Ibex Alp and Ibex Guide Lite Pants; Arc’Teryx Gamma LT Pant; Sierra Designs Ultra Pants; Cloudveil Rodeo Pants
Table of Contents
- Info & Stats on Pants
- Overview of Softshell Pants
- Dynamic Soft Shell Fabrics
- Other Soft Shell Fabrics
- General Performance
- Climbing Performance
- Introducing the Mountain’s Best Award
- Manufacturer Contact Information
Info and Stats on Pants
|Sierra Designs Ultra Pants|
|Available in both men’s and women’s styles|
|Cloudveil Rodeo Pants|
|Available in both men’s and women’s styles|
|Ibex Alp Pants|
|Available in both men’s and women’s styles|
|Ibex Guide Lite Pants|
|Available in both men’s and women’s styles|
|Arc’Teryx Gamma LT Pants|
|Available in both men’s and women’s styles|
Overview of Soft shell Pants
We’ve been wearing and testing pants and jackets made with stretch-woven soft shell fabrics for a few years now. In fact, a couple of our reviewers are so sold on the fabric that they now use stretch-woven pants for all of their climbing and most of their backpacking trips and day hikes, even while hiking in temperatures that exceed 80 deg F or drop well below freezing. (Note: stretch-wovens are only one type of soft shell fabric but for simplicity we will use stretch-woven and soft shell interchangeably in this review.)
Most stretch-woven pants are in the range of 12 to 15 oz (in Men’s size M) and so are about two ounces heavier than Supplex nylon trail pants with the same fit and features. However, those extra ounces buy you a fabric offering a much broader range of comfortable temperatures, better water resistance, and a less binding fit (due to trimmer cuts and the stretch fabric); thus they serve better for activities like climbing and cross-country travel. Further, when damp or wet, stretch-woven fabrics are far more comfortable next to skin than Supplex.
Dynamic Soft Shell Fabrics
Stretch-woven fabrics are nothing new, but only in the past few years have outdoor apparel manufacturers recognized their salability in the U.S. market. Schoeller Textiles of Switzerland has led the charge with its families of Dryskin and Dynamic fabrics. Although Dynamic is often assumed to be “Schoeller Dryskin on a Diet” (Dryskin Extreme came to the fore with the introduction of Cloudveil’s Serendipity jacket), there are important differences between Dynamic and the Dryskin Extreme fabric used in heavier clothing. First, Dynamic is simply a woven mixture of Nylon and Lycra, while Dryskin adds Cordura for added durability. Dryskin Extreme further adds a Coolmax interior nap to promote wicking.
The Dryskin and Dynamic families do have a few things in common. First, they stretch more and breathe better than most non-woven shell fabrics like GoreTex and polyurethane coated nylons. In addition, stretch-wovens possess a unique type of water resistance that is inherent in the fabric structure and is not dependent on a chemical treatment that can wear or wash out. The surface of the fabric is woven in such a way that the hydrophobic face structure has a significant topography (peaks and valleys) rather than being completely flat like a typical rain shell. The net effect is that there is less surface area in contact with a water droplet that comes to rest on the fabric, which results in a lower surface tension force on the droplet, making it less likely that the droplet will collapse and wick into (i.e. wet out) the fabric. However, the fabric is still not immune to failure caused by dirt and grime.
Like other shell fabrics, stretch-wovens are usually treated with a DWR (durable water resistant) finish . And, as with other shell fabrics treated this way, that water resistance wears out over time and must be restored or the garment will “wet out.” However, unlike conventional non-woven shell fabrics, the Dynamic/Dryskin fabrics breathe well enough to drive moisture outward (this in response to the temperature gradients induced by exercise), so these “soft shell” fabrics may provide for a drier microclimate near the skin, even in wet conditions. The downside, however, is that the Schoeller stretch-wovens absorb significantly more water when saturated than non-woven shell fabrics due to increased porosity (i.e., “water holding space”) within the fabric structure.
Other Soft Shell Fabrics
Ibex’s Climawool™ Lite is similar to Dynamic fabric. It has a woven shell of Nylon and Lycra but has a napped merino wool interior as opposed to the napped synthetic interior of the Alp Pants. Climawool™ Lite is an upgrade to Schoeller’s Skifans fabric (Ibex had Schoeller modify Skifans to be more resistant to pilling).
With its Inertia™ fabric, Cloudveil does away with Lycra and depends on the weave of the fabric for what it calls a “mechanical stretch.” In doing so Cloudveil reduces fabric weight while retaining the wind resistance, water resistance, and durability of a heavier nylon/Lycra fabric. Inertia™ absorbs less water and dries faster than a nylon/Lycra fabric like Dynamic. This is because a lighter fabric absorbs less water but also because Lycra absorbs a considerable amount of water and is slow to dry. The mechanical stretch of Inertia™ is not as dramatic as a nylon/Lycra fabric but does the job with a well-fitted pant. Finally, like the Alp and Guidelite pants, the Rodeo pants have a napped inner surface which Cloudveil claims will “improve breathability, comfort and performance.
