Sierra Designs Cyclone Eco Pants - Rain Gear
Test Series by Hollis Easter
Initial Report - 22 October 2008
Field Report - 8 January 2009
Long-Term Report - 21 February 2009
The Cyclone Eco Pants are hard-shell pants built using environmentally-friendly manufacturing techniques.
Image courtesy of Sierra Designs
Name: Hollis Easter
Height: 6'0" (1.8 m)
Weight: 205 lb (93 kg)
Waist: 38 in (96 cm)
Hips: 44 in (112 cm)
Email address: backpackgeartest[a@t)holliseaster(dah.t]com
City, State, Country: Potsdam, New York, USA
Backpacking Background: I started hiking as a child in the Adirondack Mountains
of New York. As a teenager, I hiked my way to an Eagle Scout award. I
love winter climbing, and long days through rough terrain abound. The
peaks have become my year-round friends. I hope to return to multi-day
I am a midweight backpacker: I don't carry unnecessary gear, but neither
do I cut the edges from my maps. I hike in all seasons, at altitudes from
sea level to 5,300 ft (1,600 m), and in temperatures from -30 F (-34 C) to 100 F (38 C).
Manufacturer: Sierra Designs
Year of manufacture: 2008
Size: XXLarge (see text below), also available in Small, Medium, Large, and XLarge
Listed weight: none
Actual weight: 15.3 oz (436 g)
MSRP: $99.95 US
Product features (from Sierra Designs website):
- Fabric: recycled double-ripstop polyester (3.01 oz per yard / 86 g per m2) with solvent-free laminate
- YKK Aquaguard zippered thigh pocket
- Polyurethane (PU) reinforcement at heel hem opening
- PU reinforcement around drawcord openings at waist
- Fully-taped seams, accomplished without PVC
- Full side zipper with placket (storm flap)
- Elastic waist with drawcord
- Articulated knees
- Waterproof and breathable
Sierra Designs also sent the following note with the Cyclone Eco Jacket, which I am also testing. I believe it applies to the pants as well:
The Cyclone Eco Jacket is Sierra
Designs flagship jacket built with green materials. It uses PVC-free seam tape, solvent-free waterproof breathable laminate, and recycled face fabrics to reduce the use of fresh water (our most precious resource) and harmful chemicals during the production process. It is designed to use green materials without sacrificing performance.
Initial Report - 22 October 2008:
When I was chosen to test the Cyclone Eco pants, I placed a phone call to Sierra Designs to ask about sizing. I was impressed by the speed of their customer service: I was talking to a human 10 seconds after finishing their phone tree, a total of 38 seconds into the call. They deserve praise for answering so quickly.
After some discussion with their customer service representative, I ordered the larger-sized XLarge pants, thinking that they would be a better choice for layering. The question arose because I'm between the Large and XLarge sizes on their sizing chart.
When the pants arrived, I was disappointed to find that they fit like sausage casings, to the point that it was not possible for me to bend my knees. The pants allegedly fit waists 2 in (5 cm) bigger than mine, and hips 2.5 in (7.5 cm) bigger. There should have been plenty of room in these pants, but the zippers strained with nothing but underwear beneath.
For the sake of disclosure, I will mention that I measured my waist and hips repeatedly with two different measuring tapes, made by different manufacturers. I also had a friend measure, just to make sure that I wasn't doing it wrong. Our measurements all agreed.
The bottom hem area
I emailed Sierra Designs, and had a reply several days later from a different customer service representative, letting me know that a new pair of XXLarge pants was on its way to me.
The new pants are tight, but not unduly so. We'll see how they do with layers beneath.
I have to say that, at least in the larger sizes, the sizing chart is not accurate at all. The XXLarge pants are somewhat tight, despite being designed as an outer layer for someone whose measurements are 11% larger than mine.
I'm told that the pants I'm testing are the Cyclone Eco pants, an updated version of the previous Cyclone models. However, the pants I'm testing have different features from those on the website. They're labeled "CYCLONE" in several places inside; the word "Eco" never appears. Sierra Designs appears confident that these are the pants it wants me to test, so I'll go for it!
The pants are made of Drizone Green 2.5L waterproof/breathable laminate. Sierra Designs says: "This 2.5 Layer, Drizone Green fabric is comprised of solvent-free laminate, texturized double ripstop 100% recycled polyester face with a dry touch back." The pants also feature PVC-free seam tape, and are listed as having 10,000 mm waterproofness and 8,000 g/m2/24 hrs breathability. Surely those numbers mean something to someone who is not me.
