sherpa khumbu trail pants

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Not Your Ordinary Trail Wear: Hiking Jeans, Yoga Tops and the Best Beanies Ever!

You’re probably pretty familiar with many of the popular outdoor apparel brands, what they have to offer, and how they perform on trail. This year, we decided to give some of the smaller, lesser-known outdoor apparel brands a try and see how they stacked up against the traditional faves. This summer, our team hit the trails in a selection of distinctive outdoor apparel from DU/ER, Kari Traa and Sherpa. At the end of the season, we were just as impressed with the gear’s performance as we were with each brand’s commitments to the outdoor community, social issues, and the environment.

du/er live free adventure pant
A chilly day on Oregon's Chinidere Mountain, in DU/ER's Live Free Adventure Pants.

DU/ER

Hike in Jeans? Yeah, hike in jeans. DU/ER began as a Kickstarter company in Vancouver, BC in 2013. It was the brainchild of cyclist Gary Lennet, who had a vision of combining casual fashion apparel with functional outdoor wear. Their first product was the L2X Performance Denim pant, which combined cotton, CoolMax polyester and lycra to create a stretchy, breathable pair of jeans that was designed to be just as comfortable as it was purposeful. With the success of their Performance Denim, they expanded their selection of outdoor apparel, with a mind toward both environmental and social consciousness by employing sustainable manufacturing methods, reducing waste, and providing supportive work environments.

We first started hiking in DU/ER’s Performance Denim last year. Admittedly, our use has been mostly on dayhikes and short backpacks, but for these we’ve been quite impressed. These jeans are light and stretchy for excellent mobility, and nicely breathable for keeping cool on trail—even when grinding up some big hills. And best of all, no chafing! We really like their slim, casual style for getting in some trail time, then heading straight to dinner or the pub—no change required. We’ve also gotten out in DU/ER’s Stay Dry Denim. These have the same stretch and breathability as the Performance Denim, but are treated with a water-repellent finish. These have been great for getting out in light rain, and for tromping through wet brush, however not a suitable substitute for actual rain pants in wetter conditions.

While the jeans were great, we really loved DU/ER’s Live Free Adventure Pant. These are constructed of durable, moisture-wicking TENCEL fabric, and are both odor and water resistant. Their fit is pretty slim, but they have a soft, cottony feel that provides exceptional comfort, and are extra-stretchy for easy movement, especially when clambering over trail debris or maneuvering over rocks and scree. The large thigh pockets are also nice for trail maps, smartphones and a snack bar or two. We’ve only been hiking in these for a short time, but we plan on taking them a long way. Denim pants are available in men’s and women’s styles; the Live Free is available in men’s styles only, but women can try the comparable Live Lite Jogger. $120–$142

Kari Traa Eva LS
Hiking Oregon's Eagle Cap Wilderness in Kari Traa's Eva LS Top.

Kari Traa

A three-time Olympic skiing medalist, Kari Traa was born and raised in the fjords of Norway. When she wasn’t training, she was customizing her own skiwear for better fit and function. In 2002, she turned her interest in functional women’s outdoor wear into her own company, with a focus on high-performance, creative designs, and bold colors. Designed exclusively for women, Kari Traa takes pride in their tagline, “For Women, By Women.” While most of Kari Traa’s apparel is designed for yoga, training and winter sports, quite a few of her garments are just as effective for use on the trail, including underwear, moisture-wicking baselayers, leggings, and a variety of wind and rain shells.

Starting from the inside out, our ladies loved the Var Sports Bra. Made with a wide chest elastic and adjustable shoulder straps, it provided plenty of support, while creating a flattering figure—i.e., no smashed chest. Most impressive was its moisture-wicking ability, which kept it dry and comfortable, even on long, sweaty hiking days. Another item our team enjoyed was the Tikse Singlet. This lightweight wool tank was great by itself on warmer days, or as a baselayer on the cooler days. The fabric was much softer, stretchier, and more comfortable than some other popular wool brands, and its ability to wick away moisture and resist odors—even after several days without washing—was impressive. 

For layering up, our team pulled on the Eva LS top. Made of super-soft, DriRelease wool, this longsleeve layering piece was nice on chilly mornings, cool evenings, and light and breathable enough to wear on the move without overheating. Its seamless construction and 4-way stretch was nice for easy movement under pack straps, or between multiple layers for not bulking or binding, and its slightly longer length was nice for not riding up. Our team found Kari Traa’s sizing to be on the slim side and more form-fitting, so if you like a looser fit, they recommend sizing up. $40–$50

sherpa Kalpana Hike Tights
On the trail in Sherpa's Kalpana Hike Tights, in Oregon's Wallowa Mountains.

Sherpa Adventure Gear

Founded in 2003, Sherpa Adventure Gear honors Nepal’s Sherpa people, who proudly incorporate the wisdom and traditions of their people into their brand and craftsmanship, namely strength, integrity, community and environmental stewardship, to name just a few. After all, their garments need to be worthy of the harsh conditions in which they’re used, and the demanding standards of the mountaineers who use it. In addition to quality outdoor wear, Sherpa provides economic and social stability to the people of Nepal by providing safe and ethical work environments and educational opportunities for future generations. We like that.    

This summer, one of our ladies hit the trail in Sherpa’s Kalpana Hike Tights. Nepali for “dream,” they were just that—super-soft, super-comfortable, and super-flexible. The breathable, Supplex/spandex fabric kept things cool, even on sweaty days and big climbs, and they especially liked the high waistband, which was nice for wide stepping, bending and scrambling without feeling like the pants were coming down. One of our male testers got out in the Khumbu Trail Pants (main photo) and were equally impressed. These stretchy, lightweight, nylon/spandex pants feature a gusseted crotch and articulated knees for exceptional freedom of movement, and not binding in the sensitive spots. They also feature a DWR finish, which was nice for shedding light rain and moisture.

Perhaps our favorite piece of Sherpa Adventure Gear, however, is our knit beanie. We’ve had it for so long, we don’t even remember what the style name is. It’s blue. It’s made of hand-knit wool, with a microfleece liner, and has kept our noggin warm and toasty for years. Obviously, it goes with us on every hike. Sherpa’s beanies are made in a variety of traditional styles and colors for both men and women, and are designed to last. We’ve found that most of Sherpa’s sizing runs a little on the small, slim side, so if you like a little extra breathing room, consider sizing up. $30–$80       

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These reviews are based on the field results of PCT: Oregon’s gear testing team. Reviews are subjective, and individual results may vary based on a variety of factors, including, but not limited to, temperature, elevation, wind chill and humidity, as well as personal body comfort preferences.
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