Backcountry has been selling outdoor gear and clothing for decades and slowly building up its own line of outdoor clothing. Their Empire short has some excellent features, as well as some that had us scratching our heads.
A very capable pair of mountain bike shorts, but heavy and bulky in some areas.
Fit and comfort
Made from a fabric that combines a healthy dose of spandex with polyester, these shorts offer excellent stretch and a good level of comfort, though the material is heavier than many we tested. This heaviness also means that the shorts are a little warm for summer riding or warm days. On the bottom panel on the front of the legs are tiny perforations that allow for ventilation. Heat tends to build up behind the legs or on the inner thigh, so we found this placement odd. We were not able to coincide any rides with cold weather, but from experience, we have found that it is the tops of the thighs that get the coldest in wind and rain, so we have some concerns about having actual holes where weather is most likely to get in.
The Empire fits true to the sizing chart and uses a very heavy duty velcro tab system for fine-tuning the waist adjustment. Indeed, the waist seems overbuilt. The waistband material is already doubled-up in thickness, so this extra burly velcro layer means that you have a considerable amount of fabric around your waist that is soaking up sweat. There is even extra velcro next to the snap that is a backup plan for snap failure. However, all this velcro means your socks are sticking to your shorts in the wash.
While still being comfortable, these shorts lack some of the technical finesse that elevates comfort levels on a mountain bike ride.
Burly velcro tabs add a lot of extra weight to an already beefy waist.
The heavy-duty fabric that makes these shorts run warm does function to add some protection from grabbing tree branches and pokey plants. And if you happen to find yourself making friends with rocks on the trail, we have no doubt these are durable enough to offer up protection.
As mentioned above, the holes on the front of the legs will allow cold air and water to hit the skin above the knees, though this issue will be weather dependant. The 11 1/2-inch inseam is plenty long to protect from harmful UV and most trail hazards, though a bit short to work seamlessly with knee pads.
Tiny holes in the legs allow for ventilation but do not discriminate against wind and rain, so check the weather before heading out on your ride.
With four-way stretch working in every direction, these shorts move really well on the bike, no matter the body position. The contoured waistband stays flat and the extra silicone dots on the inside of the waistband ensure that it doesn't slip down.
We pedaled up and shredded down to test these shorts in every type of position. They have four-way stretch that moves well as you ride.
The Empire short is equipped with four pockets, two hand pockets on the waistline that are deep and stretchy and two zippered pockets on the outside of the thighs. The outside of the thigh is the best place to store bulky items while riding so that they don't interfere with riding. There is an art to a great pocket, however, and we found that having the zipper running the length of the pocket on the long side meant that it was hard to get items in and out without everything falling out.
These pockets include a small gusset to expand on the bottom of the pocket, which came in handy for doubling up on energy gels and keys, or for carrying bulkier items.
Pocket zippers along the long edge mean you better make sure they are zipped!
There are some nice details on the Empire to give it some feminine flair, including the shape of the legs, which taper slightly at the knee and have notched sides. While we question the technical decision to put holes in the front of the shorts, we like the way they add a different texture and detail to the overall look.
As for color options, the Empire is offered in basic black and the ubiquitous teal. Hopefully, there will be some more adventurous and fun colors in future models.
The notched leg adds a bit of style.
The Empire is a very functional mountain bike short. However, it is one of the most expensive shorts that we tested and has a lot of odd details. It is not a terrible value, but for the price, there are other models that offer more technical features.
Backcountry has made a durable and comfortable pair of mountain bike shorts. They are on the heavy side, especially in the waistband, and lack some of the technical finesse that we appreciate in other mountain bike shorts in the test.