Softshell is the perfect winter trouser material – tough, windproof, water resistant and stretchy – for this reason retailers often comment that more softshell trousers are sold than jackets. The softshell fabric that we know today is a reasonably recent invention, reaching peak ascendency in the early 21st century and now the fabric of choice for dog walkers and mountain guides alike. This modern softshell is perfect for the Scottish winter climate where low temperatures ensure that precipitation will generally be restricted to snow, though a DWR (durable water repellent) coating keeps the worst of any unexpected showers at bay. A good woven softshell fabric possess a degree of insulation – just enough to keep the cold at bay when resting, but breathable enough to prevent sweat (unwelcome in winter) building up. Consider the alternative – a crinkly, noisy and decidedly clammy pair of waterproof/breathable overtrousers with an expensive membrane, soon to be pierced by a misplaced crampon spike or ill-judged glissading route. I know what I’ll be wearing this winter.
In this review I’ll be looking at softshell trousers from eight brands – some featuring the familiar modern stretchy woven softshell fabric and others based on the more traditional pile-and-Pertex fabric pioneered by brands such as Buffalo and Mardale.
Keela Scuffer TrousersRRP: £65
Fife-based Keela are renowned for their no-nonsense approach to outdoor gear, and their rugged, durable clothing has made them a hit with Mountain Rescue Teams, police forces and the military. Preferring to develop their own fabrics than make use of the familiar brand names, the proprietary Stretch-Tec featured here is superb, if a little rougher than some of the more expensive fabrics. True four-way stretch allows for unhindered movement (appreciated on that final summit scramble), and the water resistant coating seems to have survived a few washes. The semi-elasticated waist with included webbing belt is snug and accommodates a range of sizes, though sadly there is only one leg length available in each size. The two side pockets are fairly standard, though the internal security pocket is a nice touch which I found useful for mobile phone storage. I don’t wear gaiters for most hillwalking, preferring to use either an integral gaiter or cinch the ankle cuff around the top of my boots – a Velcro tab at the ankle allows for this. The ankle zip is probably only useful to those that need to fit the trousers over bulky ski boots or something, but the reinforced patches are a great precaution against spikey footwear as well as shedding mud easily. The two thigh vents are useful, but I have to admit rarely used. The price is extremely good and make these obvious Walkhighlands Recommended trousers for use throughout autumn, winter and into spring.
Fabric: Stretch-Tec – 85% nylon/15% spandex Pockets: Two zipped side pockets inc. security pocket and one rear Ankle: zipped with reinforcement Waist: semi-elasticated with webbing belt Weight: 600g (L) inc. belt
Patagonia Simple Guide PantsRRP: £95
Patagonia make a number of softshell trouser models, and perhaps slightly unfairly I selected their lightest, minimalist model for this review. Where most of the featured trousers have vents, reinforced areas and a profusion of toggles and elastic the Simple Guide Pants are sleek, plain and, well, simple. Patagonia have a strong commitment to environmentalism and that is reflected in the fabric utilised – a recycled polyester combined with a touch of stretchy spandex. Under Patagonia’s Common Threads Initiative this luxurious four-way stretch fabric has been designed to last, and Patagonia will repair rather than replace where possible. Once these trousers finally reach the end of their useful life Patagonia will accept them back and recycle them into new garments – a commendable approach that I feel justifies the higher price tag. All hardware and stitching is high quality, including YKK-brand zips and a really lovely metal button. The fabric is coated with Patagonia’s own Deluge DWR to keep the worst of the weather out, and this seems to have remained effective after several washes. The woven fabric is extremely breathable but windproof, but in truly foul conditions baselayer trousers might be required underneath. The slim fit isn’t as unflattering as the photo might suggest, and a tapered leg almost eliminates flapping fabric at the ankle and negates the need for reinforced ankle patches. I generally prefer some kind of ankle cinch mechanism, but that would have detracted from the simplicity. As an aside, the double fly-zip is a great touch, especially if wearing a harness!
Fabric: 91% all-recycled polyester/9% spandex Pockets: Two zipped side pockets, one thigh and one rear Ankle: plain Waist: semi-elasticated with belt loops Weight: 498g (L)
Result R132M Tech Performance Soft Shell TrousersRRP: £42.50
Result Clothing are better known for their corporate workwear, specialising in custom branding and good value clothing aimed at outdoor workers. At this price I expected some compromises, but in reality these are actually pretty good trousers! The fabric is thicker and not as stretchy as the alternatives, more of a two way stretch than the usual four, but slightly warmer and actually waterproof rather than resistant as a result. Breathability is also somewhat lacking (but still superior to hardshell), and the mesh-lined pockets can be utilised as vents when working hard. The fit is generous, leading to some flapping in wind, and whilst there is no external reinforcement at the ankle there is a double lining, suggesting these are designed to be pulled over footwear. Hardware appears cheap (which is to be expected at this price) though I quite like the cord zip pulls which make pocket operation far easier with gloves on. The thigh pocket has been sewn and taped onto the face fabric and combined with a waterproof zip. There isn’t any way of cinching in the ankle cuff, and I found the waist stud fastening a bit weak (nothing to do with an indulgent Christmas, I promise). It’s hard to fault these trousers at the price, though I’ll be interested to see how the fabric wears with repeated use.
Fabric: Schoeller – 96% polyamide, 4% spandex Pockets: Two zipped side pockets, one thigh Ankle: zipped Waist: semi-elasticated with belt loops Weight: 598g (L)
Vaude Men’s Defender Pants II RRP £150
In total contrast to the Result R132M, this is a premium product at a premium price. As you’d expect from German brand Vaude every detail has been designed with quality in mind, and the complete package is extremely impressive. The semi-elasticated waist has an integral webbing belt running through a channel, and the belt fastening is low profile to avoid any clashes with rucksack belts or harnesses. The waist fastening is similarly neat – using Vaude’s Tra-In button which combines the male element of a standard press-stud with a nice keyhole-shaped locking female half. It’s very secure. Whilst in the waist area it’s worth noting the inclusion of loops to accommodate a pair of braces. The fabric is Schoeller – probably the best non-proprietary softshell fabric on the market – and in this case bluesign® approved to guarantee environmental sustainability during the production process. In addition, Vaude have certified that the fabric is at least 90% recycled material. Schoeller is available in different thicknesses, and high-wear areas such as knees and seat use a thicker but just as stretchy material which is a slightly different colour. Zips are good quality YKK-brand inverted to reduce water ingress, and the side pockets are mesh lined to double as vents. At the ankle a gusset-backed zip with press-stud again accommodates a wide boot, and a really clever shockcord and captive toggle arrangement allows the ankle to be cinched tight with a one-handed upward pull. The usual reinforced patch is present on the inside of the ankle. The sizing (and slim cut) is European, with three leg length options. I suspect the high RRP is influenced by the relative strength of the Euro, and if you can find a pair for closer to £100 these would be a fantastic buy.
Fabric: 93% polyester, 7% spandex Pockets: Two zipped side pockets, two thigh, one rear Ankle: zipped with shockcord and toggle, reinforced Waist: semi-elasticated with integral belt Weight: 497g (52/L) inc. belt
Rab Vapour-Rise Guide PantsRRP: £100
Rab design products in conjunction with UK mountaineers for UK conditions, and this is immediately apparent in the Vapour-Rise Guide Pants. In contrast to the clean and minimalist Patagonia Simple Guide Pants the construction is quite complex, with different fabrics used in specific zones to ensure optimum performance. The dual-layer pile-and-pertex principle is used extensively (the black areas in the photo) with extremely breathable and water-resistant Pertex Equilibrium over a luxurious plush inner which runs from waist to ankle. Pertex Equilibrium is not particularly stretchy or abrasion resistant, so this has been coupled with a nylon/spandex mix (the grey fabric) at areas subject to the greatest range of movement and wear. From knee to ankle the inside calf is protected by an expanse of reinforcement to foil even the most determined crampon spike. As requested by Rab’s sponsored athletes, the waist fastening combines a standard press stud with a hook and bar to ensure that they won’t come open an an inopportune moment. There are simple brace attachments. Zips are rugged inverted YKK-brand with decent cord zip pulls, and two thigh vents combine with the mesh pocket liners to offer good venting options. At the ankle a gusset-backed zip offers expansion to accept a bulky boot, and a shockcord and captive toggle allows for tight cinching. The heavyweight nylon reinforcement around the ankles is superb – unusually protecting the outside of the ankle in addition to the crampon-prone inner calf, and a couple of eyelets accept an under-boot cord. These are perfect UK winter trousers – I find that the fleece liner makes them too warm for use above single-figure temperatures anyway- but once the snow starts to fall you’ll have to prise these off me. **Walkhighlands Recommended**
Fabric: Pertex® Equilibrium® and 90% nylon/10% spandex Pockets: Two zipped side pockets, one thigh Ankle: zipped with shockcord and toggle, heavily reinforced Waist: semi-elasticated with belt loops Weight: 564g (XL)
Adidas Terrex Hybrid Pants RRP £115
I’ve always thought putting a membrane into a softshell slightly counter-productive – putting a layer of plastic into a nice breathable woven fabric will immediately compromise breathability to some extent. Admittedly breathability is less of a concern with trousers, but it just seems a shame to increase the price of such an otherwise excellent pair of trousers. Overall the fabric is good – not as stretchy as a non-membrane fabric – but extremely windproof thanks to the membrane, water repellent and durable as softshell should be. The seat and articulated knees feature a more rugged fabric – seemingly the Adidas Hybrid construction which combines “the advantages of different performance-fabrics in respective body-zones”. A wide waistband conceals a webbing belt – it’s worth noting that the waist is not elasticated but seems true to size – with a large but flat buckle over a double press stud fastening. Inside, the waistband has several areas of sticky rubber to prevent inadvertent builder’s bum, and the double zip fly assists with access when wearing a harness. Most pocket zips are fitted with cord zip pulls except the fly (though I guess you’d take your outer gloves off before accessing this anyway) and are inverted for weatherproofing. As seems to be usual the ankles have a gusseted zip secured with a press stud, and a crampon patch on the inside. Rather than a cinch cord these trousers feature a good integral gaiter with Velcro closure and lace hook which does a good job of keeping debris out of boots. For further security a pair of eyelets allows for the fitting of an under-boot cord. These are good feature-rich trousers that would be cheaper and almost certainly more flexible and breathable without the membrane.
