Hands-on Gear Review

KUHL Kontra Air Review

A comfortable and stylish pant for use on hot and steamy adventures.
By: Andy Wellman ⋅ Senior Review Editor  ⋅  Nov 17, 2017
Price:  $85 List
Pros:  Very comfortable fabric, lots of ventilation, tons of awesome pockets, relatively affordable
Cons:  Very poor water resistance, slim fit may not be ideal for larger dudes
Manufacturer:   KÜHL
71
OVERALL
SCORE


RANKED
#8 of 13
  • Comfort and Mobility - 35% 7
  • Venting and Breathability - 20% 8
  • Versatility - 15% 7
  • Water Resistance - 15% 4
  • Features - 15% 9
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Our Verdict

The KUHL Kontra Air is a predominantly cotton hiking pant that is easily one of the best choices that 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 the exemplary ventilation with a cool, light, and breathable fabric made up of 72% cotton and only 26% nylon. These slim fitting pants have probably the most comfortable feeling fabric against the skin of any that we tested, but also come with the serious drawback of being nearly worthless in a rain storm. In our overall ratings, they were pretty much exactly in the middle, but we think they make an incredible choice for those who prefer pants in a hot or humid climate.


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Our Analysis and Test Results

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The KUHL Kontra Air is explicitly designed to help you stay cool while 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 common to entirely nylon pants. The use of cotton comes with a significant downside of absorbing a lot of water in a rainstorm and being slow to dry again afterward. Worth noting is that this pant 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 more spaciously fitting pant, we also recommend the KUHL Kontra.

Performance Comparison


The Kontra Air is a predominantly cotton hiking pant that is super well ventilated and ideal for use in hot weather. It also fares decently in chillier air  as we tested on a fall day in the San Juans.
The Kontra Air is a predominantly cotton hiking pant that is super well ventilated and ideal for use in hot weather. It also fares decently in chillier air, as we tested on a fall day in the San Juans.

Comfort and Mobility


While we thought the 72% cotton, 26% nylon, and 2% spandex blend of fabric found throughout the Kontra Air was probably the single most comfortable fabric against our skin, this was offset slightly by the fact that these pants were also the slimmest fitting pants in this review, and not as stretchy as the other slim fits. The legs of this pant are stove-pipe thin, especially the lower legs, giving them a bit of a hipster look that may not be ideally comfortable for dudes with huge quads or even calves. They fit our head tester pretty nicely, with ever so slight amounts of 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. 7 out of 10 points.

The Kontra Air is made of fabric that is 72% cotton  easily the single most comfortable feeling fabric against the skin. On the other hand  the fit is a bit trim  with narrow straight legs.
The Kontra Air is made of fabric that is 72% cotton, easily the single most comfortable feeling fabric against the skin. On the other hand, the fit is a bit trim, with narrow straight legs.

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 as the second-best overall for this metric, behind only the REI Co-op Screeline, which had larger vents in most of the same places, and a more relaxed overall 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 had as many ventilation options as this pant. If we had to make any complaint, it would be that the slim fit didn't seem to allow for as much airflow as the similarly vented but looser Screeline, which felt a shade cooler during our uphill testing. 8 out of 10.

You can see here the venting seams on the back of the knees of the Kontra Air  which allowed for an optimal level of ventilation. Also visible is a fabric overlap in the gusseted crotch that is also one of two fairly large vents for that area.
You can see here the venting seams on the back of the knees of the Kontra Air, which allowed for an optimal level of ventilation. Also visible is a fabric overlap in the gusseted crotch that is also one of two fairly large vents for that area.

Versatility


We found the Kontra Air to be a pretty versatile pant overall, but not an optimal choice for literally every circumstance. We liked it the best for hot weather but found its light and thin cotton to be a bit of a liability in wet or overly cool weather. It was an awesome hiking pant for day hikes or longer, and it's also ideal for traveling and wearing around town and during our everyday lives. While it was good for camping and rock climbing, we wonder about the durability of the thin fabric, so wouldn't do much heavy work in it 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. 7 out of 10.

