If you’re asking, “What are ripstop shorts?” you’ve maybe also wondered, “What are ripstop pants?” Well, we can answer both questions at once: ripstop is the type of fabric used to make ripstop shorts and ripstop pants.
Ripstop fabric uses a special reinforcement technique that makes the fabric resistant to rips and tears.
The fabric was developed during WWII as a replacement for silk in making parachutes. (Not something you want tearing or ripping. Obviously.) While the use of ripstop fabric has spread greatly over the decades in both military and commercial applications, the technique remains the same: incorporating nylon thread in a cross-hatch weave.
It’s not simply the nylon that makes the fabric strong, however, or even what qualifies it as ripstop fabric; it’s the reinforcement provided by the interlocking threads of the cross-hatch weave technique. Many people go on to assume ripstop fabrics are made of nylon -- but that’s not completely true. The nylon thread is woven through a base material, which could be nylon -- or cotton, polyester, silk, or something much heavier duty like in army combat uniforms or firefighters’ gear.
Light duty or heavy duty, ripstop fabric is any fabric that incorporates the intervals of cross-hatch, interlocking weave, providing ripstop reinforcement. Today you can find ripstop fabric used in tents, packs, gear bags, car & motorcycle covers, sports uniforms, sails, hot air balloons, combat gear, and yes, ripstop shorts and ripstop pants.
So, what are ripstop shorts? They’re damn fine shorts, that’s what.