AT A GLANCE:
PROS: Light, comfortable, ridiculously tough
CONS: Strange pocket configuration on cargo, no security pocket, Expensive (but you get what you pay for!)
SHOULD I BUY THEM: YES. Oh my God, yes.
X-Treme Adventure Pants
PROS: All the pros of the VersaTacs, plus a great security pocket
CONS: Cinch cuff tends to ride up over boots, fussy belt loop, fewer pockets than VersaTacs.
SHOULD I BUY THEM: If you don’t mind the Cinch cuff, YES.
I could write a 50,000 word love letter to these two pairs of pants. Since I got my first pair in 2010 they have been my constant companions. Being a field biologist, I’ve owned pants from every brand you can imagine. Arc’Teryx, Mountain Hardware, Patagonia, you name it, and none of them have held up as well as these pants have. Long story short: if you are a hiker, if you travel a lot, or if you demand that your gear actually lasts, you need to own at least one of these pairs of pants.
First we need to get a couple of things straight though. As far as I can tell, Rail Riders is a brand by hikers for hikers (FHBH?). This is the place they really differentiate themselves from the other main outdoor apparel brands. Outdoors gear has bifurcated recently: Some brands have moved away from performance towards “life style” gear (looking at you, North Face), while those that have kept producing top notch gear have a more alpine focus. This leaves hikers in a rough spot. You can either buy crap that will fall apart quickly or gear that is really designed for climbing in mind. This climbing based gear generally works fine, but, since the demands of hiking and climbing are different there is always some compromise. Hikers, especially those who work off trail, need gear that handles brush well, not gear that allows us to reach for that next hand hold.
This is Rail Riders niche, and they do it very, very well.
So why do this review together? Because these pants actually have a ton in common. They are both made of the same materials (3oz, two ply nlyon), both have fully gusseted crotches, and both have reinforced seats and knees. As far as I can tell, both are indestructible. Therefore, in the end which works for you will really be based on which style you like better.
As I said above, the main features of these pants are similar. Fundamentally, they only differ in three areas: Pockets, Belts, and Cuffs.
Both pants have nice, deep front pockets capable of holding just about anything you would want to put in them. The Adventure Pants use a fairly standard, though zippered, pocket system with one hidden surprise…
Can you see it? It’s a zippered security pocket on behind the main pocket on the right side. I cannot tell you how valuable this has been to me while traveling. Stick a passport, or something else you don’t want to lose, in there, pull up the zipper, and the pocket simply disappears. In exchange for this zippered pocket configuration, the VersaTacs add a complicated cargo system which is accessible through the main pocket or a front zipper.
To be honest, this zipper is the only thing I don’t like about these pants. The Rail Riders media claims this is so the pocket is accessible while driving, but to me it just seems like another place that things can fall out of. Luckily the VersaTacs make up for this with a a “cell phone pocket” located behind the main cargo pocket.
While I have thrown a cell phone in here from time to time, the open top always makes me nervous. Instead, I find it to be an amazing place to store maps for quick access when working off trail. Used this way this pocket has saved me countless stops where I would have otherwise had to take my pack off to get to my maps.
As shown above the VersaTacs have a fairly normal belting system. On the Adventure Pants belts have to pass through a long, fairly thin belt loop on the back which really limits you if you want to use belts wider than the one included.
This is the big one: The main reason I prefer the VersaTacs to the Adventure Pants is this abomination: The adventure pants have a cinching cuff system at the bottom of the pant leg. This doesn’t seem like such a bad thing until a mile into your hike the cuffs have worked there way from “comfortably covering your boot” to “on top of the bootline,” thus guaranteeing that every little piece of debris works its way into your boot. The Rail Riders website claims the cuff reduces the need for gaiters, but if anything I feel the opposite is true: once the cuff has worked its way above the boot line gaiters are required. This is nit-picking though. If the VersaTacs didn’t exists the other positives of the Adventure Pants would still be more than enough to keep me happy.
TAKE HOME MESSAGE:
Both these pants are amazing. They represent the very pinnacle of hiking clothing currently available. 2,000 miles, split across both pants, in and I have only had one failure: the crotch seem of the VersaTacs had to be resewn. Otherwise, 5 years of globe trotting, field work, and relentless hiking has barely made a dent in these things. Personally I prefer the VersaTacs, but among people I know with the pants opinion seems to be divided by whether you like or dislike the cinching cuff on the Adventure Pants. Some people love it, I’m just not one of them.
For travel, the story is a little different. Yes, these are indestructible, they pack small, they dry quickly, and the security pocket on the Adventure Pants is great, but you probably don’t want to head to a nice restaurant in them. Adventure travel, sure. Something more social, probably not.
More importantly, these pants show what can be done when a company focuses on making hiking specific gear. I love me some Arc’Teryx, but the fact of the matter is that for hiking I would much rather give up a little leg articulation to have an indestructible pant with giant pockets. Are these the pants I would pick if I doing a technical trip up some un-climbed route? Of course not, but that’s not what I do. I hike, and for hiking Rail Riders is simply the best.
THE PANTS IN ACTION
Full disclosure: I bought these pants on my own and Rail Riders has given me no incentives at all to do this review!
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