The fabric is surprisingly thin, and is somewhat noisy when it brushes against other materials. It features a faint ripstop pattern on its outer surface; the inner surface is white with a raised black diamond pattern. I've been told that the raised pattern (the 2.5th layer) is to keep liquid sweat from overwhelming the breathable laminate, by channeling it away and holding the fabric away from the skin.
One surprising point is that the pants have a stitched fly at the front that appears purely decorative. Although there is a double layer of fabric, there is no opening, and no zipper. I admit that I'm at a loss to explain why Sierra Designs included this feature.
Drawcord and cordlock
The waistband features a built-in elastic drawcord running through a channel on the front side of the pants. The drawcord exits the channel through grommets which sit in reinforced polyurethane patches. A nice touch is that there's a flat cordlock for setting the tension, rather than a standard bulky round one. In wearing the pants around the house, I haven't noticed the cordlock, which is nice.
The Sierra Designs website led me to expect belt loops; there are none. I hope the drawcord will be sufficient to hold the pants up.
For me, side zips are the feature that makes me buy a pair of shell pants. After several years of sweating through a whole winter of hard-shell use, I now prefer to wear a non-waterproof breathable nylon pant, adding the hard shell only when conditions warrant it. Since I'm on either snowshoes or crampons, this is a laborious process. I also have huge feet (US size 13) which means that many pants have bottom openings too small to fit my boots through. Taking snowshoes AND boots off is not a welcome process when it's really cold and snowy.
The Cyclones have full side zippers, protected both inside and out by storm flaps (plackets) of the same Drizone Green material as the rest of the pants. The external storm flap is secured by several patches of hook-and-loop closure, which is nice although I wish they were slightly smaller. With the patches at their current size, it can be hard to get the closures to separate without really yanking on them.
One of the side zippers was partially broken when I received the pants: it would zip up and down, but would not separate. Close inspection revealed that the zipper was slightly out of alignment. Much gnashing of teeth and rending of (other) garments ensued, as I perused web sites and repair manuals trying to figure out what could be done. Nothing worked. Finally, I concluded that I was going to have to send the pants back to the manufacturer anyway, so I might as well try more drastic measures. I aligned the zipper sliders, offered a brief prayer, and really yanked on it. Finally it separated! All appears to be well, now.
I notice that the inner surface of the fabric develops quite a lot of friction against other materials, to the point where I wonder whether it'll tear before releasing. This makes the side zippers especially important.
The bottom hem of the pants bears a metal snap closure, as well as a polyurethane reinforcement at the heel.
I really like the zipper pulls on these pants. They're some sort of molded plastic, and seem very easy to grip. Initial tests with gloves have been very positive.
The pants have a zippered pocket on the left thigh. I'll see how comfortable it is to use, given the tightness of the pants, and report back on it later.
The pants pack down quite small. I will probably invest in a small stuff sack to carry them, since I prefer keeping my rain gear in stuff sacks for easy access.
An annoying omission is that the pants lack a hang loop for drying them in the field. I will probably hang them by the drawcord, and may add my own hang loop once the test is over.
All in all, these look like a decent pair of hard-shell pants. I'm disappointed by the sizing and by the problems with zippers, but impressed by the design. With the exception of the stuck zipper, the build quality is very high, and I look forward to using these pants.
Field Report - 8 January 2009
Mt. Colden from Phelps Mtn
During this period, I carried the Cyclone Eco pants on many trips, and used them during three field days.
I wore the Cyclone Eco pants during the last two days of my Wilderness First Responder training (January 5-6) in Potsdam, New York. Those days were substantially devoted to field exercises, and I wore the pants all day. We hiked a total of about 2 miles (3 km) around local mountain biking trails and forests. It was cold, ranging from 5 F (-15 C) to 15 F (-9 C) with winds up to about 10 mph (16 km/hr).
I wore the pants while serving as a rescuer. Activities included tramping through the woods trying to find our patients, moving spine-injured patients, offering treatment in a cold environment with deep snow, and carrying a 320 lb (145 kg) patient out on a litter through rough terrain.
I also wore the Cyclone Eco pants while climbing Phelps Mountain in the Adirondack Park of New York state. Phelps is a 4,161 ft (1,270 m) peak whose trail (I took the trail this time) is about 9 miles (15 km) in length, with 1,982 ft (605 m) of elevation gain. It was very cold, with parking lot temperatures at -19 F (-28 C), winds around 5 mph (8 km/hr), and forecast wind chill of -33 F (-36 C).
