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Outdoor Research Cirque Lite Pants

photo: Outdoor Research Cirque Lite Pants soft shell pant

The Cirque Lite Pants are another hit from Outdoor Research. These alpine climbing pants are hiking, scrambling, and three-season mountaineering friendly.

Pros

  • Tough, four-way stretch fabric
  • Durable Kevlar scuff guards
  • Hip-hugging waist
  • Medium-snug fit
  • Extreme versatility
  • Leg vents

Cons

  • Could be a smidge snugger on the lower legs

 

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Hiking out from Peggy's Pond in the Alpine Lakes Wilderness (Washington)

Outdoor Research's Cirque Lite Pants

Ever do something dumb outdoors and turn a pleasant hike/climb into an epic suffer-fest? Yeah, me neither. Outdoor Research, the “working man’s” gear company, has made a pair of pants that can take you from casual hikes with friends all the way to alpine adventures on the edge of the void. The Cirque Lite Pants are your insurance policy against wardrobe failure in the wilds. You may still have an epic failure of a trip that makes for good stories later, but it won’t be because of your pants. 

Are these good pants? The shortish answer is, yes. For pretty much every kind of trip this side of winter, the Cirque Lite Pants don’t disappoint.

Compared to the original Cirque and current Cirque II Pants, which are much baggier, warmer, and ski-oriented, the Cirque Lite Pants are much more hiker and climber-oriented in weight, fit, and warmth (they are uninsulated).

Manufacturer claims with my assessments:  

Water Resistant—They have a good DWR finish and the material, once wetted, dries out quickly. Completely waterproof pants usually don’t breathe well so the water resistance of the Cirque Lite Pants is ideal for all but the wettest days.

Wind Resistant—The tight knit fabric resists wind on par with or slightly better than most other pants in this class. More importantly they resisted mosquito bites! The little demons couldn’t seem to pierce them!

Lightweight—True (13.6 oz/386 g), but these pants still resist wind and abrasion like thicker/heavier pants.

Breathable—Summer hikes over 85°F might be a stretch for the breathability of the Cirque Lite Pants, but I don’t mind a little sweat. I would not wear these for true desert conditions.

Abrasion Resistant—Amazingly, with all the scrambling and bushwhacking I got myself into on Mount Daniel (Washington state), I can’t find any snags or cuts. Well done, OR!

Movement-Mirroring Stretch—A big yes! The fabric gives in all directions and keeps from binding up while keeping the material closer to the skin avoiding the bagginess that comes with lesser pants. 

Features:

Stretch Waist with Dual Snap Adjustability

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Close the waist with your choice of two snaps, depending on your recent dietary or exercise choices

Zip Hand Pockets

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Keep your essentials safe zipped up

Thigh Pocket

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Mobile device ready
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One back pocket

Gusseted Crotch (sorry, no pictures)

 

Articulated Knees

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All-day flexibility

Slim Lower Leg with Elastic Cuff

I appreciate the slimmer lower leg compared to other pants, but I would like to see the calf section a little slimmer even still. Bagginess here leads to crampon snags, which can contribute to a fall.

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I never thought I'd become that guy taking pictures of himself on hikes, but 12 years of Trailspace reviews have changed me. And yes, the shoes are pretty cool too (discontinued Salomon Odyssey Triple Crown).

Reinforced Scuff Guards

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The inside of the leg cuffs is Kevlar-reinforced. Approaching Peggy's Pond, Alpine Lakes Wilderness
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The natural environment for the Cirque Lite Pants

Testing conditions: Spring hikes around home were my most common use for these pants, but I was fortunate to also wear them on Mount Daniel on a minor epic with the last of my kids who still live at home. On Daniel we scrambled on rock, glissaded down snowfields, hiked in the heat, and fought off swarms of early-season mosquitos. This multi-day trip gave the Cirque Lite Pants a really good workout. I live in the Pacific Northwest which ranges from rainy coastal forests to snowy mountains and semi-arid scrub-steppe. 

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I'm one of those dots in the upper-center of the picture. Mount Daniel, Washington (The State)

How are they different? The fit of these pants; close to the skin but non-binding sets them apart from the competitors. Being stretchy, but still durable, really sets the Cirque Lite Pants above the average hiking/climbing pants. I can even wear a base layer under them and take them up Mt. Rainier or back/sidecountry skiing.

Compared to the Gore H5 Partial Gore-Tex Infinium Pants that I reviewed previously (and loved) the Cirque Lite pants increase durability, fit less like leggings, and are made for harder mountain work. 

