Editors' Choice 2012: Kühl Liberator

Zip-off pants? Yes, thanks to convertibles that finally bring form to the function.

When you pack gear that does double duty, you save weight and hike farther. Duh. But when multitasking efficiency has been applied to the pants-cum-shorts category, we’ve found the benefit offset by the dork factor. Until now. The Liberator has a trim, mountain-town style that slyly masks the two-in-one design. Mobility-enhancing spandex strips mimic the zipper lines, so they stand out less, and small slots swallow the zipper pulls. And for hikers who say the backcountry is no place to worry about looks—that function always trumps form—don’t worry: The Liberator also packs a best-in-class array of clever technical features. The fabric is 77 percent nylon and 23 percent cotton—the nylon is next to skin, and the cotton is on the outer surface, lending a softer feel and greater durability.

“If there’s a lag in dry time, I can’t tell,” says one tester after wetting the lower legs during an early-winter creek crossing. “And there are no signs of wear, snags, or pilling after four months of regular use.” A gusseted crotch and thin, horizontal bands of spandex above the back pockets and below the articulated knees ensure flexibility for high stepping and crouching (female testers who tried the women’s version still wished for more flex). Spandex backing on every pocket securely cradles items stowed there, decreasing flop and sway. Transitioning from pants to shorts and back takes a minute or less, thanks to a foot-long, snap-closed cuff zipper that fits over all but the biggest winter or alpine boots our testers wore. Summed up one editor: “For three-season backpacking, this is my new go-to pair of pants. And shorts.” $89; 14 oz. (men’s 32); m’s 30-40; kuhl.com