Mountain Equipment's Comici Softshell Pants
As always, we're looking at the M.E. Comici trousers from the point of view of long distance trekking over tough terrain. This review comes with a major caveat (which we deal with first and won't be an issue for everyone, but is for us) and is thus a "stop-gap" review until either the issue is remedied or other brands remember how to make simple, tough yet lightweight, stretch, softshell trousers (as Mountain Equipment did with their 2019 version of this product, likewise Rab before them with their excellent and thus discontinued Vertex Trousers). Can you feel a rant coming?
Test subject: Waist 33", Inside Leg 30", Height: 5ft 8"
Test item: Ombre Blue, Size = 34" (Waist), Short Leg
Kit Tests: Summer
Disclaimer: None required (item not provided by manufacturer)
|Materials: Exolite 125 (Nylon / Elastane)||87% / 13%|
|Treatments: DWR (will shed snow and light rain)||-|
|Weight (General stated / 34" Short measured post belt removal / with Turley Belt)||280g / 251g / 297g|
|Product Sizing Reference: 33" Waist, 30" inner leg =||34" Short|
- Introduction & Rant
- The Integrated Belt "Solution"
- Materials & Design
- Any Negatives?
- Conclusion, Rating & Product Images
Introduction: Now, Is That Too Much To Ask?
What we're after for a warm-weather pair of trekking / scrambling trousers is pretty straight-forward. A minimalist (reinforcement-free) lightweight (<350g) yet tough, nylon-based (~90% polyamide) softshell trousers with a good degree of stretch (~10% elastane). They need to come in three leg lengths (short, regular and long), have a cinch mechanism at the ankle, at least one decent sized thigh pocket and a removable / replaceable belt. Is that too much to ask?
At Scramble, we're absolutely agnostic about brands, locations and markets. We've looked (and continue to look) at a broad range of products by brands across Europe (Salewa, Vaude, Millet, Karpos), North America (Outdoor Research, Marmot, Mountain Hardwear, Black Diamond etc...) and here in the UK (Rab, ME, Montane et al). What is shocking is how few of these brands manage to manufacture a light, softshell stretch trouser that meets our basic criteria. Some don't cinch at the ankle, some seem to think a belt is unnecessary, others have a weird cut, some lack stretch, and some think patch-work decoration and a criss-cross seam network is the key to a tough outdoorsy look.
Rant in Progress: Detour Ahead
We know it can be done, but equally don't discount the ability for a culture or society to lose essential, practical skills and abilities once taken for granted. In 2019, Mountain Equipment pretty much nailed it with their Comici "Pants". In 2020, seeing the error of their ways, they got back on message and set off down the skiddy road to retardation.
When we run out of the CPUs that are required for the robotic machines that make ... (you guessed it) CPUs, how long before we "forget" how to make a humble pair of trousers that ... I don't know: you don't have to throw in the bin if the buckle fails. Meanwhile corporate PR execs virtue-signal their "green credentials" across social media while incorporating disposability into their design ethos.
The Integrated Belt "Solution"
Those who go out into the mountains for a day, may not share our belt fixation. But when you're out for weeks or months, climbing with a heavy pack full of supplies, wearing a pair of trousers that refuse to stay in place is not only a pain in the arse, it's dangerous. Plastic buckles fail, belts with moving parts fail (which is why we recommend a particular belt design) and if you're days or weeks away from a replacement, a pair of trousers that aren't securely attached to your being are an unnecessary hazard.
Belts are a decision best made by the customer and removing that choice is beyond stupid.
We truly hope Mountain Equipment will pay attention and remedy this bizarre aberration, since aside from the integrated belt, the Comicis are a superb pair of trousers.
Prior to purchase, we were told by Mountain Equipment, the Comici's belt had the same design as their Ibex trousers (which is exactly as they should be). My immediate reaction on receiving them was: "well these aren't fit for purpose, but can they be salvaged". The answer is yes, and here's how.
Enter The Butcher
[ Legal Note - Valid for the 2020/2021 model: Any alterations are done at your own risk. Such alterations will void the manufacturer warranty and Scramble shall not be held responsible for any costs or damages you may incur should you choose to attempt this modification ]
The integrated belt buckle is anchored from the left side (if you're wearing them, as pictured above in the green rectangle) by a similar fabric to the rest of the trousers. Cut that off (see  in pic #1 below) and then make a 30mm incision (for a 25mm belt) to the left of that anchoring. Once you've made the cut, you will see the webbing belt is similarly anchored on the inside and it's trivial to cut this fabric anchor with a sharp pair of scissors. This then allows you to pull the webbing belt out from the other side. Once this has been done, insert your replacement belt (pic #2) and then visit your local professional tailoring / repairs and alterations place and get them to tidy up your butcher-style surgery (pic #3).
What you are left with is a very excellent pair of trousers with a removable belt (pic #4); which, if Mountain Equipment hadn't lost their collective minds, you'd have had in the first place.
