The classic mountain layering system is to use overtrousers over some sort of legwear, it works, particularly in the rain, but it can also be inconvenient - try pulling on a pair overtrousers on an exposed mountain plateau in a gale - restrictive and cumbersome.
What if you just want one layer to use all day? We've collected a diverse collection of mountain walking legwear from the likes of Berghaus, Fjällräven, Jack Wolfskin, Mountain Equipment, Paramo, Rab and Sprayway to see which works best in UK mountain conditions.
To see the reviews either scroll down the page or jump to your favourite brand by following the links.
Berghaus Ortler Waterproof Trousers - £100 / 520g
The Ortler Waterproof Trouser - not to be confused with the standard Ortler - looks like a conventional soft shell pant, but like Sprayway's All Day Rainpant or the Rohan Dry Requisite Trousers, combines a standard outer with sewn-in waterproof liner made from stretch AQ fabric with a PU membrane, so you get sort of double-layer construction.
Fit is good, neat and not flappy, and while you're aware they're not 'normal' soft shell against the skin, the sensation isn't unpleasant or obtrusive and the stretch fabric means there's no constraint to your movement. We found them brilliant on cool, changeable days when the Ortler did a sterling job of warding off wind and rain squalls without the restrictive feel and faff of using separate overtrousers.
One drawback is that we found them slightly clammy when working hard, not helped by the lack of venting options and another is that in really heavy rain, the outer layer eventually gets saturated and soggy. Finally, if you team them with a short jacket, they will eventually leak through the zip-fly.
Where they excel is on the sort of showery days common in the UK, when you get to dodge the classic game of overtrouser roulette - ooh, it's stopped raining now. Oh, no it hasn't... Available in both men's and women's versions.
If you want something approaching full overtrouser protection but with unobtrusive looks and feel, the Ortler Waterproof is an interesting if sometimes sweaty solution.
Mor e info: www.berghaus.com.
Fjällräven Keb Trousers - £175 / 630g
Cards on the table time, when our test Keb Trousers arrived, we were, erm, intrigued by the yellow and brown chequered colour scheme - officially it's 'ochre and dark olive' by the way, but there are plenty of less extrovert colour options if you're a shrinking violet.
Put colours to one side and these are brilliant, all-round mountain trousers. They're made from a mix of the Swedish brand's G-1000 Eco mix of waxed cotton and polyester, the yellow bits above, and G-1000 Stretch, the dark olive sections with the Eco stuff placed in higher wear areas.
We're big fans of the fabric. It's like a sort of alternative soft shell, with plenty of wind and shower resistance, good breathability and a reassuringly rugged feel. The fit's good too, a happy medium between snug around the seat and hips, but not at all restrictive thanks to the stretch panels - high steps are easy - and with enough room to layer them over a pair of baselayer leggings, our preferred cold weather configuration.
The fabric's decently breathable anyway, but there are handy thigh and calf vents, which make an appreciable difference to cooling when you're really pushing on making them an all-year option. Speaking of which, the fabrics are good in windy, showery conditions, but won't stand up to heavier rain when you'll need overtrousers. Good with all but heavy, wet snow as well.
Overall we rate these as great all-round mountain legwear with a nice mix of fit, fabric and breathability along with plenty of pockets those handy vents. Best worn with baselayer leggings in deep winter and on dry to changeable rather than outright wet days.
More info: www.fjallraven.co.uk.
Jack Wolfskin Activate 3-in-1 Pants - £110 (£70) / 800g
We picked these up on a winter 2015 Jack Wolfskin UK press event and initially were slightly baffled by them. For active use the combination of the insulated liners and soft shell outer pant was both too warm and also, for us at least, bulky and restrictive.
That said, the 'super alpine pyjama' liner as we came to think of them, make nice evening lounging about wear and would work nicely in a trekking lodge, though a more sombre colour would help. Put that all to one side and the outer soft shell pant, based on the Activate Pants, turn out to be really rather good in a classic, rugged, non-membrane soft shell way.
They fit well, have enough stretch not to impede mobility and a decent balance of weather resistance and breathability, so while we're somewhat ambivalent about the 3-in-1 version of the Activate, we suspect the standard issue version would be a good all-round mountain choice.
Forget the 3-in-1 version and go for the straight Activate or a similar non-membrane soft shell trouser for a great balance of protection and comfort.
Mountain Equipment G2 Ultimate Mountain Pant - £180 / 660g
We're pretty sure these are the third incarnation of ME's G2 Ultimate Mountain Pants and we're also pretty sure they're the best yet. They've beefed up over the last incarnation of the G2 with tougher fabric and full-on Dyneema crampon patches adding almost 200g of weight, but the end result is a gnarlier, more protective-feeling pant with a bit more of a bias towards the mountaineering side of things than their predecessor.
We can't fault the cut, the waist is higher than before with a micro-fleece lined lower back section adding a touch of luxury if your shirt rides up and the adjustable braces are intuitive in use and hard to tangle. Hurrah.
Nice too to get removable gaiters, so you can tailor things to suit your boots and preferences. Before they were bonded in place. You can also use the zipped ankle gusset to accommodate bulkier boots if necessary. Serous kick patches should hold things together there too.
