What pants are best for cold-weather hiking?
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
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I wear Carhartt denim pants during the winter, too—especially when working outside. But if it’s cold, they’re the kind insulated with flannel. And I’m not that concerned about, A) the weight, or B) getting them wet, because C) I can always go inside and change if needs be. Construction workers don’t always have that option, but they also like Carhartt stuff because it’s tough and well-priced. Long live Carhartt!
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.