The Comicis Restored: Materials & Design
Okay, so now we've remedied Mountain Equipment's integrated belt, what are we left with? Well, quite a bit and most of it very good indeed.
The Comicis should really be a near identical design to Mountain Equipment's excellent Ibex Pants, just in a lighter fabric. With the belt issue remedied, that's largely what they are. However, there are a few differences; some positive and some negative.
The fabric is their very stretchy Exolite 125 (which has a relatively high elastane quotient of 13%, the rest is nylon). It's tough and it dries extremely rapidly and is comfortable against the skin. The Comicis are narrower at the ankle than Rab's old Vertex and this makes them a better choice for scrambling up mountains and also less prone to getting billowy when soaked in dew from early morning thrashes through long grass or unfortunate near-fatal dips in deep bogs (don't ask).
As we often do, we'll go top to bottom and have a brief look at the essential features of the Comicis.
Fly, Zips and Poppers
Unlike the Ibex, the Comicis have a single press-stud closure at the waist (we'd prefer a double as we like a little redundancy on such items). However, like the Ibex, the Comicis feature dual (reverse coil) YKK zips. Being able to open the zip from the bottom-up comes in handy and makes taking a piss possible without having to remove a harness or belt system.
The two zipped hand pockets are a fraction more fiddly than their counterparts on the Ibex, but work fine and are finished to Mountain Equipment's usual high standard.
At the thigh there is a single pocket with a diagonal opening. This could be a little larger and again, we'd prefer they simply copied the Ibex here. It's large enough (especially for a warm/hot weather trouser) and I use it to store my waterproof legwear. There's sufficient room for a pair of waterproof shorts and some lightweight gloves, and though it looks small, the stretch of the fabric means it can store more than one might expect at first glance.
The back pocket is standard and works well. I use it to hold a day's supply of toilet paper in a zip-lock bag.
Unlike the Ibex, the Comicis don't have a zipped ankle, which is sensible for warm weather trousers, as they are unlikely to be paired with chunky winter boots. However, they do come with a high quality shockcord adjuster to cinch the hem to ones footwear and the Comicis work well with lightweight boots or approach shoes with ankle gaiters.
There are three things we'd like to see changed on the Comicis and all of them can be rectified by simply referring to the Ibex trousers.
The first is the stupid integrated belt - that has to go. We're going to dock a full 3 points (the largest single deduction in our short history) for functionality.
Secondly, we'd prefer Mountain Equipment use a dual press-stud waist closure. We'll dock half a point here.
Finally we'd like to see the pockets more closely mirror those on the Ibex pants. Slightly larger on the thigh and a replica of the Ibex hand pockets. We'll dock another half point here.
All that said, once the belt situation was fixed the Comicis performed superbly in the field. The 2020 Summer Kit test saw extreme weather - incredibly heavy and sustained rainfall over the first 10 days and storm-force winds around 80 mph (as a storm with a name caused tremendous damage and flooding as I learned on my return).
Throughout the trek, the Comicis were superb and that why it's so frustrating when Mountain Equipment clearly have a real winner on their hands (when there's a dearth of decent alternatives), they decide to cripple it. Strange.
Conclusion & Rating
With a few simple reversions and alterations, Mountain Equipment have a potential winner in their Comici softshell trousers. They need to copy the belt, pocket layout and double press-stud waist closure of their Ibex trousers and keep everything else the same. In doing so, Mountain Equipment would have the best lighweight, warm weather, softshell trousers in a marketplace currently starved of viable options (at least for those who actually venture into the mountains rather than just want to look like they do).
The Exolite 125 fabric provides an ideal balance between weight, durability and stretch and is one of the most rapidly drying materials we've come across. There's so much right about the Comicis, and really very little fundamentally wrong - but until Mountain Equipment fix that idiotic belt, we'll be looking for an alternative to substitute it as soon as we possibly can.
If you're confident with repairs and modifications, such is the dearth of viable alternatives, we think they're an option. If you're happy with an integrated belt and are willing to trust it won't let you down - the Comicis are certainly worth a look. If you're neither of these, we can't in good faith recommend Mountain Equipment's Comici "Pants".
So for the time being, as a kind of stop-gap, the ME Comici Pants are Scramble's highly caveated, temporary, top pick in the "Lightweight Warm Weather Softshell Trouser" category.
Rating (out of 10)
* The value score is derived from two factors:
1) Competitive Market Price (CMP). This represents our judgement of a competitive online price point if we were to stock the item. e.g. if we feel we would need to sell an item at 40% off (i.e. 60% of its full RRP) to be competitive, then our CMP score will be 6/10.
2) Customer Value Price (CVP). We then make an honest appraisal of the maximum price we would be willing to pay for the item (and we're mean). So if we'd pay 80% of its RRP our CVP score would be 8/10.
We then average the two scores to get our final value score, which in our example would be 7/10.
Last Updated: 24/06/21