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Kuhl Liberator Convertible Review

Durable and stylish, these pants disappointed by absorbing water
Kuhl Liberator Convertible
Photo: Kuhl
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Price:  $95 List | $66.73 at REI
Pros:  Many functional pockets, durable, stylish
Cons:  Strange sizing, imperfect features, highly water absorbent
Manufacturer:   Kuhl
By Andy Wellman ⋅ Senior Review Editor  ⋅  May 14, 2016
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  • Comfort and Mobility - 30% 7
  • Versatility - 15% 7
  • Durability - 15% 8
  • Weather Resistance - 15% 5
  • features and convenience - 15% 7
  • Breathability - 10% 6

Our Verdict

The Kuhl Liberator Convertible pant is a great hiking pant that includes a plethora of features. While we liked these pants for hiking and also working in (it reminds us of a work pant, possibly because of the pockets and reinforced panel design), it was middle of the road when compared to the competition in this review. It was most similar to The North Face Paramount Trail Convertible, but lighter and better fitting (see below for a more in-depth description in regards to fit).

The fabric is predominantly made of nylon and has a cotton blend; a different solution than most pants that used a stretchy fabric instead. The effects of the cotton were both good and bad; it helped keep us cool when wearing a beefy pant, but also seemed to have adverse effects on the water resistance and drying times. There are many things to love about these pants, as well as a few head-scratchers, but overall it was one we enjoyed wearing and would recommend to a friend.

Our Analysis and Test Results

These hiking pants were about average when compared to the other pants in this review. They were never the best in any given category, but neither were they ever the worst. Despite not being super high scoring, we like these pants, and find them to be perhaps the most wearable in a day-to-day setting. While we enjoyed hiking in them, we would not pick them over our Editors' Choice Award-winning Prana Stretch Zion Convertible. That said, for putting on one pair of pants and living in them just about every day, we love these pants.

There are so many unique features and details about these pants that require more explanation; we highly recommend you read the entire review if you are considering buying them. To touch briefly on a few things, we can start by saying that the fit was totally off out of the box and we had to send them back because they did not fit. The new size, while not our standard size, fits great. There are some unique features on these pants like the cotton weave, the stretch panels, the "French fly," and so many pockets, all of which we will talk about in more detail below. Taken as a whole there is a lot to like, and a few things that didn't seem to come off as well as the designers might have hoped.

Performance Comparison

Many kinds of product testing in one day out in the desert in the...
Many kinds of product testing in one day out in the desert in the spring. First hiking, then climbing, and later camping.
Photo: Chris Hackbarth

Comfort and Mobility

These pants are comfortable and mobile. They accomplish this by being slightly looser fitting, although by no means baggy. Kuhl combines this with articulation in the knees and a gusseted crotch; they chose to blend 23% cotton with nylon for what they call "rugged" fabric that to us was surprisingly soft against the skin. We liked it. Underneath, panels of this blended fabric are of stretchy nylon meant to enhance mobility at seams and natural joints. This arrangement is an interesting idea that in our opinion didn't do much, as the possible range of movement at any given seam is not more than a couple of millimeters. That said, we didn't feel like there were any mobility issues at all due to the well-cut design. Perhaps due to the panels of extra fabric for added durability, or due to the pocket design, these pants reminded us of classic work pants like Carharts, although they are far lighter, more flexible, more mobile, and just infinitely more comfortable.

The Liberator Convertible is a comfortable pant that fits neither...
The Liberator Convertible is a comfortable pant that fits neither too loose nor too tight. We should mention that these are a full waist size bigger than the size that we normally wear, so size big when ordering, or try them on first.
Photo: Elizabeth Riley

The little gap between seams is held together by very stretchy nylon...
The little gap between seams is held together by very stretchy nylon underneath. This is Kuhl's system for adding stretchiness to this pair of pants. You can see here as we stretch what the maximum range is. While we like their idea, it didn't seem to have nearly as much function as incorporating a stretchy nylon as the main fabric throughout the pant.
Photo: Elizabeth Riley

