I am a proud defender of true, performance hiking pants. I’ve used them on many important trips—long floats through Grand Canyon, a six-month stay in South America—and I love the utility of fast-drying, stretchy bottoms. Sure, most look dorky and are completely out of place anywhere except in a boat or on a trail, but in those settings, they’re unbeatable.
And now Coalatree has built a pair of performance hiking pants that check both boxes: They work great and look good. I’ll even go so far as to claim that the Trailhead pants can pass for a regular pair of work slacks. They have that sweet-spot athletic cut that’s not quite skinny, but more tailored than baggy cargos. The fabric has a matte finish that makes the brown and gray options dressy enough for business casual when worn with a collared shirt and deck shoes. The pockets are big enough for trail food without gaping open.
Don’t think, however, that I’m so vain that I love the pants only because they look good. I’m a huge fan of the material, a ripstop nylon and spandex blend with built-in four-way stretch. Thanks to that fabric, plus a gusseted crotch, the pants were perfect for scrambling up Sierra granite.
If you’re going on a monthlong trek in Patagonia during monsoon season, you’ll want waterproof pants. But for anything else, the Trailheads are just fine. The nylon-spandex blend has a DWR coating that shrugs off a sprinkle or even a quick downpour. And if they do wet out, the material dries within about ten minutes. The reinforced seams have never split, and the base material has never pilled, even after getting bashed on rocks and undergoing dozens of wash cycles.
For those who want pants that zip into shorts, the Trailhead offers a clever workaround: Just pull the leg up above your calf and cinch the ankle ties around your knees. The built-in stretch still allows for blood flow below your calves.
I do have a couple gripes. One: The pants aren’t very breathable. On hot days, you’ll want to roll them up. On the hottest days, you’ll want to leave them at home. Two: The ankle ties, which allow you to roll up the pants, frequently untie and drag on the ground. The only way to get rid of the ties is to cut them off, and then you lose obvious functionality.
Minus those niggles, however, I’d have to say the Trailhead pants are damn near perfect. They’re so functional and so comfy that I credit them with getting me on the trail more often. I’m not ready to throw away my Levi’s or my dress pants, but if for some reason I could have only one pair of pants for the rest of my life, these would be it.