As a guide, I’m out in the field so much that the accompanying “sport-outdoor” clothing can begin to feel like a uniform. It’s a uniform I’m proud and thankful to wear, but I enjoy dressing down when I can. So, when I heard about Thunderbolt Sportswear’s Original soft-shell jean option this past spring, it caught my attention: Finally, field-ready clothing that comes on as casual! My pair arrived in early September—perfect timing, as these are an ideal autumn climbing pant. The Schoeller Dryskin fabric is thicker and warmer than your average jeans, but far stretchier and more performance-oriented. Plus, if a squall blows in you won’t be caught out in the cold with its Nanosphere DWR (durable water repellent) finish.
That was just the scenario for my first trip out with the Originals. Under late-afternoon gray clouds hinting at impending doom I nonetheless made a plan to climb with a friend at the nearby Bolton Quarry. My partner and I managed to squeak out two routes before it started spitting. The soft-shell withstood the onslaught and ultimately it was the rain-slick schist rather than the clothing that shut me down. The moisture never penetrated through the Schoeller and by the time I jogged back to the car, they were completely dry. My second outing was more fortuitous: A crisp, but sunny weekend of guiding at Cathedral Ledge, NH. The Schoeller was perfect in these temps, keeping me warm but breathing when things got steeper and harder. At one point we were on the south facing walls of Whitehorse and they did feel a bit hot—but then again, we were climbing the link-up known as “Hotter Than Hell/Inferno.” Perhaps I brought it on myself…
All-in-all the Original Jean is an excellent autumn and spring option for cragging and multi-pitch. It’d be a bit too toasty for most summer locations unless you added quite a bit of altitude and maybe a northern exposure. I might try them for a spin on some ice this winter, but the ankle area won’t fit over most ice boots (fine for “fruit boot”-style mixed climbing boots), so—unless you like gaiters—it’d have to be limited to dry tool or ice cragging—perhaps they’ll add a zipper on future jean editions. On the note of fit: the Original fit is for trim folks. No one has ever accused me of having meaty thighs and I fill these things out like I’m Usain Bolt. The cut verges on hipster, which might make sense given that Thunderbolt has its office in “Portlandia” Oregon. And there’s definitely no room under there for adding some long underwear. As they develop their product line, I hope they design a “casual fit” option.
The leaves are down and winter is about to set in here in the Northeast. My Thunderbolt’s are now neatly tucked away in my rock pants bin. But come spring, as I hit the crag and transition into the summer rock season, these jeans will definitely be on heavy rotation again. They are the perfect cool-weather cragging pant—stylish, casual, performance-oriented, and ready for anything that the transition seasons might throw your way. And even better, when you transition back to town, you’ll still be in style. You can check out Thunderbolt’s Swiss-made Schoeller, All-American-sewn line at: www.thunderboltsportswear.com .