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KUHL Kontra Air Review
Cons: Very poor water resistance, slim fit may not be ideal for larger dudes
Bottom line: A comfortable and stylish pant for use on hot and steamy adventures.
The KUHL Kontra Air is a predominantly cotton hiking pant that is easily one of the best choices that we tested for use in hot climates. With 11 different ventilation points — two behind the knees, two in the crotch, two vertical thigh pockets, two front hand pockets, two rear pockets, and one left side drop pocket — this pant has more escapes for built-up heat than any other. It pairs the exemplary ventilation with a cool, light, and breathable fabric made up of 72% cotton and only 26% nylon. These slim fitting pants have probably the most comfortable feeling fabric against the skin of any that we tested, but also come with the serious drawback of being nearly worthless in a rain storm. In our overall ratings, they were pretty much exactly in the middle, but we think they make an incredible choice for those who prefer pants in a hot or humid climate.
RELATED REVIEW: The Best Hiking Pants for Men
Our Analysis and Hands-on Test Results
The KUHL Kontra Air is explicitly designed to help you stay cool while in hot and humid climates, and we think it accomplishes this task admirably. Compared to the vast range of predominantly synthetic hiking pants we tested for this review, the finely woven Kontra Stretch fabric feels silky smooth and soft against the skin, altogether eliminating the rough or itchy feel common to entirely nylon pants. The use of cotton comes with a significant downside of absorbing a lot of water in a rainstorm and being slow to dry again afterward. Worth noting is that this pant is a variation of the KUHL Kontra pant, with a slimmer shape and added ventilation in the crotch and knees. For those who don't feel they need the extra vents, or who have thicker legs and want a more spaciously fitting pant, we also recommend the KUHL Kontra.
Comfort and Mobility
While we thought the 72% cotton, 26% nylon, and 2% spandex blend of fabric found throughout the Kontra Air was probably the single most comfortable fabric against our skin, this was offset slightly by the fact that these pants were also the slimmest fitting pants in this review, and not as stretchy as the other slim fits. The legs of this pant are stove-pipe thin, especially the lower legs, giving them a bit of a hipster look that may not be ideally comfortable for dudes with huge quads or even calves. They fit our head tester pretty nicely, with ever so slight amounts of constriction in the upper thighs where they join the pelvis. While these pants do have a hint of stretch, they were nowhere near as stretchy as the similarly fitting Patagonia Quandary, but felt way nicer against the skin than The North Face Paramount 3.0. 7 out of 10 points.
Venting and Breathability
The ability to breathe and ventilate is one of the best attributes of the Kontra Air, and the reason that we would recommend it to folks who need pants in a hot climate. We rated them as the second-best overall for this metric, behind only the REI Co-op Screeline, which had larger vents in most of the same places, and a more relaxed overall fit. There are mesh vents in nearly all of the pockets, including the two front hand pockets, two large stash pockets found on the thighs, one on the left side drop pocket, and in both of the rear pockets. Added to this are open vents behind each of the knees, and two overlapping flap vents in the crotch. Not even the KUHL Renegade Cargo Convertible had as many ventilation options as this pant. If we had to make any complaint, it would be that the slim fit didn't seem to allow for as much airflow as the similarly vented but looser Screeline, which felt a shade cooler during our uphill testing. 8 out of 10.
We found the Kontra Air to be a pretty versatile pant overall, but not an optimal choice for literally every circumstance. We liked it the best for hot weather but found its light and thin cotton to be a bit of a liability in wet or overly cool weather. It was an awesome hiking pant for day hikes or longer, and it's also ideal for traveling and wearing around town and during our everyday lives. While it was good for camping and rock climbing, we wonder about the durability of the thin fabric, so wouldn't do much heavy work in it if we could avoid it. As a very similar design to the Patagonia Quandary, we thought it was about as versatile as that pant, but was not nearly as versatile as the KUHL Renegade Cargo Convertible or the Prana Stretch Zion. 7 out of 10.
In our comparative testing, we found that the "quick drying UBERKUHL bi-component fabric" was neither very water resistant nor very quick drying. With no DWR coating, this pant absorbed a lot of water very quickly when put through our shower test. Cotton is known to be a very absorbent fiber, which is why most outdoor clothing avoids using it these days. In the case of the Kontra Air, it comes with certain advantages, like coolness and comfort, but also suffers from the disadvantage of low moisture resistance. Since it became more water-logged than the predominantly nylon hiking pants it was competing against, it also took longer to dry out afterward. We would not recommend this pant for use when precipitation is likely. That said, it still absorbed less and dried out quicker than the heavier cotton Mountain Hardwear Men's Hardwear AP Pant, but scored lower than the Prana Stretch Zion. 4 out of 10.
This pant comes loaded with usable and useful features, and as such, we awarded it the top score for this metric along with the Renegade Cargo Convertible and the Fjallraven Vidda Pro. Perhaps the most interesting feature is the "French flap," an extra flap and button found on the front of many KUHL pants that helps with the waist enclosure. Much like on a pair of dress pants, this extra flap and button found inside the front zipper simply adds another option for comfort, while also keeping the fabric from creasing up and looking nicer. We often chose not to use it, in which case most of the tightness was found to reside in the waist belt. When we did use it, this relieved some of the waist tightness and also helped keep pressure off the front snap button, which often released on us when wearing the similar Renegade Cargo pants.
In addition to the many vents already described, these pants also have a ton of pockets. The most notable are the dual deep drop pockets on the side of each leg that are perfect for a phone and merely have an unfastened opening at the top. There are also double stash pockets that have a vertical zipper on the side of the leg and large pocket in the front of the thigh. We used to hate this style of pocket, but have since come around, realizing that items stored in these pockets move nicely with the legs, and don't swing about as much on their own like items stored inside of the leg cargo pockets do. If you like a lot of storage for all you trail goodies and trinkets, then this is a good pant to check out.
The KUHL Kontra Air are designed for use in hot weather, and this is where it will shine the most. It is also a good choice for traveling in hot climates, and they even look nice enough to be used as casual dress pants or out on the town. Besides hiking, we enjoyed climbing and camping with them, but wouldn't recommend them for use on wet or cold adventures.
These pants retail for $85, making them nearly as affordable as the lowest priced hiking pants in our review. As long as you intend to use them for their ideal purposes, we think this presents a great value.
The KUHL Kontra Air is a predominantly cotton blended pant that has a ton of ventilation and help one stay relatively cool in hot climates. They are made of perhaps the most comfortable fabric we have worn for this test, but at the same time suffer from a total lack of water resistance. They are also slimmer fitting than nearly every other pant we tested, so may only be practical for skinnier types. Although they have a few downsides, they have the most usable pockets and features of any pant tested, and are the best option for mid-summer hiking in pants.
— Andy Wellman
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