Differences Between Board Shorts vs. Swim Trunks

Swimwear comes in many different styles including Speedos, board shorts, trunks, and bikini bottoms. When searching for the right pair of bottoms, you’ll find yourself trying to figure out the difference between board shorts vs. swim trunks.

They may appear to be the same thing, as they are both shorts designed for the water, but they have many differences. The terms swim trunks and board shorts are oftentimes used interchangeably to make things even more complicated.

As you will see the main determining factor is the length, but it isn’t the only factor.

Not only do board shorts look different from swim trunks, but in design, they are quite different as well. Knowing what sets each style apart can help you to find the perfect pair for your upcoming trip.

To the untrained eye, you’d be surprised at the differences between these two types of swimwear. From their adaptability to different activities to the features they offer, there’s plenty to take in.

Yet, for all their different features, board shorts and swim trunks will still be used to describe one another. This will no doubt lead to confusion.

In this article, we are going to look at what exactly are the differences between board shorts and swim trunks and if that difference is really important after all.

What are the Differences?


The main difference you’re likely to notice is that board shorts are typically much longer than swim trunks. Trunks, on the other hand, fall well above the knee. Most board shorts will fall at or below the knee, depending on your height and the style you choose.

This is because board shorts are typically designed for surfing. You won’t want your legs to get caught on your board when you’re trying to catch waves. This is why surfing shorts are longer, as they add a barrier of material between your skin and the material of your surfboard.

Skin irritation is another factor that calls for board shorts to get longer. The constant friction between your leg and your surfboard can easily lead to ripped leg hair and rashes.


Most often, ​board short material and the material for swimming trunks will differ. If you’ve ever shopped for them in person, you’ve noticed board shorts are likely softer than trunks. This may be preferable for people who are prone to skin irritation and chafing.

Trunks have the tendency to be a little more crisp, though many prefer the more structured feel of swim trunks. The main downside to the softness of board shorts is that they have a longer drying time. Most high-end brands make their shorts out of cotton, whereas trunks are made from polyester, which dries much faster.

You can easily find board shorts that are made from polyester if you’re looking for comfort with faster drying time. They won’t be as soft as cotton shorts, but they will be far more soft than the traditional swimming trunk material.

Mesh Lining

Arguably the most identifiable trait of swimming trunks is mesh lining. If you were to turn a pair of swimming trunks inside out, you’d notice mesh on the inside of the shorts. It helps to prevent the material from the shorts sticking to your legs when wet.

Another advantage of having mesh in your swimming trunks is that it makes the shorts more breathable. Instead of having two full layers of material, you’ll have one layer of polyester and then a layer of mesh. In swimming trunks, you’ll realize that the material will help to wick away moisture better than board shorts.


People who don’t need a lot of room around the waist in their shorts typically wear board shorts. This is because the waistband will often have a Velcro and drawstring closure. Most of these styles don’t have elastic waists, which is why they are difficult to wear for people who are looking for comfort.

Swimming trunks, on the other hand, typically have both an elastic waistband and a drawstring closure. As long as you choose the correct size, you don’t need to use the drawstring and can easily slip the shorts on and off. This is also why swimming trunks are a preferable option for plus size wearers, as the trunks will easily adapt to your body shape.


Due to the fact that board shorts are traditionally longer than swimming trunks, their flexibility is also far less than what you would expect. With that said, you can find shorts that offer four-way stretch or special materials, though most styles will be more fitted and more difficult to wear.

Swimming trunks are known to have wider legs that come above the knee. Your legs will have more freedom, which is why they are ideal for lounging around or a casual beach day. You might also prefer them depending on your swimming style.


Board shorts are typically more expensive than swimming trunks and this is because they are built with better attention to detail. It’s important to think about the activities you’d typically do when wearing your swimming gear. As board shorts are designed for heavy-duty activities, such as surfing, they’re far more durable.

You won’t have to worry about ripped seams, fabric tearing, or the color of the shorts fading after wearing them in salt water. This is what makes them the most preferable option for shoppers looking to get the most out of their money.


If you’re someone who is looking for a pair of shorts that look great in and out of the water, you’ll prefer board shorts over swim trunks. Board shorts have a uniquely adaptable design for casual wear. During the summer, you’ll notice many people use them as regular everyday shorts.

Swim trunks, on the other hand, simply look like swim trunks. It’s harder to pair them with casual attire for grocery shopping or attending a sporting event. This applies to women as well, as opting for a pair of board shorts is far more fashionable than swim trunks.

You’ll also notice that board shorts feature designs that are more interesting, vibrant colors, and prints that you can choose from. They’re more versatile when it comes to finding the perfect design that suits your personality.

Final Thoughts

There are several differences between board shorts and swim trunks in terms of look, feel, and functionality. If you’re someone who enjoys surfing and wakeboarding, board shorts are a better option. However, if you calmly wade around in your backyard pool, you might want to consider swim trunks.

Both styles are comfortable and useful for many outdoor activities, it just happens to be that board shorts have a more modern aesthetic and are easier to pair with different types of clothing.