Nine pants built for climbers
Do you ever feel like Goldilocks when trying to find the right pair of climbing pants
? These are too scratchy. These are too restrictive. These pants are just plain ugly. We scoured the outdoor apparel market to find nine pairs that will give you a “These are just right” moment. If you’re feeling inhibited by your current lower-half fashions, then check out these rock-ready pants. You can thank us later.
Do Everything, Wear Everywhere: Ibex Synergy
The simplest, most streamlined pant in our review, these pants made of half wool and half cotton (with a dash of Lycra) achieve perfemct balance: They’re not so baggy that you can’t see your feet, and not so tight that you’ll be mistaken for a European triathlete. On cool mornings at the crag, the wool keeps you warm, but when the day heats up, testers reported that the pants breathed very well. Testers’ sensitive stems also stayed comfortably protected from abrasion. The Synergy is snap-, belt-, and pocket-free, so there is nothing to get tangled in your harness or your gear—just a flat drawstring waistband that lies pressure-point–free under your harness. The cotton-Merino combo was never itchy, and the pants gave testers full freedom of movement, even on a heel-hook-heavy traverse in the Satellite Boulders, Colorado. Wear them at the crag, in the gym, or to yoga. They’re machine-washable and won’t shrink.
- Simple and functional
- Fitted but not Euro tight
Soft Flex: Gramicci Seeker Pant
These classic, slouchy twill cotton bouldering pants were inspired by Gramicci’s original built-in-belt G-Pants, introduced in SoCal in the early 1980s. But the Seekers add some features: a zip fly, button closure at the waist, and jeans detailing on the back pockets. Unlike many cotton climbing pants, the Seekers don’t have a gusseted crotch. Testers initially thought it would limit range of motion, but they were wrong: The cotton weave gives the pants enough mechanical stretch that they move with you. Even when one tester busted out above-the-head heel-hooking moves on Looney Tunes (5.12b/c) at Maine’s Shagg Crag, he gave these pants a thumbs-up. “Some of the softest cotton pants I’ve ever worn,” raved another tester after months in the field. “Not really crag-to-bar ready because of the elasticized waist and overly long belt, but they’re great for crag to bed—I fell asleep in them more than once.”
Best Travel Pant: Rab Treklite Pants
Ideal for a long day at the crag, the Treklite Pants are made of a midweight, doubleweave stretch nylon—super durable and very breathable, with a sleek fit. The two zip hand pockets, zip rear pocket, and zip thigh pocket won’t get awkward under a harness, and the thigh and butt zips kept passports safe on a three-week trip to Spain’s gorgeous Lerida limestone cliffs. Articulated knees and a gusseted crotch (men’s only) allowed for comfortable trekking followed by easy high-stepping into solution pockets on the crux of Lídia (5.12b) at Os de Balaguer. They’re the ultimate travel pants—not too heavy, not too light, and with a low-profile, built-in belt. These pants have a brushed lining for three-season warmth—they’re lighter than the Marmots, heavier than the Millets (see following pags). And they have the perfect waistband: elasticized on the sides and lined with microfiber that’s soft against the skin.
- S–XXL in various leg lengths
- High abrasion resistance and breathability
Softshell Crossover: Marmot Durango Pant
If you shy from jeans and tend toward technical, the Durango is one of the most versatile, durable, and low-key climbing pants around. Marmot’s proprietary nylon M3 softshell exterior meant the Durango was breathable and offered more weather protection than other pants we tested in wind or drizzle. One tester appreciated the cozy brushed fleece on an early winter drytooling trip to St. Alban, Québec. Between routes, he kept his fingers warm in the fleecy hand-warmer pockets. The pants didn’t need a belt with the elastic waist, and the low-profile button and fly didn’t interfere with a harness. The easy-access, stretchy, welded-zip thigh pockets weren’t bulky like cargo pockets, but stretched to hold standard items like a phone, topo, sandwich, or small guidebook. This is a single pair of pants that does double duty—you can wear them all fall and winter. The ankles also unzip so the cuffs will fit over a ski boot.
- Articulated knees
- Athletic cut, roomy legs
Softshell Skinny Jeans: Thunderbolt Softshell Jean
Skinny jeans with full four-way stretch, these crag-ready pants are made from Schoeller Dryskin that looks just like denim. It’s super abrasion-resistant, but also weather repellent. On a blustery climb of New Hampshire’s Moby Grape (5.8), when the weather at Cannon Cliff turned from cold and damp in the morning to warm and dry in the afternoon, with a few short sprinkles thrown in, our tester was comfortable the whole time. The Dryskin fabric is wicking, wind-resistant, and treated with Nanosphere, a DWR (durable water repellent) treatment. Whether it’s raindrops or a spilled beer, liquid runs right off them. Nanosphere also repels grease, dirt, and stains, making these the ultimate all-around road-tripping pants. As the price suggests, Thunderbolt jeans are made from fancy fabrics, but they look just like jeans: double needle stitching, brass zipper and waist button, bar-tacked belt loops, and a coin pocket are all standard. Avoid these pants if you wear boxers—they tend to bunch.