Our chief complaint when it comes to comfort was that these were the worst fitting pants out of the box. We ordered a size 30x32, which is the same size that we ordered in multiple other pairs of hiking pants, and we were not able to fit in them whatsoever when they showed up. The waist was so tight we could only fasten the button if they rode well above our hips, and this constricted our junk so severely that we barely did a lap around the living room before taking them off, exclaiming "wtf?" We immediately sent them back and got a 32x32, which fit great and felt exactly like the 30x32 we have in other brands. So take that knowledge how you will. We recommend trying them on before buying, or at least being prepared to exchange them if necessary.


These are a pretty versatile pair of pants. Their looser fit means that there is plenty of room for airflow underneath in hotter conditions, and then if things get too hot, they are also convertible. They feature a slightly heavier fabric with reinforced panels that makes them pretty warm in cooler climates. For all normal hiking temperatures, they provide a great solution for dealing. However, although they come with a DWR coating, they were one of the worst performers when it came to water resistance, certainly limiting the level of versatility. We wouldn't recommend these pants for rainy conditions, although they still performed far better than the Columbia Silver Ridge Convertible pants, which had no DWR coating at all.

Frozen feet after wading across the Virgin River in Zion National...
Frozen feet after wading across the Virgin River in Zion National Park in February. Long underwear fit well underneath the Liberator Convertible pants for this climbing mission.
Photo: George Foster


Similar to The North Face Paramount Trail Convertible pants, this competitor's heavy fabric didn't do it any favors when it came to breathability. Kuhl contends that the cotton weave aspect of its fabric is designed to keep one cooler. While it may be true that they are cooler than a 100% synthetic version, we still found them to be quite warm in hotter conditions. We were quick to convert these pants into shorts when the going got hot and were happy that we had that option.

The shorts option. While we love having the shorts option for the...
The shorts option. While we love having the shorts option for the versatility it offers, we like it better when the shorts are designed a bit better. These ones are really a bit too short in our opinion, and we also don;t understand what is up with the weird flap that is now the bottom hem line.
Photo: Elizabeth Riley


Durability is one of the areas where this model shines. Inspired by their work pant-like appearance, we did exactly that in them, a lot of outdoor work. They kept us comfortable, not to mention protected, the entire time, and show barely any wear. Compared to the Prana Stretch Zion they did far better, although the tons of seams and sewn panels combined with the cotton weave tells us these likely won't hold up as long as the Arc'teryx Gamma LT pants.

The Liberator Convertible pants were a very comfortable and durable...
The Liberator Convertible pants were a very comfortable and durable pant for working in, so we took advantage. Here we are helping a friend bend poles for a hoop house on his land.
Photo: Jonas Waterman

Weather Resistance

Weather resistance was where the Liberator Convertibles didn't live up to the competition. Although they did have a DWR coating, we found that after a few minutes in the shower simulated downpour, there was complete and total soak through. While all the pants in our test allowed some water to the inner part of the pant, proving that none of these pants are waterproof, the degree that these pants got soaked was beyond the others, except for the Columbia Silver Ridge Convertible pants. Not only that, but they also absorbed a lot of water, and took a relatively long time to dry out when compared to the competition. This model is not one we would choose if we knew we were going to get wet.

While the Liberator Convertible pants did have a DWR coating that...
While the Liberator Convertible pants did have a DWR coating that worked for a little bit of water, the end result of our shower test was total soak through, lots of water absorption, and a relatively long drying time.
Photo: Elizabeth Riley

Features and Conveniences

These pants have a ton of features rivaled by no other pant in our review. That said, not all of the features worked as well as the designers might have hoped. While we loved that they were convertible, we found the zipped off shorts to have an annoying flap of protective material on the inside of the seam that wasn't matched on the outside, making the cuffs of the shorts look ridiculous. However, we did love that there were vertical zippers at the pant bottoms to ease in removing them without taking off shoes, or just for added ventilation.

