Being a lady climber is not all it’s “cracked” up to be. There are unique challenges off the rocks that present themselves. Trying to find other female climbing partners is not easy. Not every gal climber has the hutzpah to climb without a dude. Then there’s the dude climbers who think your request to climb means a date, automatically. Can’t a gal just get her climb on without trading “digits”? Sheesh.
Add to that quest, the “perfect” multi-pitch climbing pant, and you can see how climbing has taken over my life. For some reason, outdoor clothing companies don’t believe women can push the boundaries of climbing, too. Or, simply get on a multi-pitch route. Finding the right pant for multi-pitch climbing has been my personal Holy Grail for some time now. I have 2 aging pairs of Ex-Officio capris that will one day not be repairable, and so I’m planning ahead to mitigate that loss.
I tried on a pair of Prana’s “Halle” pants at the REI in Grand Junction, and they fit like a glove. Unfortunately, the store was closing, so I had to rush my decision and I decided to buy. Thankfully the Halle has a drawstring inside the waistband. If it weren’t for that, I’d be flying my “climber’s crack” to the world every time I got on a route. Sadly, my bum is not meant for low rise pants, and these are low rise, which I didn’t realize while trying them on. Low rise pants fit & feel great when I’m…standing. Once I try to move, they start to slide down, and well…you can imagine the rest. So, the drawstring keeps the Halle pants right where they should be–on my hips.
Other than this unexpected discovery, the Halle is a pretty good pant for climbing. The knees are a bit articulated, the back pockets have snap closures, and there is a small side zip pocket to carry half an energy bar. As a result, I can crag all day in relative comfort.
However, I won’t be taking them on any multi-pitch routes in the Black Canyon. The side pocket is too small, and I discovered the back snap pockets often unsnap easily. In fact, I made the sad discovery these pants aren’t fit for crack climbing at all. The material is more nylon and less cotton which keeps you cool on hot routes, but there is little protection from the rock, and so bumps and scrapes are really felt. I do like that the cuffs can roll-up “convertible” style, but again it’s not quite “perfect”. The cuff is secured with a strap and snap closure. Additionally, the pant must be rolled really high, close to the knee, to reach the snap. After hauling my big, out-of-shape behind up “The Front Nine” at Ouray, CO’s Pool Wall, 3 out of the 4 snaps with tabs had pulled off. One pant-leg was making its’ way down to my ankle.
This leaves way too much shin exposure for rock scrape-age. My legs looked like chopped liver after only one pitch of trad climbing. Granted, my poor technique from being out-of-shape certainly contributed to this shin-bang. However, having a little protection til I can improve my chops would be nice. It’s nice to have the fabric of the pant away from my shoe, but knowing how hard I push myself sometimes, I’m asking for blood with so much open skin. Capri length covers the shin, but keeps the fabric away from the ankle and shoe allowing for easy site of the shoe for foot placements.
While climbing at Smith Rock over Spring Break, I met some cool Canucks, one of whom had a convertible pant. His simply rolled up, and the inside of the pant had one part of the snap, and the outside had the other half. When rolled to the proper height (capri length in this case), the two halves of the snap simply joined together and the cuff was secured. It was so simple & elegant, with no fancy buttons, straps, or other feminine flourishes that could get shredded on rough rocky surfaces. I wanted those pants. But, in the heat of the climb, I forgot to ask my partner about the brand and where he got them. Lo and behold, while flipping through the recent Prana catalog from the mail, I discovered they make this exact feature in their men’s Zion pant. Plus, there was a large cargo pocket!
Whaaaat!? How come Prana doesn’t use the same practical features in their female climbing pants? How come “feminine” means “sacrificing practicality for foo-foo decorations”? When I saw that Zion pant, I was miffed. Ladies should not be shafted from good quality climbing clothing features just to make sure the pants look distinguished from one another. If Prana really needs to make a gal’s climbing pant feminine, then just make the colors crazy, or add the contrast fabric on the pocket like the Avril pant (see more below).
