Peter Clinch – Out for a Trog
My latest present to myself c/o Rohan is a pair of Troggings, marketed as general purpose outdoor legwear “with all the comfort of your favourite jogging bottoms”. And on the web page they look a bit like jogging bottoms too, so with that setting up something of a jogging bottoms mental picture and in the market for some slounging trousers I was quite surprised when the good folk of Rohan St. Andrews handed me something that didn’t say “jogging bottoms” at all, but rather “stretch weave soft shell”. Being a great fan of stretch woven soft shell for walking trousers this was a pleasant surprise, although I did have to make something of a re-adjustment as to what I’d actually end up using them for: not general purpose house and town, but “proper” outdoors.
These do their talking mainly with the fabric and (for walking trousers) a remarkably understated design. It has increasingly seemed the case over recent years that “walking trousers” are sold on feature count. While the fabric is often a major selling feature, designers have been keen to add loads of pockets, venting zips, probably some more pockets, scuff guards and double-knees (usually in contrast colours so people can see you’re loaded with Technical Features), which considering that light weight is so widely appreciated away from the legs these days is something of an oddity. The trick is to realise that clean design is itself a feature. Less stuff: less weight and packing bulk; fewer pockets: quicker drying; fewer seams: more comfort. One of Rohan’s tag-lines has been “Everything you need, nothing you don’t”, and while some of the garments I’ve seen that applied to strike me as at least slightly over-egged puddings, with the Troggings I’d say very fair comment.
The fabric is tough, soft, reasonably windproof and has a DWR coat that will see off dreich (and worse) quite well. If they do get wet they’ll dry fast and they aren’t too bad when they are wet (you don’t get that “slap your thigh with a wet fish every step” feeling a thoroughly wet pair of Bags provides!). The fabric is stretchy enough that there is no obvious impediment to movement and it has a lightly brushed inner that gives them a little extra warmth.
The cut is quite close, but if that worries you see the digression on stretch to convince you that’s a Good Thing. Being close means they don’t flap in the wind, they don’t collect mud from boots/shoes, they dry faster and will be more thermally efficient (so you’re far less likely to need long-johns). The elasticated drawstring waist isn’t particularly flattering, but out for a dander that’s not the thing of greatest import, and if it does bother you in company it’s easy enough to hide by simply not tucking your shirt in. It is comfortable thanks to a fairly broad light fleece lining with no gaps.
The two pockets will keep hands warm quite effectively and are handy as temporary holding space for other stuff. Though they’re big enough to take phones etc. anything chunky will be likely to make itself felt as you walk, so for walking I’d suggest it goes elsewhere. You won’t be crippled walking around town with anything in them, especially if you shoogle stuff to the side a bit, but it doesn’t work as well as something baggier. You’ve got secure zips if you want to make sure stuff stays put.
So how do these do out in the Real World? With my daughter catching the Munro Bug this summer we took advantage of some good autumn weather to pot a couple of easy ones up at Glenshee and I teamed up the Troggings with some Cool Briefs, a Merino top and an Olfio. What did the Troggings say about themselves as we wandered up Carn Aosda? Nothing much, and that’s another Good Thing: in action the best thing possible to say about most gear is you don’t really notice it’s there, and that’s how these are. They move with you, nothing gets in the way, the fabric is comfortable against the skin.
How about other uses? I’ve used mine for short range local cycling and they’re great for that thanks to the stretch and cut (and the DWR came in handy and proved it’s a good one while I was riding, keeping me decently un-soaked in about 30 minutes of alternating rain and dreich). For longer trips you might want something with extra padding and for nose-on-the-bars stretched out riding something cut higher at the back, but for just getting about they’re fine. Rohan’s web site suggest running, but I think it would have to be pretty cold to want to use them for that and fleece tights would probably be better, but if you already like jogging bottoms over running tights and are aimimg at cold and maybe damp runs, why not?
You could use them for general slumming about in, but they’re rather over-specified for that, and for general urban use you’ll have paid quite a bit for a technical fabric that’s not really being used and a design that might leave you light on cargo space. I think these are better saved for when the slim cut and stretchy fabric (and maybe that DWR) make a difference, but if you fancy reading the Sunday papers in them they’ll still be very comfortable, so don’t let me stop you!
