DUOFOLD VARITHERM 390 PANTS
TEST SERIES BY KEN NORRIS
March 26, 2009
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kenjennorris at yahoo dot com
Redmond, Washington, USA
5' 5" (1.65 m)
170 lb (77.10 kg)
I have been hiking and backpacking for the past twelve years, going on the occasional overnighter or day hike. In the past year or so, I have begun night hiking and long day hikes (twenty miles [32 km] or more), with an emphasis on light pack weight and speed. These trips center on Washington's Central Cascades (terrain characterized by steep inclines and "moist" conditions) and the Oregon outback (areas classified as high desert).
PRODUCT INFORMATION & SPECIFICATIONS
November 19, 2008
Year of Manufacture: 2008
Manufacturer's Website: Duofold
Listed Weight: n/a
Measured Weight: 6.28 oz (178 g)
I love wool. A couple of years ago I switched from cotton "performance" socks to wool athletic socks. My reasons? Durability, comfort, and warmth. I found that wool stood up against the wear and tear of hiking. It breathes, not holding all of my sweat in. I was tired of being both wet and cold. Now I'm just wet. Technology has made wool a non-itchy alternative. The Duofold Varitherm ankle-length pants may expand my adoration for wool: they are light. Duofold has blended polyester (84%), Merino wool (11%), and spandex (5%) into what they call "high-activity protection." This protection amounts to a single layers of material, excluding the ankles and the waist, which are composed of two layers. The stitching looks strong -- flatlock seams to be exact. The material, though made of spandex in part, acts more like cotton in terms of how it falls against the skin.
Duofold has labeled the packaging to suggest that the ankle-length pants are suitable for snow sports, running, hiking, and cycling. I have no problem granting the first and third assertions: any base layer has it applications to snow sports and hiking. But I'll be curious to see how the running assertion turns out.
TRYING IT OUT
Before putting on the pants, I expected them to fit like my spandex equivalents, compressing in addition to providing warmth. Such is not the case. While the fit is accurate in terms of the labeled size, the material does not compress to the same degree that 100% spandex does. It does not bunch, though, and that's all I ask of a base layer.
I wore the pants for a day around the house as a base layer under some cargo pants. I never itched or really even noticed I had them on. They also added some extra warmth, but not so much that I was too hot. This prompts me to wonder whether or not they provide a static level of warmth or heat up under physical exertion.
In testing the Varitherm ankle-length pants, I will focus on two aspects: 1.Comfort 2. Functionality
The biggest key with any base layer is comfort. I must be able to pile on the layers without the closest layer becoming a nuisance. If it is not true to size, it could constrict movement or bunch up under my other clothes. Excessive length can lead to uncomfortable rubbing, sagging in relation to the outer layer, or bunching at the ankles. Repetitive movements over long distances at brisk speeds will bring the issue of comfort to the foreground.
In the case of my intended use, I rank functionality even higher than comfort. I can endure a base layer that does not fit just right if I can count on it to keep me warm. My activities demand that I layer, and the base layer of insulation must allow me to switch between layers without developing an immediate chill. When I'm trail running, I operate on the principle that fewer layers are better; I'm looking for a base layer that can double as my only layer during these winter runs.
a. Do the pants run true to size?
b. Does the stretch feel constricting?
c. Do the pants work well with a few layers piled on top of it?
a. Does it keep me warm regardless of the cold?
b. Does the material require physical exertion in order to keep me warm?
c. Does it lend itself to trail running, or does the fabric snag on brush and branches?
d. Does it keep the wind at bay when used as the only layer?
e. Is the blend of materials such that it retains warmth when wet and dries quickly?
In terms of the materials and construction, the pants appear well suited to cold outdoor activities, perhaps even outside the realm of base layers. I've experienced no itchiness. Only field tests will confirm or contradict this issue. The fit so far is perfect. I'll be curious to see if it remains so when hiking with a pack and poles or running cold, muddy trails.
FIELD LOCATIONS AND CONDITIONS
January 24, 2009
The unusually cold weather and extreme flooding in the Seattle area preempted my planned overnight trips, so I was limited to trail runs and peak bagging. My routine trail runs take place at about 500 feet (152 m) with rolling hills adding variety to the landscape. I run a loop that is approximately 5 miles (8 km) long on trails that drain well, though they alternate between spongy places and packed gravel. Most of the time I run for about forty minutes, though I did manage some one hour or more runs. Temperatures as low as 10 F (-12 C) froze the moisture usually present in the ground, making for some . . . interesting runs. Add in two feet (61 cm) of snow -- the rare dry variety at that -- and my runs quickly went from training times to adventures in and of themselves. Then the snow melted rather quickly, which flooded the trails. Yes, I still ran. Yes, I was wet. Yes, I still loved every minute of it.
