I’m just going to come out and say it: not all women’s climbing pants are created equally.
When I first started rock climbing I had no idea just how much of an investment the hobby would end up being; first it was the harness and the shoes, then it became a rope and various packs, and before I knew it I was happily dropping $90 on climbing specific jeans. I am by no means trying to say that you need special pants in order to rock climb, and I am fully aware that not everyone is able to buy sport-specific gear. That being said, I’ve tried on a lot of pairs of climbing pants over the years and I want to share what I’ve learned with you.
The prices vary from omg-am-I-really-spending-that-much-on-pants to surprisingly affordable, and I’m even including a few pairs that didn’t make the cut so you don’t make the same mistakes that I did.
Before we jump right into the pant reviews, I want to share some information that’s good to consider when searching for the perfect outdoor clothes – whether its pants, a shirt, a jacket, or more. I’ve divided each thing to consider into a subsection below, and I hope this empowers you while you’re out shopping.
What is the piece of clothing made of? This is incredibly important depending on what type of climbing you enjoy the most. If you primarily climb in a gym, stretchable materials like spandex are ideal because they allow a full range of motion, and can double as yoga pants or everyday wear. If you enjoy crack climbing outside, you should invest in a really thick and durable pair of pants that can withstand constant abrasion against rough rock.
When I get dressed to climb, I think about what I’ll be doing and choose my pants accordingly. I wouldn’t wear a pair of yoga pants to certain crags, because I know the rocks are textured and will rip right through the material. When I climbed Devils Tower National Monument, I wore my Boulder Denim jeans because they had a lot of stretch but were thick enough to get the job done.
Where do you live? Where do you climb the most? Are you mainly inside or outside? All of these questions can give you a good idea of the type of weather you mainly climb in, which in turn influences the kind of pants you should buy.
For example, when I lived in Florida and climbed at the Tallahassee Rock Gym, it was hot and humid almost year round. During that time I opted for thin, stretchy spandex capris and shorts in order to stay cool. When I moved out West and started climbing during the fall and winter, I started to buy thicker pants in order to keep warm.
Another factor that is related to weather is how baggy or tight you want your pants to be. If you’re planning on doing alpine climbs, try to buy pants that are loose enough to fit a pair of leggings or a baselayer underneath.
Try to estimate the level of exposure to the elements you’ll have while climbing. Would you need sun protection? Will the wind be a factor? This can help you decide how long or thick your pants should be.
For example, my REI Taereen pants are lightweight and moisture-wicking, which makes them perfect for sunny days when I don’t want my legs exposed but I don’t want to be too hot. Also, if it starts to rain before, during, or after my climb I’ll still be comfortable.
This one might not seem too important, but the pockets are often the downfall of women’s gear. It’s good to think about how long you’ll be out climbing, and if pockets would be helpful or not. If you’re doing a multipitch climb, it might be nice to have deep or zippered pockets to store your keys or a snack, so you won’t need to bring a backpack. Climbing at a gym, on the other hand, doesn’t necessarily require pockets at all.
Lastly, think about how a harness would fit over the top of your pants. This obviously only pertains to rope climbers, but it’s worth considering nonetheless. I personally don’t like wearing a harness over a pair of shorts, because the shorts tend to ride up and the harness rubs against my thighs. With that in mind, I only buy a pair of shorts if I know I’ll boulder in them.
REI Taereen pants: $64.95
REI’s Taereen pants were the first pair of outdoor pants that I ever bought, and that purchase marked the beginning of my transition towards prioritizing technical clothing over cheap clothing. I had originally bought these pants for hiking, but after trying them on I knew they would be perfect for climbing. I have religiously worn them day after day for almost a year now, and they have withstood countless kneebars and off-width ascents without tearing in the slightest. The Taereen pants are breathable, moisture-wicking, and fashionable enough to be worn outside the crag without getting weird looks.
Sadly, these pants are no longer available on REI’s website, but I’m sure you can find a pair on poshmark or REI’s used website if you really want them. The pair that I own is in the color peppercorn and I always get complimented on them.
Prana Sage Jogger pants
The Prana Sage Jogger pants were the second pair of hiking-specific pants that I bought, and I anticipated them to double as climbing pants. Unfortunately, the cut of the pants did not lend them towards performing well during rock climbing; they get slimmer and tighter around the ankles, which I found restricted my movements when I tried to get a high foot hold. That being said, the pants were extremely lightweight and breathable, which makes them perfect for hiking. I recently sold my Sage Joggers because I never wore them, and I don’t think I would recommend them for someone who is looking for a solid pair of climbing pants.
Like the Taereen pants, these are no longer available on REI’s website or on Prana’s website, so it might be difficult to find them if you want to give them a try.
Boulder Denim jeans: $109
My Boulder Denim jeans are by far the most expensive pair of pants I have ever bought or will ever buy, but I regret absolutely nothing. The local climbing gym in Tallahassee had a Boulder Denim demo once which allowed gym members to try on the jeans and learn more about them from the creators themselves, and even though I had a pretty hefty employee discount at the time I couldn’t bring myself to drop so much money on a pair of jeans. I left the demo empty handed but followed BD on social media, which was how I learned about their kickstarter for “Boulder Denim 2.0.”
Supporters of the kickstarter were given the opportunity to spend only $90 for a pair of their revolutionized jeans and a t-shirt, and I jumped on it. After almost a year of waiting I received my jeans in the mail and fell head over heels in love with them. These pants stretch like nobody’s business, are water-resistant, and can withstand any type of rock you throw at them. The only complaint I have is how long the inseam is – I had to roll up the pants four times in order to have them sit at my ankles – but my friend Julianne kindly hemmed them for me and it made a huge difference.
