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The MEC Rad Pants Redux

  • The MEC Rad Pants (Photo courtesy of MEC)

    The MEC Rad Pants (Photo courtesy of MEC)

In its almost 50-year history, there have been few Mountain Equipment Co-op (MEC) products as commercially successful as the Rad Pants. Released in 1989, the Rad Pants were a functional and relatively stylish alternative to the Espatwill stretch pants that were popular at the time.

Erin McGann, the designer of the Rad Pants, recounts how she came up with the concept for this influential product:

“I wanted to do a pant that could replace the dreaded Espatwill pants – which truly were 80s-on-acid. The idea was a pant that would work for everything from kayaking up the coast to scrambling and grovelling while climbing.”
Over the years, the Rad Pants’ popularity grew and they became the standard uniform for many Canadians playing in the outdoors.
McGann’s vision for the pants seemed to resonate with a lot of MEC members as the Rad Pants became an instant hit. Much of their popularity can be attributed to some savvy textile choices and design details that made the Rad Pants particularly suitable for most Canadian backcountry adventures.

“The fabric from Travis Mills could withstand days on end in the backcountry,” remembers McGann. “And the knit cuffs kept bugs out and allowed you to hike up the pant legs to get a better view of your feet while climbing.”

The addition of two low-profile cargo pockets for storage, a gusseted crotch for easy movement and a simple elasticized webbing closure only further reinforced the Rad Pants’ functionality. And when you consider that they were available in a relatively bright colour palette, it was clear why the Rad Pants became so popular.
  • The MEC Rad Pants

Over the years, the Rad Pants’ popularity grew and they became the standard uniform for many Canadians playing in the outdoors. The pants became so popular that you could easily identify Canadian climbers abroad as they would almost surely be sporting the now ubiquitous Rad Pants.

With such inherent versatility, it was only a matter of time until Rad Pants started showing up in urban centres. In hindsight, this Rad Pant migration – to less outdoor-oriented environments – could perhaps be seen as the canary in the coal mine signalling the beginning of the end for the product.  

"Several 100,000 pairs later, the pants became a parody of MEC style,” remembers McGann.
The Rad Pants stayed in production until 2001 when they were discontinued only to return the following year due to MEC member demand. They stayed in the product line for a few more years, but as interest decreased, they were eventually dropped and replaced by more modern alternatives.

It’s now 2019 and to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the Rad Pants, MEC is releasing a limited production run of this time-tested product. The new Rad Pants are identical to the original in almost every way. MEC has updated the fabric so that it’s bluesign certified, but otherwise these Rad Pants are just as rad as their original counterparts produced 30 years ago. MEC has even used the original MEC label design from that era for maximum authenticity.
  • The MEC Rad Pants (Photo courtesy of MEC)

    The MEC Rad Pants (Photo courtesy of MEC)

From a review standpoint, these Rad Pants are just as good as the originals and aesthetically this pant style has sort of come back into vogue (proving that what goes around comes around – even with outdoor clothing).

Now, this is where I would normally encourage readers to pick up a pair of Rad Pants (they would be a great addition to anyone’s outdoor clothing line-up), but the limited production run sold out almost instantly. It seems that MEC may have underestimated the demand for such an iconic product.

Maybe with some gentle encouragement (in the form of member suggestions?), MEC could be convinced to produce another Rad Pants production run or even bring them back into the regular product line. We can hope.
You can find out more about the MEC Rad Pants and and and other fine MEC products at https://www.mec.ca

Join the discussion of this and other climbing related stories at https://ontarioclimbing.com/forum/
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Gus Alexandropoulos is a freelance writer who has been involved in the outdoor industry for over 35 years. During his career he has been the editor at Canada’s national climbing magazine, as well as the gear editor for a national cycling magazine, triathlon magazine and running magazine. His work has been published in Canada’s national newspaper, The Globe and Mail, and he has been a guest on television and radio broadcasts. His passion for climbing began in Ontario in the mid-80s and he continues to travel extensively in search of crisp conditions and steep rock.