Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Inexpensive Convertible Pants

For some odd reason, many people have polarized opinions about wearing convertible pants while backpacking. To some, they are the ideal pant because they can be easily "converted" to shorts. To others, they simply look dorky and have (at least) two major fatal flaws - the pant leg zippers. I would imagine these opinions vary greatly depending on whether they come from a weekend backpacker where long term use of leg zippers and other features doesn't need to be terribly reliable versus a thru-hiker who must count on his/her gear for the long haul.

Historically, when not using shorts, I've used two pairs of pants when hiking. My first option is an old pair of GoLite Synergy pants which I've worn more than any piece of gear I have and they've stood up to the challenge admirably. I regret that GoLite has a tendency to stop production on great products (i.e. Reed Pants). In the winter, I wear a pair of Rab Bergen eVENT pants, although I'm not thrilled with them because I still sweat in them which causes an unenjoyable icing situation despite the breatheability of eVENT.

For one reason or another, I've been interested in a convertible pant option both for backpacking and backyard activities. Over the course of the last year or so, I've probably tried options from 10 different manufacturers and was left unimpressed by most. Some are better made than others, some have better material, some are absurdly expensive for little gain, some have more pockets than anyone could every need, etc. However, one common trait was that I absolutely hated the cut. Manufacturers seem to take the measurements at the thigh area and run them straight down so the cuff size is the same as the thigh area. I assume this is done to make it easier to slide the pant leg over a shoe or boot, but ultimately it creates a lot of extra material which I've found does little more than swish around, get muddy, catch more ticks and burs, and otherwise look all the more stupid. Although I'm sure there are others, but REI's Sahara pant (a decent pant for the most part) took it a step further and added a vertical zipper to each leg to allow the user the ability to take the pant leg off completely without needing to pull it over a shoe. Yet, they still didn't lessen the giant cuff size and the two additional zippers add weight and potential problems.

Just as I was about to give up on these kinds of pants completely, I found a pair I actually like...and wonderfully...they were the cheapest. Campmor ( sells a convertible option they call "travel pants" for (sale price) $24.99. Considering I paid up to nearly $100 for pretty much the same thing, I'm plenty happy with the price.

They come in three colors - brown, tan, and black. Like other similar options, Campmor's travel pants are 100% nylon and offer UPF 50+ sun protection to protect from UVA and UVB rays which I'm slowly appreciating the importance as I get older and watch my skin morph from the youthful features I had as a child. Pants features that I like include a design that is cut like a regular pair of pants, meaning the pant leg gets smaller in diameter as it approaches the foot so it can more easily pass as a normal pair of pants to someone who doesn't focus on the zipper seam just above the knee. Taking the pant leg off requires the user to take off his/her shoe which is otherwise fine by me to avoid all the extra fuss and material. I love the fact that they use a button at the waist and enjoy the flexibility of elastic instead of a fixed size. Snaps are uber annoying to me because they can't readily be repaired in the field and they also make garmets heavier and clanky. I like the fact that it doesn't come with a belt as I've never been a fan of lightweight nylon belts which seem to only be functional and fashionable for people of a thinner persuasion. I like the fact that I can get into the pockets without unsnapping something and they use Velcro instead of something fancier. Pockets to me need to be utilitarian, meaning I need to be able to get in and out of them and I shouldn't be able to put something of such size that it would rub against my leg or swing as I walk. I also only want a few pockets and not so many that I could store everything from my pack in my pants. These pants are inexpensive, quick drying, and remotely fashionable with a good design, so good enough in my book.

To be fair, I think the material used is likely a little less robust than others and some of the comments on the Campmor website indicate that some batches have colors that fade in time. These things don't terribly concern me.


john personna said...

My only pair of convertible is from Bass Pro Shops, "World Wide Sportsman" brand, $20. 11 oz. in small.

I use them fly fishing, and wet-footing, in pretty brisk to hot conditions. They work great, and make me glad I didn't start with $100 pants.

Jolly Green Giant said...

@ John Personna - That sounds like a good option. I can't say I tried Bass Pro, Cabelas, or any outdoor outfitters geared towards hunting and fishing...although I like their stuff a lot and enjoy visiting their stores. I tried The North Face, ExOfficio, REI, Mountain Hardware, RailRiders, and so many other of the more mainstream folks. They all looked the same with just different pricing and giant pant legs. It's fair to say I learned something and next time I'll be looking at Bass Pro, Campmor and others.

Anonymous said...

So how much do they weigh?

Jolly Green Giant said...

Site says average weight is 14.25oz.

john personna said...

FWIW, being fishing pants, the Bass Pro Shop pants are "fast drying" rather than "water repellent."