You can do pretty much anything in a good pair of jeans these days — climb, hike, bike, head to work or out to the pub. But which pair is best if you not only want to look good but also lead an active lifestyle? Companies like Patagonia and newcomers like reDEW make jeans with stretch to give your better range of motion, not to mention increased comfort and durability. We put six different pairs of active jeans to the test to help you narrow down your choices.
San Fran-based Chrome dub these jeans “the toughest pair you’ll ever own, period.” And out of the box that claim certainly seems to be true. These five-pocket jeans are stiff, a rugged touch that’s likely due to the Dyneema, a fabric that’s 15 times stronger than a steel cable of the same weight, that’s been custom-woven into the 12-ounce Cone Mills denim. I’ve found that they take a while to break in and soften up; Chrome’s DNA is anchored in city cycling, and that’s one way to get that done, and fast. But I was surprised to have one of the rivets in the coin pocket blow out after a few months. A 365-day warranty should help alleviate some concerns about that happening to you. They also run a bit big in the waist, so size down; otherwise, they offer plenty of room in the legs. Want something thinner? Try the Wyatt Slim, which has a more tailored look and doesn’t report the same sizing issues at the waist.
A relative upstart in the active denim game, Boulder was started by two climbing enthusiasts who got sick of lesser jeans while climbing, and set out to create their own stretch denim. The jeans are crazy-stretchy but bounce back admirably, and after several months of use, the company’s claim that they don’t bag out is holding strong. Their design eschews the gusseted crotch found in other active denim designs, which makes ‘em slightly more traditional in styling than some other active models. A hydrophobic coating delivers some water repellency (and also helps fight stains and stink), and the twin hand pockets are plenty deep. They also have a “trap pocket”—a zippered inner pocket on the left side, that climbers can use to keep their keys or phone secure, but something that others might find superfluous. They come in three fits—a woman’s skinny, and the men’s athletic and slim. If you run on the trim side, opt for the slim. It makes the best use of the stretch.
One of the first active- and travel-centric jeans on the market, Duer’s still remain one of the best, with a slim fit that’s very fashion forward but not at all restrictive when biking, hiking, or running to catch your next plane, train, or bus. The overall stretch comes from a blend of denim and Spandex, buoyed by a seat gusset for added range of motion—but it blends into the overall aesthetic of the pants themselves. They also use triple-stich seams and have integrated Coolmax fibers to wick moisture and insulate in the cold. I have worn these for years, and still love them. Opt for the “dusk” colorway, a mid-tone blue with a bit of whisking and sanding to give ‘em an instant worn-in look.
Mission Workshop The Mission
Despite the fact that Mission Workshop calls the Mission a “jean,” don’t expect your traditional denim. The company developed thus fabric—a durable stretch-woven material—with an Italian millery near Lake Como, Italy, and it’s more like a soft shell crossed with a canvas work pant (in a good way). But the Mission’s aesthetic takes every sartorial lead from the traditional five-pocket blue jean. After weeks of wear and tear (biking and hiking and traveling), the comfort belies its durable-yet-refined appearance. Almost like wearing sweat pants disguised as jeans, with ample stretch, no wrinkles, and no hint of ever bagging out. It comes in slim and straight fits; go for the thinner one to better-utilize that four-way stretchy freedom.
Like many jeans on this list, Patagonia gets its performance from the integration of stretch-friendly Coolmax fabric, blended into 71% organic denim, to deliver mechanical stretch, moisture management, and a DWR finished. Unlike the others on this list, these jeans are Fair Trade Certified for sewing, uses only 100% organic cotton grown without any of the nasty bits, and employs a dying process that reduces the amount of water, energy, and chemicals typically used in crafting jeans. In other words, Patagonia continues their environment-first mantra, and breaks new ground in denim development in the process. Fit-wise, they’re a touch slim despite calling them “regular fit,” and the denim looks almost shockingly new and…dare we say…a bit too traditionally jeans-like, at least until you put in a bit of wear and tear. You should take that a challenge.
Set to launch in the US imminently, Swedish brand reDEW makes athletic jeans that are not only stretchy enough to move with you, but are also made through a more environmentally friendly process that consume 80 percent less water and chemicals and 50 percent less energy than your average pair of jeans. reDEW uses Archroma dyes to color the denim — plant-based dyes sourced from 100 percent renewable resources instead of petroleum. To top it off, the company donates 25% of its profits to various projects that help save endangered species and their natural habitat.