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Tuesday
Mar132018

Making It Better - The elusive perfect touring pant

The perfect pair of ski mountaineering pants do not exist. After years of beating the crap of many, I feel like I know what the perfect pair looks and feels like but no one has made them yet. So, I continue to buy and try, occasionally coming across a pair that gets close. The Dynafit TLT 2 Dynastretch Pant is one that is at least in the ball park. As you will see, I took it another step closer to what I’m looking for with a simple(?) mod and some time with the Singer sewing machine. For the best selection of Euro-style touring clothing that meets my specifications there's really no other place in the States with the selection of Skimo Co

Material

The starting point for any pant is material. Although my brothers in the Pacific Northwest and British Columbia like some sort of hard shell material (Gortex, et.al.) on snowy days, I simply have no use for anything but breathable fabric for 99% of my skiing. I live in Alaska where nearly all skiing is above tree line and I simply don’t storm ski. I also don’t sit on chair lifts. When I’m out touring, I rarely stop so weather protection is less of an issue. My days involve high output pacing, usually chasing partners up the skin track or boot pack. I’ll admit to occasional wet knees on deep wallows but they dry fast once I’m out from under the burden. In addition to high breathability, having some stretch is a nice touch. 

Cut

For whatever reason and I assume it’s just lame fashion, American tastes tend toward baggie fitting clothes. I suppose the bros' love of IPA and the requisite expansive beer gut is at least partially to blame. It should be no secret that I find this entirely offensive and pointless. Uh....do you even skimo, bro???Carrying around extra anything is simply stupid and adding fabric just to look a certain way falls in the stupid category. Of course, I’m sure there're haters out there that will accuse me of attending to fashion concerns by wearing slimmer fitting kit. The difference, however, is that my choice in clothing is a case of form following function. Anyone who has spent anytime mouth breathing doing anything in Lycra knows what I’m talking about. European fit doesn’t require Spandex but the concept is related. 

Features

This is where the rubber hits the road, in my opinion. The perfect pant is an amalgamation of many models by various manufacturers. Let’s see who I’ve patronized over the years: Filson, Sierra Design, Patagonia, Marmot, Cloudveil, Crazy Idea, Dynafit, Black Diamond, Millet, Mountain Hardware, Norrona and a couple of others now defunct that I can’t remember the names of. These represent at least 45 years of traveling in the mountains. Each pair had something I liked. 

Today, my list of desired features is pretty tight. First, I want the damn things to be LONG enough. I have an oddly long inseam for my height so pants are often a tad short for me. Luckily, this is less of an issue with ski boots on. I often find myself sizing up to large in order to get an a few centimeters more length. This, of course, creates issues at the waist but I’ll expand (ahem) on that later. 

A zipper on the cuff is nice for kicking around without ski boots on but is likely not all that necessary. On the other hand, if you switch between race-style boots and bigger boots, the adjustable cuff size is quite nice. Stretch fabric down here is helpful and some abrasion-resistant patches are required to absorb ski edge and crampon abuse.

Extra fabric reinforcement at the knees and some sewn-in articulation is desirable. As I’ve already said, I don’t want anything baggie in the legs but a little room creates some warmth. Keeping things trim at the calves prevents unwanted snagging by crampons. Stretch material in the thighs can give a wider ranging fit. For pure skiing, I don’t really need any extra reinforcement on the butt. However, strong material here can be nice to prevent premature wear from glacier kit dangling around. 

Pockets

As you can see on the featured pant in this post, there are two pockets below the waist. The near horizontal orientation of them on the Dynafit pant is brilliant (see below). Stuff is less likely to fall out and the zipper end is not under the harness. Zippers, by the way, are mandatory. An extra thigh pocket is nice and some of my pants have this feature. Always appreciated although the featured pant does not have one. While not a pocket, some pants add zippered vents on the thigh. Curiously, I have these on the two lightest pairs of pants I own and insist that they’re unnecessary in pants of this weight. On the other hand, warmer pants benefit from this feature when the temps rise later in the day.

Waist

This is the area of design I find most vexing and has led to the greatest number of mods in my clothing quiver. Brands either go full opening with snap(s), zipper and belt loops or go stretchy waist, no fly and some sort of drawstring. Needless to say, the best design is somewhere in between all of these. First, drawstrings, while being light and simple, are annoying to me. I want easier access and don’t want to mess with tying a cord with cold hands. My solution to these has always been to have a tailer simply sew in some large openings near the front through which to feed a belt with Fastex buckles. Simply betterOccasionally, I’ve had to add a zippered fly. This is the cleanest design. Next in line is the same set up but with a fully opening front. I prefer a tunnel for the belt rather than loops. Some pants don’t have the extra fabric at the waist where a tunnel already exists so I sew the added layer of material to the waist to create one. See below. 

