I was climbing in the gym the other day and one of my friends asked me, being a beginner if climbing pants were any good and had some benefits. So are there any real benefits from wearing pants like Prana or E9? It took me around 3 months to actually buy a pair and I was glad I made the switch from worn out jeans. Benefits of climbing pants include stretchy material, breathable materials, they transport sweat really good without becoming damp and soaked, and they are really durable too. Plus you get an insane amount freedom of movmenet. Let me go into some more detail though, why you need these benefits, and why actually any pants with these features work great as a climbing pant.
Facts – these benefits are measurable and objective
- Stretchy Material – must have for climbing
Climbing pants are made from a durable mix of cotton and elastic material. They are usually pretty lightweight, so when you wear them you have maximum agility. They need to be designed that way to allow for a big range of motion, as climbing involves a lot of legs and hip movement. Along with the stretchy fabric, climbing trousers usually come with a diamond gusset. This is an extra patch of fabric in the groin area between the legs. Normal pants just have 4 connecting pieces of fabric here, which is not really flexible. The diamond gusset, on the other hand, is very soft and this makes climbing pants super flexible around your core. This is written from my male perspective though, so leggings are no real choice for me, climbing pants are the most comfortable clothes I personally know.
- Breathable for long climbing sessions, moisture wicking and protected from the sun
Good climbing pants are made from mostly cotton – and some addition of an elastic material. This makes them super breathable and comfortable to wear even when it is hot and humid outside or you wear them for longer periods of time. In fact, I wear my E9 pants whenever I have a chance. They are so nice and comfortable that you can wear them at home or when you work out too. Another nice side effect is that this material makes them wick moisture, so they will dry easily and not become soaked so easily. Sun protection is nowadays built-in too, so you can save some SPF as your legs won’t need so much when wearing climbing pants.
- Durable and resilient
Climbing pants can take a beating. No matter if you scrape over rock, take a big fall or just wear them when you approach your climbing spot through the forest. Since they are so flexible you will most likely wear them when you belay your buddies too, so all the rope friction and load on your harness will wear off a normal pair of pants real quick. When it comes to abrasion resistance, climbing pants are usually pretty well of too – it’s not easy to rip them. Just try wearing sweat pants try approaching a route through brambles, manzanita or sagebrush – you will be walking around in rags within an hour.
- Cut for maximum freedom of motion and stay in place when moving
Climbers love to move around, myself included. I want my pants to have a maximum of freedom. And compared to other athletic gear I own, climbing pants actually stay in place when I buy them in the right size. No annoying riding up my crotch area anymore! And I love the freedom of motion when I have a route where I need to do some high-stepping.
- Protect your legs from scratching up (if long pants)
Long climbing pants will protect your legs from scratches, especially when you do outside bouldering on low-hanging roofs or rocks. If you fall upside down (which you should avoid but it can still happen nonetheless), wearing shorts can actually lead to burned legs due to rope burn. This does not apply if you wear climbing shorts, as they don’t cover your lower legs too.
Subjective Benefits – these might be true for you or not
- Gear loops and cool features for climbing
My E9 pants actually come with some loops for gear, brushes etc. which makes it really easy to use them with existing gear. Might seem not important, but if you really need to carry something you will love this. Plus they have a little stretchy cord on the height of the ankle – you can use it to make them very tight so they won’t be in the way or hanging over your shoes.
- Are they helping you climb better?
Sure they can. But I personally know lots of people who climb in fitness shorts or even regular jeans. It all works – in the end, you need to be a good climber to climb well. I think: Why not wear something that feels good, works good and is designed for the sport? Just because you can run a marathon in FlipFlops and will probably outrun someone who has never trained, doesn’t mean you should ignore good running shoes.
In bouldering gym or climbing hall, you can probably wear sweatpants and never have a problem as holds and wall are smooth compared to outside. I have been bouldering in Ireland on rocks that were razor sharp and actually damaged my hands etc by just touching them – but my E9 pants held up pretty good.
Alternatives and hacks
- Climbing pants alternative #1: Levis 511
Although not being sold and branded as pants for climbers, a pair of Levis 511 will actually work nicely too. They have a good stretch, a cut that doesn’t restrict freedom of motion, deep pockets to fill with stuff and good protection against scraping and abrasion. They will probably last you 100s of sessions too – and they do look stylish.
- Climbing pants alternative #2: Boulder jeans
Climbing pants are super nice to have, but they also come with a certain “functional” look, meaning they look super baggy and often flash bright colors. Some of my friends don’t like this look. Are there alternatives to just wearing regular Levis 511s? Lucky enough yes. They basically look like going out pants but also work as climbing pants. They’re also super stretchy and resist chalk, so you can go from crag to work no problem. They’re kind of expensive though, so better get them on a sale.
Tips and recommendations
- Get the size right (go smaller in doubt)
Climbing pants tend to be fairly large and bulky, as they need some extra room in the legs etc. So make sure to actually try a pair on before buying them, as most people end up buying them too large. You should also make sure you’re ok with the cut, some people don’t like the extra fabric on legs as it looks kind of “bulky”. If you’re a woman there is an easy way out of it: Climb in leggings.
- Recommendations for tall, skinny guys
Most of the climbing brands make pants for people with a smaller frame, as most climbers have. This is true especially for italian or european brands. But if you’re a tall skinny guy, make sure to check out some Prana trousers. They come in tall-guy sizes like 36/32. Try the model Stretch Zion for example, it has good flexibility and is durable too.
- Some good brands for climbing pants
Your typical contenders here are E9, Prana and La Sportiva. Other more outdoor focused brands like Patagonia have been making climbing pants, as do suppliers like Vaude. I stick to E9 and Prana and Black Diamond for most of my climbing pants.
- “I’m female, can’t I just wear a pair of yoga pants or leggings?”
Yes, you can, my wife goes climbing in leggings or yoga pants without a problem. The only problem she had so far was that she actually destroyed a cheap pair of leggings on a route with sharp holds. This is of course due to the thin fabric and high amount of elastic material in leggings. It can also get cold in springtime wearing only leggings, especially if you live in the northern US or Europe. So keep that in mind if you want to climb with leggings only.
Conclusion: Get one high performance and expensive pant and/or some cheap ones
So it comes down to how much you are willing to shell out. The benefits of climbing pants actually apply not just to climbing pants. I would start with one really nice looking pair, a high-quality one if you take climbing seriously. These you can use on hard routes, in the gym etc. But as I said, you can climb in any flexible and durable synthetic pant with enough freedom of movement. They may be more likely to rip and break, but they also cost only a fraction of the expensive ones. If you go outdoor climbing 1-3 times a week, get a decent pair of E9 or Pranas.
If you just started, go with a cheap pair of target nylon cargo pants. I own several of these, they cost me about 30 bucks and after 2 years of climbing, they still look ok. Make sure to read my article on climbing shoes too!