At this point, my feeling about the Cyclone Eco pants is conflicted: I love the technology and hate the fit.
I've been very satisfied by Sierra Designs's Drizone Green fabric. I've found it to be windproof and waterproof, which is understandably important in a hard shell. Snow brushes right off the surface without sticking, and if some snow melts, the moisture stays outside the garment. On Phelps's summit, I found that the pants shed wind very effectively, which helped me warm up while taking care of a person with mild hypothermia.
I've had the opportunity to clean the pants, thanks to my Wilderness First Responder class. Despite my best efforts to stay clean, I got a fair quantity of (fake) blood on the pants. What can I say? A patient with bare head and arm lacerations fell on me at the beginning of a scene. At the end of the day, the fake blood was dry and hard. I scrubbed it gently with warm water, and the stain came right out with no apparent damage to the fabric. So: I'm pleased with how easily stains come out of the pants.
I like that the cordlock on the pants' drawcord remains unobtrusive when I'm wearing the pants. I haven't noticed any chafing or uncomfortable pressure from it. I was also pleased to discover that the button cuffs on the pants fit over my hiking boots.
Now for the downsides.
The process of getting the pants on is somewhat hideous. On Chip Rawlins's scale of frustration, it merits at least 1.5 Cougar Screams. The hook-and-loop storm flaps on the pants make it very difficult to unzip the side zippers of the pants. I'd unstick one patch, unzip the pants, and find that the first patch had re-stuck itself. Also, because the patches are large and grippy, I need to grab the storm flap right on the hook-and-loop spot to open the flap. Since I was doing this with fleece liner gloves, the hook-and-loop ripped up my gloves. I then had to strip down to bare hands in order to put the pants on. That was pretty uncomfortable!
It remains frustrating that the pants have no fly. Why have stitching for a fly without an opening? Trying to pull down four sets of pants for bathroom breaks wasn't really enjoyable.
The fit is the real issue for me. The pants are well-constructed and the technology is sound, but the fit is a non-starter.
Size XXL notwithstanding, the pants just don't fit well. They constantly fall down because the rump fits poorly, requiring me to pull them back up after every two or three steps. On a hike, this is merely irritating; in a rescue situation while carrying a patient, it proved almost impossible.
I've tightened the waistband as far as practicable, but the pants are cut for beanpole mountaineering types without much fullness in the derriere. I guess I'm a fatty or something, but I can't pull them up far enough that the waistband will hold--there isn't enough fabric to work with.
Mt. Marcy from Phelps Mtn
To quantify the issue and to salve my injured pride, I've asked a bunch of people to guess my pants size. Most have guessed Large, with a few Extra Larges thrown in. I've then asked them to say whether, in their considered opinions, I have an unusually large bottom. All answered no. All were shocked that my tight pants were a size XXLarge.
As an aside, it was entertaining asking random people to comment on this. See, O Reader, the lengths to which BackpackGearTest.org will go to secure the truth? Also: the temptation to work a Sir Mix-A-Lot reference into the preceding paragraph was nigh overwhelming.
On Phelps, I donned the pants on the summit and then hiked about 2 miles (3 km) in the Sierra Designs Cyclone Eco pants before giving up and taking them off. It was simply too dangerous, in the steep icy terrain we were traversing, to have to constantly pull the pants up after every few steps. I kept tripping when the pants would fall down and bind my legs.
Given the sizing issues, the slash pocket on the thigh isn't useful to me. I'll stash my small Victorinox Classic Swiss Army knife in there along with a tube of lip balm, but anything bigger than that causes uncomfortable pressure on my thigh.
I've been giving a lot of thought to what might make the pants work better. I think it's partly just a question of the body type a manufacturer assumes in making its clothing. For whatever reason, Sierra Designs doesn't build pants for me.
Sierra Designs advertises belt loops on these pants, but none exist on mine. If the pants had belt loops, I might be able to get a belt to keep them on. The elastic drawcord stretches and then pulls off.
Once the test is over, I plan to stitch reinforced panels into the waist band, to which I'll attach suspenders. Perhaps that will help me keep my pants on.
With regard to the storm flaps, I would recommend that Sierra Designs consider making the hook-and-loop patches smaller. It's great to have a storm flap that stays put, but I don't think it needs to be quite this bomber. I'll test this by using some spare hook-and-loop fasteners to block off part of the surface, and I'll see whether that makes it easier to work with.