If you’re heading to overhung routes on a pretty hot day where you know you’ll have clean falls, the Halle pant is great. If your bum works in low rise pants, then you can skip the drawstring and experience a more comfortable fit under your harness. In fact, the company mentions bouldering, and they’d be great for that. For my multi-pitch purposes, not so much…the quest continues.
Prana gets closer to my goal with the Avril Pant. The material is 97% organic cotton, and feels great. The knees are not only articulated, but reinforced with additional material to withstand scrapes and bumps while on-route. The patterns on the pockets are stylish and neat, but have no items that could be torn off. It adds a feminine flair but is completely practical at the same time, my kind of style. I also liked the cool color choices, and opted for the yellow because the red was sold out. I’ve raised a lot of eyebrows & gotten a lot of compliments on these pants!
The absolute best part is the waistband. It is the most comfortable out of any pant I’ve ever used for climbing. It’s easy to slide on and off while wearing your harness for those trips to the Little Girl’s Bush. The drawstring helps keep the pants on, but ties more at the hips, and contours with your body so as not to interfere with the harness. Honestly, because of the waistband, I could sleep in these pants. I feel like every pair of Prana pants that are billed for “climbing” needs to have this waistband.
The last 2 remaining criteria for my multi-pitch quest, come up a little more short: secured pockets and convertibility or capri length. There are drawstring cords at the bottom of the Avril pantlegs. But, I have to roll the cuffs up while the drawstring is pulled, however, because the cord of the drawstring always sticks out. This is a huge “catch on a rock” hazard. The drawstring as well as cuffing these pants creates bulging fabric, making it a little challenging to see my shoes. The last thing I need is to be pulling a crux move & have my pantleg get caught on something. It’s an awkward solution, and doesn’t quite work with functional ease.
All the pockets on the Avril pant are open, with no velcro, snap, or zipper closing methods. This is not going to cut it on multi-pitch, where the focus is so intense you don’t notice if stuff is wiggling out of your pocket or not. I don’t want to be the shmuck that drops my powerbar or my directions to the route 5 stories up and into a pristine wilderness area. I pride myself on being a climbing “ambassador” wherever I go, ensuring all garbage is packed out, and no trace is left. Climber’s get a bad rap by sportsmen, hunters, and land owners, and I don’t want to contribute to that negative stereotype. Keeping my items secured on a long climb is essential.
If I could put anything on my wish-list for Santa this year, it would be a version of the Avril pant like this: same waistband, material, knees, but “capri” (mid-calf length) of the Avril pant, OR same roll-up as the Zion, and rear pockets with velcro closure, as well as _two_ cargo pockets with velcro closure, pretty please with sugar on top! If I thought the Zion pants would fit me, I’d buy them in a heartbeat. Prana – you’re so close, but yet so far…
Again, Prana mentions bouldering in its’ description for these pants. They would be great for early Spring or late Fall bouldering, when there’s more of a chill in the air. I used them just the other day while cragging at the Jimmy Cliff wall in Ouray, CO, and they were fine. For multi-pitch, though, I’d like to have a carefree pant with nothing to worry about, that I can forget about while 150′ above the ground.
I hope Prana and other outdoor clothing manufacturers will consider clothing for all the women climbers who are moving beyond bouldering into roped climbing, and climbing hard. For me, function outweighs style, although many female climbers might not agree with me. To me, the cool style Prana is known for is simply a bonus. The functionality of their organic cotton and great fitting waistband are more important. If the added functionality of length and closeable pockets could be incorporated into their well-designed pants, I might be able to end my Holy Grail quest once and for all. Then I’ll have more time for climbing!
Have you found “the perfect pant” for multi-pitch climbing? I’d love to know! Please share your discovery in the comments…
Update June 14, 2015
The Halle pant has been my go-to pant for this Cascade Volcano trip. It’s been pretty freakin’ hot driving through the deserts of Utah, Southern Idaho, and Eastern Oregon. So, while the Halle isn’t the best pant for multi-pitch, it’s a pretty darn good light-weight road-trip pant.
I guess it’s up to me as a consumer to sift through the marketing hype to learn what a pant is best used for. Only field-testing can do this, though. That can be an expensive prospect. Oh, well. Lesson learned by not letting a store closing pressure me into buying something…