In the BWCA, I want pants that feel comfortable while sitting in a canoe, that dry quickly because I end up stepping out of the canoe into the water often at portages, look good for pictures and keep stuff such as compasses and maps handy for when I need it. At least, that’s my criteria for picking a pair of pants. Recently, Piragis, a retail store in Ely, Minnesota, sent me a pair of their Boundary Waters Pants to review. I put the pants through the paces starting with snowshoes hikes in the winter and finishing with spring paddling.
Piragis makes the Boundary Waters Pants out of a comfortable 70/30-percent cotton/nylon blend. It uses a DWR surface treatment to help prevent water from soaking the cotton fabric. The DWR performs double-duty by helping to resist stains. To revitalize the DWR, you wash the pants or lightly iron them. The dirtier the pants get, the less the DWR works. Steve Piragis, the store’s owner, says about the fabric, “Cliff [Jacobson] and I feel like it’s the perfect blend of fast drying with some spark resistance and a cool soft cotton hand. Most people think the fabric is extremely comfortable.” After several months of testing, the fabric looks new, and despite having worn them around fire, I didn’t notice any holes from sparks. All my old nylon hiking pants have small holes from sparks.
I found the fit feels generous. I typically run about 34 to 36 in the waist depending on the time of year. I ordered in a 36 and found that around the waist it’s a bit large. But it’s hard to tell, because the waist band elastic shrinks or expands as required. I needed to use a belt to hold the pants up. I’ve been a 34 in length since high school, and still fit that way in all my jeans. I noticed that the Piragis Boundary Water pants ran long on me by about 2 inches. There are no zippers at the cuffs, so hemming them is a good option if you want to fine tune the fit. The reinforcements in the knee, seem to ride just a bit low on me. When I asked Steve about that and whether the knee patch varies in placement between the pant sizes, he said, “The knee patch does vary by size slightly. We all seem to vary in femur length so it’s hard to get it perfect for everyone.” I imagine with a 32-inch inseam my fit problems would have been fixed. Maybe I’m shrinking.
Despite the generous fit, I did notice that the front of my legs across my thighs felt slightly tight. The pockets are deep, but I didn’t feel like I could load them up because they bound across the front of my leg and I’d feel everything that I put into them. It’s not an issue with just a map and compass, but you’re not going to load these like a cargo pocket, and that’s the idea behind the pants. They’re designed to look clean and not have a bulky cargo pocket loaded up with a bunch of stuff. I liked the zippered secondary front pocket. It made me feel like my keys were safe.
Overall, I felt that the pants fit more like a cross between slacks and a pair of hiking pants. They felt more casual than a pair of slacks, but more formal than hiking pants. Something that I can imagine I could wear comfortably around the cabin, but still look acceptable for a trip into the most formal restaurant in Grand Marais.
I felt a bit skeptical going into the test, because the pants are cotton. I’m a firm believer in the old mountaineering saying, “Cotton kills.” When cotton gets wet, it doesn’t provide any insulation, it sucks heat from your body and it takes forever to dry. However, on these pants, the DWR surprised me. It actually kept the pants fairly dry, and water beaded off the surface. At the end of the day the only areas that got really wet were the cuffs; it took about four hours to dry out. The performance felt acceptable to me for warmer trips into the Boundary Waters. Tim Stouffer, Marketing Director and Webmaster for Piragis, pointed out that “Comfort is key for our design, most people take canoe trips in the heat of the year, July and August, so we tailored our design towards this when quick dry for safety sake is not normally an issue.”
Because I live in Grand Marais and my busy work season is during the time when the majority of people vacation in the BWCA, I can’t get away for a summer trip. I tend to do trips during the cold and wet shoulder seasons. During that time of year, I rely on my clothing to keep me warm and dry. Any pant that I take into the BWCA during that time of year, needs to dry quickly and retain warmth when wet. I’m not sure that I’d use these for trips during the cold and wet shoulder season, and I would need more testing to find out. For summer trips, the pants feels fine and would be a big improvement over jeans or other cotton pants. Especially, since the DWR is so effective.
I enjoyed testing the Boundary Waters pants. The fabric feels comfortable, the pockets are big enough for a map and compass and they do look good. They look so good that I felt that if I still wore a tie to work in the corporate world I could get away with wearing these pants to work to show my interest in the outdoors. I liked wearing them around town and during day-long hikes or trips. For warm-weather tripping in the BWCA, if you want the feel of cotton combined with water resistance, then these pants might be your ticket.
Piragis Boundary Waters Pants: $69 | More Info