Things I’d change… I prefer “solid” pocket linings to mesh in trousers (mesh tends to get chewed up quicker and with this sort of cut any venting benefit would be a bit of a moot point, I’d think) and that’s really about it. The lack of a fly makes it a little more awkward to have a pee, but I can’t see the ladies having any sympathy with that so I’ll not make any more of it. If you did add anything I think you’d have rather missed the point. I’d say these are at least as good as any walking trousers to have come out of Rohan for a while, and I hope folk will try doing without the usual extra paraphernalia that’s come to be associated with the breed and give them a go. Less really can be more, and these are proof.
A digression on the merits of stretch
Modern hillwalking legwear owes quite a lot to Rohan. As it suggests in the marketing blurb for Rohan Bags, most gearmongers have walking trousers that owe them something, though for me where the bullseye was really scored was the stretchy soft-shell, which sadly fell away from favour in the early 90s. The early stretch salopettes and breeks were not without their issues: they were fairly heavy, very expensive, and sufficiently serious that you’d cook in anything much outside winter conditions. As a budding winter mountaineer and budding gear junkie those disadvantages didn’t seem so bad to me and using them in the Scottish mountains I was soon converted to the wonders of stretch.
Super Salopettes in the Cairngorms. Full freedom of movement, and toasty-warm with no need for thermals or overtrousers. And still no need of thermals or overtrousers in a sleety blizzard!
When it got warmer I abandoned polycotton breeks and took to Tracksters, and despite trends and fashions and fabric developments I still use them as a go-to for anything between cool enough for soft-shell and warm enough for shorts.
Tracksters for orienteering. if they give enough freedom of movement for this sort of thing then they’ll give at least as much as you want for walking.
One of the most common problem with stretch, particularly amongst men, is psychological comfort that comes from whether the wearer is happy to be in a garment. On numerous occasions reading online forums I’ve seen people asking for suggestions of something cheap, comfortable, light and fast drying resulting in a recommendation for Tracksters or similar, and then the poster demurring that “the world is not ready to see me in Ron Hills!” in a way which suggests anything stretchy and close cut must surely look as if it’s applied with a spray-can. There appears to be considerable reluctance amongst many chaps to be seen in anything a bit on the clingy side, and it’s perhaps a fear of being taken to be a MAMIL, the dreaded Middle Aged Man In Lycra. So what’s wrong with middle aged men in lycra?
In a “picture is worth a thousand words” manner, that probably answers that question fairly comprehensively! As this shot was being taken a courier came up the garden path with a delivery, and I think it’s fair to say that judging from his expression he didn’t know quite what to think! Maybe it’s the stripes, causing a headache by drawing the eye in while simultaneously repelling it, so let’s try without them…
These fleece tights are still obviously figure hugging, but black is rather more forgiving than more ostentatious colours and patterns and these have never caused any comment or obviously watering eyes on the hill.
Next up are the Ronhill Tracksters, enormously popular with runners and still fairly widely seen on the hills and crags. While they’re a close fit they’re not actually that close compared to the horrors of the climbing tights (there’s enough room for creases if you look) and if I, a chap of 48 who’s always had to be a bit careful about Too Many Pies, can wear them without people pointing/laughing/shrieking then the actuality is that almost anyone can. Nobody will spare these a second glance at an orienteering event, in practice nobody seems to find them odd when I go hillwalking in them, or riding a bike, or wandering around town after parking the bike, so maybe stretchy isn’t quite as bad as you thought?
Still not convinced? Here are the Troggings, alongside a pair of Bags (can’t tell which is which? look for the contrasting embroidered logo on the Bags’ pocket). A reasonably close fit, but they’re clearly trousers and not tights, or the not-quite-tights of the Ron Hills. There’s nothing to be afraid of, and in fact if you compare to the gear-geek effect of some more typical walking trousers with contrast knee patches and pockets all over the place they appear quite restrained and elegant. It’s really the case that folk will have to get quite up close and personal to realise you’re in anything out of the ordinary, so if you’ve been worried about close cut and stretchy up until now I implore you to try out something like the Troggings that don’t draw too much attention to themselves in action because I think you’ll find they represent the most comfortable way to dander round the hills once it’s too cold for shorts (for which, of course, I will commend you to the sartorial black-holes that are wrap-over running shorts, but that’s another story…).
