For any mountaineering adventure it’s essential to have a pair of pants that you can throw on for any climb and feel comfortable in during any ascent or descent. Softshells are some of the best mountaineering pants out there because of their weather resistance, breathability and flexibility.
Softshells are ideal for mountaineering expeditions but they’re useful for any climber, hiker, trekker, and adventurer of the outdoors.
Softshell pants are designed for thermal regulation and maximum performance so you don’t need to wear three or four different layers. They’re versatile and comfortable in a wide range of weather conditions and temperatures, making them a reliable mid-layer or stand-alone outer layer.
Having less layers helps you reduce weight, cost and backpack bulk on any outdoor excursion. Wearing less layers also reduces the amount of resistance to your movements.
Convinced that you need a pair of softshells for your next outdoor climb? Keep reading to learn about the differences between hardshells and softshells and important features to consider when looking to invest in a pair of mountaineering pants. This article also includes product reviews of the best softshell pants on the market for both men and women.
Hardshells vs. Softshells
First off, it’s important to address the differences between hardshell and softshell clothing:
Hardshell fabric is designed to be your outermost layer for maximum weather protection. Hardshells are windproof, waterproof, mostly breathable and offer full storm protection. They’re intended for high performance wear and for prolonged, intensive use in the outdoors.
Hardshells are made up of a woven fabric laminated to micro-porous coatings or breathable waterproof membranes. They’re breathable to an extent, but for any high heart rate activity, the inside of your garment is bound to feel damp and clammy with condensation and perspiration.
Softshell fabric on the other hand is intended to be less rigid than hardshell fabrics and can be used as a protective mid layer or outer layer. Softshells are water repellent, air permeable, breathable and stretchy to ensure mobility and flexibility.
They’re designed for outdoor aerobic activities with exposure to dynamic weather conditions such as climbing and mountaineering. Although softshells are generally not waterproof, their windproofing aspect is key to warmth against the elements.
Their weather resistance and breathability take priority over waterproofness, but softshells can shed light rain and snow and dry fairly quickly. They’re also meant to be abrasion resistant to stand up against the wear and tear of rough outdoor terrain.
Overall, softshells are intended to keep the user warm, dry and able to move freely. The next section outlines some of the features to consider when looking to invest in softshell mountaineering pants.
Important Features to Consider
- Stretch Wovens are considered one of the most lightweight softshell fabrics on the market. The fabric was designed to be wind and water resistant and highly breathable for any high aerobic activity. Stretch wovens became popularized by Schoeller who have come out with a single layer construction and a double weave.
- Laminated Stretch is a combination of stretch woven nylon, a stretch poly-urethane coating or membrane, and an insulating layer such as a fleece. Having the poly-urethane layer enhances the windproofness and water repellency of the pant. Not only that, but it adds a layer of insulation, making it ideal for colder temperatures and higher elevations.
- Encapsulation is the inclusion of a barrier film placed between the fibre bundles. The film is an ultra-thin polymer that is both durable and breathable. Having the film inside the fabric also enhances thermal efficiency and water repellency even after repeated washes.
When looking to invest in a pair of softshell pants it’s important to look at the fabric’s weather resistance based on its water repellency and windproofness.
Water repellency is how well a material can shed water. Softshells are generally made with water resistant materials that have a high degree of wicking power and are also quick drying. You’ll also find softshells with water repellant coatings that ensure both water resistance and breathability.
It’s uncommon to find softshells that are 100% waterproof because waterproofness often means that its breathability has been compromised.
Windproofness is important for softshells because it helps with thermal regulation. Having one layer of clothing that can protect you against the wind takes away the need to wear three or four different layers. Material that is both windproof and breathable helps keep you insulated but also efficiently sheds away excess heat created by high aerobic activities.
Breathability is one of the main factors that sets softshells apart from hardshells. The idea is that softshells will be used for high aerobic activities, so the best materials are those that can easily breathe when a lot of energy is exerted.
Hardshells tend to leave you feeling clammy and uncomfortable after a good sweat because they are not as air permeable.
Softshells on the other hand are not meant to keep moisture in; they’re meant to breathe and keep you comfortable on any climb.
Some mountaineering pants have reinforcements on the knees, seat, and ankles. These areas of the body have a higher risk of abrasion while climbing. Having reinforcements on these parts of the pants can ensure their durability and longevity. But even without reinforcements, there are a number of softshell materials that are made to be abrasion resistant.
Abrasion resistance is an important feature to have for climbing pants to ensure they can hold up to rock faces and any other rough terrain.
