Since moving back to Vancouver Island from the arid lands of the Okanagan, I’ve had the privilege of enjoying the green, lush surroundings and snow-free roads almost all year round. During the winter season, I would enjoy cool, misty mornings riding gravel backroads, and low-elevation bikepacking trips only to be baptized by the fickle weather here on the West Coast. Sunny, cloudy, windy, warm, cold, wet, dry, and even steaming—all in one day. Jackets and jerseys may be easy to layer up or remove as needed, but pants? That's another story.
Finding a good set of shoulder-season pants seemed to elude me. I was faced with either wearing bib shorts & leg warmers which were not quite warm enough, and not at all "drizzle" proof. If I made a mid-ride cafe stop, I could never get warm again. Or, I would wear some light, semi-snug rain pants that would prove a right pain to take off after I was sweating in them for a few good hours. Oh, let's not forget them getting caught in the chainring, or having to tuck them into your socks. Yes, there were a few solutions I found, but none were quite what I needed.
GORE's Got You Covered
But fear not, GORE®WEAR has got your butt covered with their Fernflow Pants. Designed for those cool unpredictable days when Mother Nature can't decide whether to crank up the heat or throw a surprise rain party. Full-featured yet lightweight—they are almost the Swiss Army knives of cycling pants—without the tweezers or corkscrew. Thanks to the fancy GORE-TEX INFINIUM™ and WINDSTOPPER® technology, they've got a touch of weatherproof magic up their fabric sleeves—or shall I say down their legs.
But, what else would you expect from the pioneers of technical outdoor fabrics? You should recognize the GORE-TEX name, but did you know that a former DuPont chemical engineer named Wilbert L. Gore, founded W.L. Gore & Associates in 1958 with his wife Vieve in their Newark basement, working on various industrial applications using PTFE (polytetrafluoroethylene)—yeah, that's a mouthful eh!?
The real hero is Wilbert's son, Robert (Bob) W. Gore who, 11 years later, in 1969, discovered that by stretching PTFE under certain conditions, it could create this microporous structure. GORE-TEX was originally sold as a plumber's tape thread sealant. Eventually, they developed how to "pull" sheets to create a remarkable waterproof yet breathable membrane, which they realized could be utilized in the textile industry. Bob stumbled upon the secret sauce for outdoor enthusiasts' dreams. Discover more about GORE® here.
If you're old like me, you may remember the original '80s GIRO Jacket made from this high-tech fabric. The outdoor world would never be the same. Hikers, skiers, and adventurers of all kinds could now stay dry and comfortable even in the most challenging conditions. Over the next 40 years, GORE® products have been at the center of outdoor clothing, producing its own line of apparel under the names GORE BIKE WEAR® and GORE RUNNING WEAR®. Recently (2018) they realigned the GORE® apparel brands under one umbrella: GORE®WEAR.
Cool Features One Leg At A Time
Now, back to the Fernflow Pants. The same dedication to quality and performance went into creating this trail-riding masterpiece. These pants aren't your run-of-the-mill leg coverings. Available in black and Utility Green (pictured) they come loaded with features such as the wide, velcro adjustable waistband for post-Thanksgiving meal rides, and zippered side vents to let some cool air in ...or hot air out. Plus, taped seams, pre-shaped knees, and zipped pockets up front to store all your important trinkets. Speaking about the pockets, they have a funny 'mitt' shaped inside. This design keeps your phone from shifting around while you ride and gives your thumb room to grab it quickly for those trailside hero shots.
But wait, there's more! Calf-length zipped cuffs allow you to put them on without striking some awkward yoga pose or the need to take off your shoes! GORE®WEAR says these are also to provide easy access to knee protection, but I beg to differ with the slim-fitting leg. At best, you'll be able to undo a few calf straps and yank your body armor off, not put it on.
Thanks to the GORE-TEX INFINIUM® superpowers, these pants can handle anything from light wintery showers to springtime sunshine. PLUS, any road or trail-side spray that dares to approach them gets a polite, "Excuse me. Shove off, mate!"
Comfy Fit I Say
But let's talk comfort as this is where the pants shine. I was surprised at how warm these pants were given the very thin fabric. The articulated, pre-shaped knees and gusseted crotch combined with the stretchy fabric make these pants ride just like how the name sounds. Very smooth and flowing. Given they are designed for cooler weather, the thin fabric makes them handle warmer climates surprisingly well, thanks in part to those side vents. A word of caution with those vents, the zipper has a knack for picking fights with the fine bug-mesh backing. Take care when zipping them back up.
These pants are a little like the delicate china in your grandma's cabinet. Okay, maybe not that fragile, but if you take a trailside bobble down on a knee—voila—you'll probably get a few new ventilation holes where you least expect them. So don't expect them to take the abuse of ripping through trails with pokey things whizzing by. I would wear my leg armor over the pants if I felt there was any chance I was going to take a hard landing anywhere.
They are very suitable for general trail riding, gravel roads, and commuting. They could also be the perfect shoulder-season bikepacking trips when you only have room for one pair of pants. They compress down quite well and will dry quickly if you do get them thoroughly soaked. Great for around the camp when the sun goes down PLUS comfy enough to double as PJs on those really cold nights.
Like most cycling apparel, they seem to be molded for the tall-slender European cyclist and as a 34" x 30" pant size, I'm always faced with some extra length in the leg. My large pants measure up to be a 34.7" waist with a 33" inseam which fit as expected—a little snug in the waist and long in the leg. Unfortunately, the online sizing chart doesn't show the range of the adjustable waist on these particular pants. Described as a “regular fit”, I found them a little on the slim slide, so you might want to consider sizing up as I found there was more adjustability to cinch up the waist than expand it.
The light feeling of the fabric I noticed while spinning my legs was backed up when I tossed my large-sized trousers on the scale to see it only tip 330 grams—lighter than most—but this puts a dent in the overall durability.
At $170 USD the Fernflow Pants, are a bit more expensive than other offerings but those legs are packed with features not found in most brands. The Fernflows have evaporated my fear of freezing my butt off in the morning, only to overheat the instant a ray of sun hits my face. Never again will I peel off my outer layer that is seemingly laminated to my legs with a two-part epoxy mix of drizzle and sweat—only to freeze again in the brisk air 10 min down the road. GORE®WEAR’s Fernflow Pants will protect me from the fickle Vancouver Island weather, and be part of my must-have kit in my bikepacking bags. I don’t think anyone can lay claim to have a perfect do-it-all product, but there are a few that have come pretty darn close. The Swiss Army Knife comes to mind. Now, if these pants only came with tweezers and a corkscrew.
|Windproof, water-resistant fabric|
|Highly breathable and quick-drying|
|Very stretchy for ease of movement|
|Pre-shaped knees in a cycling position with tapered legs|
|Very compressible (fold & roll for best results)|
|Extra treatment and taped seams for spray protection|
|Zippered side ventilation|
|Long calf zippers|
|Robust two-snap button/hook closure|
|Vent mesh easily caught in zippers|
|Fits a little on the small size|
|Online sizing doesn't reflect the adjustable waist|
|Not durable enough for "real" MTB abuse|
|No tweezers or corkscrew (bummer)|