At first look, the Barrier Pants from Colorado-based Season Five look much like compression leggings or perhaps cold-weather running tights. The company describes them as “part wetsuit, part drysuit, and part compression.” Confused? So was I.
Founded a couple years ago by a surfer and water-sports enthusiast, Season Five distinguishes its line as filling a void between a wetsuit and a drysuit. I wasn’t sure what that void was exactly, at least until I started testing the pants this winter on an icy river near my home.
In 40-degree weather, sitting inches above the water on a tippy surfski boat, the Barrier Pants were a perfect solution. Despite splashing as I paddled in frigid water, Season Five’s “in-between suit” kept me warm and dry. The setup was temperature-regulating, breathable, and much more comfortable (and less of a hassle to deal with) than the full drysuit I would’ve regularly worn to paddle on a near-freezing day.
The special sauce in these pants comes from a fabric the company calls Atmos 1.0. It is a waterproof-breathable, three-layer material akin to what is used on many wintertime softshell jackets, though thinner. The Atmos material offers a semi-tight fit, waterproofness, breathability, and a soft face next to the skin.
The Season Five pants are slightly stretchy and have a durable exterior. A snug fit at the waist and ankles seals water out, allowing the legs to stay dry and warm during activities when water splash is at a maximum. Fit is designed to allow full athletic motion without the bagginess and constriction often associated with a drysuit. And unlike a wetsuit, the pants are not claustrophobically tight or clammy.
Beyond my recent icy paddling sessions, for the past half-year I have tested the Barrier Pants through a range of conditions, including on a multi-day adventure race, Expedition Idaho, where I used the pants during a long canoe section. We paddled for hours and then jumped onto land for a four-hour orienteering leg. The pants impressed with their durability as we bushwhacked to find checkpoints, although out of the boat they were too hot for the intense aerobic activity in warm weather.
Another caveat: Once these pants are completely submerged, the warmth and “protection” from water is gone. Water comes in from the top (waist) and the bottom (ankles), and unlike a wetsuit the thin material does not soak in water to keep you warm.
But the pants dry quickly after a dunk. Overall, with a price of only $69, the Barrier Pants get my thumbs up for any “in-between” activity around water. I’ll keep my drysuit for big ocean water or colder days. And for fully submerged activities the Season Five pants can’t stand in for a wetsuit. But in their element — paddling an icy river on a surfski, SUP sessions, and sit-on-top kayaks — the Barrier Pants are a great product we can say now does indeed fill a special watersports void.
—Jason Magness is a contributing editor at GearJunkie.com and a founding member of Team GearJunkie/YogaSlackers. Follow the team as they race around the planet this year on our team micro-site.