Now we’ve looked at, well, looking at them, let’s consider the advantages of stretch legwear. The most obvious thing is freedom of movement and on a long walk there’s a lot of movement, so the less restricted it is the better. This is most self-evident when scrambling and longer reaches aren’t impeded in any way, but it comes in to play with normal steps too, at least in the longer term. Raise your thigh in pair of Bags and the fabric will be dragged over your knees and up your calves and shins a little. The fabric is light and smooth so this doesn’t seem like much work, but over the course of many miles you’ll have done a fair bit of unnecessary work that in a pair of Troggings you won’t be doing (especially if they’ve gained weight by soaking up rain water, if you can imagine such a thing happening). You can get around that with generous cut, but that brings its own problems: aside from a slight tendency to look like MC Hammer, your baggy trousers catch the wind (and any rain it might be carrying) much more easily. With lots of space inside a flapping leg there’s plenty of scope for convection currents which give a draughty feel and lose you heat, so walking in the wind you’re wasting energy and you’re wasting heat.
Another thing about heat is that if wet fabric is to dry it helps to be close to a heat source, and in the case of trousers that’s your legs. Cut them close and they dry out quicker, cut them very close, which you can do with stretch fabrics, and they dry out quicker still. So we use less energy, things dry faster, and stay quieter.
That’s a pair of the original Goas which are loose enough never to restrict movement, but are actually aimed in part at environments like (presumably) Goa, where free flow of air to promote cooling is a useful feature. That’s not necessarily the case on the sort of day we might expect in autumn up a Munro or a Wainwright, and while I’ve suggested a lot of people are afraid of the looks of close-cut and stretchy, these aren’t going to go down in many filing systems under “smart”.
There are, predictably, downsides to stretch. If you really do like to load up your trousers inna kichen-sink stylee then a close cut in a stretchy fabric becomes a problem. If you’ve got big patch pockets then you’re throwing away your faster drying and less flapping, and if you keep pockets close in then you’ll feel what’s in them with every step. So stretch and close cut is not a natural ally of lots of pockets with lots of stuff in them.
If all else is equal a stretch fabric will probably be a little heavier because it needs to be thicker in order to have some give to stretch out. And it may well be a bit more expensive, length for length, than static cloth. However, you’ll probably need less of it in a good pair of walking trousers because you don’t need lots of space in the cut, so those issues will tend to cancel out to some degree, and heavier fabrics tend to flap less in the wind.
If you are somewhere like Goa then “thermal efficiency” may well not be quite what you’re after. There are occasions where that’s true for UK hillwalking too, though there’s at least the odd day where something with a bit less built-in cooling is welcome…
On balance, the main practical downside of stretch that will affect most of the people, most of the time, is relative lack of cargo capacity. I would argue that if you’re mainly out to go for a walk then that’s a bit of a moot point, because there are better places to put stuff than on your legs. Your legs are constantly changing speed and moving relative to pocket space so anything much in a pocket will tend to impede movement a little. If you limit trouser pockets to warming up cold hands, temporary space for gloves during stops and maybe a hanky then the actual walking should be more efficient and more comfortable, so if it’s distance you’re planning on then I commend close-cut stretch fabrics to you. They work very well, and they don’t necessarily look as risqué as many people seem to assume.
Photo Credits – Chantelle Eisma-Clinch except skiing (Mark Fraser) and orienteering (Dave Prentice)
Note from Rohantime: It is the intention that all first reviews of new Rohan gear on Rohantime will be undertaken by Rohanists who have an understanding of outdoor gear, the fundamentals of keeping warm, dry and safe on the hills, an appreciation of Rohan’s core values and how they are expressed in the clothing and a working knowledge of similar products that are available. These reviews, will represent a fair and balanced evaluation.
Reviewed by Peter Clinch