And then there's the fabric. Still fully windproof and nigh-on waterproof Gore Windstopper Softshell, but a slightly tougher grade than before we think - there's enough stretch for easy movement in extremis, but huge amounts of weather protection.
The fabric is not only completely windproof, but also pretty much waterproof meaning snow and light to medium rain is shrugged off, though in real deluge conditions they will leak from the untaped seams eventually. They can get a little sweaty if you're pushing on in plus-zero conditions, but two mesh-backed thigh vents give decent emergency venting when needed. They're a couple of inches longer than before too and thoughtfully open from the bottom up to minimise any mixing with harness and rack.
All in all, the latest G2 is a brilliant, confidence-inspiring mountaineering pant that, on most winter days, you can wear from the off without any messing about with overtrousers. And if previous versions are anything to go by, they should last a good while too.
Paramo Enduro Trousers - £230 / 650g
We've always got on well with Paramo's Nikwax Analogy fabrics, they're effectively water and windproof with great breathability and anti-condensation properties with a great quiet, soft feel too, but until the brand released the Enduro jacket and trouser combo last year, we never really gelled with the generally loose fit.
The Enduro Trousers change all that, they're cut close and technical but without being restrictive, but retain all the positives. They also have a neat, high-cut back to minimise 'ride-up exposure', though at times we'd have liked a set of braces for added security - there are loops, but no braces are available.
The soft feel material and pump-liner means they feel great next to skin and while they're warmer than average, often welcome in UK winter conditions, the three-quarter length side-zips with peppered storm-flaps means almost limitless amounts of venting are just a zip pull away. Brilliant stuff if you run hot.
The cut is slightly shorter than average to accommodate bulky mountain boots and there's a built-in gaiter with lace-hook and cord loops, though it can also be peppered neatly up out of the way. Neither this or the kick patch is quite as full-on as the ME G2 equivalent, but it's nice to have the option and if you don't like the gaiter you can always remove it permanently.
Excellent all-round UK winter legwear that's as useable for mountain walking as it is for more technical mountaineering use. We love the balance of breathability, weather protection and colossal venting plus the new, sleeker cut makes for a neater, more efficient experience with less flapping. Great all-day, one-piece solution.
More info: www.paramo-clothing.com.
Rab Vapour-rise Pant - £90 / 390g
We're familiar with Rab's Vapour-rise system from a number of excellent jackets and the VR Pant is just the same with a breathable but highly wind resistant Pertex Equilibrium outer fabric and a microfleece lining. The cut and design is quite basic though and a little bit flappy, which is why we probably should have opted for the more technical VR Guide option.
That doesn't mean the standard pant isn't worth considering, but for more technical use, we'd want a little more reinforcement in key areas and a crampon patch. That said, for basic hill-walking use, the combination of breathability and weather protection works well, though you'll need a lightweight overtrouser if things get damp.
Great fabric in quite a basic design, have a look at the VR Guide if you like the fabric system, but want a little more versatility. Or if you want lighter, see the VR Lite (above right)
More info: rab.equipment.
Sprayway All Day Rainpant - £75 / 360g
If you're in the market for a waterproof trouser that looks like a normal walking pant then you're probably wondering what the difference is between these and the Berghaus alternative. The most obvious distinction is that the Berghaus version feels a bit more rugged and substantial as evidenced by the 160g difference in weight, but the Ortler also has a slightly neater cut with articulated knees and adjustable cuffs, which the All Day Rainpant lacks.
That said, the Sprayway version is a substantial £25 cheaper and, like we said, a fair bit lighter too. Available in any colour as long as it's black.
The waterproof, 'non-overtrouser' still does a capable job though like the Berghaus equivalent, it can get slightly sweaty under duress. Neat, no-frills weather protection.
More info: www.sprayway.com.
Verdict - Our Best Buys
So which is the best option for you? There are no clear and obvious answers, all the trousers we've looked at work well in particular situations, but here are some of our faves.
For full-on, all-day, technical use, it's hard to see past the latest version of the Mountain Equipment G2 Ultimate Mountain Pant. It's a mouthful of a name, but the G2 is seriously well specced and developed, tough without being overly burly and weather protective enough to cope with anything short of stormageddon conditions.
If you prefer a softer feel and like the Nikwax Analogy concept, the Enduro Trousers are, we reckon, the best Paramo trousers yet with a great cut and fantastic venting options. Not as tough as the G2, but a great mountain all-rounder.
We'd stick the Paramo in here as well, it's just a really versatile beast, but we're also big fans of the Fjällräven Keb Trousers as a leftfield alternative to more conventional softshell pants like the Jack Wolfskin Activate.Great fabrics, a sustainable vibe and good venting options and looks that are a little bit different.
Best Rain Protection
For ultimate rain protection, both the Berghaus Ortler Waterproof Trousers and Sprayway's All Day Rainpant do a great job without being a conventional overtrouser. They can both get a little sweaty under duress, but in light to medium rain and generally changeable conditions, both do a good job.
For mountain use we'd have to give the edge to the Berghaus Ortler, it's simply a nicer design, but don't write off the Sprayway alternative, they're lighter, cheaper and still do a decent job for all-round walking.