Dan Bailey has been out in the hills testing three pairs of summer trousers. Other brands are available, but he couldn't thoroughly test them all! Here follows his thoughts on the Mountain Equipment Stretchlite, TNF Paramount Peak Convertible and Berghaus Statis trousers.
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Mountain Equipment Stretchlite Guide Trousers
These are well-designed and well-made trousers, simple, functional and with no extraneous features. The fabric is cool and comfortable across a reasonable range of temperatures, while its stretchiness and the articulated cut allow good freedom of movement. They're ideal for a range of summer fun from hillwalking and scrambling to cragging and warm weather mountain rock.
Stretchlite [sic] is an excellent fabric: light and cool, with a two-way stretch for unhindered movement. It keeps a fair breeze at bay too. Stretchlite Guides are quick drying, and after a couple of days on Skye gabbro and a number of hillwalks closer to home the material also seems robust so far, despite being very lightweight. An insert panel of Exolite I fabric runs below the waist band, past the hand pockets and some way down the thigh; this light softshell fabric is stretchier than the rest, helping give the trousers a nice trim fit under a harness or hip belt. After a few days' use with rucksacks, climbing harnesses and baby carriers there has been a slight pilling on this insert, though nothing serious.
Well-designed for maximum freedom of movement, with bent leg seams, an articulated knee and a diamond insert in the crotch to help with those high steps. The fit is slightly tapered towards the ankle. I'm of the Loose Fit generation and this isn't really my style, but it is practical, cutting down on excess material flapping about and making for a marginally smaller pack size too. However while they're not tight as such the Stretchlite Guide are definitely a slim-cut trouser, and despite the stretch fabric I had to go up a size on my usual for best fit (it's not the pies, it's my manly thighs - honest). If you too have relatively chunky legs it'd be worth bearing this in mind.
Two hand pockets; one on the bum and a good sized pocket on one thigh. This latter is 'laser-cut' - I'm not sure why, but it sounds snazzy. More importantly it is large enough to be useful yet not over-sized, sitting unobtrusively flat against the leg. All four pockets have zips, and mesh lining. For me four pockets are plenty as I don't often use them on trousers, except for keeping my hands in.
A webbing belt is included, and crucially this runs through the waistband so it's as unobtrusive as possible welcome when wearing a harness or rucksack hipbelt. There's a simple slimline harness-friendly buckle, and a nice brushed waist band for comfort and sweat absorption. My only small gripe is the use of a button closure rather than popper; the latter would be preferable since buttons do get pulled off quite easily. There are no dedicated leg vents, but Stretchlite is such thin wafty fabric that I've not really missed them. With their mesh linings the unzipped pockets double as vents in any case.
On a clammy ascent of Sgurr nan Gillean's Pinnacle Ridge I was keen to note how the trousers performed, but they're so light and stretchy that I forgot to pay them any attention at all; I think that's a testament to good design. They kept me cool when working hard, but up on the summit we hung around in a stiff breeze for a couple of hours, and soon retreated to duvet jackets in spite of the sunshine. Despite their thinness the Stretchlite Guides kept the breeze out; I certainly didn't notice getting chilly legs. A couple of days later we hit Sron na Ciche, where our long ascent eventually ground to a desiccated halt in the full force of a spring heatwave. It was savage, but while my eyes filled with sweat and suncream and my wicking T-shirt was working on overdrive my legs remained comfortable.
Berghaus Statis Trousers
These 'go anywhere, do anything mountain pants' are light, cool and comfy; well suited to UK summer climbing and hillwalking, or indeed mountain trekking in warmer climes overseas. Durable Cordura patches in high-wear areas are a welcome addition, but one or two other details are a little niggly, such as an unnecessary ankle zip.
Statis Pants boast high-wearing, tear-resistant 100% plain weave nylon Cordura (195 g/sq m) patches on the seat and knees a good touch, particularly when climbing and scrambling. Not everyone will have this problem, but the knee patches are located a little low on the leg for me, and only just cover the knee with the leg bent. The thinner, cooler plain weave 96% nylon, 4% elastane (151 g/sq m) used elsewhere on the trouser has a two-way stretch. Both materials have a DWR finish, making them quick drying.
Apparently these are cut with Berghaus Active Fit 'Not body conscious. Not baggy. Just a streamlined cut for every kind of activity'. I suspect Berghaus have based their streamlining on the stick-insect legs of leading climbers, but no one could accuse me of being one of these and my pins are of the broader hillwalking variety. With a pair in the 'right' waist size I find high steps, mostly when climbing or scrambling, are a little restricted at the knee and seat. Yes there's a curve in the leg seam and an articulated knee to aid freedom of movement, but for me it's still not quite free enough. Although Berghaus have also added a diamond panel in the crotch it is pretty small; perhaps that party explains my problem. It's no big deal, just consider going up a size if your legs are beefier than your arms.
Two zipless hand pockets with a part-mesh lining; one zipped pocket on the bum and another on one of the thighs. If you're going to bother adding a thigh pocket to a pair of trousers then it should be large enough to be useful, but the version on the Statis is so small that you're not going to get much in; it's almost redundant.
