Klim Switchback Cargo Pants - MC Tested

Half casual, half adventure, these riding pants aim to do it all.

Klim Switchback Cargo Pants with denim-cut pockets.
Denim-cut pockets make the Switchback look and feel casual. Belt loops solve some sizing issues easily, plus leave room for a Leatherman, obviously.Spenser Robert

In this adventure-obsessed motorcycle world it's pretty easy to find gear that's just as big and bulky as the motorcycles themselves. High-end apparel is expensive and dripping with features, which can be the right answer if you're headed for the top of Alaska. But if your machine, or just your adventure, is a little smaller, you might be after something easier to wear and to buy. Headed for a week of clearing trails in the Sawtooth National Forest, I figured I would test the Switchback Cargo Pant as an option for time spent on and off the bike in the woods.

Klim Switchback Cargo Pants with mesh vent in each thigh.
The mesh vent in each thigh worked surprisingly well, and the zippers feel hefty and strong.Spenser Robert

You’ll probably agree that the specs—D3O armor in the knees and hips, two massive vents on the outside of the thighs, and a plethora of pockets—sound a lot like every other pair of ADV pants you’ve ever seen. But I liked that the Switchback aimed to be a much more casual garment. The chassis is a combination of nylon and Klim’s in-house “Karbonite micromesh.” The “micromesh” is a thin, synthetic material with a bit of stretch that Klim engineered to have solid abrasion resistance but also good breathability. Both it and the nylon bolstering is thinner and softer than a typical Cordura or other ballistic material.

Klim Switchback Cargo Pants with snap pocket that double folds for better sealing.
The snap pocket double folds for slightly better sealing. Note the leather tab at the bottom; in case armor access is near the top of your priority list, the cargo pockets of the Switchback pants fold up to reveal the slot where the D3O knee armor resides. Remove it quickly if you want, but it’s pretty comfortable.Spenser Robert

In theory that makes for a more comfortable fit, plus the denim-cut front pockets and belt loops make these feel more like regular pants and less like kit for an Apollo mission. Even so, the small details are nice. The two pockets on the front of the legs are spacious enough for more than a handful of stuff—I put a buff in the snap-closure pouch, and my wallet along with a spare battery pack swam in extra space in the zippered pocket. One of the hip pockets zips shut, too, for security. An 8-inch vent adorns the outside of each thigh, windowed with a thick mesh that breathes freely but offers a little bit of protection from brush or debris. At the bottom, there’s a two-way zipper down the calf to the cuff, which you can crack open for extra ventilation, or perhaps even to accommodate bulky riding boots.

Klim Switchback Cargo Pants with elastic strap to tighten cuff.
At the hem, an elastic strap can be pulled out to tighten the cuff, which also exposes a band of 3M Scotchlite reflective material near the ankle for safety at night. Nifty.Spenser Robert

Practically, the Switchback pants feel somewhere between NASA-spec ADV pantaloons and your favorite denim. I found plenty of room to move freely, and just like most riding pants the legs feel a little long when standing, even at 6-foot-2. But when I saddled up, the knee armor sat in the right place and what seemed like a baggy fit at first became a little more snug. They are unpretentious and relaxed, which was great for the 20 to 40 minutes I occasionally spent off the bike raking rocks out of the way or pushing chain-sawed logs off the trail.

Klim Switchback Cargo Pants with “durable water-repellent” coating.
Up close on the “micromesh” and nylon layers. A “durable water-repellent” coating means water beads up on the surface of the Switchback pants even though they aren’t waterproof. These DWR finishes don’t last forever, but it’s a nice feature right out of the gate and can be reapplied.Spenser Robert

At the same time, the fabric is burly enough that it didn’t tear on any of the sharp branches or fierce thickets I waded through. After four days of wear and tear in the woods, there was one blemish in the nylon layer of a front pocket—pinched between the battery pack and a rock I had heaved into a stream, the textile started to fray.

Front of Klim Switchback Cargo Pants in forest.
The Switchback pants look halfway between an arborist pant and riding jeans, and that’s how they feel. Just don’t expect the nylon to stop a chain saw.Spenser Robert

For clearing trails in Idaho, this pair of the Switchback turned out to be an ideal garment for my lower half. That said, I have a couple of complaints. The two-tone colorway is arguably a better aesthetic in the backcountry than around town, but ultimately that’s up to your sense of style (the pants also come in two-tone brown for the psychedelic-UPS-driver look). Mostly, I don’t think I would trust the chassis material in an asphalt crash above 30 or 40 mph. It could raise an eyebrow that a pair of riding pants are questionable on the freeway, but I think it’s important to note that Klim doesn’t claim on-road performance.

Two-way zipper along the lower leg of the Klim Switchback Cargo Pants.
A two-way zipper along the lower leg allows for a little extra airflow, and also will help the Switchback fit over big moto boots. I chose low boots and didn’t have a problem.Spenser Robert

At $250, the Switchback pants are expensive for casual pants but reasonable for protective riding gear. There's also a "tall" option, which adds $20 to the price and is a great feature for long, lean riders. For bopping around in a rural area, whether it's fire roads or single-track, these pants offer a nice balance of protection, utility, and comfort. I'll be reaching for them the next time I take to the trails.

Back of Klim Switchback Cargo Pants in forest.
One hip pocket is open like a pair of casual pants, while the other zippers shut to keep your stuff secure.Spenser Robert