Maybe you missed some of the Internet chatter a few weeks back when Levi’s announced its new 511 cycling jeans. Big news for folks who don’t like to wear lycra when they ride to work or the coffee shop.
Even bigger news for Levi Strauss & Co. is that they have been making comfortable, somewhat durable “climbing jeans” for years — whether or not they knew it.
Apparently designed with guys like me in mind, the Levi’s 559 Relaxed Straight jeans flex in all the right places, like the hips and the knees — which is pretty much like every other pair of men’s pants on the market, except, get this — they match your favorite thrift store T-shirt that you like to wear to the crag.
They are loose enough to accommodate an average male build with mountain-dude sized thighs, and they won’t squish you in any of the wrong places when you’re making semi-athletic moves on moderate trad routes, or even hard sport routes or boulder problems, if that’s your thing. You will be comfortable walking from the car to the crag in them. They do not, however, taper at the ankles, or have little drawstrings or snaps so you can keep them off the heels of your climbing shoes. You will have to employ an old climbers’ trick called “rolling the cuffs of your pants up once or twice” for that. This may have started when all the cool kids at the crag were wearing painters’ pants in the ’70s, but I’m not sure. If you need help, Google it.
You’re a man about town. Are you classy enough to think you need a pair of climbing pants that you can wear to the bar later? This means your pants may have remnants of chalk and dirt on them at the bar. My girlfriend doesn’t seem to have a problem with this. Or she hasn’t noticed. Or she has given up. Anyway, 559s look just as good with the clean T-shirt you wear to the bar as they do with that T-shirt with the hole in the armpit.
Let’s be honest, at around $40-45, they’re way more expendable than some climbing pants made by most outdoor apparel manufacturers, which by many standards, are way more fashionable. Hey dude, remember the time you ripped the ass out of those Prana Zion pants when you were leading that off-width? Of course you don’t. Because you didn’t wear Prana Zion pants to lead the off-width — they’re like 75 bucks. You wore that pair of jeans you’ve been wearing when you paint your kitchen. Then you ripped the ass and knees out of them and bought a new pair for 40 bucks.
What’s really great about the 559s is that — and this may be bad for sales of the new Levi’s 511 cycling jeans when they come out this fall — is that you can not only wear them to the climbing gym, but you can bike to the climbing gym in them! Then they’re already rolled up when you get to the gym, and all you have to do is change shoes. Plus, they have five pockets, ample for your wallet, gym card, and bike lock key.
But they’re not just designed for pulling hard moves, and short approaches to the crag, and biking to the climbing gym. Levi’s knows you also want a pair of pants to drink beer in around the campfire: 559s are pants for sitting as well. And wiping small particles of food onto when you don’t have napkins. Even if it is all that stuff at the bottom of a bag of Doritos. It will blend in with the dirt and chalk — and even a small amount of blood, if you’re bad at hand jamming. Don’t want to wear a shirt when you send your project? No problem. Levi’s 559s can handle that. Denim matches every color, including your chest hair, or complete lack of it. Bonus points if you wait until you’re at the second bolt to rip your shirt off.
I was, like always, sporting a pair of 559s at the crag one day and a friend of a friend said, “Brendan, you climb in jeans. That’s so retro!” Of course I just shook my head. Lady, retro is pink and purple tights. Hexes. Swami belts. Listening to PM Dawn. No, the word you’re looking for is CLASSIC. Like, Levi’s have been kicking ass since the California Gold Rush, circa 1853, and still are today. Good enough for a bunch of tough miners and gold prospectors? Good enough for a slightly-below-average climber like me. Classic. Like Hemingway, and Paid In Full, and grilled cheese sandwiches.
Levi’s 559 Relaxed Straight jeans are available in seven different colors at Levi’s.com and just about everywhere men’s pants are sold. I recommend the darker colors because they can absorb more consecutive days of dirt, chalk and food particles before you have to wash them.