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Reviews > Clothing > Pants and Shorts > Westcomb Syncro Pant > Test Report by Richard Lyon

WESTCOMB MEN'S SYNCRO PANTS
Test Series by Richard Lyon

Initial Report October 13, 2008
Field Report December 28, 2008
Long Term Report February 16, 2009

Personal Information and Backpacking Background
Richard Lyon
Male, 62 years old
Dallas, Texas, USA
rlyon AT gibsondunn DOT com
6' 4" (1.9 m) tall, 200 lb (91 kg),
Waist 37 inches (94 cm); inseam 34 inches (86 cm)

I've been backpacking for 45 years on and off, and regularly in the Rockies since 1986.  I do a weeklong trip every summer, and often take three-day trips.  I'm usually camping in alpine terrain, at altitudes 5000 to 13000 ft (1500 - 4000 m). I prefer base camp backpacking, a long hike in with day trips from camp.  In the past few years I've been actively seeking ways to reduce weight, but I'm not yet a lightweight hiker and often I choose a bit of extra weight over foregoing my favorite camp conveniences.

INITIAL REPORT

October 13, 2008

Product Description and Details

Manufacturer: Westcomb Outerwear inc., Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada

Website: www.westcomb.com  This website lists online and retail distributors but has no means for direct purchase of any product. 

Year Manufactured: 2008

Country of origin: Canada

Size: Men's Large/Tall.  According to a sizing chart on Westcomb's website, "outerwear" is available in Men's sizes Small through XX-Large, and Women's in sizes X-Small (0) through X-Large (no equivalent provided), and trousers are available in three inseam lengths: Short, Regular, and Tall.

Color: Major Brown. Listed as also available in Black, Cinder, and Dune.

Weight (listed, size not specified): 390 g (14 oz)

Weight (measured): 425 g (15.0 oz)

Waist (measured):  38.0 in (97 cm)

Inseam (measured): 34.5 in (88 cm)

Manufacturer's description (from the website): Westcomb lists the Syncro Pants as part of its 'terra' collection, which the company markets as "a series of solutions tailored for rugged and abrasive conditions. These perennial garments answer to the performance demands requiring our gear to be light-weight, breathable, and durable."  The Syncros' fabric is said to be "perfect for on-and-off mountain pursue [sic]."

Warranty: From the website: "Products are warranted to be free from defects in materials and workmanship for the life of the product. This warranty does not cover damages caused by improper care, modifications, product misuse, accidents or the natural breakdown of materials over extended use and time."

Fabric: Westcomb's website says that the Syncros are made of "an extremely abrasion resistant schoeller® dynamic fabric with a maintenance-free NanoSphere® self-cleaning finish."  A hangtag indicates that dynamic, without a capital letter, is the fabric's name, not just a description.  Three hangtags from Schoeller Textil AG, a Swiss supplier of high quality fabrics for waterproof-breathable clothing, which accompanied the Syncros furnish (in English, German, French, and Italian) some technical and promotional information about the fabric and treatments used.    dynamic includes some Lycra® for fit, a "high-tech fabric" for durability, and a "comfort fabric" for breathability and a softer inner face.  I have a lightweight rain shell made of dynamic and can attest to the accuracy of these claims.  

The Syncros are introducing me to NanoSphere, however.  This Schoeller-developed surface treatment is said to give the fabric a finely-structured surface to which "dirt cannot adhere" and from which even viscous liquids (honey is an example given) "simply slide off," naturally or with a bit of water.  To my ear this sounds almost too good to be true; certainly it invites some creative testing!

These trousers may be brown on the surface, but a green and blue spirit shines through.  NanoSphere is supposedly "Learning from Nature," in this case the surface of a lotus leaf, and the last (but not least) hangtag proclaims that the NanoSphere-treated dynamic contains a bluesign® approved fabric.  "The bluesign® standard . . . stands for: Consumer Safety, High-Tech, and Comfort." 

First Impressions

What's a simple backpacker to make of this state-of-the-art pair of trousers? They do have one old-fashioned feature - pockets.  There are three: two at the sides for my hands with zippers sewn along the side seams and one on the back right for my wallet with a horizontal zipper.  All three are deep enough and the zippers long enough for their intended contents. 

An adjustable web belt that's visible only at its extremities and for an inch/centimeter or so at the back; the rest being encased in a one-inch (2.5 cm) waistband, hold the Syncros in place when worn.  The belt connects with a plastic buckle with a small male piece on the right that fits into a corresponding notch on the left.  Magnets on the claspSmall mating magnets on each piece of the buckle, just in front of the intersecting pieces, keep the buckle together when I've cinched up the Syncros. 

Each cuff has a drawstring with a toggle.  The toggle is on the inside of the cuff along the seam, so it can't snag on the underbrush – a thoughtful detail.

Cinch at the cuffThe only other features are a soft, plush fabric that lines the inside of the waistband for comfort, a reflective "Westcomb" in one-quarter inch (6 mm) letters just above the back pocket, and a small reflective Westcomb logo on the left leg slightly below the knee, just to the rear of the side seam. 

I was first struck by the fabric's light weight, to the point of wondering just how well it could handle the scrapes and scratches of bushwhacking.  Closer inspection and construction details contradict any notion of fragility, however.  The top of the waistband, one side of the pocket zippers, and the top of the band for the drawstring at the cuff have a single stitch, but all other seams are double-stitched.  These include the bottom of the waistband; a reinforcing yoke two-inches (5 cm) below the bottom of the waistband from pocket to pocket around the back; full-length side seams along the outside of the pants; a seat seam from the bottom of the fly to the back of the waistband; and articulated knee stitching just above the knees in front and just below them in back.  I couldn't find a loose thread in any of the stitching.  A mild tug or two indicates that the fabric is stout and tear-resistant, rather like lightweight canvas.

Except for the waistband the Syncros are unlined.  dynamic's hand is definitely that of a synthetic, but it's not scratchy or otherwise uncomfortable against my skin.  Perhaps as a result of the NanoSphere treatment I detect a very tiny pebbling grain when rubbing the fabric between my fingers, quite different from the slick outer layer of my dynamic jacket.  The thin, unlined fabric allows me to compress the Syncros into a small lump for packing. 

As with other Westcomb garments I own, the straight-leg, unpleated Syncro Pants give a trim and athletic fit.  Even with the Tall inseam they are somewhat snug at the seat, but I didn't find it confining.  The bottoms of the cuffs come to the tongue of my hiking boots with a slight break, just as I prefer.  The Major Brown color has hints of green and grey, resembling somewhat the "officer's pink" used once upon a time for wool gabardine uniforms.  Attractive enough in my opinion for street as well as backcountry wear.

Testing Criteria

The test period extends into winter, so I should be able to test water resistance in snowy as well as rainy conditions.  During the next four months I intend to examine the Syncros for durability, breathability, fit and comfort, suitability at various temperatures, and whether backcountry use and washing will alter any of the results.  Then again maybe washing won't be needed.  As noted, I'm particularly interested in NanoSphere's characteristics.  Testing will tell if nanotechnology can really make a fabric "clean itself." 

FIELD REPORT

December 28, 2008

Preliminary Note

Since filing my Initial Report Westcomb has updated its website, and apparently renamed the Syncro pant as the Syncro LT pant.  This distinguishes it from a new product in Westcomb's Terra line, the Syncro Cargo Pant.

Field Conditions 

Day hikes.  I have worn the Syncros on several day hikes around home, with temperatures between 30 and 60 F (-1 to 16 C), and no precipitation. 

Backpacking.  The Syncros were my trousers on a two-day backpacking trip to Adding a layer on Guadalupe PeakGuadalupe Mountains National Park, Texas, in late November.  At the base of the mountains, altitude about 5700 ft (1800 m), we spent a day hiking the McKittrick Canyon trail.  Winds gusted up to about 20 mph (32 km/hr), and temperatures were in the low sixties F (15 C).  After camping overnight we started early in the morning up the Guadalupe Peak Trail, a ten-mile (16 km) out-and-back hike to the summit, at 8749 feet (2667 m) the highest point in the Lone Star State.  The temperatures never got above 40 F (4 C) until we reached the sunny final descent early in the afternoon.  This hike winds through forests and one relatively wind-protected canyon, but most of the route left us exposed to West Texas's ferocious winds, estimated that day by the Park Service to have reached 50 mph (76 km/hr) at times. 

Everyday use.  Every morning when I'm home my dogs give me a thirty-minute walk after breakfast, usually between 5 and 6 am.  A frequent venue is the city park adjacent to my house, called a "nature area," especially in fall and winter.  This is tallgrass prairie (though occasionally mowed by the city) that is grassy, with plenty of shrubs, small trees, and brush.  Because the Syncros' self-contained belt makes them so easy to put on just after I get out of bed, they have been the trousers of choice on almost all these walks.  We've had a chilly autumn in North Texas, and particularly in November and December morning temperatures have rarely been above 50 F (10 C), and have several times dipped below freezing.  It's been unusually damp too, often with ground fog or mist and a few rain or snow showers too. 

Observations

I continue to like the Syncros' athletic cut and trim fit.  This was appreciated especially in the Guadalupes, where baggier pants would really have whipped around in the wind.  A tighter fit at the waist means less hitching up my trousers, which I often have to do with baggier size XL pants, needed for their length.

There may be something to Schoeller's claim of self-cleaning, described in my Initial Report.  The Syncros were the only piece of clothing or gear in my kit that didn't return from West Texas matted or cloudy with desert dust that blows there constantly.  This lovely powder seemed to adhere to every inch of the underside of my tent floor, to my EPIC wind shirt whenever I brushed a shrub or tree branch, and to my boots and socks constantly.  The Syncros, on the other hand, weren't even dirty enough to clean when I got home.  On my morning Constitutionals the Syncros' fabric stays free of the burrs, brambles, and twigs that I must constantly brush out of the dogs' fur.

One feature I failed to notice during my out-of-the-box inspection, as reported in my Initial Report, earns special mention.  The two front pockets are lined with the same plush fabric as the waistband, and it's really soft and warming against my hands.  Pocket debris – crumbs, paper, lint, scraps of paper, and the like – doesn't seem to accumulate on it either.  A very welcome detail.

Of the Syncros' other features I have come to like the belt especially.  It's the first built-in belt I can remember that's effective at keeping the same tension; all others tend to work loose little by little as a walk wears on.  The little magnets keep the clasps nicely in place.  As noted, not having to fumble in the dark for a belt makes the Syncros particularly easy to reach for on my morning walks at home.

The thin, unlined material of these pants repels mist and light rain very well, though the Syncros definitely aren't waterproof.  A splash from a puddle has soaked the cuffs.  This man-made fabric dries very quickly, though.  The Syncros have little insulating ability and as winter comes on I've been turning to warmer trousers for everyday walks.  I'd put the approximate break point at 40 F (4 C).  This is less of a problem when hiking.  While I tend to be cold-prone, adding another upper body layer or two usually warms me up sufficiently.  Increased circulation from the constant leg motion and brisker pace are enough to keep the chills off.  Certainly my legs weren't cold on the Guadalupe Peak hike. 

A loose endThe Syncros have proven to be durable and look as good as new after only one washing (with other synthetics, in cold water with non-detergent soap, and air-dried).  All stitching, buttons, zippers, and cinches remain intact.  The only durability issue has been the small rubber piece at the leading edge of the belt.  One side has worked loose, requiring me an occasional gentle push to get the webbing end back in.

Summary

This could turn out to be an expensive test for me.  Only infrequently do I buy or use pants sold as "hiking pants," preferring instead to wear old khakis or fishing pants when I'm not wearing shorts.  I like the Syncros well enough that I may alter that approach.  Articulated knees and a fabric made for the rigors of hiking appear to be worth the price premium that hiking-specific trousers can command.  I really like Westcomb's making available different inseam lengths in each waist size.  A longer than average rise has given a great fit in the seat and waist, much more comfortable than old khakis, and I need the extra inch/centimeter or two in length.

 

LONG TERM REPORT

February 16, 2009

 

The Syncros have continued to perform well in diverse conditions.  They have become my favorite pair of hiking trousers.

Field Conditions

I have worn the Syncros on several day hikes around Dallas, temperatures 50-75 F (10-24 C), mostly in dry conditions, and almost always with low or moderate winds.  A couple of times the cuffs were exposed to splashes from the ground or puddles, and on my morning dog walks I encountered occasional sprinkles or ground fog.  On a Valentine's Day overnight in North Texas, temperatures ranged from 40-59 F (4-14 C) with frequent gusty winds.  On all these hikes I wore the Syncros over a pair of capilene or merino wool boxer shorts.

