There are typically two schools of thought when it comes to finding the best mountain bike shorts; people who want thin, lightweight units like these Backcountry Empire shorts, and riders who want a heavier duty, thick short meant for bushwhacking, and downhill-style riding. Backcountry’s Empire Shorts are not boardshort thin like those from brands like 100%, but they are certainly thin, lightweight, and extremely comfortable. We have found ourselves using these on trail rides, going out for casual hikes and are now wearing them to the gym for evening workouts. The Empire shorts are casual yet pack enough performance to keep them at the front of the pack no matter the outdoor activity.
Available in four colors, the Backcountry Empire shorts are exclusive to backcountry.com and were inspired by employees looking for a comfortable trail short for their local Park City, Utah trails. There is no doubt that having access to many of the best shorts from the countless brands that they’ve been selling for years was a leg up and gave designers a great starting point when it came time to design their own shorts, and other gear like the Slickrock pants which we’ll be reviewing soon.
Built using 4-way stretch materials that feature abrasion resistant and DWR (water repellent) treatments, the Empire bike shorts are designed to be durable without being overly thick or heavy. The shorts are 88% nylon and 12% spandex with a weight of roughly 10.6oz for size medium. Laser-cut ventilation holes promote circulation as air flows though the shorts with ease. Other creature comforts include a silicone gripper around the waistband and zippered cargo pockets.
We often get lots of bright and overly marketed gear to test. These unassuming shorts with little marketing fanfare almost put us off a bit as we did not expect a ton from them. Little did we know that we would soon be wearing them on the bike, at the gym, hiking and while doing odd chores when the temps creep up. Backcountry’s Empire shorts are subtle and simple, yet they do exactly what they need to.
While some of our testers prefer the lightest, thinnest shorts possible, I have always leaned towards more robust and burly shorts. Maybe it is because I spend a lot of time in the brush, cutting in trail? Or maybe it’s because the thought of crashing in rocks in nothing but glorified board shorts terrifies me, either way I’ve been picky about shorts for a long time. The Backcountry Empire MTB shorts walk the line nicely and are thin enough to be cool and comfortable on hot days, but the abrasion resistant, DWR material is just thick enough to offer the illusion of protection if my cheeks went sliding across the ground.
Backcountry did a nice job of placing the pockets so that keys and cell phones stayed put. They sat nicely without causing any tight spots in the short and were easy to access. The laser-cut vents are small but effective at keeping air moving around your crotchal-region. Made up words are fun.
Overall, the Backcountry Empire mountain bike shorts are a pretty solid offering for those looking at a good all-around trail short. I’m 5’11 and weigh 172lbs and found the size medium to be comfy and snug. They are not overly long, so if you dig a longer short to cover your knee pads, or have long legs, you may find them a touch on the short side. The DWR treatment works well at shedding mud splashes and light drizzles and the abrasion resistant, stretchy material has held up to some sagebrush and juniper branch encounters thus far. These shorts will continue to get use at the gym, on the bike and anywhere else an understated, comfy pair of lightweight shorts are called for.