The popper closure is better than a button, which could come off. The webbing belt has a simple discrete buckle identical to the Stretchlite Guides' that won't snag a rucksack hip belt or harness. However the belt is only secured with fabric loops rather than being housed in the waist band, so it's more inclined to twist or get in the way. The waist band has a comfy brushed inner for wicking sweat it works. There's a short zipped gusset on the outside seam of the ankle cuff. This is said to aid freedom of movement, and though I've not noticed a great benefit here it does let you pretend you're wearing groovy flares. In other respects it seems a little pointless. A zipped vent with a mesh gusset on each thigh helps to keep things cool, as do the part mesh-lined hand pockets.
On a blazing day we went cragging at Skye's Suidhe Biorach. It was windless and sweaty on the rock, with the sandstone radiating the sun's heat. I appreciated the coolness of the Statis Pants, with their thin breathable material; but despite the fabric's lightness it felt robust enough to cope with the rough rock. The slight stretch and the pants' all-round active cut allowed good freedom of movement when climbing too. I rolled up the ankle cuffs when on route, as is my wont. But with the combination of thin fabric and slightly bulkier zipped ankle gusset Statis Pants don't hold a turn-up very well; a simple popper arrangement on the lower leg would be useful here. I next had them out walking in the Carn Mairg hills. On a hot ascent in morning sun the leg vents worked well I could actually feel the breeze wafting in. Later it clouded over and the temperature dropped in a chill wind (for June); but the Statis Pants offered enough resistance to the breeze to keep my legs happy.
The North Face Paramount Peak Convertible Trousers
I'm not comparing like-with-like here; these are less 'technical' trousers than the others on test. But that's not meant as a criticism. Being convertible to long shorts makes these better general purpose summer legwear, and they're as suited to travel and mooching about as hillwalking. With their bulky external pockets and non-stretch fabric they are less well adapted for climbing, though you can and I have. They're heavier than the others on test too, but I suspect they'll live longer.
This durable midweight nylon is soft to the touch and quick-drying, and boasts a DWR treatment to help repel rain, dirt and oil (sun cream etc). In hot weather I find it cool, and so far it seems fairly breeze-resistant too. The fabric is rated to give UV protection of UPF 30. Call me an old sceptic, but I don't recall ever getting sunburn through clothes of any sort, even garments that don't boast UV protection. Oh well, it can't hurt.
In North Face sizing I seem to fall between Medium and Large; I went for the latter, since too much trouser is better than too little. While it's not quite MC Hammer stylee they are admittedly a bit loose on me. There is a sort of diamond crotch panel, but unusually this extends right down the inner thigh to the ankle, adding to the loose feel. The fabric has no stretch but the baggy cut makes up for it. There's no restriction on leg lifting, squatting or doing the splits; Hammer could clown around unhindered in these.
There are two large rear pockets, a generous mesh-lined pocket on each thigh, two roomy hand pockets (part mesh-lined) and one smaller zipped pocket for valuables. That's excessive in my book, and probably more to do with combat pant-style fashion than essential outdoor function. Yes you could stow a lot of stuff about your person, but it would be annoying while walking. The lid flaps on the bum and thighs are a little obtrusive, and since they secure with Velcro tabs rather than zips you might leave a trail of items wherever you walked. North Face designers could save weight by dispensing with most of the pockets and replacing any flaps with zips.
These are the only zip-off pants on test, quickly converting into a long short. Trousers that double as shorts are handy in summertime, giving you two options for the price (and pack weight) of one - something I really appreciated on a recent 2-day Lake District hike in a heatwave. In my experience zip-off legs are more commonly found at the bottom end of the market on badly made garments that you'd probably rather not wear. But not so in this case; these are decent well made trousers. Unlike some convertibles I've tried, the zips on the Paramount Peaks are well hidden, and you can't feel them while walking. They are colour coded left and right for easy reassembly. There's also a zipped opening at the ankle (not a closed gusset as on the Berghaus trousers, but a completely open flap); I couldn't at first see a use for this, but when I tried removing the legs while wearing boots it became clear. There is no ventilation, bar the mesh-lined pockets which air can't readily flow into thanks to the lid flaps. But then if it's really warm you'd wear these trousers as shorts anyway.
The webbing belt housed snugly inside the gently-elasticated waist band is good, but the long belt tail hangs free, and there aren't enough fabric belt loops to retain it neatly. Meanwhile the buckle is slightly clunky and feels unnecessarily big beneath a rucksack hipbelt. There is a popper closure instead of a button though, so top marks for that.
I headed for Skye's Clach Glas Bla Bheinn traverse on a sweltering morning. Wearing the Paramount Peaks as shorts from the off was a no-brainer, but on a big hill day it's always worth keeping your clothing options open. The zipped-off trouser legs pack down tiny in a rucksack; you could even carry them rolled up in the cargo pockets. The initial scree plod was a hellish inferno, and even up on the ridge the light breeze didn't cut much mustard. I'm not a fan of hot weather, and was very pleased to be wearing roomy shorts. Being baggy and over-pocketed they're a slightly untidy fit beneath a climbing harness, but the freedom of movement is good when climbing or scrambling. I hate to bang on about those pockets, but while lugging my daughter up Ben Vorlich the other day with the legs zipped on I was mostly cool and dry, except under the pockets. They're so numerous and so big that they do tend to feel a bit sweaty when you're working hard, thanks to all that extra fabric. This is less of a concern in shorts mode of course.
UKC Articles and Gear Reviews by Dan Bailey - UKHillwalking.com: