When I told a friend I was getting a new pair of alpine pants, he responded immediately: “Softshells? How surprising…” It’s true. I’m a softshell apostle. For most single day adventures on snow, softshell pants are they way to go. They feel better on your skin without leggings than hardshells, they’re typically more streamlined and are generally more uphill-oriented than most hardshell ski pants. Many brands make ski-touring and alpine specific softshell pants engineered for the send. So, how does the new Outdoor Research Trailbreaker II pant stack up to my lofty expectations? And, how much better are they than the last edition of the same pants?
Outdoor Research Trailbreaker II Pants Features:
- Beacon pocket with clip
- Outer thigh vents
- Zipped hand and thigh pockets (4 total)
- Reinforced scuff guards
- Stretch-mesh internal gaiter
- Articulated knees
- Ankle zippers
- Adjustable waist tabs
- Can accept suspenders
- MSRP $225
Dealing with expectations
Using softshells for alpine guiding in the summer and ski guiding in the winter, I’ve found the water-resistance to be, generally, the best single pant to own for both. Even in winter, when I’m rolling around in the snow and getting deep turns, the water resistance is enough to keep me warm all day. So how does OR’s redesigned Trailbreaker II stack up?
Euro-style fit (tight!) but stretchy
Traditionally, I’ve had major fit problems with ski pants. With a big butt and thighs but a smaller waist, it’s a challenge to find pants that stay up but don’t make me feel like a ten pound sausage in a five pound casing. As a ~33×32, I was a little nervous ordering a medium, and they were tight. If you’re built like someone who walks uphill a lot, I would describe the fit as ‘euro’. Because of their inherent stretchiness, however, it wasn’t a major hurdle, and I’m still happily in that pair of mediums. It took me a while to figure out how to wear them (suspenders, loose belt, lower on my hips), but once I found that point of comfort, they disappeared on my body.
The cuff diameter on these isn’t very large. I most often ski in Atomic Backlands boots, which are short, little boots. I struggled to get the outer cuff over the shell when walking uphill. If I was in a larger, freeride-oriented boot, it would be really challenging to manipulate the cuff. The length, though, is perfect. The hem sits right on my instep when standing, low enough to keep out snow and stay on the boot, but not so baggy as to get in the way. Especially on more technical ascents and descents, it can be immensely frustrating to have your view of your feet obscured by your pants! I really do want to see whether my toe in that binding before venturing onto the skintrack.
Chock full of features
These pants have a lot going on. There are thigh zips on both sides, each with two zippers (sweet!), four total pockets, a beacon clip in one of the pockets, internal gaiters with a power strap hole, zip open cuffs, grommets on the cuff for gaiter loops, suspender loops, a fold-up waistband, internal belt and goodness knows what else. With so much on them, it was hard to figure out how best to use all the features my first few tours in them.
My two biggest requirements of softshells are expandable cuffs and a safe, sewn beacon pocket. While you can debate how safe it is to keep a beacon in your pocket, with a stitched retaining clip and well-sewn pockets, I find it a very reasonable alternative to a harness. My first tour with a beacon in the pocket (upper right side), it felt like the beacon kept sliding in on my leg. As I experimented more and deliberately placed the beacon farther down in the pocket, this problem disappeared. If you have skinny legs, this probably won’t be a problem. In terms of accessibility, I found it easier to deploy and stow my beacon from the pocket than the chest harness. The pocket is large and the zipper moves very easily.
I was honestly a little less impressed with the cuffs. Even with smaller, lower profile boots, it took effort to slide the cuff over the boot, even in its unzipped position. This futzing was a little frustrating, but not a deal breaker. The inner gaiter was a tad more frustrating though. It’s designed to tightly grab the cuff of the boot, but it made getting the thing on/off of my boot too frustrating ski-to-skin transitions. OR added a ‘power strap slot’ in the gaiter, I suppose to allow the gaiter to remain on the boot during walk modes.
If your transitions involve adjusting the cuff buckles, like most of us, I think that you will find the internal gaiter a distraction. While I understand their purpose, I am actually considering cutting them out of my pants, as I think they considerably hinder access to the boot. OR was thoughtful enough to add instep grommets though, so you can tie in a piece of cord to build a stirrup-style gaiter. I find these more effective than cinch gaiters anyway.
Just how waterproof are they?
Outdoor Research claims that they lower half of the pant (the grey portion in my case) is waterproof, while the upper (brown for me) is softshell. I certainly found this to be true. With warmer early season storms bringing dense, sticky snow, my lowers have stayed dry through long tours. The uppers, less so, but they see much less snow than the lowers. The butt is made of that softshell material, which is unfortunate. I wish that OR had made the butt more waterproof to reward more frequent sit-down breaks, but it’s certainly not a deal breaker.
This two-fabric design is different from my other DWR softshells and a little heavier (and warmer), but I think I like it. I may treat the butt with waterproofing spray to enable more snow-lounging. Overall, the waterproofing is perfect for a winter touring and spring ski-mountaineering pant.
- Stretchy and comfortable
- Not too warm as a single layer. Vents help with this
- Beacon pocket
- Expandable cuffs and grommets
- 4 pockets!
- Suspender compatible
- Athletic fit for higher performance and less bulk
- Tight fit can cause discomfort if pockets are overloaded
- Cuffs are rather tight
- The butt isn’t waterproof
- Sizing is tricky if you aren’t traditionally shaped for alpine endeavors
The Bottom Line: Outdoor Research Trailbreaker II
All in, the Outdoor Research Trailbreaker II’s are a great pant. It is, with a few minor quirks, the exact pant I would design for ski touring and ski mountaineering. It’s clearly thoughtfully designed and seems to overcome many of the production hurdles of the original Trailbreaker. I expect this pant to last for a long time. My girlfriend jokes that these pants have assimilated into my ‘skiing uniform’ faster than any other piece I own.
Buy Now: Available from Backcountry.com