The KUHL Kontra Air is a predominantly cotton hiking pant that is easily one of the best choices we tested for use in hot climates. With 11 different ventilation points — two behind the knees, two in the crotch, two vertical thigh pockets, two front hand pockets, two rear pockets, and one left side drop pocket — this pant has more escapes for built-up heat than any other. It pairs its excellent ventilation with a cool, light, and breathable fabric made up of 72% cotton and 26% nylon. These slim fitting pants feel the most comfortable against the skin of any pair that we tested.Their serious drawback is that they offer no water resistance. In our overall ratings, they are pretty much down the middle, but we think they make an incredible choice for those who prefer pants in a hot or humid climate.
KUHL Kontra Air Review
Cons: Very poor water resistance, slim fit may not be ideal for larger dudes
Our Analysis and Test Results
The KUHL Kontra Air is specifically designed to keep you cool in hot and humid climates, and we think it accomplishes this task admirably. Compared to the vast range of predominantly synthetic hiking pants we tested for this review, the finely woven Kontra Stretch fabric feels silky smooth and soft against the skin, altogether eliminating the rough or itchy feel typical to nylon pants. The high proportion of cotton is not without issue though; these pants absorb a lot of water in a rainstorm and are slow to dry afterward. It is worth noting that this pair is a variation of the KUHL Kontra pant, with a slimmer shape and added ventilation in the crotch and knees. For those who don't feel they need the extra vents, or who have thicker legs and want a looser fitting pant, we recommend trying out the original Kontra.
Comfort and Mobility
While we think the 72% cotton, 26% nylon, 2% spandex fabric blend offers the most comfortable feel against the skin, this is offset slightly by the fact that these pants are also very slim fitting and are not as stretchy as other slim fits. The legs are stove-pipe thin, especially in the lowers, giving them a hipster look that may not be the most comfortable for adults with massive quads or calves. They fit our head tester pretty nicely, with just slight constriction in the upper thighs where they join the pelvis. While these pants do have a hint of stretch, they were nowhere near as stretchy as the similarly fitting Patagonia Quandary, but felt way nicer against the skin than The North Face Paramount 3.0.
Venting and Breathability
The ability to breathe and ventilate is one of the best attributes of the Kontra Air, and the reason that we would recommend it to folks who need pants in a hot climate. We rated them highly overall for this metric, but behind the REI Co-op Screeline, which had larger vents in most of the same places, and a more relaxed fit. There are mesh vents in nearly all of the pockets, including the two front hand pockets, two large stash pockets found on the thighs, one on the left side drop pocket, and in both of the rear pockets. Added to this are open vents behind each of the knees, and two overlapping flap vents in the crotch. Not even the KUHL Renegade Cargo Convertible has as many ventilation options as this pant. Our only minor complaint is that the slim fit doesn't facilitate as much airflow as the similarly vented but looser Screeline, which felt a shade cooler during our uphill testing.
We found the Kontra Air to be a pretty versatile pant overall, but not an optimal choice for every activity. We liked them best for hot weather but found the light and thin cotton is a liability in wet or cool weather. It is an awesome hiking pant for hikes of any length, and it's also ideal for traveling and wearing around town. Though it is good for camping and rock climbing, we wonder about the durability of the thin fabric, and wouldn't do much heavy work in this pair if we could avoid it. As a very similar design to the Patagonia Quandary, we thought it was about as versatile as that pant, but was not nearly as versatile as the KUHL Renegade Cargo Convertible or the Prana Stretch Zion.
In our comparative testing, we found that the "quick drying UBERKUHL bi-component fabric" was neither very water resistant nor swift drying. With no DWR coating, this pant absorbed a lot of water very quickly when put through the shower test. Cotton is a very absorbent fiber, so most manufacturers avoid using it in their outdoor clothing. In the case of the Kontra Air, it comes with certain advantages, offering coolness and comfort. However, since it became more water-logged than the predominantly nylon hiking pants it is competing against, it also took longer to dry out afterward. We would not recommend this pant for use when precipitation is likely. That said, it still absorbed less and dried out quicker than the heavier cotton Mountain Hardwear Men's Hardwear AP Pant, but scored lower than the Prana Stretch Zion.
This pant comes loaded with convenient and useful features. We awarded it the top score for this metric along with the Renegade Cargo Convertible and the Fjallraven Vidda Pro. Perhaps the most interesting feature is the "French flap," an extra flap and button found on the front of many KUHL pants that helps with the waist enclosure. Much like on a pair of dress pants, this extra flap and button found inside the front zipper adds another option for comfort, while also keeping the fabric from creasing up. We often chose not to use it, but when we did, it relieved some tightness in the waist and also helped keep pressure off the front snap button, which often released on us when wearing the similar Renegade Cargo pants.
In addition to the many vents already described, these pants also have a ton of pockets. The most notable are the dual deep drop pockets on the side of each leg that are the perfect size for a phone but have an unfastened opening at the top. There are also double stash pockets that have a vertical zipper on the side of the leg and a large pocket in the front of the thigh. We used to dislike this style of pocket, but have since come around to it, recognizing that items stored in these pockets move nicely with the legs, and don't swing about as much on their own like items stored inside of the leg cargo pockets. If you like a lot of storage for all your trail goodies, then this is a good model to check out.
The KUHL Kontra Air pants are for use in hot weather, and this is where this pair shines the most. They are also a good choice for traveling in hot climates, and even look nice enough to be used as casual dress pants or out on the town. Besides hiking, we enjoyed climbing and camping with them, but wouldn't recommend them for use on wet or cold adventures.
These pants retail for $85, making them fairly affordable compared to other models in our review. As long as you intend to use them for their ideal, dry weather purpose, we think this represents a great value.
The KUHL Kontra Air is a predominantly cotton blended pant that has a ton of ventilation, allowing the wearer to stay relatively cool in hot climates. They feature perhaps the most comfortable fabric we have worn for this review, but at the same time suffer from a total lack of water resistance. They are also slimmer fitting than nearly every other pant we tested, so they may only be practical for skinnier builds. Although they have a few downsides, they have the most usable pockets and features of any pant tested, and are the best option for mid-summer hiking in dry weather.
— Andy Wellman