As our summers get warmer, the window for wearing shorts is widening. Even living far north of the wall, I'll bare my legs at any hint of sunshine from May through to September (real Highlanders do it in the snow, but you need to be born to that). Rab make a lot of shorts, with a slightly baffling 13 different models for men (8 for women) listed on their website.
Narrowing the field, I've been looking at three models new this season, each aimed at a particular niche:
- Venant Shorts - Climbing shorts with a casual style, best suited to bouldering and indoors
- Ascendor Lite Shorts - Mountain-worthy all-rounders equally good for multi-pitch rock, scrambling, and hillwalking
- Talus Active Shorts - Mid-length running shorts with an inbuilt liner
It's worth noting that the sizing of the various models seems quite inconsistent, and though my legs are bigger than average I've generally found they come out on the generous side for the stated size. It's worth trying them on, not buying them online. Also note: there's a women's version of the Talus Active and Ascendor Light, but no direct female equivalent of the Venant.
Venant Shorts - £60
Climbing - oriented shorts with jeans-style open pockets, light stretchy fabric, and a relaxed fit, the Venant would best suit bouldering, cragging or climbing indoors. With their casual styling these are the ones you'd probably feel most at home in on the beach, or about town.
I'm hardly slim in the leg, or these days the middle, but though they're described variously as slim fitting or regular, the Venant Shorts have come out really quite generous in the nominal 34 inch size. That is my standard waist fitting, but with a loose fit at the waist and more volume overall than I need, they feel more like what I'd expect of a 36. I tried going down to 32, but those were lederhosen-tight, which suggests they're truer to size at that level but perhaps less so in the larger sizes. There's potentially quite a big jump between each size, too. It would be wise to try them on rather than just buying your usual fitting online.
Being a bit more spacious in the gusset and thighs than the Ascendor Light, I don't think they work quite as neatly under a harness, so personally I'd rather use them for bouldering than roped climbing. That said, the overall styling is casual and that arguably suits a slightly looser surf dude fit. I can certainly get by in the 34, though fashion wise I do feel a bit like I'm revisiting the 1990s. With a long gusset, stretchy fabric, and that overall space, freedom of movement is great, so you can bridge out wide or get your feet up high unhindered (at least, not by what you're wearing).
The Venant Shorts use a Matrix single weave nylon; at 151gsm it's light-ish, but with a bit of robustness for climbing. There's some stretch for freedom of movement, though that's not hugely necessary on me given the looseness of the cut. Cool and comfortably breathable in hot weather, the fabric seems quick drying, and has a fluorocarbon-free DWR treatment to help it shrug off a bit of light moisture if you're caught out in showery weather. It's also comfortably soft. I'm not sold on the sludge/mustard ('cumin') colour of my review pair but they come in other colours too.
If you like pockets, you get several here: two large open hand pockets, two spacious rear pockets (one open, one zipped), and - for boulderers - a dedicated brush pocket, which has a sewn-in elastic loop to hold the brush in place. For mountain days or roped climbing I suspect the open pockets might get a bit snaggy, and would personally prefer a more streamlined zipped-pocket setup, but I recognise that the Venant's design suits the more casual hands-in-pockets uses that these shorts are best for.
The part-elastic waist band is wide and comfy, and you also get belt loops, which I've generally used since the waist is a bit loose on me. A double popper and zipped fly complete the jeans-style feel.
Casual and comfy rather than technical and streamlined, the Venant is a nice pair of shorts for bouldering indoors or out, and not too 'outdoorsy' to wear on holiday or around town on a hot day. They're pretty baggy though, so won't be for everyone.
For more info see rab.equipment
Ascendor Light Shorts - £70
Closer-fitting than the Venant, but still cut for climbing, the Ascendor Light is aimed more at mountain use, be that multipitch rock climbing or scrambling. Light, cool, and stretchy, I've found them to be good all-round outdoors and hillwalking shorts too. For me these are the most successful model on review, and the ones I tend to favour for all uses except running.
A female-fit Ascendor Light was available, but unfortunately won't be carried forward in future (a shame, these are great shorts); you may well still find pairs for sale online, but no longer on the Rab website itself.
On me the waist has quite a forgiving fit in my standard 34 (not something I can always say), and while the waistband has light elastication, there are no belt loops, so do try before buying to make sure they're not looser than you're expecting. The waistline is very high on these shorts, too - almost up to belly button level on me. Since the top is soft and has a low profile it can readily be folded over if you're getting a bit hot around the midriff, and it's not all bad since I find the advantage of the height is that it sits well under a harness. In fact the combination of cut and stretch make these the best shorts in the selection for harness use.
