We've just reviewed three top softshell legwear options from Berghaus, Montane and Mountain Equipment, but before we look at the individual strengths and weaknesses, here are som general points to help you if you're in the market for a pair of softshell trousers.
Soft shell is a great choice for cold weather legwear. You get decent weather resistance but without the bulk, extra weight, restrictiveness, lack of breathability and flappiness - is that a word - of most overtrousers.
Usually it boils down to a choice between a non-membrane, double-weave, stretch Nylon type fabric - Schoeller is the best known and most expensive - or a membrane like Gore's Windstopper or Polartec's PowerStretch. In a nutshell you get more complete weather protection from a membrane fabric, but better breathability and often stretch from a double-weave material.
Features Worth Having
Stuff to look for includes a belt and double-stud waist fastening, thigh-vents if you intend to use them in warmer conditions, a close but not restrictive fit that will let you make high steps and prevent the waist from sneaking downwards in use.
For winter use we like zipped ankles to cope with big mountain boots, kick-patches to handly crampon scuffing and possibly braces to keep the waistline up where it should be.
Pockets are personal preference things. We never really use thigh pockets here, but you might. As they all come with pockets anyway, we'd suggest checking them to make sure they suit your personal needs.
Knees and seats tend to be prime sites for a bit of tougher material - the Berghaus Patera does these and ankles too. If you're a neat climber who doesn't kneel on things though, the former may be superfluous. If you're a thrutcher however, all bets are off...
DWR or Durable Water Repellent treatment is what makes water bead and run off. It's generally pretty good straight from the factory, but loses its effectiveness with repeated use. You can restore it and improve performance by washing and using an aftermarket treatment.
Quite often trousers not specifically aimed at winter users actually work pretty well if you layer them over a suitable base-layer tight or legging. Soft shell works well with snowy conditions and a bit of extra insulation will see you good to go.
Click the links below to jump to the pants.
Berghaus Patera Pant - £130 / 390g
Designed specifically for technical mountain use, the Patera uses Schoeller's excellent but expensive Dryskin Stretch with 3XDRY technology non-membrane fabric, which accounts for the high price. That fabric gives great mobility and very decent weather resistance combined with good breathability. It also allows a very close cut, particularly in the lower leg, so you can see what your feet are up to on the rock.
Reinforced areas at the seat, knees, outside of the thighs and inside of the ankles should suit the clumsy and gnarly, but the slim cut won't suit everybody and combined with mountain boots has an interesting Max Wall feel.
We've used the Pateras for a mix of walking, scrambling and some experimental climbing and the Pateras have done it all with a canny mix of weather resistance, protection, mobility and breathability.
The only thing we're a little ambivalent about is the close fit. In purely functional terms it works well, which of course is the main priority, but it won't suit everyone, particularly those with larger legs.
Also the narrow ankles make them slightly problematic worn with mountain boots, something a zipped gusset, as used by Montane for the excellent Terra Alpine Pant, would rectify making them also more all-round mountain friendly at the same time. That said, Berghaus also has the Borazon II trousers for more general use.
If your focus is narrow and technical though, the Patera could well be on the same wavelength.
Mountain Equipment G2 Ultimate Mountain Pant - £170 / 440g
The membrane-based, Gore Windstopper fabric makes these the most protective option here and you're less likely to resort to overtrousers than with the others tested as a result - the fabric is still light and comfortable, but it's totally windproof and effectively waterproof apart from the seams.
Fit is neat, but unrestrictive and the G2s are really well featured with a zipped, gusseted ankle to accommodate mountain boots, internal gaiters to keep the snow out and removable braces. Thigh vents are a nice touch too, particularly as the fabric isn't the most breathable option.
Really effective all-round, year-round mountain legwear that shrugs off wind, snow and all but heavy rain.
Quiet heroes of the mountain legwear world, the G2 Ultimate Mountain Pants may have been around for a few years now, but that doesn't make them any less effective thanks to a near perfect blend of wearability, no-nonsense design and protection.
If we had to pick out a weak point, we'd say they lose a out a little on breathability compared to non-membrane soft shells, but the increased weather protectino, but in the sort of cold, dry conditions where they excel, that's not a major issue.
And no, they're not cheap, but they are very, very good indeed.
Montane Terra Alpine Pant - £85 / 220g
Another double-weave stretch, non-membrane soft shell, this time using Montane's own Granite Stretch fabric, which gives a nice balance of weather protection and breathbability though you'll need over-trousers if it really starts to rain.
Interestingly, they combine the good points of the G2s - ankle zips and thigh vents - with similar fabric performance to the Patera, though the DWR doesn't seem quite as effective - so you can opt for cinched down lower legs for climbing foot views and lack of flap or open them up for normal use or to accommodate bulkier mountain boot uppers.
Deceptively tough too you can use them for everything from trekking through to mountaineering, though in an ideal world they'd also have a crampon kick-patch on the inside ankle.
Excellent, versatile, no-nonsense mountain legwear that you can use for anything from walking to climbing. The Terra Alpines have good weather resistance, excellent fit and mobility and telling details like the lower leg zips and those thigh-vents.
You'll still need overtrousers when it really pours, same as with other non-membrane soft shells, but the pay-off is improved breathability and wicking performance. And at £85 we reckon they're also cracking value for money. Recommended.