Thursday, 12 July 2012

Arc'teryx Venta Pant Initial Analysis

Jackets, smocks, gilets, insulating layers, base layers, mid-layers - the list goes on but they all have one significant feature in common: they all tend to deal with the upper part of the body - the torso, chest, neck and head. They're the high-profile superstars where kit is concerned. So little attention is paid to the bottom half of the body except our feet (for perhaps obvious reasons). Boxers, pants, trousers, even shorts - they all seem to be the poorer cousins when it comes to kit reviews and choices. Perhaps it's because we don't lose anywhere near as much heat from our legs as we do our upper body, or because wet legs don't feel anything like as uncomfortable as a wet torso, shoulders, back or head. Either way,  when Arc'teryx offered me the opportunity to test some new kit, I investigated their trousers/pants. 

When hiking in the UK in relatively warm weather, I tend to use Montane Terra pants. At 320g, they are lightweight, articulated and weather resistant - even when wet, I have found them to shrug off heavy wind and they dry very quickly indeed. For high-level alpine pursuits, I found the Mountain Equipment Liskamm pants to be superb. In fact, for the first time in a long time, I started to see the benefits to the new breed of soft-shell Schoeller fabrics. Not, however, in the wet. Get the Liskamm pant wet and they take a while to dry. I needed a pant that would cover me in lots of conditions and be comfortable in camp.

Browsing the Arc'teryx website, I liked the look of the Venta pant and Arc'teryx were keen for me to test some of their new range of products, so the choice was an easy one. The Venta is a lightweight, very breathable alpine mountaineering pant in a weather resistant DWR N72s Windstopper 3L soft-shell fabric which is 62% nylon, 37% polyester, 2% spandex comfort stretch, a 3-layer plain weave nylon face Windstopper textile with a micro check backer. It also has a DWR finish. They are billed as 'shedding snow', so Besseggen in June would be a good test for them.

In summary, they take the best elements of a soft-shell - the wind resistance, some of the stretch and all the comfort but are light enough to compare with the Terra pants (at 383g) and are quick drying too. Thoughtfully featured with some astute innovations, they sit well in the Arc'teryx range filling a gap between a lightweight summer pant and a heavy-duty mountain pant. Also, like most Arc'teryx products, they are perhaps most importantly, very, very comfortable.

Made from a lightweight, breathable, weather resistant and snow-shedding Windstopper fabric, the Venta's principle facet is its simplicity. Each and every feature of this alpine pant is carefully reasoned and nothing unnecessary has been retained. There is no thigh pockets as you'll find on the Gamma LT pant, nor is the articulation so pronounced - they are articulated to aid mobility, the crotch area is gusseted (i.e. a small diamond is added to the crotch area) and the seat and knees are articulated - all to permit full range of movement. However, unlike the Gamma LT, they are not just for walking but climbing and alpine pursuits and the design takes this intended use forward. I find this balanced articulation essential in a mountain pant (rather than simply a walking pant), especially if I am going to be scrambling on occasion as sometimes planes of movement are called for that aren't quite the same as one foot in front of the other, or simply climbing over a stile. I don't have the time, or the will, to be worried about whether my pants will allow me to put my foot, or knee, where I want to put it. 

All of the zippers are Watertight zippers. A note on this: anyone familiar with any medium to high-end outdoor kit will have seen watertight zippers by now - almost every product we use where wind or water is to be shut out these zippers are ubiquitous. Well, Arc'teryx developed the laminated, watertight zipper. Micro-taped seams - Arc'teryx. Laser-cut fabrics - them too. And, since 2004, their highly acclaimed LEAF program has provided kit for those most likely to need it functioning perfectly - Law Enforcement and Armed Forces. They continue to innovate to this day and this is precisely the reason I am enjoying working with them. 

Back to the Venta. The interior fabric of the pant is a soft, smooth almost velvet texture. It's frankly luxurious. Unlike other soft-shells, this is the sort of thing you expect on expensive nightwear with a four figure price tag. It's a guilty pleasure this, and I love it. In the photograph below, the seam-sealing is evident. The Venta is halfway between a waterproof shell layer and a complete soft-shell combining some of the best elements of both but in a 380g package rather than a 500 or 600g package. Balancing is what this pant is all about, but, surprisingly, not compromise.

