Best Softshell Pants for Mountaineering

Mountaineer wearing softshell pants
Mountaineer wearing softshell pants

Best Softshell Pants for Mountaineering

As winter brings cold, we need to adapt in order to still get outside as often as possible. An important part of this adaptation is switching over to pants that are more fit for cold-weather hiking. Softshell pants provide an extra amount of warmth and protection that typical hiking pants simply don’t give. With these on (and maybe a pair of long johns), you can get out and stay warmer than just wearing the same clothes year-round. 

The pants that we’ve selected here stand out as the best of the best. They provide that protection that you need for any backpacking, hiking, skiing, or mountaineering expeditions that you will take on in the winter.

Best Softshell Pants

A man wearing a grey ski pant.
4.8/5

1. Outdoor Research Cirque II Pants

Material: 50% nylon, 43% polyester, 7% spandex

Pockets: 2 zippered hand, 1 zippered thigh

Gusseted Crotch: Yes

Fit: Regular

The Outdoor Research Cirque II pant shows up as the best softshell pant on the market for both men and women all across the board. These pants use a nylon-polyester-spandex blend that provides a high level of comfort, along with durability. They are made to be used year-round and would be a good choice for any hiking, mountaineering, climbing, or even some backcountry skiing. 

The Cirque II also features an avalanche beacon pocket, scuff guards, and gusseted ankle zippers that will fit over several types of boots. Outdoor Research has thought of everything, and as always, provides a lifetime warranty with their gear.

A women's hiking pant with zippers and pockets.
5/5

2. Arc’teryx Gamma AR Pants

Material: 46% nylon, 46% polyester, 8% spandex, DWR coating

Pockets: 2 zippered hand, 1 zippered thigh

Gusseted Crotch: Yes

Fit: Semi-fitted

As always, Arc’teryx hits near the top of the list with their Gamma AR Pant made for high-altitude adventures and providing the ultimate protection for your legs. The pants use a double-weave blend that combines durability with flexibility for the yogis headed to climb some tall mountains. They use a DWR coating to add to the water resistance and have everything from a gusseted crotch, an integrated webbing belt, a brushed interior, and a hook and cord closure that can act as gaiters. Bring these to any mountain peak and have no worries.

The north face men's hiking pant.
4.3/5

3. Mountain Equipment Ibex Pants​

Material: 92% nylon, 8% elastane

Pockets: 2 zippered hand, 2 zippered thigh, 1 zippered back

Gusseted Crotch: Yes

Fit: Alpine

Mountain Equipment doesn’t often get as much attention as other brands, but they bring quality products to the table for a relatively lower price than most. These pants use Mountain Equipment’s Exolite 210 softshell with a DWR coating to bring durability and power to the outdoors. They’re built for the alpine environment with loads of different pockets and ankle zips that help pop them on and off in a breeze. Let’s not forget to mention the microfleece-lined waist that brings the most comfortable ride.

Men's columbia mountaineertm pant.
4.2/5

4. Mountain Hardwear Chockstone/2 Alpine Pants​

Material: 91% nylon, 9% elastane

Pockets: 2 zippered front, 1 zippered thigh

Gusseted Crotch: Yes

Fit: Semi-fitted

Mountain Hardwear makes gear exactly the way their name says it. It’s made for hard use. The Chockstone Alpine pant is no exception to that rule. These pants were designed for climbing and trekking in the alpine, far above where people dwell comfortably in their homes. The articulated knees make the most difficult climbing maneuvers that much easier. They’ve brought all the features into these pants, including a UPF rating of 50 to help protect you when you are thousands of feet closer to the sun.

The men's blue hiking pants.
4.6/5

5. Patagonia Simul Alpine Pants​

Material: 91% recycled polyester, 9% spandex, DWR treatment

Pockets: 2 zippered hand, 2 zippered thigh

Gusseted Crotch: Yes

Fit: Slim

Patagonia has a reputation that is well-deserved. They started off in a garage making climbing gear and have slowly expanded outwards to be one of the most popular outdoor brands in the world. One of their biggest accomplishments has been finding ways to utilize recycled material in an effective way. The Simul Alpine Pants do just that. These are made up of 91% recycled polyester and a bit of spandex to add the much-needed flex. 

These are made for winter lovers who want to spend a long period of time outside, and to do it comfortably. They added a DWR coating to help keep you dry, and the zippered thigh pockets are designed to be accessible while wearing a harness. These are a wonderful balance between all the features you want out of a softshell pant.

Softshell Pants Buyers Guide

Softshell pants have additional features that bulk up the pants to be better equipped to take on cold weather. These materials tend to be thicker, more durable, wind and water-resistant. Depending on the pants you choose to buy in the end, you could use them year-round or keep them reserved for the winter. Either way, you need to know what you’re looking for in order to get a pair of softshell pants that will fit your needs. 

Material

In general, most hiking pants are made out of synthetic materials like nylon, often with a bit of spandex woven in for flexibility. The more spandex, the more flexible your pants will be. This can be a huge advantage when out hiking and climbing over fallen trees or up a scree field. Pants that are constructed of polyester or cotton without the added spandex will provide a low level of stretch that can be considered uncomfortable for some. 

Another benefit of softshell pants can be the water-resistant quality. They don’t function as full-blown rain pants, but when you go out for a hike in the snow, these can stand up to a good amount of moisture. With some, the rain will bead off and you can hike for hours on misty mornings without it starting to seep through. Don’t leave your rain gear at home, but these will help for short bursts. 

Thickness and Durability

The tradeoff with materials is looking for a balance of comfort and durability. The nylon and spandex blends are incredibly stretchy, but not nearly as durable as a cotton and polyester blend. Find the balance that fits your style of hiking the best and try some different materials out. 

Softshell pants come in a variety of different thicknesses. The thickness level helps provide extra warmth as well as durability. The inside of these pants is often brushed with a softer lining that will provide comfort and insulation. The exterior is typically smooth in order to help wick moisture. The thicker materials won’t transfer over to year-round hiking very well but perform great in a specialized winter environment. 

Pockets

Cargo pants are a thing of the 90s, but pockets are still proving their worth in a much more minimal way. Pockets can be a thing that is left up to your own opinion, but we prefer to have a variety of different pockets to help with keeping things accessible on the trail. Many of these pants feature a single thigh pocket that is incorporated on the interior of the pants, rather than being on the outside where it can snag on anything. 

Weight

While it may seem ridiculous to need to consider the weight of your pants, every ounce counts while on the trail. This is another arena where you need to make a decision and then make a possible tradeoff. Weight will obviously go up as you add to the thickness, and therefore the warmth, of the pants. If you want to move fast, your body will stay warmer naturally and you may want a thinner pair of pants. 

Articulated Knees and Gussets

Articulated knees and crotch gussets are possibly the most important feature on a pair of softshell pants. These two key features add mobility to the pants and increase your range of motion. If you’ve ever been on a trail for a long time, you may have experienced the crotch of your pants starting to rip, or your leg struggling to reach high places. Articulated knees and crotch gussets help prevent both of these issues and make your hiking much more enjoyable.

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A person hiking with a backpack in the mountains.
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