There’s a good reason jeans are so universally popular. They’re durable, can be dressed up or down, and are globally accepted. For my one bagging minimalist lifestyle there are drawbacks I’ve discovered over the years that had me searching for an alternative. Jeans pack heavy, especially for a 6′ 4″ guy. A rolled up pair of jeans in a Synapse 25 takes up precious space. Additionally denim jeans dry mind numbingly slow. Get caught in a morning downpour and you’ll still be damp by dinner time. And forget about sink washing them with the intention of air drying them in a day.
I started looking at all the travel type pants from the usual suspects of vendors but they fell into two unacceptable categories. Either they looked too rugged and make you stick out like an obvious tourist or they looked fairly decent but were uncomfortable and not very durable. In my search for alternatives I came across the term “4 Way Stretch” which is used to describe fabric which stretches sideways and up and down, the obvious benefit being comfort. One such type fabric which caught my eye was manufactured by a company in Switzerland called Schoeller, particularly their soft-shell fabric which promises supreme comfort, durability and breathability all while being water and dirt repellent. In practice this sounded perfect.
Enter Thunderbolt Sportswear based in Portland, Oregon. A quick search led me to their Mark II jeans line made from the very same Schoeller soft-shell fabric. I couldn’t order a pair fast enough. Unpacking them I was immediately pleased with how lightweight and packable they were. I would guess they take up about half the volume of my pair of jeans and compress down even further. The outside of the fabric feels “technical”, almost a jacket type material but thinner and stretchier. The inside was pleasantly soft like the inside of a pair of sweat pants. As soon as I tried them on I did my usual squat test, purposely making sure to bunch them up as much as I could around my knees and thighs. The 4 way stretch marketing lingo definitely lives up to the hype. The fabric stretched very nicely and didn’t feel tight or pinched like denim does.
The initial impression was that they were definitely the most comfortable pants I had ever worn but I was still hesitant to call this a win until I had at least a few week’s use out of them. After the first week of wearing them every single day, all day, I finally let myself get excited as I realized that indeed these may be not only the perfect travel pants but my everyday ones as well.
I’ve now been wearing the original Mark II style for just over 6 months now. The original style is cut and stitched like a pair of denim jeans in a black finish. I’ve worn them in just about every common scenario imaginable from hiking to walking all day, even to formal events and nice dinner outs. For me these truly are the most versatile piece of clothing I own. On a 2 month overseas trip spanning 5 countries these were the only pants I took and were worn every day. They still look just as good as the day I bought them. Extremely durable, un-stainable and completely moisture repellant. With no signs of wear or any drop in its moisture resistance at all, I have high hopes that this should last me years even with daily use. Only time will tell but just in case I purchased a second pair to have on hand 🙂
One attribute of this fabric worth mentioning is that certain areas around pressure points, for example a crease in the pocket area from my phone or wallet bulge, over time tends to have a white residue build up on the crease. A quick dab of water and brushing it off with my bare hand removes it completely. It really isn’t a big deal but more just a curiously interesting property of the technical fabric.
The anti wrinkle properties are fantastic. When they first arrived I did a quick light iron just to smooth them out and have never had to touch them up since. In the few times I’ve had to pack them I always roll them up and even after days in that form they unroll in the same wrinkle free condition.
I really couldn’t be more happier with the Thunderbolt Mark II’s. For me these are my only pair of pants. A few weeks back I pulled on a pair of dressy denim jeans for a date night out with my wife just to change things up a bit and not 5 minutes into dinner I regretted the choice. The Mark II’s have really spoiled me for any other pair of pants whether for work, play or anything in between. I know this may come off as a blatant fluff piece but I assure you that my enthusiasm is not without merit. If you’re looking for a versatile, technical, light weight, durable denim alternative I urge you to give Thunderbolt a shot. They have a fantastic 90 day “no hassle” return policy which should help reduce any hesitation to give them a shot. At $200 USD these are an investment that for me is more than worth it. I look forward to seeing what other product lines Thunderbolt will expand into. As long as they carry the Mark II’s they’ve more than earned their place as one of my favorite apparel companies.