Functional Prep: Mountain Khakis Lake Lodge Twill Pant
Built to beat the heat, these light cotton-twill pants have two-percent Lycra and a diamond-gusseted crotch, so high-stepping and yogatastic moves won’t be a problem. Triple-stitched seams and reinforced cuffs keep these pants from wearing out too quickly, and Chino-styling— complete with front and rear pockets—keep them from looking too techy. On Gamesmanship (5.8) on New York’s Pok-O-Moonshine, jamming into the Adirondacks’ ancient granite left these pants unscathed. In fact, these are the pants to rock for a pre-sesh breakfast out or post-send beers at the bar. Some testers even wore them to work. They’re medium rise with a full-cut leg—a favorite of climbers with a little more meat on their bones who like to look presentable in public.
- Bright and unique colors (like Nantucket red, mint julep, light and dark khaki)
- Burly and durable
Best Jeans: Prana Axiom Jean
According to our informal survey, the perfect jeans for climbing: 1) look like normal jeans; 2) stretch; 3) let you see your feet; and 4) don’t look like your dad’s Levis from 1980. We tested four different styles, and the unanimous favorites were Prana’s Axiom. Testers wore these jeans for three months of indoor and outdoor climbing throughout New England in fair autumn weather. The Axioms provided adequate protection from the rock and plenty of stretch at the crux (“kneebar followed by a very high right foot with a low left foot”) on one tester’s redpoint of Carcass Crag’s Who’s Your Daddy (5.12c/d) in Vermont. The gusseted crotch was unrestrictive, and multiple testers praised the standard jeans pockets.
Work-to-Gym Ready Stonemaster Stretch Cord Pant
Graham, these gusseted-crotch, built-in-belt cotton cords are the pants that testers most wanted to live in. Three percent spandex adds stretch to the velvety fabric, and a narrow cut kept these pants from bunching under a harness. Testers also sent in the gym or on the rock without getting hot and muggy. The microfleece front pockets are big enough to stuff your hands in when you’re waiting for a belay. “I can wear these to work and look respectable, and I don’t have to change when I go to the gym,” said one tester. These pants have no pretense, no flashy stitching, no bells and whistles. They’re everyday pants that won’t cramp your style and won’t empty your wallet.
Technophile’s Dream: Millet Hook Pant
You will likely be mistaken for a European when you’re onsighting in these pants—patch-heavy crag pants are standard issue from Spain to Slovenia. Although you might not achieve the sending power of Maja Vidmar or Adam Ondra, the techy features will have you raving. The Hook is made from quick-dry softshell nylon spandex and has excellent abrasion resistance throughout, including in the articulated knees. Contrasting extra-breathable, two-way-stretch, quick-dry nylon elastane panels are strategically placed in the crotch, outer legs, across the rear, and behind the knees for full freedom of movement. The cinchable elastic waistband is covered with a soft, next-to-skin microfiber. An angled side pocket on the left thigh is sized for small items like wallet and keys. Testers praised the built-in chalk bag loop, but a fake fly was the object of ridicule.
- Versatile hybrid construction
- Full range of motion
Do you pretend you don’t care about what you wear? Really? Many climbers are just as fashion-conscious as the Kardashians, and just as picky. Here’s what your pants say about you.Rolled-up hemp pants.
You’re a hippy. The insides of your climbing shoes are blackened and rancid from the mud of a thousand drum circles. You find that spending time in Joshua Tree does wonders for your chakras. Drink of choice: yerba maté
Painter’s pants patched with duct tape.
You’re a dirtbag with semipermanent residence in Yosemite/Indian Creek/Vedauwoo. You appear disheveled, but it’s according to plan: Your clothing is sooty, and your carabiners are scratched. Drink of choice: cheap whiskey
You’re either European or you went sport climbing in Spain once and figured that shaving a few ounces off the bottom of your perfectly fine pants would be good for sending. Whenever you see someone about to fall, you shout “Allez!” in an unmistakable American accent. Drink of choice: red wine
You’re a boulderer. You set the standard for hip, at least in your own mind. A climbing day for you involves equal parts pouting, filing your skin, and filming yourself on the rock. You speak three languages fluently: some form of bastardized English, bouldering jargon, and irony. Drink of choice: PBR
—Berne Broudy and Andrew Freeman
PANT TESTERS: Berne Broudy, Mike Donohue, Julie Ellison, Amanda Fox, Dougald MacDonald, Alton Richardson, Kent Coghill, Andrew Freeman