Sweet Protection Shambala Paddle Shorts
Size Tested: Small
Color: Catchup Red
- Nylon Shell with DWR coating
- Neoprene Liner
- Lycra Panels
- ¾ Length Legs
- Velcro Waist Adjustments with snap buttons
- Zippered leg pocket
Reviewer: 5’10”, 165 lbs; 29” waist, 30” inseam
Test Location: Otta Valley, Norway
Days Tested: 35
Most days on the river, I like to wear some form of neoprene on my legs in conjunction with my drytop. If I’m not paddling in warm weather and water, thin layers of neoprene allow me to stand in the water during rescue situations, and prevent me from getting cold if the wind kicks up. At the same time, I don’t have to worry about overheating while hiking and portaging in warmer temperatures.
Sweet Protection’s Shambala shorts have a 0.5mm neoprene inner liner covered with an outer nylon shell. I’ve found that this thin, hybrid construction and ¾-length cut make them more comfortable and versatile than older neoprene shorts.
Sizing / Fit
The Shambala shorts fit me well in a size Small even though I usually wear a Medium in most boardshorts and in the NRS HyrdroSkin wetsuit. While the Shambala shorts have a slim cut, they run pretty big. Sweet Protection’s sizing chart is accurate and helpful for choosing the right size, and I would recommend taking a look at it before you buy.
The Shambala’s waist band tightens with Velcro tabs, which allow me to achieve a better fit without having to fiddle with a front tie underneath my spray skirt. In a size Small, the shorts’ inseam fits me well, but with my 29” waist, I do have to tighten the velcro closures almost all the way to achieve a snug fit. The Velcro tabs are much quicker and easier to use than the ties on the front of a standard board short.
The Shambala’s neoprene liner and shell are sewn together at the waist and are the same length, falling about halfway down my calves. The liner fits snugly around my thighs and calves, which effectively keeps me warm (loose fitting neoprene will offer virtually no insulation, especially when fully or partially submerged).
At the same time, the neoprene liner is thin and flexible enough that it does not chafe or restrict my movement while hiking or portaging. The outer shell material is slim-fitting and does not tend to get in the way while hiking, portaging, or paddling.
Sweet Protection describes the Shambala as having “a curved waist to protect and cover the lower back while in a seated position.” Unfortunately, I have found that the waistband does not ride high enough on my back, and often leaves a gap between my fleece layer and the shorts. I can fix this by tucking my fleece top layer into the shorts, but the shorts do not protect as much of my lower back as I was expecting. Immersion Research’s Guide Shorts have a high waist belt that offers great back protection, though they’ve been discontinued.
Compared to normal board shorts, the Shambala is far more comfortable to wear in your boat, as the ¾-length neoprene / shell material pads my knees and protects them from the wind. Other shorts, such as Immersion Research’s Courier Guide Shorts, have a shorter shell layer, leaving the neoprene liner exposed below the knee.
While neoprene pants tend to have narrow ankle openings that can be difficult to fit over your feet, I can slip the Shambala on and off easily, even when wet.
The Shambala has a zippered pocket on the right thigh, which is easily accessible while wearing a spray skirt. It is a great place to keep keys or other small items that can get wet.
The shorts also have a zippered fly, which makes it easy to relieve myself when I am cold or nervous before a drop. This is a huge benefit, since peeing in a wetsuit or neoprene shorts that don’t have a relief fly doesn’t exactly smell good.
Sweet Protection offers the Shambala in several colors, and I have been wearing the “Catchup Red” shorts. In general, I prefer to wear bright colors on the river to increase my visibility to other paddlers. The red-colored Shambala Shorts are easily visible when I am hiking, scouting or portaging, but the shorts also come in dark blue or black.
The Shambala’s ¾-length greatly increases their versatility. Without being too warm, the Shambala provides more warmth than a knee-length neoprene short, but also isn’t as hot or as difficult to get on as full-length neoprene pants. And for such an effective, warm layer, the Shambala is also quite stylish.
On 60-70º F days when the water is chilly, the shorts provide plenty of extra warmth, and the outer nylon shell offers good wind protection. Even on 80º F days, I often chose to wear the Shambala in case the wind picked up, or I needed to stand in the water. Never underestimate the chilly effect of evaporative cooling on long underwear or board shorts, even in very warm conditions.
On a recent paddling trip to Norway, I often found myself wearing the Shambala shorts on rainy and windy 45-50º F days. Since the water in Norway is frigid snow melt, and raft guiding requires me to wade in the water often, I wore the Shambala over my NRS HydroSkin pants. The shorts easily slide over the top of the Hydroskin and the combination of the two neoprene layers kept me comfortable and warm in the chilly fall weather. Although a thicker 1-2mm neoprene pant would also do the job in these temperatures, owning two thinner layers offers more versatility year round.
Compared to the popular board shorts and long johns combo, I always prefer wearing neoprene layers. Long johns offer virtually no insulation when submerged, and are actually worse than being naked when wet and exposed to wind. Where I usually paddle, submersion and adverse weather conditions are pretty much the norm. Neoprene layers like the Shambala keep me warm in bad weather and rescue situations in a way that wool and fleece never could.
While the Shamabala works well in a broad range of conditions, it is still no replacement for a drysuit in the extreme cold. Most recently, I have been wearing the Shambala shorts over my HydroSkin pants while raft guiding in colder, ~ 45º F weather simply because drysuits are extremely expensive compared to the shorts, and highly susceptible to wear from sitting on rafts. However, when kayaking in temperatures below 50º F, I almost always opt to use my drysuit instead of neoprene shorts.