Sierra Designs takes a different approach to handling water resistance with its Terrastretch fabric (a blend of Cordura and Lycra). Sierra treats the fabric with a hydrophilic finish to promote wicking rather than a hydrophobic DWR to promote water resistance. This allows for the movement of moisture away from the skin to create a more comfortable next-to-skin climate.
In our field tests, both the Arc’Teryx Gamma LT pants and the Ibex Alp pants were comfortable in temperatures ranging from the high 20’s (deg F) to the low 80’s when worn next to skin. This surprising performance has resulted in some changes to our clothing for the legs. Typically, when a summer hike warrants a wicking base layer in addition to Supplex pants, we now replace the combination with a single pair of Dynamic pants. Supplex simply isn’t as warm in colder temperatures and it isn’t as water resistant (thus the need for a base layer in cold and wet conditions).
In one memorable side-by-side test in light rain, a pair of Supplex pants completely wetted out while a pair of Dynamic pants continued to shed water with only a few patches beginning to soak through. In another example of stretch-woven performance, this time on a 90-mile and very rainy trip to Colorado’s San Juan Mountains, the Dynamic pants allowed one of our reviewers to be warm and comfortable through sputtering weather fronts that seemed to come hourly. His hiking partner who wore Supplex pants was forever changing in and out of his rain pants. The rain usually ended soon after he put the rain pants on. He then stewed in the rain pants until he couldn’t stand it any longer and took them off. This constant adjustment of the shell layer wasted time, resulted in near-continuous discomfort, and caused a lot of frustration. By the end of the trip both hikers were wishing they had light stretch-woven shirts as well.
This does not mean that you can wear Dynamic pants forever in the rain! If you get hard rain the pants will wet out, but if the precipitation is only light or intermittent you may get by without additional protection. Recall that one downside of Dynamic is that if it gets wet it will absorb more water and take longer to dry than a fabric like Supplex. Our reviewer carried a pair of 4 oz rain pants which he only used during a couple periods of heavy and prolonged rain.
The Sierra Designs’ Ultra pants are more comfortable at warmer temperatures than pants made with Dynamic. The fabric is thinner, lighter, and more breathable, and with a cottony-feel and wicking finish, and our reviewers found theme quite comfortable at temperatures typically encountered during the peak of summer. Expectedly, they also found that the pants’ performance in windier and wetter conditions was compromised, due primarily to the fact that the Terrastretch fabric isn’t as wind-resistant as Dynamic, and it has little inherent water resistance. However, the pants were much quicker than Dynamic to dry, and this proved to be a valuable feature for intermittently rainy conditions. Paired with a waterproof-breathable shell pant, t the Ultras proved a terrific pant for hiking in wet and cold conditions. The wicking action of the Terrastretch kept our testers comfortably dry under the normally clammy conditions imposed by a waterproof-breathable shell.
The lighter Inertia™ fabric of the Cloudveil Rodeo pants is also more comfortable in warmer temperatures than either the Dynamic, Climawool™ Lite or Skifans type fabrics. But unlike the Ultra pants it yields little to these fabrics in windy, wet conditions. Like the Alp and Guidelite pants the napped inner surface increases the performance and comfort range of the pants.
Climbers and other outdoor gymnasts will appreciate the stretch of these fabrics. Worn over a base layer, the fabrics provide excellent shell protection for backcountry skiing, winter ice climbing, and snowshoeing, cutting cold winter winds while shedding snowfall and spindrift easily. The stretch fabric allows a climber or skier to wear a trimmer-fitting pant with uninhibited mobility, a dream come true for both. But even hikers will benefit from the stretch, especially on steep stretches of trail, which they would negotiate far less well with the current breed of Supplex pants, or worse, Supplex under unyielding rain pants.
Note: While writing this review we’ve found out that Ibex has discontinued the Alp pant although you may be able to buy it from its outlet. The Alp pants have been replaced by the Alpstar pant and Ibex also offers a similar Guide Lite pant. Both the Guide Lite and Alpstar pants use Ibex’s Climawool™ Lite fabric.
We quickly obtained a pair of Ibex pants with Climawool™ Lite fabric and we’ll summarize and rate these Guide Lite pants at the end of this review.