The front hand pockets on these pants are relatively big. You can...
The front hand pockets on these pants are relatively big. You can also see the seams from the reinforced panels used throughout that make it a durable pant.
Photo: Elizabeth Riley

These pants had a ton of pockets. There are two hand pockets and a key pocket in the front, two rear pockets with no zip or Velcro fasteners (that we liked), two zip pockets on the sides, as well as non-fastening "welt" pocket and "cell-phone" pocket, one on each side. All of the pockets feature the same stretchy material that is used for added mobility in the main construction. There are many complaints on the internet about the front pockets being too small and tight; we found them to be ok on our bigger pair of pants, although the openings were a bit small. While we liked that the side pockets were not cargo pockets, they were instead angled inwards with a vertical opening, such that the pocket itself rests on top of the thigh. This arrangement we found annoying, rendering the pockets unusable because we don't want items sitting on our thighs where they can bounce and rub while walking or moving our legs in any way. We instead found the non-enclosed welt and cell phone pockets that rested on the sides of the legs to be more useful.

Inserting a cell phone into one of the dual zippered side pockets...
Inserting a cell phone into one of the dual zippered side pockets. You can see how the phone now rests on the front of the thigh, where it moves annoyingly, rubbing against our leg, every time we take a step. Not a good place for a pocket.
Photo: Elizabeth Riley

Welt pocket, as well as the vertical zipper for the side pocket. We...
Welt pocket, as well as the vertical zipper for the side pocket. We didn't like the side pocket at all because the actual pocket portion holds items on the front of your quad, which we found very annoying when walking, or performing any movement really.
Photo: Elizabeth Riley

Lastly, we can't write a review and not mention the "French fly" design for the crotch zipper. This detail is a piece of fabric on the inside of the crotch zipper that buttons across the crotch before you would then zip up and fasten the outside of the pants. According to Kuhl, this is meant to "pull the lap of the pant taut, so pockets don't flare out." We thought it was a bizarre novelty and we wore the pants many times with it buttoned and without it engaged, and never noticed any difference. In reality, while these pants do look good, they most certainly are not dress pants, and this seems to be another odd feature with less purpose than intended, in our opinion.

The "French Fly" feature, where the flap of material on the left...
The "French Fly" feature, where the flap of material on the left hooks to the button on the inside of the pants on the right. After securing this you then zip and button the front of the pants like normal. Somewhat common on fancy dress slacks, we spent a lot of time with this fly engaged and not, and honestly couldn't tell what difference it was, or wasn't, making.
Photo: Elizabeth Riley

Best Applications

These pants are great for hiking or backpacking in predominantly dry climates. They handle a wide range of temperatures well, but we found that they are not suited for damp or wet conditions. They also make a good work pant and are an all around, do almost anything pant; they certainly don't look like a specialty hiking pant, and the convertible zipper camouflages well when in pants mode.

The Liberators converted to shorts during a toasty afternoon spring...
The Liberators converted to shorts during a toasty afternoon spring hike up the upper cascade falls trail near Ouray. While it was too hot to leave the pant bottoms on, luckily we didn't have to!
Photo: Elizabeth Riley


These pants will run you $95, which makes them slightly more expensive than most of the pants here. Seeing as they are very durable in our testing, we think you will get plenty of life out of these pants for your money.


The Kuhl Liberator Convertible are a good pair of pants for hiking or doing almost any outdoor activity. They are plenty versatile and durable for any climate except for excessive wetness. They are very comfortable and are the only pant in our review to have the unique feature of incorporating a cotton blended fabric, something that had both pros (comfort, coolness) and cons (water absorption). Overall, it is a good pair of pants that we enjoy wearing and would recommend to just about anyone; just make sure that you try them on first.

For the sake of speed and efficiency, and since he had long...
For the sake of speed and efficiency, and since he had long underwear on underneath, we decided not to convert the Liberator Convertibles to shorts for this quick river crossing. While the convertible option is very handy, it can often take longer finagling with the zippers and pant legs than one would like.
Photo: George Foster

Andy Wellman