I Tried Climbing in Jeans

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One denim skeptic hits the crag wearing the new Black Diamond Forged Denim jeans.

I’ve climbed in just about everything. I’ve worn canvas pants specifically designed for the sport, as well as poly-stretch hiking pants that prioritize breathability. I’ve tried yoga leggings, my boyfriend’s pants, one-size-fits-all trousers from a street vendor, running shorts and medical scrubs. I get the arguments for them all. One I don’t? Jeans.

I know some climbers who crush in jeans. You probably do, too. My sidelong glances and vocal skepticism have returned such justifications as “they’re durable,” “I don’t have to change after my session” and, my personal favorite, “they eat chalk dust so I barely have to wash them.” But still, my main question remains: How can that possibly be comfortable? Jeans are tight in all the wrong areas, they sit right where your harness should be and, moreover, denim is thick, heavy and decidedly unbreathable. There may be nothing on this Earth I’d rather climb in less than denim jeans.

So when I saw Black Diamond’s Forged Denim women’s climbing jeans on REI’s website, I’ll admit: I scoffed. Climbing jeans? OK, Black Diamond, whatever you say. The slim-cut, dark-wash denim looked more at home at a bar than the crag. 

But Black Diamond is one of the world’s leading climbing-oriented brands. The company consistently designs and produces industry-leading gear, and I use it often. Was Black Diamond onto something? I had to find out. 

Fit

The fit of the jeans.

Reviews of Forged Denim suggest that the jeans run smaller than typical street wear, so I sized up. (The pants are offered in numerical sizes, 2 through 12.) When I did, the pants fit me at first, but after only a week or two of wear, including several wash and dry cycles, they began to sag. 

I measured myself again against Black Diamond’s sizing chart and then opted for a size smaller (my true size). This time, the jeans felt tight in the waist and knees, but after some squats and side lunges, they fit perfectly. At size 4, the pants have a 32-inch inseam, which is long for me, so I figured I’d mostly roll or cuff them while climbing. 

Once I had the right size, I was impressed with how the soft denim stretched around my hips and thighs. The waist was comfortable, hitting just beneath my belly button and high enough in the back to avoid any unwanted exposure. (Think of them as “mid-rise.”) To top it off, they looked good: not overly technical, well-dyed and stylish. But I wasn’t in the market for a new pair of “going-out” jeans. I needed something that performed on the wall.

Design and Fabric

Design and fabric.

In an effort to understand what makes these pants different than your average pair of stretchy jeans, I got on the phone with Trent Bush, Black Diamond’s Vice President of Apparel. 

Trent started by explaining BD.FORGED: Focused, Optimized, Regulating, Green, Engineered and Durable. These terms guided Black Diamond’s design process, and the company tried to create a pant that would surpass expectations.

For that, Trent’s team developed a unique blend for the jeans. In lieu of 100 percent cotton, the majority of the denim is made of Cordura, a cotton blend that has greater strength and abrasion resistance (in other words, it’s more durable). About 25 percent of the material is a nylon/polyester for breathability, and the last 2 percent is elastane for stretch and to help retain shape between wears and washes. Trent and the crew at Black Diamond also considered functionality; the slim leg of the women’s jeans is not only on-trend, but it also makes it easy to cuff the jeans and better keep an eye on your footwork.

“We wanted to design something for all types of climbers, so we partnered with our athletes,” Trent added. “We figured if we could design something that was good enough for the experts, it’d be good enough for the core customer.” This made sense to me: If Black Diamond athlete Hazel Findlay could crush 5.14 in the Forged Denim, the same pants would probably work just fine for me, the moderate sport climber and enthusiastic boulderer that I am. 

The Test

Testing the jeans at the crag.

My first several climbing sessions in the Forged Denim took place in the gym. I climb in a BD Solution Harness, and was impressed by how harmoniously the two fit together: The harness sits below the jeans’ hardware, and there’s no pinching, no crossover and no snagging on my belay loop. With my tank tucked in, everything lay flat against my skin—no flapping material got in the way when belaying or clipping. 

For the Forged’s maiden voyage outdoors, I took the pants to Watson Lake in Arizona. There, I followed a friend up an easy trad route on the funky features of the Granite Dells. I was so focused on trying to master a hand jam, I barely paused to appreciate the comfort of the jeans until I reached the top.

On a particularly balmy weekend in June, just before leaving my apartment for a few days of bouldering in Leavenworth, Washington, I pulled on the jeans, thinking we’d probably be stopping in town for dinner. I wound up leaving the Forged on all day, putting them through the wringer on a variety of sharp kneebars, scummy finishes and post-attempt stretches. No problems.

The Forged Denim jeans were fantastic.

The jeans cuffed.

But, there are a few things to note. First, Black Diamond claims the back right pocket has a built-in brush loop, but I never used it for that purpose. (I did use it to store my sunglasses, though.) Second, I managed to put a small hole in the lining of the front pocket just by pulling the pants on too roughly; nothing huge, but concerning enough to make me think twice about how aggressively I tug on the pants. Lastly, once the temperature climbed into the 80s, these jeans, like all jeans, were just too warm. In such instances, I found myself rolling them up to my knees and wishing I’d gone for a lighter, more technical pant.

But for the most part, I rarely thought about the Forged Denim jeans while climbing, which is what I want. It was only after the fact, when I could easily brush the chalk from the denim, throw on a clean shirt and go out to dinner after a day at the crag that I appreciated the versatility of these pants. (Editor’s note: Affirmed. I wore the Forged Denim jeans backpacking through Spain’s Pyrenees range—and also on the town in Barcelona afterward.) I did my morning stretches, went to work meetings and got in a quick training session at the climbing gym before grabbing drinks with my friends—all while wearing the same pants. In one particular week of testing, I wore them every day. The Forged Denim pants solved an issue I never even realized I had: Why can’t one pair of pants just do it all?

Fun fact: This entire article was written while wearing the Black Diamond Forged Denim jeans. 

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