Hiking in long pants has always been a struggle for me. While the morning might start out cool enough to warrant long pants as soon as I start going uphill I’m generating enough body heat I just want to strip down to my shorts.
But then I get to the top of the climb, which is often exposed and/or windy, and I immediately want to put my long pants back on. Other times the air temp might not justify long pants but I want to protect myself from vegetation and bugs (overgrown trail, poison ivy, mosquitos) or intense direct sun (the desert or reflecting off of snowfields)… but once again, there is still the overheating issue.
TAKE A SHANTS
For many years I’ve tried to solve these problems by using what is often known as convertible pants, or as Phil Dunphy (Modern Family reference) likes to call them, “shants” (shorts-pants). In the morning when it’s cool I’d start with long pants, but as the day warmed up I could zip off the legs converting them into shorts. They typically have cargo pockets which can be useful and are made of materials that dry quickly if they get wet. Unfortunately, finding the right style and fit can be a challenge: i.e. shorts hang below your knees, no zippers at ankles so you can’t remove over boots, pants are too long and can’t be hemmed because of zippers… the list goes on.
Additionally, it can get a bit annoying removing the pant legs and putting them back on multiple times a day if the environment keeps changing (elevation, cloud cover, uphill/downhill). The pants below would drive me nuts…stopping to remove different segments every 10 minutes based on my wildly fluctuating internal thermostat.
THE HOLY GRAIL
Well, I finally found my holy grail…the Arcteryx Stradium pants! The solution these pants provide is quick and easy ventilation. The pants have almost full length zippers that run down the outside of both legs which can be unzipped from the top and bottom. This allows me to start off during that cool morning wearing pants and when I hit the first climb and I can partially unzip both legs from the top down allowing as much ventilation as I need to regulate temperature. When I get to the top, and the wind is blowing I can zip them closed quickly, hardly breaking stride. The same holds true in the sun…I can now wear long pants for UV protection but keep them mostly unzipped making things much more comfortable on a warm day.
The material is a lightweight brushed synthetic with just a slight stretch and two useful hand pockets. In a never ending battle to keep pack weight down it’s great that they weigh in at just over 7oz, which is less than half the weight of typical convertible pants…all the more impressive considering these have the two full length zippers. When stashed in my pack they take up about the same volume as a fuel canister (or can of soda).
After giving them a full blown field test during my first month on the Appalachian Trail I give them my full stamp of approval, performing exactly as I had hoped. They were even more practical than I imagined on terrain like the AT where there are lot of ups and downs throughout the day, often with exposed areas at the top. I could easily zip and unzip the pant legs half a dozen times between hitting the trail in the AM and a lunch break. If temps warmed up enough I could quickly unzip the pants from the bottom and remove them over my boots and then stash them in an outside pocket on my pack.
Another feature is how quickly they dried, especially if there was some sun and a slight breeze. This was especially useful when they were wet after washing by hand or if I got caught in a quick rain shower. Additionally, the pants are treated with a DWR (Durable Water Repellant) finish which helps water bead off during a light sprinkle…but these types of treatments tend to wear off after multiple washings or from normal wear on the trail.
The pants held up surprisingly well after a month of regular use. The fabric performed admirably considering it is such a thin-lightweight material… there are only a couple tiny pulls where I got caught up in some thorns. The dark grey color had the added benefit hiding a lot of dirt…always important to look presentable when hitching into town!
The Arcteryx brand is known for selling well made durable products…but at a price. The pants retail for $99 which is bit more than I’d like to spend on a pair of pants (clearly I’m not in the $200 jeans club!), fortunately I stumbled upon them at an end of season REI sale.
MAKING A GOOD THING BETTER
Lastly, I was happy to see that Arcteryx came out with a khaki colored version of these pants this year. When using pants to protect my pasty white thighs from the desert sun dark grey or black colors are less than ideal… they must have read my mind!