When escaping the cold and travelling to hotter climes, it’s time to embrace the heat and bear your pins – here’s how to buy the best shorts for the job…
Pockets: Different styles of shorts offer a varying number of pockets. Look for ones that are a good size and also mesh lined to help with ventilation. Also looked for a zipped option if you want to keep something from falling out.
Insect protection: Some travel shorts come impregnated with insect repellent, others won’t. Don’t forget that you can always treat the material yourself. As with any treated clothing, it’s only the part of your body that it covers that will be protected, so use repellent on your exposed legs.
Fabric: Look for soft fabric that is also breathable and good at wicking (moving sweat away from your body). Most materials offer some level of protection from the sun, but good travel shorts offer a bit more.
Weight: A lighter pair of shorts is always good for your luggage limit, but that might mean the loss of pockets, so consider the features that you want to prioritise first. Seams: By the very nature of shorts, wherever the leg ends will be a seam. Manufacturers are usually good at ensuring these are flatlocked to keep you comfortable (and stop the seam from rubbing on your skin), but it’s worth checking by trying them on before you buy.
Cut: Some shorts will be cut longer, others shorter – it’s a case of personal preference. When you try them on, do try sitting down to make sure yours don’t ride up too far. And beware of shorts that go too far over the knee, as they can make walking uncomfortable.
Backcountry Short From £40
Royal Robbins Backcountry Short
The test: At the budget end of the scale come these quick-drying, wrinkle-resistant shorts, with a UPF of 50+, four pockets on the front (with one zipped and one velcro – the men’s version has two cargo-style pockets instead) and two pockets on the back (both velcro). The fabric is soft and an adjustable waist makes for a good fit; however, these were the shortest on test and they did rise up a fair bit when sitting. The waistband is at a good height, though not lined. At 186g (size 12) they are the fourth lightest.
The test: For something more pared down, this is the new offering from Rab (Offwidth is the nearest men’s equivalent). There are two pockets on the front and two button-down ones on the back. They are a longer length and a slimmer fit – especially at the knees. They don’t rise up much when sitting but do sit lower on the hips, meaning the waistband gapes a bit. They are not UPF rated, but given the thicker, robust fabric (220g; size 12 – the eighth heaviest), they offer some protection.
The test: Even though they are at a lower price point, these were the lightest on test (170g; size 12). The also offer a UPF of 50+ and have three zip mesh-lined pockets (one on the leg). The fit is generous but not baggy, and the leg length is longer than others but not uncomfortable. The waistband is coated with soft fabric and is semi-elasticated, and they don’t rise up too much or gape when seated. The fabric is wicking, water resistant and feels robust – for an impressive price. Wanderlust best value buy.
The test: Made from a tough, fast-drying fabric, these shorts have less stretch but offer a jeans-style look – still with UPF50+. Weighing just 182g (size 12), they are also the third lightest. Women get a handy adjustable leg length; men have cargo pockets on the legs. Both have two front mesh-lined pockets. The waist is part-elasticated for comfort, though not coated. They are shorter than some on the leg (not the shortest) but don’t rise up too high and there’s no gaping at the back.
The test: With this brand you get the bonus of knowing some of your money goes to a charity to educate Sherpa children; you also get a very stretchy, comfortable pair of shorts with a coated, soft waistband and a quick-drying, light fabric (188g; size 12) – the fifth lightest on test. There are three zipped pockets: two on the front and a discreet one on the side. The fabric is not UPF-rated, though would offer some protection. They’re a similar leg length to Páramo’s and don’t rise up too much or gape.
The test: Wearing these shorts affords at least one reason to feel smug, as they are made from traceable recycled plastic bottles – so, as green as they come (though still in beige). The UPF50+ fabric feels robust but soft against the skin; it is heavier though – at 209g (size 12) they’re the sixth heaviest here. The waist is not soft-coated but still comfortable, and gapes a little when seated. Leg length is short (not as much as Royal Robbins’) but doesn’t ride up too much. It has two pockets on the front.
The test: Made with insect-repellent fabric, you get a little extra when you spend more. The fabric is UPF50+, with good stretch, and the waistband is coated with a soft mesh to make it breathable. There are two pockets on the front (plus a hidden security pocket) and two on the back. They’re shorter than Sprayway’s but a good length, and don’t rise up too much. They also sit well on the hips and look smart. The only niggle is the weight: 238g (size 12) – the third heaviest on test. Wanderlust best in test.
The test: Another smart-looking option with UPF50+ protection. Its part-elasticated waist is coated with soft mesh for comfort. There are two mesh-lined pockets front-and-back and a flap pocket on the leg. The fabric offers some stretch (not as much as others) and is water resistant. The leg is the longest of all on test, going halfway over the knees (for me). They don’t rise up much when sitting, but the waist did gape a bit – the belt helped. At 265g (size 12) they are the joint heaviest here.
The test: Offering wind and water resistance, this super-stretchy fabric is very soft but durable. The waist is coated and comfy, and all pockets on the front (two), leg (one; zipped) and rear (one; zipped) are mesh-lined for ventilation. They are not UPF-rated but would offer some protection. The sizing is very generous, almost baggy (try a size smaller than usual), and leg length is good. It doesn’t rise up much or gape at the waist when sat. At 204g (size 12) they’re the sixth lightest.
The test: Weighing in at 174g (size 12), this is the second-lightest pair here. They offer an impressive, very stretchy UPF50 fabric that’s quick-drying. There are two zipped mesh-lined pockets on the front and one on the back, plus another zipped pocket on the side. The leg length is at the shorter end of the scale and rose up a bit when seated. These were also small for the size (we suggest going larger). The waistband is adjustable via velcro, but as it’s on the inside it can be uncomfortable.
The test: The buzzword with these shorts is ‘adjustability’. The waistband is adjustable (via velcro on the outside, thus more comfy), as are the leg openings, which stops biting bugs. The fabric is UPF50+ and fairly stretchy, but not the softest, which adds weight (265g; size 12 – the joint heaviest). There are two mesh- lined pockets on the front and one on the leg, plus a discreet side-pocket for a phone. They are a longer fit; the waistband is also covered with a soft mesh and doesn’t gape.
The test: These feel very robust. Though hard-wearing, the fabric is not UPF-graded; but given its thickness, good protection is likely offered. They are also comfortable and a fine compromise between stretch and sturdiness. But you do pay for it with weight (259g; size 12); they’re the third heaviest here. There are four pockets (two on the front, two zipped on the rear – no mesh). The fit is slim but not too tight. The length is good and there is no gaping, though the band isn’t covered.
How we did the test... We asked gear manufacturers to submit shorts that they felt were most suitable for travellers – light enough to help keep within luggage limits but durable enough to stand up to the rigours of travel. Our editor, Phoebe Smith, took the 20 pairs we were sent out on the road; the 12 here are all ‘Wanderlust approved’. All are available in men’s and women’s fits, with different names indicated and the higher price included. Our ‘Value Buy’ and overall ‘Best in Test’ are shown. Main Image: Hiker on mountain peak (Shutterstock)