Weight is an important consideration for any outdoor excursion, especially for longer expeditions where you’ll be carrying your gear for an extended amount of time and distance. You can find softshell pants in a variety of weights, depending on the fabrics used and any added features.
Generally, if the pants have extra fabric for abrasion resistance or an extra layer of insulation they’ll be heavier than ones without these added features.
Another feature you might find in a softshell pant is its ability to convert into a short or capri. This feature helps with thermal regulation for hot summer days. Having pant legs that can be zipped off or rolled up offer versatility, making the softshell pant also great for hiking and trekking.
Now that you’re familiar with the important features to look for in a softshell mountaineering pant, it’s time to take a look at some of the most popular softshells on the market.
Top Product Reviews
Material: 100% nylon; Schoeller fabric with woven Kevlar fiber; Chockstone Midweight Doubleweave
Weight: 19 oz
Additional Features: Kevlar reinforcements
Description: Mountain Hardwear’s Dragon pants are a three season climbing pant made to be impenetrable to abuse and packable for any expedition. They’re a mid-rise, slim fit pant with an adjustable waist band to ensure a proper fit.
They also have zippered security pockets to keep you organized. They’re made of a Chockstone alpine fabric that makes the pant breathable and stretchy. The stretch of the fabric ensures your full range of motion for any high aerobic activity.
Not only that, but Mountain Hardwear has added Kevlar fabric on key body zones that are prone to impact when mountaineering. The Kevlar is mapped on the knees, ankles and seat of the pant for optimal utility and durability. Having this abrasion resistance makes it one of the best ice climbing pants to have.
Mountain Hardwear Quasar Lite Pant – Women’s
Material: 100% nylon; Dry.Q Elite 2.5-Layer fabric
Weight: 9.2 oz
Additional Features: adjustable hem with boot loops; articulated gusset
Description: Mountain Hardwear’s Quasar Lite pant was designed to be a durable mountaineering and climbing pant for women. They’re a regular rise pant with waist adjustability and an articulated gusset to ensure that flexibility isn’t compromised.
The Dry.Q Elite technology ensures the material to be water resistant, breathable and air permeable. It also prevents clamminess to ensure you stay dry on the inside and out.
This is an important feature for high aerobic activities to keep you comfortable during any climbing expedition. The fabric fares well against unexpected weather conditions but also gives 4-way super stretch for full range of motion and maneuverability. One of its noteworthy features is its adjustable hem with boot loops to ensure the pant fits securely.
Mountain Hardwear Desna Alpen Pant – Men’s
Material: stretch fleece; Thermal.Q™ Elite 40 g/m²
Weight: 12.8 oz
Additional Features: thermally mapped fleece insulation
Description: Mountain Hardwear’s Desna Alpen Pant was made for alpine climbing. This technical pant offers stretch and comfort and keeps you warm and dry thanks to its moisture-wicking fleece.
The layered hard-faced fleece is also tough and resistant to abrasion and pilling. Insulation is thermally mapped to key areas on the body to increase alpine utility. This feature ensures that you’ll have extra heat where your body will need it most.
Having the insulation strategically mapped also reduces the overall weight of the pant, improving its packability. Although the Desna Alpen is considered a technical pant, it has a lightly relaxed fit for increased mobility and comfort.
It has a right zippered thigh pocket in case anything needs to be stored securely. It’s a versatile softshell that can be used as an alpine mid-layer or apres climb pant.
Material: 48% nylon / 25% polyester / 27% polyurethane; Polartec Neoshell
Weight: 14 oz
Additional Features: waterproof; fully taped seams; reinforced bottom edge; adjustable ankle tabs
Description: The 66oNorth Snaefell pant was the winner of the 2011 ISPO Outdoor Design Award and Scandinavian Outdoor Award for outstanding design and functionality. It’s a mid-rise pant with integrated waist belt and elasticated rear waist to ensure they won’t slide down while climbing or hiking. The Polartec Neoshell fabric is 100% waterproof (10.000 mm) and breathable.
It protects you from water and wind but still allows excessive body heat and moisture to release. It’s uncommon to find waterproof softshells, but the Snaefell goes above and beyond to still ensure breathability and a four way stretch.
The fabric also prevents moisture build-up inside the pant to ensure that it stays comfortable. For extra weather resistance the pant has fully taped seams, reinforced bottom edge, water resistant zippers and adjustable ankle tabs to help lock out wind and water.
The zippers open up all the way to the knee so you can pull the pants off and on without having to remove your shoes. They also have internal wind flaps at the knees to ensure base layers won’t come into contact with the zipper.
