When I first moved to the mountains, I figured that if I had a decent pair of snowboard pants, I was in the clear to do just about anything outside in the winter. It didn’t take long before I realized that what kept me warm and dry lapping lifts all day was just too bulky, heavy and insulated to comfortably transition to more aerobic pursuits.
Right before I took off on a trip to Mt. Whitney — which, even months after a massive winter, still had snow above 10,000 feet — a friend sagely suggested I ditch the baggies for her alpine pants. As a category, they’re meant to act as a shell, waterproof enough to keep out light rain or contact with snow and rugged enough to wear climbing without fear of what could literally be a disastrous snag.
Basically, they’re like track pants for mountain people.
Functionally, the Patagonia Simul women’s alpine pants are very similar to what carried me through those 22 brutal miles. They’re made of a lightweight polyester stretch-woven fabric that has plenty of give, so there’s no pulling or pinching when you’re moving nimbly-bimbly from rock to rock. Multiple pockets that all zip shut keep the essentials (sunscreen, lip balm, snacks) handy; the thigh one’s even placed perfectly so it won’t interfere with a climbing harness.
Lower down, the cuffs cinch snugly around your boots with a locking shock cord, which helps to keep gunk out of your socks, and tie-down loops let you attach an under-the-heel cord for use with ice boots if you’re not running gaiters.
Much as I loathe a high waist when applied to what passes for fashion these days, the cut is key to keeping your ass warm and dry, as well as making sure your torso’s totally protected when raising your arms above your head for a handhold. The slim fit helps make up for what otherwise makes me feel like a marsupial. They’re also light enough to wear cross-country skiing, even if all the cool kids wear XC tights instead.
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