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Cargo Shorts vs. Flat Front Shorts

Get to know the difference between cargo shorts and flat front shorts in this article. Check it out!

Male hiker on cargo shorts.

To determine the differences between cargo shorts and flat front shorts, we first need to know what differentiates them. When I first saw cargo shorts, I thought they were like wearing cut-off work pants, not attractive but had pockets hanging all over them. 

There is room for lots of “stuff,” and I am not sure what folks carried in those pockets. If all the pockets were full, I struggled to stand back up when I sat down. On the other hand, flat-front shorts were less bulky and had a more tailored and stylish look with fewer pockets, therefore less bulk.

So if you are beginning to catch my drift in this article, please forgive me for not being a big fan of these odd shorts. 

Read further to understand the differences between cargo shorts and flat front shorts and what makes them different.

What are cargo shorts and flat front shorts?

Cargo Shorts

Gray cargo shorts.

The infamous cargo short was created by mutating cargo pants by shortening cargo pants to around knee-length. I remember my first walk on the beach in cargo shorts. I felt like someone’s grandfather watching other beachgoers looking stylish in their flat-front shorts.

Cargo shorts were born around 1980 and marketed as the perfect garment for fishermen or sportsmen. Additional materials were added with button-down flaps to secure all the sportsman’s “stuff.” Each pocket can be a mini-survival kit, crammed with whatever may be needed or not, with the button fastening everything secure, so the next time you find yourself upside down, all would be safe and secure.

I admit, at times, having pockets hanging all over your shorts is handy and can serve a purpose. However, wearing cargo shorts on the beach may not necessarily have the same need to carry a lot of cargo as fishing on a free-flowing river in the wilderness.

So, this is the question to ask about the trade-off for cargo shorts. Is it more important to wear baggy shorts with a lot of storage or shorts that are more modern and stylish?

Flat Front Shorts

Designed flat shorts.

Let’s get back to the beach scenario. When walking on the beach, or almost anywhere else, I prefer wearing flat-front shorts. This shorts style projects a flattering silhouette with a “flat” front with in-seam pockets.

Flat-front shorts have a more fashionable look with a straight-line appearance. The straight lines create a more modern and athletic look, back to the beach scenario. Flat-front shorts are a more contemporary style where appearance is more important than functionality.

When I go to a local cafe to meet friends, I want to project a modern look with my best appearance. I don’t want to look like I have just put my fishing gear up and am now bulkier with baggy shorts. 

How Are Cargo Shorts Different From Flat Front Shorts?

Cargo Shorts Difference

Brown cargo shorts.

 The operative word for cargo shorts is functionality over fashion. The baggy construction of cargo shorts may add bulk to your silhouette, intended or not. Multiple pockets with button flaps assure plenty of secure storage for loose items, including cell phones, keys, money, etc.

Typically, cargo shorts construction is very durable with heavier materials. 

Sometimes having multiple pockets is convenient to efficiently store my sunglasses or keys when out at a cafe or town. I should also mention that having plenty of pockets for storing necessary gear is convenient if you are a sportsman or fisherman. And besides, if you are standing by a stream in the mountains, who cares how fashionable you look?

Flat Front Shorts Differences

Khaki flat shorts.

Whereas cargo shorts are constructed for functionality, flat front shorts have a more fashionable look. The straight lines create a flat front that projects a more modern, athletic look and is typically shorter in length. In addition, these shorts are constructed of lighter materials than cargo shorts, and the flat front projects a more flattering silhouette.

Flat-front shorts are the go-to piece when attending a poolside party or going to the beach in the afternoon. Their straight, clean lines create a more athletic look many prefer over the baggy look projected by cargo shorts. However, whatever flat front shorts have in style, they lack functionality.

I rely on cargo shorts when I need multiple pockets to hold assorted items, especially on a trip outdoors. But I do not like them on the dance floor.

Flat Front and Cargo Shorts Construction

Flat Front Shorts Fabrics

Cargo shorts on white background.

The flat front shorts are made from various fabrics, typically a lighter weight fabric than cargo shorts. The minimalistic design of flat-front shorts calls for lighter materials such as:

  • Cotton (standard and quilted)
  • Seersucker
  • Linen
  • Polyester knits
  • Lightweight Corduroy
  • Flannel
  • Denim

Cargo Shorts Fabrics

The design of cargo shorts focuses on functionality over style. With multiple storage pockets, they are ideal when requiring extra storage. The cargo short design is more rugged, requiring heavier fabrics and stitching.

Among the materials used in constructing cargo shorts are;

  • Twill cotton
  • Quick-drying synthetic
  • Ripstop cotton
  • Cotton-synthetic blends
  • Cotton spandex 
  • Linen

Cargo Shorts and Flat Shorts Design Features

Black flat shorts on white background.

Cargo shorts and flat shorts both have explicit design features. The shorts are constructed in a way that best fulfills their intended uses. With that stated, I have worn cargo shorts to the beach and flat shorts while fishing, but typically each has a design intent.

Cargo Shorts Design

These short’s design is more for functionality than style, although some also consider them stylish. Among the design benefits of cargo shorts are:

  • Comfort – The cargo shorts design is a full cut for a relaxed fit for strenuous activity
  • Toughness – Designed with fabrics that tend to be hard to snag or tear
  • Fire Resistant – Cargo shorts are designed to be more resistant to fire, which is a good thing sitting around open flames or a campfire
  • Durability – Designed to disintegrate much slower than other shorts
  • Flexibility – Cargo shorts are appropriate to wear in the woods or at a city park
  • Functionality – Designed with multiple pockets, even hidden pockets, for storing excessive items while traveling

Flat Shorts Design

Flat shorts design projects a straighter, flattering silhouette with lighter weight and more stylish fabric. Flat short design characteristics include:

  • Fashion – Designed to present a more flattering silhouette with a neat, flat front
  • Athletic – Flat shorts are ideal for playing games at the beach or the park with a more athletic cut
  • Modern – The style of flat shorts is a more modern, simple cut for those who are on-trend
  • Silhouette – Flat shorts with a straight front project a thinner, athletic look 


I prefer the more flattering look of flat-front shorts. They seem to agree with me more, too, as I am not an outdoorsy person. In addition, I like the lighter fabrics and more diverse color options found with flat-front shorts.

However, I may be found walking on the beach wearing cargo shorts and all my pockets stuffed with many necessary things: sunglasses, keys, cell phone, lotion, etc. So, they can be convenient!