for the Second World War so that the soldiers could have pockets to put ammunition in when they were hiding on mountains.

At the time, the cargo pants and shorts were made in beige and camouflage print for military service members, so that the soldiers could blend well with their environment. Today, cargo shorts are used by the layperson as a wardrobe staple for many occasions, even as work wear. Men and women alike like cargo shorts because they are comfortable, practical, and durable. A good pair of cargo shorts is worth the investment, they will last you for several years.

Related: Cargo Shorts vs. Flat Front Shorts

What are carpenter shorts?

Lee Men's Dungarees Belted Wyoming Cargo Short, Ash Camo, 38

Carpenter shorts are something like cargo shorts but they do not have as many pockets. They were originally worn by carpenters, with a loop for a hammer along with one of the sides. Some carpenter shorts take it literally and you will see a tool belt style pocket inset sewn into the front of the carpenter short.

That is a look that not many are going to be wearing anywhere but to work.

The carpenter short is almost as practical as the cargo short as it allows for extra pockets and a tool loop. For most people, the tool loop is just a unique feature of the garment that adds texture and style. The carpenter short also usually has a flat front without pleats and cleaner lines along the legs.

Today it is a short that can be worn by anybody, for almost any purpose or function.


Woman wearing tshirt and cargo shorts for woman.

The key feature of cargo shorts is that they are shorts with additional pockets. Cargo shorts come in a wide range of lengths, and generally speaking, the longer the short the more pockets you will have. Or, you might find cargo shorts with longer pockets on the sides with longer shorts.

Most cargo shorts are built to be durable and last a long time, as they were first meant to be worn in tough conditions. Overall, the cargo short is a short that falls just above the knee. Some trends will have them cut higher. The fit of the shorts is fitted in most cases unless you prefer to wear them larger and looser or want to buy a size larger than you normally would wear.

The waist, regardless of the fit, is comfortable and snug, and in most cases, no belt is needed unless you are dressing up your cargo.

The carpenter short on the other hand is very similar, but with fewer pockets. The durability of the material is just as strong. Length-wise, carpenter shorts are longer as they do need to offer protection in the workspace, and serve as a handy carrying space for tools.


The materials that cargo shorts and carpenter shorts are made of are very similar, and often the same. The fabrics used for the shorts are usually very sturdy fabrics that can withstand weight being added to the pocket. Remember that cargo shorts were once used for holding ammunition, and carpenter shorts to hold hammers and other heavy tools.

These shorts are going to be made of heavy cotton blends and sometimes even sturdier fabrics such as canvas or denim. Cotton twills and cotton-polyester blends are also often used, as these garments are shorts and meant to be worn in hotter temperatures. They also are often worn in warmer settings, like factories and construction, where breezy materials and fabrics are a must.

Design features

The design features of cargo shorts are that they come with many pockets for practical use. I love them because you can put everything you need in them for a quick errand run, on a walk, or when you are road tripping, camping, or traveling. There is a pocket for everything. That is the key design feature of cargo pants.

Carpenter shorts are not that much different but offer a sleeker design with loops for tools in the shorts. Out of both types of shorts, you don’t need a belt, unless you are weighing down the pockets with a lot of items. Even many small items in the shorts will add weight and a belt will help to keep the lines of the outfit clean.

These shorts will often be designed with wider belt loops as well, to ensure that a belt space is available if necessary.

Related: Different Types of Cargo Shorts


The durability of both cargo shorts and carpenter shorts is legendary in the fashion world. The names of the shorts tell you everything you need to know. These are shorts that are built to last.

Most cargo shorts and carpenter shorts of good design will be manufactured with double stitching so that they can withstand the weight that will go in and on the shorts. Wide hems with double fabric construction are going to keep the shorts on and fitted the way they are meant to be worn. With this kind of construction you are going to see that either of these shorts is going to last a long time.

Cost differences

Colorful shorts for sale in a retail clothing store.

The average range for prices and costs of cargo shorts and carpenter shorts can be between $25 and $50 for a good pair. Naturally, if you have a designer or brand name pair of cargo shorts or carpenter shorts you are going to see higher costs involved. The kind of construction will play into the costs as well. The more durable the shorts are, the pricier they will be as well.

Benefits of Cargo Shorts and Carpenter Shorts

The main benefit of each kind of short is that they are useful and practical for everyday use for any walk of life. They are used in the work industry for practical purposes because they offer a number of benefits for durability, strength, cool to wear, and the functionality of being able to hold a wide number of tools or accessories with their pockets and extra features.

Both designs are meant to be practical and come with features. These are not shorts meant to look great, although they do. They were designed so that they can serve a purpose, and although they are awesome, that is the key benefit of both styles.

Brief History of Cargo Shorts and Carpenter Shorts

Both cargo shorts and carpenter shorts have roots that go back to a sturdier time. Cargo pants came into the world during the Second World War when garments that were practical were needed for soldiers to carry as much as they could when they were fighting and hiding.

Some of the war was fought in hotter and more humid climates, and the shorts were a win. Today, they are among the most popular shorts for all ages.

The history of the carpenter short is unknown, as it does not have quite the legacy that cargo shorts do. It has however been in the fashion world since the 1990s, and even designers like Tommy Hilfiger have created their own twist on the carpenter short. Today it is a practical short that goes very far.

Go the extra mile with cargo shorts

Smiling man wearing green t shirt and a cargo short.

Cargo shorts are going to be my pick here because they are more practical in my opinion. I can’t handle either pants or shorts without pockets, so cargo shorts are a bit of a jackpot for me. Carpenter shorts are awesome with a polo or t-shirt and are slightly dressier in some fabric and colors, like khaki.

Still, cargo shorts will always be my go-to if I can get away with it. Comfortable, fitted, and an easy look to pull together.