Fit. The Ibex Alp and Cloudveil Rodeo offer a trimmer fit than the Gamma LT, and the Sierra Designs Ultra pants are the trimmest of the bunch. Theoretically, a trim fit should result in a slightly warmer pant (due to less ventilation), but we felt that with these fabrics, trimmer fit did not make a noticeable difference. We did like the trimmer fit better simply because the fabric was less likely to get in the way in bushwhacking or climbing. We felt that the fit of the Gamma LT was slightly too baggy and yet that the fit of the Ultra was slightly too trim (we had difficulty pulling a men’s medium pant over a 32-inch waist). The Rodeo pants, while comparable in fit to the Alp and Guide Lite pants, lacked the low- profile ankle that a zip or Velcro closure provides.
Fit Edge: Ibex Alp — Cloudveil Rodeo close second
Features. The Alps and Gamma LTs have similar pocket configurations. Pockets on both pants include two front zippered pockets and one rear zippered pocket. In addition, the Gamma LTs offer a zippered cargo pocket that is trim and attractive but is bellowed and thus roomy enough for a map, pocket camera, and a snack. Unfortunately, the vertical pocket zipper resulted in more than a few lost items during the testing period when one hiker forgot to zip up. One can argue that this is the fault of the hiker, but there is no question that an angled or horizontal zipper would provide better functionality. Further, the Gamma LT’s pocket zippers are sewn inside out, undoubtedly for visual appeal. Unfortunately, this configuration leaves the zipper difficult to access and far from smooth in its operation.
The Alps have a button and zippered pant closure (with belt loops), while the Gamma LTs sport an elastic waistband with built-in belt and no fly. The Gamma LT’s waist and belt are a pain to use (especially when one is well-hydrated) because the trim buckle is easily lost in the waist loops after unbuckling (necessary even for male hikers to relieve themselves because of the relatively trim waistband); one needs the finesse of a surgeon to extract it and re-clip it. Overall, we prefer the conventional zippered fly opening of the Alps, because it just makes life simpler.
The Ultras feature two perfectly positioned front cargo pockets with zippers, located on the upper thigh. Two rear pockets with Velcro tab closures round out the storage ensemble. Our testers found the waist belt (thin nylon webbing with a Ladderloc buckle) somewhat ill-designed, with its front constantly creeping up above the pants’ waistline.
The Rodeos have an excellent waist with an integrated, low-profile webbing belt and soft mesh lining — especially comfortable under a hipbelt. They have front pockets with horizontal zippers. This unusual zipper configuration is great for keeping objects in your pockets but a bit awkward for casually shoving your hands in. Also the pockets are a bit on the smallish side. The pants have no rear pocket but do have a nice Velcro closure stash pocket good for a compass, GPS, cell phone or small camera.
The most practical feature difference between the pants is in the cuff design. The Gamma LTs and Rodeos have open cuffs while the Alp cuffs offer a Velcro tab that allows the opening to be adjusted (open for ventilation, closed for warmth and for use as a gaiter over boots). The Gamma LT cuffs are so wide that they tend to snag a bit on trailside vegetation and other debris, and they are not the most attractive around-town wear due to the sloppier look. While trimmer than the Gamma LTs, the Rodeos’ cuffs are wider than either a Velcro or a zipper-closure ankle and you can’t put them on over a pair of running shoes. The Ultras have zip cuffs which offer some ventilation possibilities, but the trim fit of the pants still prevented them from being pulled on and off over shoes.
Feature Edge: Ibex Alp
Fabric. Dynamic is a family of fabrics all of which have about the same properties but vary in their finish, feel, and Lycra content. While Arc’Teryx uses a conventional (and very popular) version of Dynamic, Ibex uses a variation of Dynamic in the Alp pants that has a brushed inner surface: this supposedly promotes bidirectional wicking (capillary action from a region of low fiber density or large pore diameter to a region of high fiber density or small pore diameter), and our testing revealed that the effect is noticeable. Under similar damp conditions, the Alps feel drier than the Gamma LTs. The more practical observation is that the Ibex pants feel warmer at cooler temperatures than the Gamma LTs. Conversely, the Gamma LTs feel cooler at warmer temperatures than the Alps, as expected. However, we do not feel that the brushed inner surface significantly reduces the high-temperature comfort range of the Alps. The Ultra uses Terrastretch, which emphasizes wicking over water resistance. This makes it more comfortable than Dynamic in hot conditions but severely compromises its performance as an outer shell in wet conditions. However, Ultra is the fastest drying of all the fabrics and remains most comfortable next to skin when wet. Cloudveil’s Rodeo pants also have a brushed inner surface but their fabric is lighter overall than nylon/Lycra ones such as Dynamic. This means that the Rodeos perform similarly to Dyamic in having a brushed inner surface, yet it is more appropriate for warmer-weather wear.
