Stretch Bags In Use, by Peter Clinch
Following on from the First Impressions article, which was a side-by-side comparison of Bags and Stretch Bags out of the, ummm, bag, this is how the new ones have fared in the Real World over the last couple of weeks.
Just after I received the Stretch Bags my wife and daughter disappeared for a few days to the Purple Thistle and muggins had a paper round to fill in for. This is in Dundee, so of course cycling up hills is in order and it’s about an hour on and off the bike. And Stretch Bags were an excellent tool for the job, the stretch making them very comfortable, the close cut keeping them out of the way, and the various pockets being a good place for the route list and the wages!
The paper round was a good test of “general purpose”, and everything else that day to day life has thrown at them so far suggests we’re still looking at great multi-purpose trousers. Like Bags that includes being smart enough for environments where some outdoorsy trousers don’t really cut it, and better than Bags when it comes to slounging around thanks to that stretch again.
I’ll be turning 50 soon, and my Half Century Project is a full century (100 miles) on the bike. Though I’ve got about by bike since I was a teenager and done a fair bit of touring, I’ve never actually done a century. My touring legs are a bit out of practice so I’ve started putting some miles in to train, and a 40 km loop with 400m of climbing was taken in Stretch Bags rather than the usual Ronhill Bikesters (I ride a recumbent to tour, so no need for contrived padding of the undercarriage). They did very well: Bags aren’t that great on the ‘bent, but the Stretch flavour were fine for freedom of movement, being close cut enough not to catch the wind and not getting clammy even though they were a bit over-specified for the weather that day. On the recumbent, trousers tend to work back/up rather than down and the higher knee patches were getting a bit too high, but not uncomfortably so, and with the call for riding recumbent bikes in Stretch Bags being what it is I think we can file this safely under “Non Problem”.
I coach basic MTB at a junior cycling club with two hour sessions on Saturday mornings. I figured that would be a good workout for the Stretch Bags and so it proved, with another great performance. It turns out the fabric is reasonably nettle-proof as well as stretchy, sun proof and non-clammy. Everyone else was in “proper” cycling kit, but I never felt at a disadvantage. If the cycling line comes back with a “normal trousers that do cycling well” vibe these will be a great place to start.
Riding home from the cycling club I got caught in a heavy squall which got the Stretch Bags properly soaked. As one would expect from the water test in the Initial Impressions article, they wet out even more quickly than Bags, but while the best thing one can really say about wet Bags is that they don’t stay that way for too long once the rain stops, their stretchy cousins are a lot more benign while they’re soaking. The way the fabric moves with you means that you don’t get that “slapped with a wet fish” feeling every step/pedal rev which Airlight gives. The new ones don’t dry out as fast on the line, but Airlight is a pretty high benchmark and the drying rate is still good (and relatively better on the legs than on the line thanks to the close cut), and with the better comfort while wet I’m happier getting these wet through than Bags.
I wandered up our local brae when there was a regional weather warning for wind in the Stretch Bags and an Airlight Action Jacket. There wasn’t much obvious difference between the windproofing qualities, both keeping out the lion’s share, so the fabric seems a good one to keep the wind at bay. The closer cut of the Stretch Bags is an asset in the wind as they don’t catch the wind so much, so don’t flap or “inflate” so readily.
Doing the touroid thing visiting family in the south-east I’ve been in a bit higher temperatures than my usual base in Dundee, and though I just used my usual Bags Shorts with some sun cream when it was particularly warm, the Stretch Bags spent days outside where sun and mid-20s temperatures were the order of the day (a sunny day over 25 C is my idea of too hot to be really nice to put some context in, I don’t really “do” hot).
The DMC coat seems to do its stuff well and I was never uncomfortable, but a closer cut is a slight disadvantage in the warm because air doesn’t circulate so well inside. This is why Bedouin wear loose clothing, and so for the same reasons that standard Bags are at a relative disadvantage on cooler days, I think they’re arguably a little better on the hot ones. It’s not always practical to wear shorts (perhaps the sun is such that a physical barrier makes more sense than sun block, local social conventions are not happy with them, insects or blown sand are better kept at bay with trousers etc.) and so if you’re in trousers on a roaster of a day I’d go for the Bags over the Stretch Bags, but this is more about cut than material. In terms of material, you might be better off in Goas…
Climbing and Scrambling
The more extended positions one might find oneself in when climbing or scrambling are a place where the relatively close cut of Bags with their static fabric is a bit of a limiting feature. The flex in the Stretch bags gets round this more or less completely, or at least it does for someone like me with bodily limitations on anything too contorted. High and/or wide stepping moves don’t feel in any constricted and the close lines mean you can see what your feet are doing better than something that gets freedom of movement from a baggy fit.
