Oh here we go again, how should climbing pants fit, or how I say: The endless struggle to find the perfect pair of climbing pants. Most people who start climbing focus way too much on their arms. But in reality, footwork and leg movement is one of the most essential skills in rock climbing and bouldering. The more power and strength you generate with your legs and feet and core, the easier climbing becomes on your arms. Climbers with proper leg technique and excellent mobility in their core have an easier time with endurance. They also experience less arm pump and can send harder routes. But to be really effective, the climbing pants you wear should fit your climbing style.
I discussed the pros and cons of climbing pants in another article, in short: There are no real cons except for the price (if you don’t buy them on a discount). But how should climbing pants fit? Between ultra-tight leggings that look like spiderman, jeans with stretch, cotton pants, and mc-hammer style baggy pants there are vast differences. In short, pant fit comes down to your preference and your subjective experience. Nonetheless, there are facts that are objectively important.
Let’s discuss different fitting styles and materials, and I’ll give you some tips and recommendations to make sure you chose the right fit and material for you. There’s much to gain here, as too tight or loose pants can hinder your climbing style and performance. Likewise, pants from the wrong material make you sweat too much or when climbing in cold weather are not insulating enough.
Quick facts about fitting styles and materials of climbing pants
In general, it’s up to you what you wear, but there are some objective points to keep in mind about fit.
1) It comes down to your preference and your subjective experience of how impeding tightness or loose fit feel to you.
2) Tight climbing pants restrict leg movement and maximum leg spreading distance unless they are made from a material with stretch. If climbing pants are too tight, and made from jeans without stretch, that’s a problem. And it doesn’t matter if you’re used to wearing tight pants in this case.
3) Loose climbing pants usually don’t hinder movement, but might get in the way if they are too lose
Same goes for materials, it’s about your own preference but there some objective facts to keep in mind. I’ll write a more in-depth guide about this soon!
1) Pants from synthetic materials are easy to wash and care but might feel shit on your skin.
2) Cotton is durable, but not the best fabric for humid weather, and if it has no stretch material woven in it feels stiff and can hinder your movement
3) Jeans are ultra-durable, but 100% jeans fabric feels like a shell when climbing. Ultra tight skinny jeans are severely impacting your maximum leg movement if no stretch material is blended in.
Let’s have a look at some of the fitting styles in more detail, what they are suitable for, and what their disadvantages are.
This used to be trending some years ago, just look at some of the older climbing videos from the early 2000s. Loose fit has clear advantages, as it does not impact your maximum leg movement and feels comfortable. But it also means more material to drag with you, which becomes an issue if you’re wearing pants made from heavy fabric. Loose-fitting pants from 100% cotton feel like a lot of dead weight, and become even worse when they become humid or wet. And the extra fabric can get stuck to cracks and gear too.
Ever tried edging or cramming a tight corner with your toes while you had 2 feet of climbing pants block a clear view of your shoes? Then your pants are too loose. It definitely makes sense to get baggy pants with a tie around the ankle. This way you can restrict flapping fabric around your foot.
Tight fit (leggings, jeggings, etc.)
Most girls I know climb with yoga pants style climbing pants, and leggings are a trend for boys also today. My wife solely uses tight climbing pants, she swears on them. I tried it once, and it feels really odd at first, but once you get used to it, it’s great. It’s almost as if you climb naked, you feel no weight at all. If tight pants are made from a stretchy material, they’re probably the best choice when it comes to movement freedom. They come with a downside though: If it gets cold, you start to feel it really fast, as most of the tighter climbing pants are not good at insulating.
Same goes for hot weather, climbing in tight leggings makes you sweat a lot. And usual leggings and yoga pants are not durable at all, so if you do crack climbing or routes with tight corners, etc., you will rip through them really fast. There are some options from brands like E9 and Prana, which are made from a more durable fabric thankfully, so if you’re serious about getting tight climbing pants to consider one of these options: Prana Rockland Leggings, an amazing pair of pants for girls. I personally love my E9 Rondo Slim as it is a perfect pants for medium framed guys. They’re technically not leggings but they do fit really slim – slimmer than any other pair of climbing pants i ever owned.
Medium fit: Tighter on the ankles, looser on the thighs
This is what I personally prefer. Medium fit pants give you the right combination of the above styles. They have enough fabric to insulate when it gets cold. And they have reasonable freedom of leg movement as they are usually made from a material containing cotton and some stretchy material blended in. They are shaped to narrow down on the legs and calves, so no material is in the way when you climb cracks, etc.
But medium fitting pants are a bit harder to find the right size, so make sure when you try them on that they are not too tight on the lower legs and wide enough in the hip area. In doubt, go one size bigger than usual, it’s better to err on the larger size. It’s not too tight to restrict movement, but tight enough to make climbing feel streamlined and fluent.
Extra: Short climbing pants
A special category are short climbing pants. These pants are basically shorts which are made from the same material like normal climbing pants. When trying on these types of pants, fitting becomes much easier. Leg movement is usually excellent, as not much fabric is used and the material is stretchy like normal climbing pants. Just be careful to get the waist size right, as many of these climbing shorts come with fixed rubber band holding your waist – if you lose a couple of pounds the pants are not adjustable and might become to big and slip.
Which fit is right for me?
You need to ask yourself whether you feel more comfortable wearing tighter or looser pants. Most people I know who like baggy or loose-fitting clothes in their day to day life also prefer them while climbing. Vice versa with tight-fitting pants. Most girls I know actually love yoga pants or leggings no matter if they’re out climbing or relaxing at home. I suggest to try out three pairs of pants representing the different style and see how they feel.
A good way to test is to do some leg stretches and jumping jacks as well as leg skipping when trying the pants on. Can you quickly move your knee to your chest without the pant interfering? If yes, that’s a sign of proper fit, if not you should get a size bigger or try another model.
Another useful test is to squat down wearing the pants. Then see if the pant is feeling uncomfortable or restraining while sitting in a full squat. If it does, get a size bigger and or try another model. If you can do these exercise comfortably, try some movements like flagging, etc. if you’re in a store with a climbing wall, and if the pant still feels right, you might have a candidate to buy.
In conclusion, you should find out which fit you prefer. Then try on some different models using the method described above. If you’re unsure which fit is best for you, try different fits and compare how they feel. Make sure also to take the material into account. If you liked this post or have some recommendations, feel free to comment and make sure to read some of the other gear-related posts. Some interesting posts are how climbing shoes should fit, and why wearing a helmet is always a good idea. This article about how to quickly build a hang board setup to train climbing at home effectively is also worth reading.