Whether I’m backpacking, canoeing or kayaking I want a pair of pants that fits comfortably, dries quickly, packs small, looks good, offers functional pockets and is light. Typically, I end up using a pair of nylon hiking pants. In fact, I found a style I feel in love with over 10 years ago and bought three of them. Those are still going strong. Recently, I had the opportunity to test Wintergreen Northern Wear’s Boundary Waters Shell pants. Over the years, I’ve heard great things about these pants from friends who either worked for the original owners guiding dog-sledding trips or from friends who used them on expeditions. The common theme: The best pair of pants that they’ve owned. My question was are they better than my favorite?
Wintergreen makes the Boundary Waters Shell in two fabrics, either 3-ply nylon in black or 2-ply nylon in khaki. I tested the 2-ply version and all my friends that own them use the 2-ply vs. the 3-ply winter versions. Wintergreen buys the fabric from a U.S. company and sews them in Ely, Minnesota. That means that they’re made in the U.S.A. Being an American, I can get behind that because there are so few garment companies that still make all their products in the U.S. The fabric itself feels like Suplex, which is a softer, light nylon that dries quickly – often within 30 minutes when worn. Since I started testing these, I’ve worn been several times a week, while hiking, paddling and during a recent 3-day long recertification of my Wilderness First Responder training – during lots of simulations, in the rain. They look as good as new. In fact, my friend’s pants look new other than stains from heavy use. You can tell that whoever sewed my pants were well-trained and proud of their work.
My waist typically ranges from 34 to 36 depending on the time of year, so I ended up getting a 36. It fit perfectly both in waist and in the length. The pant features both knee and seat reinforcement, and the knee reinforcement lines up perfectly with my knees. The gusseted crotch fits and works well. It allows for high steps without any binding. I’d have no problem wearing these pants climbing in addition to paddling. The pants come with a simple nylon belt that uses a side-release buckle. To be nit-picky, I wish the buckle was a smaller flat plastic buckle.
A far as moving with my body, I found no faults. And after using the pants for weeks, I found no faults in any of the features, although it took some time to realize why some things are as they are in these pants. The two most puzzling features are the Velcro cuffs and the pockets. Becky Stacey, one of the company’s owners, said, “The Velcro around the bottom has been used to keep weeds and critters out of your pant legs while you are portaging or walking ‘off the beaten path’.” I can buy that, especially after talking to two of my dog-sledding guide friends who mentioned that it also works well to keep out the snow. The pockets seems a bit more puzzling to me. They’re offset to the side of the pants and sit higher than a typical cargo pocket but lower than hand pockets. When I asked Becky about the pockets and the lack of hand pockets, she said, “The Schurkes [original owners] preferred the larger cargo pockets on the sides of the legs for ease of access when you are in the canoe – rather than hand pockets higher on the seams.” At first, they annoyed me, but after I got used to them, I realized that the placement is actually genius. It keeps everything off the front of your leg and allows you to move around freely. I experienced this one night when shooting pictures of a local band. I didn’t want to carry my photography backpack, so I stuffed a heavy lens in each pocket. As I moved around the venue, between dancers and up and down stairs, I hardly noticed anything in the pockets at all. You can load them up with a ton of stuff and not even notice. Although there is no Velcro holding the top of the pockets closed, an overlapping flap keeps everything inside. I haven’t lost anything, including change, out of the pockets.
I love these pants. In fact, I like them better than my old stand-bys and have been wearing them often. They are definitely one of the best pants that I’ve ever owned.
Wintergreen Northern Wear Boundary Waters Shell Pants: $158 | More Info