By Owen Clarke
When I first started climbing years ago, the last thing I ever thought I’d be sending in was a pair of jeans. Jeans were what my dad wore at Fourth of July barbecues, not what I wanted to hit the crag with. Back then, jeans meant feeling hot and itchy and constricted (and lots of grass stains). Not the best trio of sensations for climbing.
But that was then. Crafted as the perfect combination of durability and stretchability, with lightweight and breathable fabric, Black Diamond’s Forged Denim Pants may just as well not be jeans at all.
The Forged Denim Pant was born thanks to an athlete summit, where Black Diamond athletes unanimously asked for a BD denim pant. “[Denim] is a pant they love to climb in, travel in and a style they don’t leave home without,” said Apparel Category Director Julie Hirsch. “Some were buying denim from fast fashion brands that provided slim, modern silhouettes and stretch but no durability. Others were climbing in heavy, durable denim, but these styles were lacking the stretch needed to provide freedom of movement on-route.” So Black Diamond began work on a hybrid, a climbing pant sturdy enough to hold up to repeated abrasions, but flexible enough to perform well on the most dynamic and acrobatic of routes. Sort of like if Mr. Fantastic had a child with the Thing… nevermind. I don’t want to think about that.
The answer to the stretchability vs. durability problem came in the form of Cordura Denim, a type of uber-durable nylon. Traditional denim fabric, which is cotton-based, is woven together with a white yarn in a twill weave. In BD denim, these cotton yarns have cordura and polyester added to increase durability. Elastane (i.e. spandex) is then weaved horizontally across the pant to provide stretchability. As a result, the Forged Denim Pant provides both the hardiness of traditional denim and the freedom of movement offered by typical synthetic climbing pants, with a breathable and lightweight material unheard of in the denim world. This allows the pant to perform well in humid, warm environments like climbing gyms and crags during the spring and summer.
Top BD athletes such as Babsi Zangerl, Colette McInerney, Nalle Hukkataival, Daila Ojeda and Carlo Traversi all hopped into the pants for product testing. The athletes put them to the test in a variety of locales and conditions, from Indian Creek offwidths to FAs on boulders in remote Argentina. “We always include athletes early in the design process,” said Sports Marketing Manager Tyler Willcutt, “so they get to speak up and give feedback to make the best product for all styles. With the athletes on our team from all over the world, with different styles, strengths and weaknesses… we have the opportunity to get a global perspective in a few minutes.”
For British trad star Hazel Findlay, one of the main product testers, the Forged Denim Pants provided a major performance boost on Book of Hate (5.13d), a 150 foot Yosemite dihedral set by rock pioneer Randy Leavitt. Findlay scored the initial send back in 2011, with friends James McHaffie and Sean Villanueva O’Driscoll. “It’s a beautiful open book corner, kind of on its own above the Merced,” she said. “It’s a cool line because people climb it different ways. Some people chimney it. Other people stem.”
Given Book of Hate’s status as a nails-hard stemming line, Findlay returned in 2018 with the Forged Denim for a trial by fire. “I can do the splits in these jeans,” she said. “So on the route I had complete freedom to stem, and whenever I put my hip or bum on the rock, it stuck.”
Findlay cruised Book of Hate with the Forged Denim Pants, and now uses the jeans when climbing trad, sport and bouldering. “They are the first climbing jean I’ve seen that really allows freedom to move,” she said. “I use my flexibility a lot while climbing, so I need a really stretchy pant. [In the Forged Denim Pant] you are wearing a more durable fabric that protects your skin from abrasion, yet you can still stretch as much as you want.”
It’s evident that the Forged Pant provides unprecedented stretch potential for a denim climbing pant, but its durability is equally impressive. Testing has shown it’s five to ten times more abrasion resistant than all-cotton denim of the same weight, “We’ve had the Forged Denim in field testing for over a year and a half,” noted Hirsch, “and haven’t seen any tearing of the fabric through hard use from athletes or BD employees. Not a single tear! We are waiting to see who can tear it first.”
In the vein of their “Apparel as Equipment” tenant, Black Diamond also went to great lengths to ensure that the Forged Denim Pants were a functional piece of equipment as much as a clothing item. “Everything was chosen to make sure the pants were harness compatible and had climbing specific features, like low profile hardware, optimal pocket placement, and a brush pocket,” said Hirsch. The pants also feature a 3-piece waistband, to prevent stretching over time, and traditional 5-pocket style. This means two pockets front, two back, and then that tiny pocket inside the right front pocket that nobody uses. What is that pocket even for? A pocket watch? A GameBoy cartridge? A dime bag of weed? What are you supposed to carry there? No, seriously. If you know, tell me in the comments.
Perhaps most surprisingly, however, Findlay noted the jeans were stylish. “Most people comment that they actually look nice,” she said. Nalle Hukkataival echoed this sentiment, calling the Forged Denim Pants, “Something you can wear from a day of climbing to the bar.” Daila Ojeda felt the same. “[In the Forged Denim Pants] you can feel like a climber on the rocks and like a climber in the bar drinking a beer,” she said. This style component was intentional. Hirsch and the design team at Black Diamond went to great lengths to craft the pants not only as a piece of apparel able to perform in technical conditions, but one which doesn’t look out of place in a casual, social setting. The Forged Denim Pant is constructed with what Black Diamond calls the V11 fit, a “stylish, functional cut.” This means the men’s pant has a tapered leg while the women’s is a skinny fit, allowing the wearer to see his or her feet while climbing, with no excess fabric in the way. Aside from the durability denim offers, “we find climbers gravitate towards fabrics that have a natural hand feel, like cotton,” Hirsch said, making denim a stylistic choice as well. “We wanted to provide a versatile look and feel that allows climbers to wear this pant through their entire day – from the office to bar to crag to travel.” The result is a pant that climbs exceptionally well, but also doesn’t look out of place at those backyard barbecues (or craft breweries with $15 pints and bearded guys in flannels talking about Bitcoin prices).
Now it’s time to get Black Diamond to send me a pair. Then I’ll go get in the nastiest, chossiest, roughest 5.5 chimney I can find, and see if I can tear these bad boys. Sometimes, being a climber in Alabama actually pays off.