Fabric Edge: Ibex Alp for most conditions (Gamma LT and Rodeos for warmer climates)
Cost. Like most products using Schoeller fabrics, the Dynamic pants are ridiculously expensive. The Ibex Alps retail for $155 while the Gamma LTs retail for $170, and the Ibex Guide Lites top the list at $185. When you can purchase a premium pair of Supplex pants for fifty bucks, you may have trouble justifying the expense, even though the increase in performance over Supplex is significant. We feel that the cost is justified in terms of comfort alone. The Ultras are cheaper but by no means “budget” at $110.
Cost Edge: Sierra Designs Ultra.
In general, we give the nod to Ibex for developing a solid product in the Alp and Guide Lite pants. Good fit, smart design, and a bidirectional wicking version of Dynamic and Climawool™ allow us to award these pants the edge on performance and style. Minor improvements to the Alp would include replacing the belt loops with an elastic waistband that would interfere less with hipbelt or climbing harness and result in a simpler look.
Introducing the Mountain’s Best Award
This series of reviews introduces a new award from BackpackingLight.com, Mountain’s Best. In the past year we’ve focused a bit more on clothing and equipment useful to alpine mountaineers geared towards fast and light summits. Mountain’s Best products are those items that clearly surpass others in performance, features and durability to give the lightweight alpinist every advantage. While these products may not always be as light as the very lightest trail gear that some of our readers are familiar with, they have an exceptional ratio of performance to weight. Even our trail-only users might seriously consider using some of these products. Finally Mountain’s Best and Trail’s Best products are not mutually exclusive. In fact, our inaugural Mountain’s Best product is a co-winner of our Trail’s Best award.
The Ibex Guide Lite pants improve upon the Alp pants. The have the same trim fit but have an elastic waist with a minimal built-in webbing belt that is comfortable under a pack hipbelt or climbing harness. They have a hipbelt/harness-friendly zipper that opens from the bottom up. Any man who has tried to find a zipper buried underneath a hipbelt or harness, especially with a gloved hand, will realize how much easier it is to find and operate a fly from the lower position. The Guide Lites have zippered, gusseted ankle cuffs which make for a trim closure. After using them for several years, we are familiar with Skifans fabrics like Climawool™ Lite. The stretch-woven shell of Nylon and Lycra and napped merino wool interior of the Guide Lite’s Climawool™ Lite fabric should provide an excellent combination of weather resistance, breathability, bidirectional wicking, and comfort in a broad range of temperatures.
Clouveil’s Rodeo pants at 10 oz are almost a third lighter than pants with similar wind and water resistance. In addition they absorb less water and dry faster than the nylon/Lycra pants in this group. They are also just a tad cooler than the heavier fabric pants — a good thing in warmer weather. For one reviewer they make Supplex pants obsolete and would be his first choice for desert travel and high-summer alpine wear. They do work well in cooler climates with a base layer as they have the wind and water resistance to do the job. As with the Alp and Guide Lite, the napped inner surface on Inertia™ fabric provides bidirectional wicking for moisture management, and comfort at a variety of temperatures. The only improvements we’d like to see on the Rodeos would be a trimmer ankle with a zip or Velcro closure and a bit more room in the front pockets. Oh, and since we’ve seen it in the Guide Lite pants, a reverse-direction zipper on the fly, at least on the men’s model.
Arc’Teryx offers a well-performing product with the Gamma LTs, but at $170, we expected a little more design detail from the company whose marketing materials trumpet its on “meticulous precision.” Our recommendations include: reducing the leg volume, adding a cuff closure, reversing the zippers back to their normal configuration, changing the orientation of the cargo pocket zipper, and using a fabric with a napped inner surface.
Sierra Designs offers a different approach to stretch woven pants, emphasizing wickability over water resistance in the Ultra pant, which makes the fabric more comfortable when skies are clear. The Ultras have the best cargo pockets of the bunch and offer a nice trim fit (but too trim in the waist and hips). Overall, the Ultras fill a unique market niche and provide great improvements over Supplex nylon for warm conditions.
Note: All of these pants are available in both men’s and women’s styles.
|Sierra Designs Ultra||B+|
|Cloudveil Rodeo||A-||Trail’s Best|
|Ibex Guide Lite||A||Mountain’s Best|
|Arc’Teryx Gamma LT||B|
Manufacturer Contact Information
Ibex Oudoor Clothing Inc.
PO Box 297
2800 Westerdale Cut-Off Road
Woodstock, VT 05091
Arc’Teryx Equipment Inc.
2770 Bentall Street
Canada V5M 4H4
1255 Powell Street
Emeryville, CA 94608
PO Box 11810
Jackson WY 83002