The world's most in-depth and scientific reviews of outdoor gear

KUHL Kontra Air Review

A comfortable and stylish pant for use on hot and steamy adventures.
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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
By Andy Wellman ⋅ Senior Review Editor  ⋅  Nov 17, 2017
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71
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Comfort and Mobility - 35% 7
  • Venting and Breathability - 20% 8
  • Versatility - 15% 7
  • Water Resistance - 15% 4
  • Features - 15% 9

Our Verdict

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 exemplary 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.


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 common 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.

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 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 huge 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.

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 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.

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 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.

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 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.

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. 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 add 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.

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 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 you trail goodies, then this is a good model 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 pants are designed 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.

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 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.

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, allowing the wearer to stay relatively cool in hot climates. They are made of 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 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