Thursday, March 21, 2013

Gear Review: Mountain Hardwear Men's Chockstone Pant

I have been searching for the perfect pair of pants to wear in my climbing and guiding for quite some time now.  I certainly haven't found them yet, but I thought I'd at least share what I've learned in the process.  Here are my criteria for my pair of do-anything (rock climbing, hiking, alpine routes, ice and snow climbing on occasion) pants:

Soft Shell
Odds are good (who am I kidding--it's basically guaranteed) that at some point I will be drenched in pouring rain wearing these pants.  Consequently, any pant I use regularly needs to be lightweight and quick drying.  It would also be great if it shed water to deal with a light drizzle without getting unpleasantly wet quadriceps.  Also vitally important is a weave that is windproof.  I personally find that wind can be quite energizing in the right conditions, but little will sap motivation faster than wind that cuts right through your layers.  Combining these qualities usually leaves me exploring options in the lightweight soft shell department.

The pants must also fit well, particularly with regards to mobility.  They should be relatively low bulk; not so tight as to restrict movement, not so baggy as to snag on every branch while walking, and capable of comfortably fitting a pair of long underwear or fleece tights underneath.  Further, I am looking for a gusseted crotch and articulated knees to move with me while I climb.

I like my pants to have a plethora of pockets so that I can readily access key items while climbing.  Especially when on long routes or when guiding, it is invaluable to be able to get important items without having to dig in my backpack.  My water bladder and hose provide a ready supply of water, my watch on my harness provides information on time, altitude, and bearing, snacks stashed in a pocket are always at hand, and quick access to my smart phone provides me route information and a camera to get shots of my second or take photos of landmarks for later.  My ideal pant has two thigh pockets, two front hand warmer pockets, and a back hip pocket, at least 2 or 3 of which are accessible in a harness while the rest just let me carry my keys and wallet when I walk into the convenience store at the end of the climbing day.

In an ideal world, I'd be able to drag my pants between a slab of granite and a variety of sharp implements repeatedly without any tears, rips, holes, scuffs, or loose threads.

If I can get it, I like my pants to have a reverse fly to make it easy to use in a harness.  It's also great to find them in gray, that perfect compromise color.  It's not black, so I don't absorb excess heat in the summer or the desert, and it's not khaki so I don't lose heat in the winter or show too much dirt.  Gray also goes with nearly any other color (my jackets tend to be more colorful).  This is certainly not my overriding concern, but I'd probably look at least a little weird meeting clients in purple pants and an orange shirt.

Now, the big question:  how do the Mountain Hardwear Men's Chockstone Pants stack up?

The Chockstone Pant has quite a bit going for it on my list.  Soft shell--stretchy, breathable, lightweight, quick drying.  Check.  Good fit--stretchy, gusseted, articulated, accommodates layering, not baggy.  Check.  Lots of pockets--and they are accessible under a harness.  Check.  And they come in gray.  Check.

The Chockstone's are quite comfortable and have great mobility.  I've had no trouble stemming or high-stepping in them, they're not restrictive, and they fit well under a harness.  They are roomy enough to breathe well or accommodate long underwear as required.  They are not 100% windproof, but they resist wind well unless the gusting is severe or winds are quite sustained.  They also dry rapidly, on or off the body.  The typically drying time on my body from totally soaked to nearly dry is under an hour in warm weather.  The pockets are positioned in such a way that my harness leg loops ride between my front pockets and thigh pockets, giving me access to both while wearing a harness.

Moving right along with pockets, the downside is the zippering on the thigh pockets.  For some inexplicable reason, the zippers run diagonally down the pocket.  This effectively halves the pocket size, since when the pocket is fully open, items inside are at significant risk of spilling out.  It's definitely not a place I like to store my notebook or a phone.  I would much prefer a simple horizontal zip across the top of the pocket.  It would also be cool to see a reverse fly zipper.  In some ways it seems like they designed the zippers for a climbing pant without actually talking to any climbers.

The other negative is in the fabric durability.  The material is a bit stretchy and actually pretty resistant to tears, rips, and micro-holes.  However, it abrades like it was designed that way. Within 2 days of use, the fabric had "balled up" up and down the legs.  I use my gear hard, but not that hard that it should be balling up after 2 days of use.  Similarly, the DWR finish stopped working in what seemed like a matter of minutes.  These pants will not resist water.  They will dry quite quickly when wet, but introduce them to snow or light rain and you will be getting wet.  That being said, despite the balling up and fuzzing, they've actually withstood tears and micro-holes fairly well.


I expect a lot from my pants, so any product will have a hard time stacking up perfectly.  Overall, the Chockstone Pants are relatively well-designed--good fit, good material, and good durability.  I'd prefer a different zipper configuration and I'd love to see a pair that don't fuzz up instantly.  Despite these short-comings, the price point is quite low compared to comparable products from other companies, meaning that durability shortfalls are a bit more sufferable.  They're not perfect, and I don't think I'd call them my favorite, but they work, they last a good long while, and I can always afford another pair, so they're still in my rotation.