Fabric: Gore Windstopper – 58% nylon/34% polyester/8% elastane Pockets: Two zipped side pockets and one rear Ankle: zipped with integral gaiter Waist: fixed with integral webbing belt Weight: 658g (36″)
Paramo Cascada Trousers RRP £120
These aren’t stretchy, they aren’t close-fitting and they certainly aren’t fashionable. But Paramo’s Analogy fabric certainly is softshell. Like most of Paramo’s range the Cascada trouser is designed as a breathable waterproof overtrouser replacement (hence the long side zips and baggy cut) but at this weight I would prefer to wear them all day rather than carry them any distance in pack. Thankfully this is where Nikwax Analogy excels – the fabric mimics animal fur through the use of an inner liner than effectively ‘pumps’ water from the inside via capillary action. The external face fabric keeps the worst of the weather out, with sweat or any rainthat penetrates to the inner expelled very quickly. Whilst the fabric would not be termed waterproof by a hydrostatic head test, this efficient moisture transfer keeps water away from the skin to the extent that the wearer doesn’t feel wet. For this reason there are no taped seams, and tears don’t compromise waterproof integrity. The two layers are bulky and insulating, making these trousers too warm for me in anything other than foul weather, so I consider these ideal winter trousers. The shell-suit effect is noticeable, added to by the drawcord waist and almost glossy face fabric, but as with everything Paramo it’s function over form and these trousers perform impeccably in everything from autumn downpours to winter blizzards. The fabric flaps and the chance of snagging the ankle fabric with a crampon spike is always there, but at least it won’t be too catastrophic. As long as they don’t bring back horrible memories of Eighties hip-hop the Cascadas are wonderful winter walking trousers and highly recommended for non-technical terrain.
Fabric: Nikwax Analogy Waterproof – 100% polyester Pockets: Two zipped side pockets Ankle: zipped (to thigh) and press studs Waist: fully elasticated with drawcord and belt loops Weight: 618g (LL)
Arc’teryx Gamma AR Pant RRP £135
Another premium product, this time from Canadian brand Arc’teryx. There are similarities to the Patagonia Simple Guide Pants here – the Gamma AR offer a slim, fitted cut with subtle detailing and quality hardware. Arc’teryx’s own Burly fabric seems breathable and durable with the requisite four-way stretch, and at this price I’d expect it to last a long time. The sleek ninja-styling extends to the waist where belt loops have been deemed superfluous, removed and replaced by an integral belt with low profile buckle over a double press-stud fastening. The chamois waistbelt lining seems decidedly decadent too. All zips are supplied with simple cord zip pulls and are inverted YKK brand. There is no reinforcement at the normal high-wear areas – I guess this would ruin the clean lines – but the construction is such that is no seam to snag on the inside calf. A lace hook and cord and toggle arrangement keeps the ankle hem in order, but I find the double toggle a bit of a faff compared to the standard shockcord and captive toggle. These are minimalist, athletic, refined softshell trousers with few points of failure -making them ideal for a variety of outdoor pursuits from backcountry skiing to winter hillwalking. The connoisseur’s choice.
Fabric: Burly™ double weave – 46% polyester/46% nylon/8% spandex Pockets: Two zipped side pockets and two thigh Ankle: cord and toggle, lace hook Waist: semi-elasticated with integral webbing belt Weight: 557g (L)