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The waistband rolls down if your belly is big enough ;)

Fit/comfort: I’d love to tell you how I stay triathlon-ready 12 months per year and that I never grow an off-season belly from crap food, an office job, and a sedentary life, but I’d be lying. My loss is your gain however because, even though I’ve kept my 32-inch inseam all year, my weight has gone from 185 pounds, well into the 200+ pound range, and the Cirque Lite Pants in medium still fit well. The standard fit has gone from slightly baggy to snugger, but their stretch and adjustable waist have accommodated my off-season indolence.

The extra-tall, stretchy waistband hugs the hips the way leggings do, making them extremely comfortable, and they never seem to slide down, even without a belt.

I didn’t initially notice the vent behind the knee, but the extra ventilation really helps on warmer days or during strenuous activity.

Also, I looked on the OR website and didn't see a women's-specific version of these, but a woman could easily wear them (size range is S-XXL). The ski-oriented Cirque II Pants do come in male and female cuts, but they are not made for the same tasks at all.

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Great pants for pensive staring

Style: “Dangit Jeffrey, I don’t care about style in the mountains!” If this is you, I understand. Kindly skip this section. 

The Cirque Lite Pants come in classy black or beige or a two-tone grey with black knee sections that look like the hideous pants Bear Grylls wears in his shows. You could get away with wearing the black or beige pants in town without looking like a lost forest ranger, but the two-tone pants are best worn far from the eyes of...well anyone. Your opinion to the contrary is valid, just different than mine. 

Do they offer zip-off lower legs? Thankfully, no. If you get too hot just hike them over your calves, knickerbocker style. I’m saying this as your friend—not only will the zip-off pant legs differentially fade, but they look tacky; just don’t.

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You could buy lighter pants or just skip lunch for a few days and lose a pound, like the model  in this picture needs to.  

Weight: The Cirque Lite Pants weigh a svelte 13.6 ounces compared to the far less durable but still really good Gore H5 pants that weigh in at 10.9 ounces.  Not heavyweights by any means but not weaklings either. For comparison, the men's Cirque II ski pants weigh a whopping 21.8 ounces (617 g), and the women's Cirque II pants weigh 20.5 ounces (580 g).

Fabric: Bluesign approved 88% Nylon, 12% Spandex 90D Stretch Double Weave, Schoeller 61% Nylon 28% Polyurethane, 11% Kevlar Scuff Guard.  The scuff guard is fantastic and has the potential to save you some mending from crampon snags. The fabric weight is perfect for all but the coldest adventures.  In higher heat; opt for the beige versions to reflect a little heat. 

Warmth: These pants are uninsulated. With a standard fit, they fit just loose enough, depending on sizing, to wear a mid-weight base layer if you need to. They resist wind and retain heat enough that I never felt the need for a base layer with them on summer climbs and spring trips, but if you are in temps below 40 degrees Fahrenheit, I'd recommend a base layer.

Packability: Why would you pack them? They’re so great to wear. That aside, I could stuff them inside a Nalgene bottle if I really pushed hard. Taking them on a trip would be a great idea.

Room for improvement: I like pants that fit just a smidge tighter around the shins to prevent crampon snags (I seldom wear gaiters in snow). Also, I’m not sure what the gaiter loops on the cuffs are for but I found them to be superfluous.  

Best use: Hiking, alpine climbing, mountaineering, side country skiing, looking cool. The Cirque Lite Pants scratch a lot of itches. 

Experience

I've worn pants the majority of my life, even though I never seem to be wearing any in my dreams. I've been testing the Cirque Lite pants for more than six months. I've reviewed two other pairs of hiking/climbing pants for Trailspace, the Bergans Tufto Pants and the Gore H5 Partial Gore-Tex Infinium Pants.

I hike and climb in Washington State.

Source: received for testing via the Trailspace Review Corps (Sample for testing and review provided by Outdoor Research)

About the Author

Jeffrey Ediger has worked his way up from backpacker to mountaineer over the years. He prefers climbing the volcanic peaks but still enjoys rock climbing and alpine hiking. Since 2014 Jeffrey has reached the summit of Mount Rainier six times, as well as most of the other big mountains in Washington and Oregon. His climbing style leans towards fast and light. He reviewed his first piece of gear for Trailspace’s Review Corps in 2013. Jeffrey is a corporate trainer by day and a father to eight children all the time.

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Specs

Price MSRP: $120.00
Current Retail: $83.96-$120.00
Historic Range: $83.96-$120.00
Weight 13.6 oz/386 g
Fit Standard
Fabric bluesign approved 88% Nylon, 12% Spandex 90D Stretch Double Weave, Schoeller 61% Nylon 28% Polyurethane, 11% Kevlar Scuff Guard
Product Details from Outdoor Research »

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