Cotton has been a classic choice for climbing pants, starting with painter’s pants in the early days of free climbing. Although cotton does absorb and hold water, the abrasion resistance and fair-weather comfort are hard to match by synthetics that are comfortable against the skin. Denim combines the abrasion resistance and comfort with aesthetics that even the modern boulderer can tolerate. The range of movement required by rock climbers helps to fuel the recent development of climbing-specific jeans; gusseted crotches, tapered lower legs, and elasticity all bring denim into the performance apparel realm.
Black Diamond Equipment entered the climbing denim fray this past spring, further expanding their apparel and soft good offerings. We’ve been testing a pair for a week of rock climbing in the Crested Butte and Gunnison areas of Colorado.
High-performance fabric and cut
Black Diamond uses black, denim, or indigo-colored Cordura stretch denim for the Forged Denim Pants. Comprised of 75 percent cotton, 10 percent nylon, 13 percent polyester, and 2 percent elastane, the fabric feels like medium-weight denim in the hand, but the stretchiness was immediately noticeable.
The sizing felt true; I am a 32 waist/32 inseam and the girth around my waist and length felt spot-on for my slim build. No need for a belt and a few rolls of the pant leg exposed the ankle for my preferred amount of footwork visibility. The pants weighed in at a verified 1.4 pounds.
The Forged Denim pant felt roomy but not baggy in the hips, and the gusseted crotch provided plenty of slack for big steps in all directions. The legs moderately taper down to a 15.5-inch opening; on my slim build, these were far from “skinny” jeans but noticeably slimmer than my casual denim.
Out on the rocks
The Forged Denim pants’ freedom of movement proved excellent during multiple days of bouldering. High stepping, stemming, and heel hooking felt unobstructed due to the generous patterning in the hip area combined with the elastic content in the denim. A brush pocket within the right rear hip pocket kept a small-sized brush secure and handy.
The durability was impressive. I tried hard to rub a hole in the fabric by butt scooting down the granite boulder descents to no avail. I also dragged the sides and rear of the pant up granite chimneys and ramps while trad climbing, and again, the Forged Denim pant remained unscathed. As a final test, during several parts of a sketchy descent down a scree slope, I slid down short gravel sections while sitting, with a 20-pound pack on my back. And still, no punctures, tears, or fraying. The only mark on the denim that hints at a solid week of climbing abuse is a heavy saturation of chalk dust.
The closure hardware and design around the waist of the Forged Denim Pant were satisfactorily low-profile for use under a harness; it felt similar in bulk as other climbing-specific jeans. My collection of synthetic climbing pants do feel much more unobtrusive under a harness.
The Forged Denim pants felt adequately breathable and comfortable into ambient temperatures into the lower 80s with the typically low humidity of Colorado.
I felt the casual and classic four-pocket styling of the Forged Denim Pant would never give away it’s climbing specific design; they attract no unnecessary attention and proved as odor-resistant as any other climbing denim and much more so than synthetic climbing pants. After five full days of summertime Colorado rock climbing, I feel no need to wash them other than to remove chalk.
Demin is much more abrasion resistant than the bulk of comfortable synthetics and pants can take the brunt of scraping and dragging during bouldering and rock climbing. Although heavier and water-absorbing, denim is a sound choice for fair-weather cragging. The addition of the stretch, gusseted crotch, and purposeful patterning makes the Black Diamond Forged Denim Pants attractive to both the fashion-conscious and practical rock climber. The Forged Denim Pants proved comfortable and promise a long life under hard abuse, while the casual wearability of the pants lends more value to the $125.