You are ready to hit the trail again and the temperatures have headed south in all but the South. You may be finding yourself with a need to move from shorts to a technical “trail pant” of some type. I have been a fan of lightweight trail pants since the mid-90’s when I bought a pair of Ex Officios (which I accidentally melted trying to dry too close to a fire). Since that first melted pair of tech pants, I have owned Rail Riders, multiple pairs of The North Face and Ex Officios, Arc’teryx and Triple Aught Design. I have also used cotton based Crye Precision, a more military-centric brand, for some outdoor activities. A few things about me to consider when looking at pants – I am high waisted, have a 36in waist and a 33in inseam so fit for you may vary. So taking into consideration my experiences, I wanted to share my thoughts on three favorites that I still use to date.
The Dead Bird is a favorite at our house. We use pants, jackets, insulating layers, base layers, ski hats and ball caps from the Canadian based firm. The quality control is tremendous and rarely disappoints. The price point on most of the offerings can choke a horse though, so for any military/LE/First Responder brothers and sisters, make sure you sign up for their LEAF program.
A favorite trail pant of mine is the Arc’teryx Bastion pants in their dark gray. The Bastion’s are terrifically simple. They have two front and two rear pockets and a small “knife” pocket on the right rear thigh (to small for a cell phone) which nicely holds my folder. Belt loops accommodate up to a 2in. belt and the zipper has never failed me.
The materials that make up the pants explain quickly its lack of wicking and slow to dry tendencies with a 68/32 Nylon to Cotton mix. It has a gusseted crotch and what they refer to on the website as “articulated knees.” I find that with the materials clinging to your legs when sweaty or wet this articulation becomes somewhat labored. This may not an issue for dry, cooler weather. Another negative finding is as a high waisted person the fit around the crotch tends to be tighter, riding higher than I prefer. All that being said, they are superior in construction, comfort and durability than any other technical pant I have encountered. At $89, the Bastion’s fall around the mid level price point for the better brands.
TAD Force 10 Pants
Another favorite of mine is from the more boutique Triple Aught Design. The San Francisco based firm has created a versatile, stylish edition to the trail pant category with the Force 10 Pants. The pants are true to size, have eight pockets with the two largest cargo pockets housing two hidden pockets ideal for passports, tickets and an iPhone. For tethering essential gear, the pants offer plastic D Rings in the front near the waistline and one in each of the cargo pockets. and also come with a knee pad pocket for their T-Pro Knee Armor inserts. A reinforced seat and gusseted crotch mitigate abrading and allow for a full range of motion respectively
The pants are DWR protected 52/48 Nylon Cotton blend and boast large 1.00” belt loops and a drawstring hem. They are also ripstop which I prefer for outdoor gear. Unlike the Arc’teryx blend the Bastion pants offer, the Force 10 seem to dry much faster, have a greater range of motion and are better looking overall. They come in a variety of sizes and a full range of the muted hues TAD Gear offers. They recently added Multicam color for those inclined. At a $120 + price point they are the most expensive pair of trail pants I own, but easily the most comfortable and best built. Buy once, cry once.
The North Face
The only convertible trail paints I currently own are the Paramount Peak II by The North Face. The pants come in three different inseam options and convert to 10 inch shorts with a quick zip off of the lower pant leg. These pants are also the only one I use that are 100% nylon with a DWR finish and it is apparent when they get wet/you get sweaty. The wicking is terrific, they don’t chafe or abrade. The oldest pair I still use, they have last dozens of washings and miles on the trail.
The pants also come with a “belt” made of elastic with an easy to use buckle. Not the best feature but it’s a nice attempt to balance the need and accommodate a low yield option that doesn’t conflict with your waistbelt of a pack. Additional belt loops are offered if you want to run a heavier belt or for range time a duty/gun belt. The pants are generously cut so they are great for climbing/bouldering as well. I do feel the shorts could be a sketch longer. I can’t help but flashback to my old nut hugging UDT short wearing days as a Marine when I unzip those legs. The pockets are nothing to write home about as well. At around $80 MSRP, they are the cheapest trail pant of the three reviewed.
This is by no means a comprehensive list of options out there. Some exciting new companies like Beyond Clothing and other well known gear companies like Mountain Hardwear and Kuhl all offer well thought out, seemingly well designed trail pants. I hope this evaluation acquaints you with some of the options, features and pro/cons for cooler hiking weather. We would love to hear your comments about the brands reviewed here or of other brands and styles that you use and what you like/dislike about them!
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