This sort of thing works much better with stretch! Aside from very little resistance to making the move, note how the right hem is still just over the shoe rather than half way up the shin.
Chuck in the machine on a low temperature wash with a spin, remove at the end and they’re damp at the level that if you were away from home and short of spares you could put them on and they’d dry soon enough from body heat. I never bother ironing Bags, even if I had a bit of no-wrinkle OCD I don’t think I’d contemplate it with Stretch Bags: the fabric just doesn’t really do wrinkles.
I’d say one of the biggest takeaways here is that Stretch Bags will do just about anything that Bags will do, and they’ll do some things quite a lot better. They don’t have everything quite their own way, though, and before you think I’m writing off Bags as obsolete I’ll note where and why I think you might prefer one sort over the other as contextually a better pair of trousers.
Bags will cost you a tenner less. Over the life of a pair of Rohan’s Finest that are well out of the budget end of the market that may not seem much, but £10 is £10 and if you don’t gain much by spending it, why spend it? Whether this is an issue will depend upon what you’re using them for and your particular economic circumstances.
Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, of course, but if your particular concepts of it embrace the bigger range of colours and the the slightly more generous cut of the Bags, and if your particular trouser-task is something where that plays a factor (even if that’s simply a case of feeling psychologically more comfortable in a slightly more generous cut) then the Bags have the upper hand. Of course, if you like the looks of a slimmer cut the opposite may apply.
It’s perhaps worth noting that my daughter, who is a recent addition to teenage-dom, said without a trace of irony that she thought the Stretch Bags suited me and were a great colour. She has never said that about any other trousers I’ve ever put on.
Aside from demonstrating why I don’t have a future in modelling and that I should slouch less, these hopefully give you an idea of some of the aesthetic differences between Bags and Stretch Bags. I’ve used the closest matching colours I have. For the record I’m 1.73m (5’8″) and 70 Kg (11 st) and the Stretch Bags are 32 Short (the Bags are 32 Unfinished with “I can’t be bothered to hem them properly” turn-ups)
Very much like the looks, the feel is a matter of personal taste. I prefer the Airlight for sitting around and I prefer the close-cut stretch for moving, but the only way to find out which one works best for you is try both on and see what you think. I’m happy with both, even for those places where I’m out of my first preference (sitting around in Multflex Light, moving in Airlight) but it can’t be emphasised too much that sucking it and seeing is the only way to really decide.
Bags are, errrr, baggier than their stretchy counterparts, and that means that air moves more easily between them and the wearer. This is a two-edged sword: more airflow means cooler when it’s hot and that’s good… but also cooler when it’s cold. Another point about cut is that the more fabric there is the more it will catch the wind and rain, so you’ll potentially get colder and damper. Just as with the aesthetics of cut, the technicalities aren’t a simple case of one is better than the other, but that one is different from the other and your needs will mark out the context that may put one as preferable to the other.
Stretch Bags have six usefully sized pockets. Bags have six usefully sized pockets, with the front ones a bit more capacious. If you use the pockets a lot towards their carrying limits, bigger is quite possibly better: aside from plain More Stuff, the point where it affects walking arrives later with greater capacity, especially for items with a bit of depth (speaking from experience, LTO tape cartridges, for example). Having said that, enough may well be enough, and Stretch Bags are certainly not hobbled by their smaller expansion panels for most pocket-items, most of the time.
The short summary is I think these are very good, whether in absolute terms or relative to their ancestor.
For the most part Bags and Stretch Bags are fairly interchangeable, but for my money the new model is looking better for most outdoor pursuits, and that’s down to the combination of close cut and stretch. Since Bags (stretch or otherwise) are multi-functional by design it’s entirely possible that that aspect isn’t very relevant to you (when I’m at work in my Bags the fact that the stretchy ones would be better for a stroll up a Munro is a bit of a moot point), but for those cases where it is I’d suggest a good look at the new ones. Some people just don’t like such a close cut, and if you’re one of them then my preferences don’t overrule yours, but if you’re up for a bit of experimentation I think you may gain if you’ve been using Bags or similar for hillwalking or the like up until now.
I remain curious as to why the front pockets’ expansion panels have been shortened and at least notionally would prefer them to be more like those on Bags, starting at the waistband (I say notionally, it may be that presented with that I’d agree with the change, but I can only speculate at present), but the pockets we get still work and it’s certainly not going to stop me adding a Coal pair to my wardrobe in the near future.
Quite often when you come across something you’d always thought would be a good idea the reality tends to boil down to “be careful what you wish for” but here we have something that I think is well worth having. For me it’s an “as well as” rather than “instead of” in comparison to Bags, but I’ve never been tempted enough by Trailblazers or Escapers to buy a pair where these tick all the boxes that need ticking for adding to my stretch legwear drawer.
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