I've a chunky set of pins, and find the Ascendor Light quite close-fitting in the seat. Nonetheless they're really comfy and unrestrictive, allowing for a full range of leg movement; stepping high or bridging wide is no problem in them, and this makes them ideal for climbing, scrambling and hillwalking. Long in the leg, coming down to just above knee level, they also offer plenty of sun protection.
Appropriately for a pair of summer shorts, the 133gsm Matrix softshell material is the lightest double-weave softshell fabric that Rab use. It has a denser outer face for weather and abrasion resistance, combined with a slightly brushed inside that's intended to help wick moisture. For its lightness it feels pretty tough, and I've had no issues climbing or scrambling; double-stitching on many of the seams should help with durability too.
Having worn the Ascendor Light shorts on some sweltering days this summer, I'd say the fabric feels cool, breathable and quick-drying; but there's also a measure of wind resistance, which I've appreciated when multi-pitch climbing and hillwalking in blustery weather. The fabric is a little stretchy, too, which definitely helps with overall mobility.
Two zipped hand pockets are provided, partly mesh-lined so they can be left open to afford some ventilation. When the zips are closed, the pockets sit flush on your leg, fitting neatly under a harness and giving no risk of snagging anything. You also get a single rear zipped pocket. Rab haven't put any more pockets down on the thigh; some people like those but personally I never use them and prefer a neater leg. Note that the women's version has no rear zipped pocket but does have one on a thigh.
As with the Venant there's a secure double popper and a zipped fly. The part-elastic waist band is wide and comfy, but if you find the Ascendor Light a bit loose fitting it may be annoying that there aren't also belt loops.
They're not cheap for shorts, but the Ascendor Light perform well in the mountains across the disciplines, and whether you're climbing, scrambling, hillwalking or backpacking, these are pretty much the only shorts you'll need. The only thing I'd add to them is belt loops.
For more info see rab.equipment
Talus Active Shorts - £40
We don't always want or need lots of pockets and other features on a pair of shorts, and whether you're running, or just a walker with a bit of a running-inspired attitude, something shorter, lighter and simpler may often be preferable. Part of Rab's running-oriented Skyline range, but probably the most versatile of their three running shorts, I'd say the Talus Active suits hot weather hillwalkers and minimalist 'fastpacker' types [sorry, mouth now washed out with soap] just as much as runners.
These are short shorts, runner style, but at a not-indecent 7-inch length; if you really want it all hanging out then look at the 5-inch Talus, but I'd venture the Talus Active is a more all-round-user-friendly style. I can't see many walkers, for instance, wanting to spend a day in anything shorter, but I still find them short enough to be cool and unrestrictive when running, so in that sense you could say they're the ideal length. They're quite roomy, with space even for my fairly big thighs, and with a little cut-out to help with high steps.
The Talus Active comes in both men's and women's versions. I can only comment on the fit of the former. Now's probably a good time to introduce a sensitive topic: dangly bits. Apologies if any of the following is TMI:
I've not been entirely convinced by lined running shorts in the past, having had several pairs over the years. Inbuilt pants may be cooler and potentially less chafing, but I find they tend to offer less support than a dedicated pair of sporty underwear, and for the male runner that can mean a bit more, ahem, bounce than you might prefer. Over time the liner tends to sag too, so if the main shorts are still serviceable you could cut it out.
Compared with super-duper sporty underwear (or my cheaper, but perfectly fine, Lonsdale trunks from Sports Direct) the briefs-style lining in the Talus Active is pretty simple and un-structured, and I did wonder how I might get on with it. While there is inevitably less support, and therefore more movement, I've not actually found it too bad, and on that front I'd say these are some of the better lined shorts I've tried.
Rab have used a single weave polyester fabric here, at a lightweight 91gsm. With a little stretch to aid freedom of movement, this material feels comfortably soft, and I've found it both un-sweaty and quick-drying, making these ideal shorts for warm weather use. If it's warm but damp outside, there's a fluorocarbon-free DWR to help shrug off a bit of drizzle. The lining is an elasticated mesh fabric that feels suitably cool and airy, with flat seams for comfort.
Keeping things light and simple, the Talus Active shorts have just one small zipped pocket at the rear. This is useful for a car key, a gel sachet, or a credit card, and - as advertised - it's just about big enough to hold a phone, though I wouldn't since it's a bit bouncy.
The lightly elasticated waist is soft and comfy, and I like the chunky drawcord.
Cool and comfy running shorts, long enough for walkers to wear too without feeling self conscious, and reasonably priced. What's not to like?
For more info see rab.equipment