To close on a more positive note, I'd like to reiterate that I have the highest respect for the quality of construction shown in this garment, and that I think the Drizone Green fabric works really well. It's just that the pants don't fit me very well, and that limits their utility pretty significantly.
Long-Term Report - 21 February 2009:
Vista from Allen Mtn
On the days when I've been able to use them, the Cyclone Eco pants have done a fine job of protecting me from wind and water, whether it be rain, snow, or puddles. However, they're just not sized appropriately for me. I was really saddened to find that I couldn't use the pants for hiking, but they're excellent in several other ways.
During this period, I carried the Cyclone Eco pants for 3 days, but did not wear them. I also spent two days playing with them at home, trying to find a way to make them work for me. Since I didn't use them in the field, the conditions hardly matter, but I carried them as bivy protection for long ascents of Redfield, Cliff, Marshall, and Allen Mountains, all in the Adirondack High Peaks of New York State.
Modifications I tried:
In my Field Report, I mentioned that I wanted to try stitching some suspenders to the pants, to see whether that would help them to fit better. BackpackGearTest.org rules prohibit permanent modifications of gear under test, but temporary (reversible) ones are generally accepted. With this in mind, and with the pants unusable otherwise, I went to work.
I bought a pair of suspenders with grip clips at the ends: these are spring-loaded plastic grippers with sharp points. I was concerned that they would rip the Drizone fabric, so I padded the grippers with fleece and attached them to the pants.
I also mentioned that the large Velcro patches on the storm flaps were sometimes difficult to get open. I bought some aftermarket sew-on Velcro strips at my local fabric store, and I cut them into pieces the right size for the Velcro on the pants. I then cut those strips in half lengthwise (to make them thinner), and stuck them into the middle of the Velcro on the pants. I've tried to photograph this, but no combination of camera settings seems to make it visible.
I'm pleased to report that the Velcro trick worked really well! The pants are much easier to zip and unzip, and I can open the storm flaps with a single hand now.
I wish I could report that my efforts with the suspenders had been successful. To some degree, they were: I got the suspenders to work fine, and they stay on the pants quite happily. But my ability to walk in the pants didn't improve at all.
There could be several reasons for this, none of them the fault of Sierra Designs. The most likely reason is that it's late winter now, which means I'm in better climbing shape, which means my leg muscles are bigger. I've been doing long, difficult climbs in the mountains, and have also been doing distance running and strength training four times a week in the gym. I would imagine that this has led to an increase in my leg diameter.
Whatever the reason, though, the central fact remains: I cannot walk in these pants. When I put them on now, it strains the fabric for me to lift my leg above the ankle. There's plenty of ease in the fabric below my knee, but the thighs and buttocks are like sausage casings. Needless to say, that doesn't work well with a non-stretch fabric.
So, for me, the Cyclone Ecos just aren't a good fit. I guess I'm an Extra-Extra-Extra Large, or something. I wear 38 in x 32 in (97 cm x 81 cm) jeans; am I a leviathan?
I still carried the pants on the long hikes, because I thought they'd be useful in case I needed to stay out overnight. If I weren't trying to move, the pants would still be waterproof and windproof, and they could have helped make a bivouac more survivable. I've also had a few hikes recently where fellow participants were under-prepared, and I thought I could press the Cyclone Eco pants into service if needed.
I admit that I'm pretty disappointed to discover that these pants don't work for me. Sierra Designs has done a good job with its fabric; the pants are light; and I think they've got a basically good design. I give downchecks for the lack of a fly, the poor fit in large sizes, and the difficulty of opening the storm flaps with a single hand.
I would humbly recommend that Sierra Designs consider revising their patterns if they're trying to get people who are built like me to buy their pants. Smaller changes would involve putting a fly into these pants (there's already stitching to support it), making the Velcro strips smaller, adding a hang loop, and adding the belt loops pictured on the web site.
- Excellent customer support
- Full side zippers
- Environmentally-friendly construction
- Nice zipper pulls
- Fabric is windproof and waterproof
- Pants cuffs fit over my hiking boots
- Major sizing problems—since when am I XXLarge?!
- Even in the "correct" size, fit is poor
- No belt loops
- Zipper was broken when I received it
- Lacks a hang loop
- Fly is stitched closed
- Hook-and-loop closures on storm flaps are difficult to use
- As my muscles have grown, the pants have become impossible to wear
This concludes my test series. I thank BackpackGearTest and Sierra Designs for allowing me to test the Cyclone Eco pants.
Read more reviews of Sierra Designs gear
Read more gear reviews by Hollis Easter