WTF???An odd trend in the field of waist adjustment that I’ve seen from Norrona and now Dynafit is this elastic Velcro feature that pulls from the rear of the waist and attaches to Velcro on the side, effectively tightening the waist. I hate this idea. It creates a bunch in the fabric and the Velcro tends to catch on gloves and I inadvertently undo the waist when I least need it to do so. Maddening. Sadly, the new Dynafit pant featured here had this so I went full mod in fixing the problem. I have mediocre sewing skills and my OCD made me slow but the result is satisfying. 

Because I purchased the larger size to get more inseam, the waist was quite big. Instead of suffering through bunched up fabric, I decided to simply cut out some of the waist fabric via a wedge and then sewing the two edges together by hand. I added some Seam Grip for security and durability. Works great.When in doubt, cut it out (and sew it back together)

Almost looks like it was made that way...Once the elastic was cut out, the tunnel for the belt was there.The take home message here is don’t settle for something you don’t like. If you can envision the solution, make it happen, either by your own hands or someone that can bring your vision to fruition.         

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Reader Comments (8)

I really dig Sportiva's Vanguard pant. Slim, stretchy, durable, warm but not too warm. Have worn it for everything alpine the last couple of years, from Patagonia to Italy to the Rockies. The updated version (the "Solid Pant", should be out next season) has actual scuff guards at the cuff now, too. But I do the exact waist mod that you discovered on your own and describe here---cut a couple entries to the waist tunnel and thread a 1/2" piece of webbing through with a simple buckle for an integrated belt. The factory bungee around the waist is worthless. I also put bungee stirrups on mine to keep snow out when skiing powder with race boots, but the new integrated gaiters on the Raceborgs (and Aliens) have made that not as necessary.

March 30, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterTony K

Nice Tony. Seems we're kindred spirits in more ways than one. I'll look for those pants next season. The instep stirrups are a nice touch. Nothing worse than pant cuff creep on deep booters and ending up with snow down in the liner.

April 1, 2018 | Registered CommenterBrian

Tony,
I have both Vanguard (mistakenly bought instead of Solid) and Devotion pants and find the Solid to be probably the best. The cord is useless on Vanguard & Devotion. I put one additional cord stopper on each pant - I am not so crafty (especially not with fabric). It mitigates the vast majority of issues with the Vanguard's cord and makes Devotion's just-so usable. I find the fabric on the Devotion excellent for warm temperatures on skis, stretchy and comfortable.

April 14, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterKarol

I've also been searching for an ideal pant though being in BC, my criteria are probably a bit different. For general touring, I use a ski suit or a soft shell the majority of the time. For ski alpinism where I might be a bit more in the snow while climbing or whatever, I find that our wet conditions don't allow a totally aerobic pant but at the same time, a full hard shell is WAY to hot.

Strafe provided the US team with clothing last year and part of the kit was their RECON pant. It's absolutely useless for skimo racing or as a warmup pant (needs full side zippers to get on/off quick) but I've been using it a ton in the Alps and BC as a climbing pant.

-It's got a simple closure with belt loops.
-Two pockets are a bit big and awkwardly sized (beacon in one drops almost to my knee and rubs while skinning) but I'm willing to overlook this.
-Side ventilation zips are important to me because I run hot.
-Race boot designed gators are included (!) and easily snap on and off! This is awesome!
-Fabric is a "hard" soft-shell type. It's unlined so if it is cold out, it's not super comfortable against your skin but its got just enough water repellence to not get soaked when your knees are agains the snow while at the same time, not being oppressively hot in the spring.
-Crampon patch on the inside ankle.
-My only other complaint is that they are just ever so slightly baggier than I'd prefer but likely to most, they would still be considered pretty "performance fit".

I actually just ordered another pair at full price so that should speak to how much I've liked using them. I'm intrigued by the Dynafit option you've got above though. Will have to check them out!

May 15, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterEric C

Hey Eric,

Thanks for adding to the discussion. I'll have to check out those pants. That pocket issue would be easy enough to remedy.

May 21, 2018 | Registered CommenterBrian

Yes, good info Eric. I just picked up a pair of those strafe recon pants. They seem great for my spring skiing CO needs. One question for those that know about cutting out the stirrup gaiters for buckles, do you use some type of seam grip after you cut? I use Syborgs as my boot with these and read in a wildsnow review that one could cut a hole for the buckle, but I dont have any experience with this. Does one also cut for the rear locking mechanism? Ideally not I'd think since I know syborg locking mechanism sometimes ices up. I'm thinking if left covered by the gaiter then it might keep from icing. Thanks in advance.

October 7, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterDrew

Good point about the icing and the gaiter. Something to consider with that mechanism. Ultimately, it comes down to snow and temperature. But if you do decide to cut some mods, a pointed soldering iron is the way to go. Works so nicely and seals the edges on the fly. Brilliant.

October 17, 2018 | Registered CommenterBrian

Thanks for the response Brian. Will try the soldering iron approach, that sounds like an excellent idea. Much appreciated.

October 18, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterDrew

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