I looking for a good pair of durable pants for hiking in cold weather (late fall to early spring). I see construction workers out in their Carharrts year round. Aren't they made of cotton? Would I be better off buying wool pants from L.L. Bean or Woolrich? Or is there a better option? Matt Albuquerque, New Mexico
But do I go hiking in my Carhartts? Put it this way: I got religion on that topic many, many years ago—cotton clothing just doesn't cut it for hiking/climbing/skiing. Maybe a cotton T-shirt on a warm summer's day, but that's it.
So what to wear? When I first started hiking and climbing, REI (which had a single store back then!) still carried military surplus gear, including woolen uniform pants. The most coveted ones were the Air Force summer uniform trouser, made from a very soft, light wool material that was just terrific. It's very hard to find that sort of thing these days, though. Filson sells a pair called the Mackinaw Wool Pants ($160; www.filson.com). However, these are very heavy and probably more suited for active use in sub-zero temperatures or sitting around at midnight ice fishing. Better would be Ibex's Guide Lite Pant, made from a soft, light wool material that's extremely comfortable. But, they're also very expensive—$185 (www.ibexwear.com).
Perhaps the best choice may be MontBell's Mountain Strider pants ($159; www.montbell.com). These are made with Schoeller Dryskin, a wonderful high-tech fabric that works across a wide temperature range; it's almost completely windproof, highly water-resistant, and quick drying. I haven't used the MontBell pants, but I do own some similar pants that L.L. Bean made a few years back (alas, now discontinued). And they are just great—performance the measure of wool, but they're lighter and faster-drying. So for you, my man, I think the Mountain Striders are the way to go.