Pants are one of the most overlooked pieces of clothing a winter climber wears. As climbers we are looking for a piece of clothing that is breathable enough to keep you from overheating on an approach, flexible enough to climb in, and warm enough to keep you comfortable at any point between. We need something this versatile because it is so inconvenient to change or replace the layers on the lower half of our body than it is our top half. There are many times when I chose to wear a heavier set of pants and found myself drenched in sweat for a couple of hours after the walk to the climb or found it hard to move around in them when climbing. I’ve also worn lighter pants then I should have to and my lower half was cold all day. Cold legs seem to cause cold feet.
The Iceline Versa pants are Outdoor Research’s take on a venting, insulated, and weatherproof soft shells. This idea for pants could be useful for climbers in different weather, at different times of the day, doing different activities. This is not a the only pants that have these features, Arc’teryx Rush Pants and Black Diamond Dawn Patrol Pants both have similar features. With similar prices, why choose the Iceline Versa?
Firstly, these pants are warm. In single digit temperature I wore a light base layer underneath these pants and I was completely comfortable. This is due to the fleece grid on the inside of these pants. This ensures that there is a small air pocket for your legs to keep warm.
When you are moving and it is time to dump the heat and not get sweaty, there are 12 inch long zippered vents on the side of each thigh. These vents are what make these insulated pants so versatile. On long, uphill movements while carrying all of my gear I am able to open the vents and allow enough heat to escape to where I am not sweating. When the movement becomes less strenuous or stops, you can close the vents to maintain your heat. You don’t have to make a decision on whether you want to dress lightly to make the movement more comfortable or dress heavier to make yourself more comfortable standing still.
The pockets were in good locations. There are two zippered hip pockets and one zippered pocket behind the left thigh that replaces the back pockets. All of the pockets were usable while wearing a harness.
Moving down the pants, the leg openings are expandable by use of a zipper. In the typical configuration, these pants were tight from the knee down which made them seem more useful for climbing or moving around in the snow. However, being able to expand the leg openings allows them to accommodate ski boots as well, adding to their versatility.
Finally, the scruff guards at the bottom of the pants were a really useful feature. Despite how form fitting the are from the knee down, inevitably I crampon myself a couple times per outing on the walk to or from a climb.
To me, OR’s attempt to make the Iceline Versa one of the most versatile falls short when it comes to the integrated gators. When I first saw the design, I thought that it could be a unique and useful way to prevent snow from getting over and into your boots. I thought that it could be more convenient than using conventional gators and it could be a better design than the typical cuff design that is popular use on pants with integrated gators. The Iceline Versa uses an elastic bungee to go down around the bottom of your boot and hook onto the elastic on the other side.
As a general rule I try to stay away from products that rely on bungee cords because I know that it will last a couple years of moderate use before becoming worn and unusable. It seemed like OR took some extra precautions and put heat shrink tubing around the elastic to prevent it from getting worn out. Using this feature also takes the extra work of having to reach the end of the bungee, which is on the inside of the pants halfway up the calf. I found that the easiest way to do this is to expand the pant leg opening and fold the bottom up until the bungee hook is exposed.
Unfortunately, my distrust in bungee proved to be justified because after only 5 outings wearing these pants the nylon sheath of bungee has worn away and the individual rubber strands are exposed. I don’t know how long these strands will hold, but the way it looks after not much usage does not instill confidence. Although conventional gators could be worn instead of using the internal gators, it seems like other companies have figured out how to make integrated gators work. I am not sure why OR decided to go with this design or if durability was an issue in their testing.
The second, and more important con about these pants is the fit. I am 5’7” and 150 lbs and I typically wear a size 32×32 pants. I believe that I have a pretty average build, but for some reason the waist line was very loose and from the knee down it was very tight. I understand that these pants are made for climbers and they want to keep the material tight around the lower leg. I will also say that the material does flex when you move so it does not reduce your freedom of motion. However, for my body shape I did not like how they fit me. The pants do have belt loops and the ability to use OR’s $25 suspenders, so you have options. I don’t like wearing a belt on climbing pants because it gets in the way of wearing the hip straps on a pack or can get in the way of a harness. An adjustable waist would be a great feature to add to these pants.
These pants definitely have the potential to be the most versatile pants that you own. Even though the have some really great features such as the fleece grid and the vents, these are overshadowed by the fact that they don’t fit the average body shape too well and the issues with the gators. There are similar pants on the market that seem to have similar features without these downfalls. If you have a similar body type as I do and don’t like belts or suspenders, I would look elsewhere for a warm, ventable softshell.