Arcteryx Nevus Pant – Women’s
Material: 60% nylon / 30% polyester / 10% elastane; Trusaro softshell
Weight: 17.5 oz
Additional Features: reinforcements; Keprotec instep patch; Cordura PowderCuffs
Description: The Arcteryx Nevus is a mid-rise pant made of Trusaro softshell fabric. This bonded stretch woven fabric sheds water and snow and has moderate air permeability. It also has a gusseted crotch and articulated patterning which increases mobility.
The pant has side waist adjusters and is high waisted in the back to ensure a better fit. However, the pant is secured at the front with the zippered fly and snap.
There are two zippered pockets on the left leg and a large volume cargo pocket with a flap and Velcro tab on the right leg. In areas prone to pressure points the seams are taped, making the Nevus pant more durable.
Another feature to ensure durability and longevity of the pant is the Keprotec instep patch which protects against hard kicking boots, sharp ski and snowboard edges, and crampons. And unlike most softshell pants, the Nevus has a quick adjust and release Cordura PowderCuffs to keep snow out of your boots. It can be used for alpine climbs but will also excel when used for downhill skiing, snowboarding and backcountry skiing.
prAna Men’s Stretch Zion 32″ Inseam Pants
Material: 97% nylon / 3% spandex; Stretch Zion fabric with durable water repellent (DWR) finish
Weight: 16 oz
Additional Features: roll-up leg snaps; free-range gusset
Description: Prana’s Stretch Zion is a regular fit pant with an internal waistband/cinch belt system to ensure that the pant stays up properly. It’s constructed with a stretchy material that extends, expands and contracts to allow for full range of motion and flexibility.
The pant has a ventilated free-range gusset to allow for full range of motion and also has an angled dual entry cargo pocket. The DWR finish ensures that water droplets will bead up and can be quickly brushed away.
Overall the Stretch Zion fabric is resistant to water, abrasion and wrinkles without interfering with its breathability. This makes it a durable pant for outdoor activities such as climbing and hiking. Its streamlined waist and roll-up leg snaps also allow for versatility if you want to wear the pants in a more casual setting.
Marmot Women’s Lobo’s Convertible Pant
Material: 94% nylon / 6% elastane plain weave peached; DWR finish
Weight: 9.9 oz
Additional Features: zips off to 9” shorts; DriClime waistband; inseam gusset; UPF 50
Description: The Marmot Lobo Convertible was designed specifically for any hiking, backpacking or mountain adventure. It’s a regular fit pant that can be zipped off to 9” shorts or rolled up easily to help with temperature regulation.
It has a zip fly, two cargo pockets and inseam gusset which won’t affect mobility. The Lobo Convertible has a moisture-managing waistband made of DriClime to help prevent clamminess during high aerobic activities.
The DWR finish makes the pant water repellant, quick drying and breathable. The fabric is stretchy enough to allow for full range mobility and is also highly abrasion resistant, ensuring the longevity of the pant.
Another important feature of the Lobo Convertible is its UV protection factor (UPF) of 50, making sure that your skin is protected during hot and sunny days. Overall, they’re lightweight, comfortable and durable for any climbing expedition.
Marmot 85310 Womens Wm’s Scree Pant
Material: 90% nylon double weave / 10% elastane stretch; Marmot M3 softshell
Weight: 15.2 oz
Additional Features: ankle zippers
Description: The Marmot Scree is a mid-rise pant that’s versatile enough to be used for anything from spring ski tours to summer alpine climbs. Marmot’s M3 softshell material is both water resistant and breathable, making it an ideal alpine mid-layer or outer layer.
It offers enough stretch to give you a high degree of flexibility to move, bend and lunge.
To ensure a good fit they have an elastic waist with snap closures and a zip fly. They have zippered hand and thigh pockets to prevent anything from falling out.
The Scree pant also features ankle zippers which open wide enough to allow you to slip the pants on and off without having to take off your boots or shoes. Overall, this softshell pant is best used for mild to cool weather hiking, skiing and climbing.
What’s great about investing in a pair of softshell pants is that they’re designed to be an all-in-one layer for weather resistance and breathability. They can be used as a mid-layer for colder weather or when the weather permits, softshells can be your outer layer instead of a hardshell.
Not only are they versatile as a mountaineering pant, but they can be used for a number of outdoor activities such as hiking, backpacking, skiing and snowboarding. Be sure to research and assess different pant features and styles to find the pair that will be perfect for you and your next outdoor adventure.