I bagged three of the four peaks I attempted. Two of these successes were on the same peak -- Tiger Mountain. Around Seattle, Tiger Mountain is more of a training route than a "peak," so I'm using the term loosely. The loop I take is around 5.5 miles (8.86 km) long with an elevation gain of approximately 2000 feet (610 m). It takes forty-five minutes to gain the summit via a virtually straight line up a ridge and another forty-five minutes to wind down the "normal" trail. A light rain (Seattleites would consider it more of a mist) fell during both trips. Temperatures were in the low to mid 40s F (4-7 C) for both ascents. The trails were sloppy, demanding strategic foot placement.
The third successful peak bagging occurred on Mailbox Peak (yes, there is a mailbox at the top). Most guide books rank it as the most difficult ascent in the central Cascades: 7 miles (11.27 km) round trip, 4000 feet (1219 m) of elevation gain. It took around 3.5 hours up and back. We trudged through snow, both on the ground (about 1/2 foot / 15 cm) and in the air. Temperatures hovered around 30 F (-1 C). The trail before the top was damp but not soggy.
Now to the failed peak bagging: Mount Washington. Two feet (61 cm) of snow on the ground in Redmond translated to over four feet (122 cm) on Mount Washington in the central Cascades. The trail starts at 1500 feet (457 m) above sea level, and the summit peaks out at 4300 feet (1311 m). Thankfully, some intrepid souls had blazed a wintry track up to around 2200 feet (671 m). At that point we donned our snowshoes, post-holing for another 600 feet (183 m) of elevation gain. This short gain took us nearly an hour, even with alternating trail blazers. Howling winds ripping through snow-laden trees convinced us that living to see tomorrow was more important than bagging a peak we could easily revisit in the late spring or summer. In all, we logged probably 5 miles (8 km) and 1500 feet (457 m) of elevation gain in just over three hours. Shame, thy name is Mount Washington.
PERFORMANCE IN THE FIELD
During my trail runs, I have worn the 390 pants as a partial outer layer (I wear them under a pair of shorts, so they are only "exposed" to the elements from my lower thighs down to my ankles). I was concerned that this use would not work, thinking they would bunch at the ankle or grow heavy when wet or let in too much cold air. None of these cases proved true. The spandex blend keeps the material exactly where I need it to be, even while running. The flooded trails definitely made them wet, but this occurrence only made me smile: I was still warm, I was able to keep running, and they dried out while I was running. Though they don't have any built in wind resistance, breezes have not chilled me during these runs.
Both summits of Tiger Mountain illustrated another aspect of this wonder wear. Extremely muddy conditions like those I faced always make it from the trail to my inner shins as the shoe on the opposite foot brushes against them. The kind of mud on Tiger is especially annoying in that it cakes onto my hiking pants in clumps. Not so with the 390 pants. I wore them beneath a pair of shorts, using the same configuration as my trail runs. The inevitable mud appeared, but it did not cake on in clumps. In fact, I wasn't even aware that I was muddy until I returned to the trailhead (I normally notice the mud because my pant legs begin to "sway" differently with the added weight). They also worked well with a day pack that employs a belt -- I didn't feel like I had on too many layers. Nor did I itch, even though I was doing my fair share of huffing, puffing, and sweating. When I got to the top, I cooled off quickly, something I'm not used to with my conventional attire of either fleece-lined spandex or hiking pants; it was a welcomed change.
On Mailbox Peak I used low gaiters in conjunction with the 390 pants under a pair of shorts (when you find a winning combination, you don't abandon it). The gaiters did not pull at the material, as I thought they might. The transfer of heat from my skin to the outer part of the pants worked well, as it had on my runs. Even in six inches of standing snow and more falling as we ascended, I never felt the cold seep in. Nor did they get heavy from contact with the snow (inevitable contact at that).
Conditions on Mount Washington prompted me to break with my previous uses: I wore the 390 pants as a base layer under a pair of hiking pants (not the water proof variety) with low gaiters. I worried I had under dressed for the temperatures and amount of snow fall, but my constant movement alleviated these fears. Even when we stopped to get our bearings (this excursion took place at night), I did not experience a chill. The transition from packed trail to post-hole trail blazing was a rude awakening in terms of my heart rate and the water-logged state of my hiking pants. But 390 pants kept me from overheating or getting cold as a result of my soaked pants. In such conditions, snowshoes kick snow everywhere, especially on my butt. A friend of mine on this trip had not opted for a base layer of any kind; he complained of not being able to feel his "cheeks" as a result. I had not even considered how wet I actually was in that area until he made this comment towards the end of our trip.
To put it simply: I love these pants. I tell everyone how great they are. I find myself thinking about them during odd moments in the day (okay, maybe not that last part). Those people who do not glaze over during the course of my sales pitch always ask the same question: do they itch? No. Not at all. Not once. Then the runners ask, "do they fit like compression spandex?" No, they don't. They are the perfect mix of cling and swing -- not so close that they constrict and not so loose that they bunch or catch on branches. They also have this nearly miraculous ability to provide the perfect amount of warmth, regardless of whether or not I'm standing around or running up a hill. During the latter, they visibly bead my sweat on the outside of the material. When they got wet from the environment, I never noticed. Wetness did not make them noticeably heavier or less efficient as an insulating layer, either. I'm beginning to wonder if they utilize an alien technology that is subconsciously invading my DNA. Only time will tell.
I have not given up on planning overnight trips, aiming for one a month. The next is for three days, two nights in early February, location to be determined. It will be mountainous and cold -- that I can guarantee. And I will continue my running routine. At this point in my testing, I'm looking to see how the pants hold up after repeated use and washes. Will they continue to bead sweat away from my body? Will they fit just as snugly as they did when I first put them on or will the spandex have stretched out too much? If I find favorable answers to these questions, then Duofold has won a lifetime consumer of their products.
LONG-TERM TEST CONDITIONS & PERFORMANCE
April 2, 2009
The Duofold's are my base layer of choice now. In fact, there are times when they are my only layer of choice. Case in point: I routinely wear them under a pair of shorts, making the lower leg portion my outer layer. They are so dependable in this fashion that I summitted Mt. Ellinor (5944 ft / 1812 m) in the Olympic Mt. Range thus arrayed in temperatures that ranged from 45 F (7 C) at the trailhead to 32 F (0 C) at the summit. I did, however, add full length waterproof gaiters to keep the snow out of my shoes. They fit easily under the gaiters, and the gaiters did not pull at the fabric in order to remain upright. Only the middle portion of pants was exposed to the elements, but even so the wind did not cut through the material and chill me at all. Deep snow on the ground failed to weigh me down (or even add noticeable wetness). I further barred myself from the elements during the glissade . . . only to strip off my snow pants for the freedom of a partially exposed base layer.
|The view from Mt. Ellinor.|
During this segment of the testing phase, I've branched out in my uses of the Duofold pants, including them in more mundane tasks outside because this winter in the Pacific Northwest has been unusually and consistently cold (often hovering around freezing for long stretches). The Duofold pants work well in these conditions as long as I maintain some movement. I realized just how important movement is during a stint cutting lumber for a project my wife had commissioned. I wore the pants as a base layer under some denim pants. This arrangement did not hinder my movements or make me feel like the Micheline Man. But because I was standing still at the saw, only occasionally moving a board here or there, I grew cold over the space of a half hour. This one day revealed an important limitation to the Duofold Varitherm 390s: they work best during aerobic movements. On a separate occasion raking debris for a good six hours at the same temperatures with the same layering configuration, I found the pants the perfect fit to fight off the cold without overheating. Just a little bit of movement made all the difference.
Given the range of my experiences over the past few months, wearing the pants twenty-six times in a variety of settings and disciplines, I've become a Duofold evangelist, praising the pants for all that they can do. When people ask me what they're made of, they give me this look of disbelief, followed by some form of, "Are you sure they don't itch?" Yes, I'm sure -- the wool has zero drawbacks. They fit snugly (but not constrictively), despite the spandex in the blend. They do not grow heavy when wet. They move my sweat away from my body. They keep me warm (as long as I'm moving in some way). When worn as part of a layering system, I don't notice any bunching or impeding of movement. More often than not, when I'm wearing them, I forget that I have them on -- I'm that comfortable.
When I reach for a base layer, the Duofold Varitherm 390s are my first choice for hiking, mountaineering, and working outside (as long as I know my activities will involve constant movement). When I initially received them, I thought I might eventually use them in my more extreme activities, especially mountain biking. But the nature of the material has made me reconsider: they are not made to endure incidental contact with anything sharp or metallic. They are after all a base layer, not an outer layer (despite my unorthodox uses). As such, they show no signs of wearing out or stretching, so I'll keep wearing them.
This report was created with the BackpackGearTest.org Report Writer Version 1.
Copyright 2009. All rights reserved.
This concludes my test of the Duofold Varitherm 390 pants. I would like to thank Duofold and Backpackgeartest.org for the opportunity to experience such a great product first hand.
Read more gear reviews by Ken Norris