The comfortable Kontra Air pants are quite versatile  as we tested by climbing in them at Smith Rock. We thought they were great for nearly any activity  but thrived better in warm  dry weather.
The comfortable Kontra Air pants are quite versatile, as we tested by climbing in them at Smith Rock. We thought they were great for nearly any activity, but thrived better in warm, dry weather.

Water Resistance


In our comparative testing, we found that the "quick drying UBERKUHL bi-component fabric" was neither very water resistant nor very quick drying. With no DWR coating, this pant absorbed a lot of water very quickly when put through our shower test. Cotton is known to be a very absorbent fiber, which is why most outdoor clothing avoids using it these days. In the case of the Kontra Air, it comes with certain advantages, like coolness and comfort, but also suffers from the disadvantage of low moisture resistance. Since it became more water-logged than the predominantly nylon hiking pants it was 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. 4 out of 10.

Made of mostly cotton  with no DWR coating applied  the Kontra Air happily absorbed water instantly  soaking all the way through. We would not recommend this pant for use in wet weather or climates.
Made of mostly cotton, with no DWR coating applied, the Kontra Air happily absorbed water instantly, soaking all the way through. We would not recommend this pant for use in wet weather or climates.

Features


This pant comes loaded with usable and useful features, and as such, 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 simply adds another option for comfort, while also keeping the fabric from creasing up and looking nicer. We often chose not to use it, in which case most of the tightness was found to reside in the waist belt. When we did use it, this relieved some of the waist tightness and also helped keep pressure off the front snap button, which often released on us when wearing the similar Renegade Cargo pants.

The Kontra Air has a ton of pockets. Shown here are the narrow drop pocket ideal for a phone  as well as the zippered and mesh lined stash pocket that rests on the front of the thigh. The other leg is a mirror image with these same pockets.
The Kontra Air has a ton of pockets. Shown here are the narrow drop pocket ideal for a phone, as well as the zippered and mesh lined stash pocket that rests on the front of the thigh. The other leg is a mirror image with these same pockets.

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 perfect for a phone and merely 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 large pocket in the front of the thigh. We used to hate this style of pocket, but have since come around, realizing 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 do. If you like a lot of storage for all you trail goodies and trinkets, then this is a good pant to check out.

A feature found on many KUHL pants  here shown on the Kontra Air. This is the "french flap"  an extra tab on the right and button on the left that can be joined  or not  inside the pelvis region of the pants.
A feature found on many KUHL pants, here shown on the Kontra Air. This is the "french flap", an extra tab on the right and button on the left that can be joined, or not, inside the pelvis region of the pants.

Best Applications


The KUHL Kontra Air are designed for use in hot weather, and this is where it will shine the most. It is also a good choice for traveling in hot climates, and they 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.

Camping out in the high desert of central Oregon  we loved wearing the Kontra Air. It is an optimal choice for hiking in hot weather  but is also very comfortable for simply wearing around any time.
Camping out in the high desert of central Oregon, we loved wearing the Kontra Air. It is an optimal choice for hiking in hot weather, but is also very comfortable for simply wearing around any time.

Value


These pants retail for $85, making them nearly as affordable as the lowest priced hiking pants in our review. As long as you intend to use them for their ideal purposes, we think this presents a great value.

On a leaf peeping hike in the autumn in the Colorado mountains. The Kontra Air was certainly one of the most comfortable pairs of pants to hike in.
On a leaf peeping hike in the autumn in the Colorado mountains. The Kontra Air was certainly one of the most comfortable pairs of pants to hike in.

Conclusion


The KUHL Kontra Air is a predominantly cotton blended pant that has a ton of ventilation and help one stay relatively cool in hot climates. They are made of perhaps the most comfortable fabric we have worn for this test, 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 may only be practical for skinnier types. 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 pants.

Andy Wellman

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