In early February I tried out the Syncros when cross-country skiing.  At Teton Village, Wyoming, I did two early morning half-hour warm-ups for a telemark ski clinic by kicking and gliding on a groomed ski track.  In calm conditions, clear weather, and 2-12 F (-17 to -11 C) temperatures I wore lightweight merino wool bottoms under the Syncros. 

Performance

Fit.  Perhaps my favorite thing about the Syncros is the fit.  Very few suppliers of outdoor equipment offer a long rise and longer length.  (Surprisingly so, in my opinion, since climbers and hikers are often trimmer than the general public.  But I digress.)  Westcomb's sizing has allowed me to match my waist size and still get adequate length and a comfortable seat.  All too often I must size up to extra large for these and thereby suffer a loose fit at the waist and just below.  This fact alone will keep me considering Westcomb whenever I'm shopping for outdoor trousers.  The articulation at the knee and the stretch in the fabric both add to the Syncros' athletic yet comfortable fit.

Features.  As noted in my Initial Report, the features that are there are small (but not minor) details.  That's a good thing in my opinion; there are no tricky gimmicks to go wrong.  All features I've tested do what they are supposed to do quite well.  The NanoSphere fabric treatment keeps surface soiling to a minimum, and what does splash on I can easily wipe away with a damp cloth.  Thanks to the dynamic fabric these trousers breathe very well.  They have been comfortable enough at 75 F (24 C) that I won't hesitate to wear them at warmer temperatures when long pants are preferable to shorts. 

The built-in belt is the first such item I've ever considered anything but a nuisance, thanks especially to the small magnets that keep the buckle pieces together.  It's helped also that the belt is sized almost perfectly for my waist, with very little spare webbing.  The Synchros have no belt loops to hold up unused webbing, and a smaller-waisted person might have a problem with any excess.  The two small reflective images on the rear make me visible from behind in the dark despite the pants' neutral coloring, a reassuring detail on my dog walks.  (And while skiing just before dawn, when a snowcat grooming the track tooted its horn in warning.)  In my earlier reports I've complimented the soft fabric (Westcomb calls it velour) that lines the waistband and pockets.

I have not used the draw cords at cuffs or the chalk bag loop and so cannot comment on them.

Temperature range.  As noted above the Syncros breathe well enough for use at warmer temperatures.  I've surpassed my personal lower limit for their use.  When hiking temperatures drop below 40 F (4 C) I'm uncomfortably chilly with only boxer shorts underneath, and at temperatures above freezing I find long underwear too warm for aerobic activities.  This won't stop my wearing the Syncros, with long johns underneath, for casual walks at these temperatures.  While I wasn't cold kicking and gliding in Wyoming, when walking to and from the Nordic track I definitely wished I'd been wearing heavier trousers.  The thin fabric is not very wind-resistant at any time.  For me the Syncros will get much more use in the three warmer seasons.

Durability.  The easy fix on the belt end described in the next paragraph remains the only durability issue I've encountered.  Otherwise the Syncros look almost good as new, thanks considerably to whichever of the two fabrics keeps them wrinkle-free.  On a close examination I couldn't find any smudges or scratches, even at the cuffs.  The Schoeller fabrics are more robust I expected from their light weight. 

Customer Service.  To update the problem with the belt end noted in my Field Report, my tailor sewed the rubber end protector back on to webbing end, eliminating any risk that it would one day get lost.  This was a swift, low tech operation, so simple that I believe that anyone adept with a sewing machine, or even needle and thread, could have managed it.  While I can tell the difference between the original (affixed inside the rubber tab) and the repairs (sewn through), I doubt that anyone who wasn't inspecting with a magnifying glass would notice.  I've had no other problems requiring reference to Westcomb, indeed no other problems at all.

Cleaning.  The Syncros don't need to be cleaned often.  I washed them, using the same method described in my Field Report, just once over the past two months.

Summary

Westcomb has already addressed the only item on my wish list for these pants, a cargo pocket.  As noted in my Field Report the Syncro Cargo pant is now available.  I'm completely pleased with these versatile and comfortable hiking pants.  My thanks to Westcomb and BackpackGearTest.org for the testing opportunity.



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