Life is supposed to be simple in the mountains. I bet even Cheryl Cole packed sort of light for Kili. Rather than stacks of trousers designed for different activities and weather conditions, I'd much rather have one or two perfectly simple and really clever pairs that can multitask amazingly, are built to last and resist the elements. And are breathable, fit well, offer unrestricted movement, look good and have practical features. And make me cups of tea. Am I asking too much?
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Hiking across Europes biggest glacier to the unpronounceable top of Iceland, Hvannadalshnjukur
Being a gear reviewer can make it hard to be a minimalist - there's always new stuff to test - but I've become very attached to these Patagonia action pants over the winter, spring and even through into summer for cooler days. Comfy and versatile, I've found they can turn a leg to just about anything. I've worn them for everything from skiing the Haute Route to camping in Kenya, and from summer climbing to winter walking, without settling for second best on fit, dry time, breathability, warmth, durability, nice (but simple) features, quality, weather or crease resistance.
They may look a bit weedy for your needs if planning a trip somewhere cold; in fact the Simple Guides are the lightest stretch-woven, DWR-treated trousers in Patagonia's Alpine collection, as well as the most simply designed (the Alpine Guide Pants and the Lightweight Guide Pants feature winter extras including crampon/ ski-edge scuff guards and tie down loops at the hems, which are elasticated). However their simplicity and light weight means the Simple Guides are also the most versatile.
Some people like to wear a base layer straight under overtrousers for ski touring (of course every extra kilo you carry knocks 10% off your enjoyment of the descents, so you want to take as few changes of clothes and layers as hygienically possible!). I find base layers a bit claustrophic/clammy though. This winter I just wore the Simple Guides under lightweight over trousers. Although a bit heavier than base layer trousers this combination suited me well, and proved versatile as I could take the outer layer off for more breathability if needed. They also made better hut wear than a base layer, and because they repel muck and don't crease I didn't feel dirty while living in them for days either.
I also wore these wonder pants for enjoying the plentiful snow in Snowdonia and the Lakes earlier this year and, although the fabric is lightweight, I found them plenty warm enough and weather resistant enough for this (the overtrousers I brought 'just in case' generally stayed in my pack). I feel the cold, so I've also slept in the Simple Guides on a few camping/bivying in bothy trips. I liked them so much I continued wearing them into summer: the lightweight fabric and straight leg means they roll up very neatly to shorts.
What others say about the Patagonia Women's Simple Guide Pants:
"In my long hunt to find lightweight pants for the end of ski season & some cross country trekking in the snow, these were a perfect fit!”
“I'm pretty short (5'3") and thankfully these pants were not excessively long ... up on the mountain they were breathable yet very strong, comfortable and easy to move in yet warm (base layer underneath), and also kept me dry even though I took a few rolls in the snow!! Great, more modern fit as well. LOVE THEM!"
"here's my road-test: laying out for discs in 3 feet of snow for about an hour. They stayed super dry, were extremely warm, and afterwards I looked good enough to have dessert at the neighbors' house. I am excited to wear these for more serious sports!"
The Simple Guides have straight legs and a 'Slim Fit' style. They fit my 30” legs perfectly (not so good if you're tall). Some research proved they've had a revamp this season, after Patagonia listened to their customers. The trousers used to have more flared legs (less practical for rolling them up and seeing what you're doing!) and a waistband which, as one reviewer put it, was adjusted with a 'non-stretchy shoe-lace'. The updated Simple Guide Pants feature a neat waistband that is elasticated just at the back. At the front it's flat and smooth, and there's a simple zip and button fly. The waistband fits securely without being restricting even when climbing; it has never needed 'hutching up'. The belt loops are apparently also a new addition, but they're unobtrusive if you don't wear a belt.
Patagonia Simple Guides
The fabric is 91% recycled polyester plus 9% spandex, which gives them enough stretch to give with your every stride and climbing move. You can also recycle them once they're worn out, through Patagonia's Common Threads Program. Whereas some gear companies skirt around the environmental bush, Patagonia are up there at the forefront of the debate and doing plenty to help, so you can feel good about supporting the brand. Though lightweight, the fabric is very durable. It is showing no signs of wear after several months of hard, regular use, washes like a rag, never creases and certainly doesn't need ironing; even if you sleep in them they look fine the next day. The Simple Guides are great for packing, as you can cram them in your bag and they come out looking pristine.
The Simple Guides are treated with Patagonia's proprietary durable water repellent fabric finish, Deluge DWR. So far I've found that grass, moss, lichen, chalky fingerprints, ming on climbing routes and mud just brush off the fabric when it's dry. The best weather test these trousers experienced was on an 11 hour hike across Europe's biggest glacier to Iceland's highest peak. The first three hours of the hike was in ming, drizzly but not cold weather. These trousers didn't cling uncomfortably to my legs, and I could see most of the rain beading off them, so I didn't put overtrousers on. I was feeling that it was going to be a very boring, trudgy hike, and then we reached the snow line and emerged above the mist in sun. My trousers instantly dried, were comfy and breathable in the hot sun (apparently a rare treat in Iceland!) and they resisted the strong winds we experienced in places. Thumbs up! I want several pairs in different colours!
The pockets are laser cut, welded on and then stitched. They look very neat, and lie flat. The zips are all water resistant. The material on the inside of the pockets is mesh so you can upzip to vent if you need to. This mesh is soft, and there's also a microfleece lined waistband, so the trousers feel really comfy as soon as you pull them on.
Not many. Some reviewers haven't liked the elasticated back, but I do. The Simple Guide Pants may not fit you if you are tall. That's it.
As you can tell, I really like these trousers!
More info on the Patagonia website.
UKC Articles and Gear Reviews by Sarah Stirling: