Rock climbing is a sport that places intense demands on your body. You can often find yourself in contorted positions, using your feet to keep yourself levered into place. This requires clothing that is form-fitting enough that it does not catch on rock surfaces, but also does not bind up on or pinch your skin. For top-rope and lead climbing, your pants need to be comfortable when worn with a climbing harness.
Demands of Rock Climbing
Highly specialized pants are not a requirement for rock climbing the way purpose-built shoes are. However, climbing in jeans or workout clothes can cause discomfort. Climbing pants need to balance ventilation and insulation to help regulate your body temperature. Because you are climbing on rock or a similarly abrasive surface, they must also be thick enough to protect you from scrapes and scratches. Finally, your pants must allow for freedom of movement in any position.
Many climbing pants are made in a shorter than normal length. Placement of your feet on footholds, as well as finding footholds, is easier when the cuffs of your pants are well above your ankle. Several manufacturers offer convertible pants, which allow the lower half of the pant leg to be zipped off to make shorts. Length is also a consideration for shorts. They should be long enough to provide protection from chafing from your climbing harness.
Seams and Material
Top rope and lead climbing requires you to wear a harness. The seams of climbing pants often are where the harness straps will not bind against them or cause pinching. Climbing pants must strike a balance between ventilation and insulation because conditions can change quickly while you are climbing, and your pants are impossible to change mid-pitch. The material must also be flexible enough to move with you, and tough enough to resist abrading. Cotton tends to absorb moisture, becoming heavy and soggy, and can also chafe under the harness straps. Synthetic, nylon-based fabrics wick the moisture away from your body and can be blended with stretchier fabrics to improve fit and comfort.
Cost and the Final Choice
Cost and comfort are the ultimate factors in choosing the best climbing pants. Fit is also important. Different manufacturers size their pants to their own measurements, so pants might be comfortable for one body type but not another. The best way to determine the most comfortable fit is to try different pants on and climb in them, though this is not always possible unless your local climbing gym has a pro shop.
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