Patagonia Venga Rock pants: $89
I was emboldened by my success with the REI Taereen pants and went out on a limb to order a pair of the famed Patagonia Venga Rock pants. I had read rave reviews online of the lightweight pants but had never seen anyone wear them in person either at the crag or at the gym, and as soon as the package arrived I instantly knew why. The Venga Rock pants have an extremely weird cut that did not look flattering in the slightest on my body, and the fabric felt uncomfortable and stiff. I tried again with a different size and still felt like the pants were not designed with the average woman’s body in mind.
As disappointing as the women’s Venga Rock pants were, John owns two of the men’s version and he loves them. The fabric has faded and ripped over the course of his owning them, but John is extremely rough on his gear so I’m not entirely sure if Patagonia is at fault for that. I own and love a variety of Patagonia products, but the Venga Rock pants simply aren’t for me.
Prana Pillar 7/8 leggings: $69
I had never bought an expensive pair of leggings until I splurged on the Prana Pillar 7/8 leggings. Don’t get me wrong, cheap leggings have gotten the job done for me in the past (as you’ll learn later in this post), but as soon as I put on the Pillar 7/8 leggings I understood what all of the hype was about. These leggings are thick enough to not tear yet they aren’t unbearably hot, and despite several washes they haven’t started to pill like cheaper leggings do.
I got the 7/8 version of Prana’s popular Pillar leggings because I’m only 5’4″, and they fit me perfectly. I have mad respect for Prana because almost all of their clothing is available in petite and plus sizes, and the 7/8 version of their pants are ideal for short girls like me.
Prana Janessa pants: $89
I tried on a pair of Janessa pants when I visited the Prana store in Boulder, and I couldn’t walk away without buying them. I mainly fell in love with the “light curry” color and the fit, but when I wore them to the crag one day after work I realized that these pants have great climbing potential. The thickness of the pants means they can withstand crack climbing, but they are surprisingly breathable when you take into account the fabric. The only downside is that it’s hard to get stains out of them; even after multiple washes you can still see where the rope rubbed against my legs during a multi-pitch climb.
Old Navy athletic pants: $12 – $40
Before I entered the world of high-quality outdoor pants I was an avid supporter of Old Navy leggings. Old Navy has a variety of colors, patterns, cuts, and styles available for a decent price, especially if you shop during one of their many sales. The leggings rarely survive tough climbs or numerous runs through the washing machine, but the fact that they’re affordable makes it bearable when you have to get rid of a pair.
Target high waisted jeans
I bought a pair of high waisted jeans from the clearance rack at Target and have had a lot of success climbing in them. The pair that I found was extremely stretchy, so it was no big deal for me to get a high foot or a drop-knee while wearing them, and the high waist actually made wearing the harness more comfortable.
I’m including these jeans in this post because I want to reiterate the fact that the gear doesn’t make or break the climber. If all you have is a pair of denim jeans from Target then wear them and crush it anyways.
Target athletic shorts: $17
I never felt confident enough to buy a pair of athletic shorts until recently, but as soon as I did they quickly became my favorite climbing pants. Athletic shorts are perfect for humid days at the rock gym in Tallahassee or sunny outings to a crag in Colorado, and I have never had any issues with the harness and shorts combo. Similarly to the Old Navy athletic pants, the shorts don’t hold up well after consistent use, but the price makes up for that.
I’ve definitely tried on my fair share of climbing pants, but I don’t plan on stopping anytime soon. There are plenty of pants that I’ve had my eye on for quite awhile now, and as soon as I have to retire a pair I’ll probably replace it with one of these.
- Prana Halle pants. The Halle pants by Prana have been on my wish list ever since I saw a pair at TRG. The fabric looks stretchy, durable, and water-resistant, and the pants are available in adorable colors for a variety of body types. Price: $85.
- Backcountry Double Dyno pants. I saw an ad for Backcountry’s Double Dyno pants on Instagram and was instantly drawn to the eggplant color and the comfy waistband. The hefty price means I probably won’t own a pair until Christmas rolls around or I find a better paying job, but if I could choose a pair of pants to own right now this would be the pair. Price: $99.95.
- Girlfriend leggings. You’ve probably seen ads from the Girlfriend Collective leggings all over Instagram – I know I have! – and while I usually scroll past ads as fast as I possibly can, I’m always intrigued by these leggings whenever they come across my feed. The gorgeous colors are what initially caught my eye, but as I dug deeper into the brand I learned that all of their activewear is made from either recycled water bottles or recycled fishing nets. If you’re interested in getting a pair of leggings use this code to get $10 off any order over $98! Price: $68.
- Mountain Hardwear Dynama pants. The Dynama pants by Mountain Hardwear look like a cross between leggings and technical pants, which is why I was interested in them in the first place. I’m very skeptical of the cut of these pants, so I definitely won’t order them online unless I can try them on in person or have guaranteed free returns, but if the reviews are accurate then these are an up and coming pair of pants in the climbing world. Price: $70.
I want to wrap up this post by once again stating that having nice gear doesn’t make you a better or more legitimate climber. I used what I had available to me for a long time before I started buying climbing-specific clothing, and even now I sometimes gravitate towards my cheaper pants as opposed to the expensive pairs.
My relationship with clothing has evolved a lot over the past few years, and I’m planning on writing a blog post soon about why spending more is usually better for your wallet and the environment in the long run. Keep an eye out for that post in my Trash Talk series!
Update: my post on sustainable clothing is finally up! Click here to check it out.
At the end of the day, as long as what you’re wearing empowers you to get outside and do what you love that’s all that matters. So throw on some pants and get out there and send it!
Do you have a favorite pair of climbing pants? Let me know in the comments, or shoot me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. All photos in this post were taken by me unless otherwise specified in the caption. Header photo by Julianne Mahoney.