Welcome to Head to Head, where we size up two like products with hands-on testing to determine which one you should buy.
The best activity shorts can stand up to intense wear and handle a water-bound adventure without looking schlumpy. While many brands now offer versions of this go-anywhere style, Patagonia Baggies ($55) are the pair to beat. To see if this outdoor classic still holds up, we tested it against the Uniqlo Swim Active Shorts ($30). Our findings below.
Patagonia Baggies Shorts
Introduced over 30 years ago, these versatile shorts were designed specifically for the water, with a mesh lining for drainage, on-seam pockets for less drag and, famously, enough room in the pockets to carry two tennis balls. The simple design has gone on to become one of Patagonia's most popular items. After hands-on testing, we think they're the shorts to get.
Baggies are, as the name implies, baggy. They're not frumpy, however. If anything, they're a classic cut that's got enough leg room for acrobatic feats without feeling like you're wading through a sea of fabric with every step.
The popular 5-inch inseam model sits mid-thigh and doesn't ride up the leg. They're also offered in a 7-inch inseam, unlike the Swim Actives.
Like the Uniqlo Swim Active Shorts, Patagonia's Baggies are made from an all-nylon fabric. Unlike the competition and in-line with Patagonia's eco-modus operandi, they're made with 100-percent recycled fabric. They also feature a water-resistant coating, which makes them quick-drying.
The hand is slightly less smooth than Uniqlo's. While Uniqlo's feel closer to something like rayon, Patagonia's are more like an end-on-end shirting fabric. By no means are they rough, but they don't warrant a near-silky stamp like the Swim Actives.
They're a denser weave than Uniqlo's and thus a bit heavier. Of course, being shorts intended for the water, they're still plenty lightweight. That said, the density and weight give the shorts a more satisfying drape and greater durability.
The rear pocket is the most visible difference between the two shorts. Patagonia's is secured with a snap flap and are sewn inside the shorts, rather than an outward-facing patch pocket like Uniqlo's. The design is not only slightly cleaner, it is a bit more functional, too. The mesh lining is incorporated into the rear pocket and is better at draining water than the two eyelets found on the Swim Actives. And, Patagonia places its key loop in the front right pocket. It's a better placement because it prevents your wallet from getting scratched and its more comfortable to sit in. The drawstring is also notable; it's a flat lace design, which is less bulky and more comfortable on the skin.
At $55, Baggies offer a lot. Yet they're nearly double the price of a pair of Swim Actives and it's not like you're getting double the features.
Uniqlo Swim Active Shorts
Uniqlo’s Swim Active shorts were first introduced in summer of 2014 as a versatile pair of shorts. As the name implies, these shorts were built not just for the water but for an active lifestyle in general, much like the Patagonia Baggies. At nearly half the price of its popular competitor, it’s a worthy option to consider.
Uniqlo's Swim Active Shorts fit baggier than Baggies. The leg room is wider, the waist a touch looser, and they're even slightly longer. More than that, the mesh lining is more generous.
The lightweight nylon fabric comes in a range of colors, though no patterned options. It has a very smooth hand that feels great against the skin, and the weave is just a touch more open. This is great if you're looking for a pair of shorts to help you survive the heat.
Like the Baggies, the Swim Actives feature on-seam pockets, a single rear pocket, mesh lining, an elastic waist and a drawstring cord. The drawstring cord, however, faces the outside of the shorts, leaving them to hang visibly. They're also a round cord, as opposed to the concealed and flat lace of the Baggies.
The rear pocket is also a point of difference. The Swim Actives feature a patch pocket with a welted opening and snap closure. They also feature a key loop and two eyelets for drainage. The overall design is the least minimal part of the shorts and is, perhaps, somewhat bulky, especially if you have a larger wallet coupled with a set of keys.
The price is perhaps the most enticing part about the Swim Actives. At full retail, they're just under $30, but have been seen on sale. At the discounted price, you could buy two pairs for the same price as a pair of Baggies. If your primary requirement is cost, Uniqlo's the default brand for stylish goods.
The Uniqlo Swim Active Shorts are stiff competition, especially given the budget-friendly price, but Baggies are just too hard to beat. The fabric of the latter feels more substantial, the fit is more accommodating and the quality has been well-documented. You'd certainly be satisfied with the Uniqlo option, particularly if you nabbed a pair on sale, but if you have the cash to upgrade, Baggies are worth the slight splurge.