The simplicity continues: posterior zipped vents don't have fussy webbing or mesh behind them - they vent the skin of your legs directly into the air. The vents are long and easily reached. As we've seen, the inside seams throughout are sealed using Arc'teryx finishing tape which aids both wind resistance and snow shedding.  The hems have both a small gaiter clip to attach to the laces of your boots or shoes as well as shock-cord adjustment. This is intended to ensure wind resistance even when climbing in the pant, as well as preventing riding up in snow. I'd probably still add a small mid-gaiter like the Rab Latok Mid in snow, but this a great idea for those using this pant in the snow. There are two good sized hand-pockets with zips. The waist is comfortable unlike the Montane Terra pants which I find can drift down under the belt during periods of activity and be uncomfortable unless your base layer is tucked in. Not the same here, nor with the similarly constructed Palisade pant.

Nuts and bolts - machine wash without fabric softener. What a great thing - not to have to worry about nikwax each and every time you wash although I would probably consider doing it once every so often. In terms of sizing - I am a 34" waist, and 6ft with a 40" chest and 21" torso. My inside leg is 33". I went for a large and it is just about right, perhaps a tiny bit too big. However, the leg is slightly shorter than I would want (probably 32"). Arc'teryx don't do separate leg lengths in the one waist size - this is a flaw in my view and Arc'teryx should perhaps consider their policy on this but bear that in mind when looking at these pants. It's a trim fit which means, even with my large thighs there is a little play around the buttock and thigh area - perhaps a few inches.

The Venta pant is not likely to be as warm as the Liskamm pant, as the fabric is significantly thinner but I do think that if you are looking at a general walking pant where weight and weather resistance are crucial, these fit the bill as much as the Montane Terra with the added advantage of better water resistance/snow shedding, better wind resistance and a more comfortable fit and interior fabric. I think the Terra is quicker drying but the Venta is going to dry sufficiently quickly for almost anyone's needs.

In Jotunheimen, the snow-shedding DWR was good enough to bead moisture in the rain and it did indeed shed snow as we sometime went knee deep in the drifts on the ridge. The wind resistance is excellent and the smooth inner fabric does not feel cool even when the outer is exposed to severe convective heat loss. The vents were good when ascending - a quick zip down and I was able to expose a great deal of skin to the open air allowing me to vent effectively. I was a little frustrated by the length on occasion but not enough to shelve the pants - they'll be my first choice mountain pant from now on. Comfort, performance and weight - all in one package. I'll update as I use them.


  1. Looks like a good pair of trousers! I was trying to get a pair of Montane Terras but they seem to have sold out nearly everywhere of anything in my size (the long leg versions being particularly elusive). This looks like a pretty nice alternative.

    There's only one problem with Arc'teryx, which I think is best put by borrowing one sentence from your review, and changing one word in it:

    "Also, like most Arc'teryx products, they are perhaps most importantly, very, very expensive."

  2. ...although on closer inspection I see that you found the leg too short. Shame, as I'm about the same size.

  3. As to expensive - I agree, and always have, but in my view worth it. Everything about them is a cut above. Whether something is worth the purchase price is a matter of personal opinion so I'll say nothing more than that! As to length - they are just about ok, I can live with it. I prefer my trousers to be longer - with my 32-33" leg they sit perfectly when I'm standing but I normally prefer a little more length so that they don't ride up in other circumstances. It would not put me off as this is a really excellent all round pant.

  4. Informative write-up  Maz. I have the Terra Pants, but I have never tried 
    Arc'teryx before, I guess I have been put off by the high cost, but you get what you pay for and there seems to be quite a lot of innovation in their clothing.

  5. Certainly the cost is higher than comparable clothing but innovation, design and manufacture are all top rate. 

  6. It's really good to hear about Arc'teryx stuff in use. In reality, it is so "top end" that few people get to buy it - hence fewer users and fewer reports. The same goes, to an extent, for Haglofs - I've recently dipped my toe in that particular water and been very pleasantly surprised.

    So thanks for sharing.

  7. Jules, I'll be working with Arc'teryx for some time to come evaluating some of their newest kit and giving what they know will be honest opinions. I'll be feeding back my own comments for improvements and I know they monitor the comments here and on Twitter about their kit. Thanks for your comment and, please, feel free to comment again. Later this year - winter kit and new rucksacks!

  8. I'll keep an eye out over the coming months then! Both might be towards the top of my "want" list!

  9. I like your review Maz. Well put together as always. One thing that lets these trousers and the Terra’s down in my opinion is the belt buckle. That design, when wearing a rucksack always comes loose. It would have to go if i was to buy a pair which i think are rather prohibitive but on trousers/pants of this pedigree i would expect better.
    The latest Rohan leg wear have a new quick release design belt that is far better, i think. The Rohan Dry Ascent at 400gr and £105 would be a good pair to compare against them.
    If only i had both pairs. Dream on.